Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dollar Store Halloween Alert

For those of you as excited by Halloween decor as I, here's a heads up that your local Dollar Tree might already be stocking Halloween items. I was surprised to discover a small selection of Halloween goods tucked at the end of one aisle. And to think I nearly missed out on buying these lovelies:

Not sure yet what I'll do with them but I know they'll be a great addition to our year-round Halloween decor.

Pink Lemonade Ice Cream

About a year ago I saw a billboard advertising what I thought was lemonade ice cream. Turns out it was merely advertising the fact that the store sold both lemonade and ice cream but was by no means suggesting that you try and combine the two. Unfortunate, because since then the idea of lemonade ice cream has haunted me. It wasn't until I got my own ice cream maker that I was able to finally do something about that.

I happened to have a nearly full can of pink lemonade concentrate left over after another recipe so I made no changes to the ice cream recipe to compensate. Which was probably a good move because my husband found the ice cream to be very tart. I too found it to be tart but also very sweet, so aside from adding even less lemonade concentrate I can't think of a way to solve that. Not that I necessarily think it needs solving. This is an ice cream that's best eaten in small doses, which is just as well since I only have time to work out once a day. It would take a miracle to keep my waistline in check if I feasted on huge portions of ice cream and cupcakes all the time, as I'm sure all you bakers out there understand.

I did make a few changes to the recipe by substituting skim milk for whole milk, which I think was a fine move since part of the reason I want to make my own ice cream is to control what ingredients go in. Plus it's all I had on hand. It still turned out nice and creamy. I was also surprised by the large amount of almond extract called for (one tablespoon!) and reduced that to a much more reasonable one teaspoon, which I again think worked just fine although you might want to experiment with adding more to taste.

To prevent the same cruel fate from befalling this batch of ice cream, I added a few helpful notes to the lid of the container so my husband would remember to put this back in the freezer, not the refrigerator as he did no fewer than three times with the banana ice cream. Let's hope it works. For his sake...

Pink Lemonade Ice Cream
Adapted from Finding Inspiration In Food

1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk (whole, skim, whatever you have on hand)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 can pink lemonade concentrate
pinch of salt
3 drops red food color, if desired for a darker pink look

Whisk together all ingredients and chill covered in fridge at least 20 minutes. Process in ice cream maker per manufacturer’s directions. The mixture will not be completely hard. To finish, put mixture into a lidded container and allow to harden in the freezer at least 1 hour before serving.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Giveaway I Must Win!

You may have noticed a certain British theme to the design of my blog and you may have noticed that it has nothing to do with the baking and sewing posts that I keep uploading. However, I can't bear to change it because I am insanely enamored with all things British. So much so that we have a British-themed bathroom complete with a Union Jack toilet seat. That may border on blasphemy but I'm so obsessed that I don't care.

I have adored the "Keep Calm and Carry On" placards for years, even before they started cropping up everywhere online. I've seen some fantastic ones made using a Cricut, which I was tempted to buy for that specific purpose but couldn't justify the expense. I even found some versions for sale at TJ Maxx last weekend but the quality was a little iffy and some were already damaged, so I passed. Then I spotted the giveaway at Little Miss Momma, a lovely blog in its own right but even better when she's giving something away. Just look what's up for grabs:

I must win this one! I'm on a streak this week (two online contest wins so far) so I'm hoping to keep that luck going!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There Can Be Only One

There is an ongoing epic battle in my house, a battle between good and evil, wrong and right, dark and light! Dark and light chocolate, that is. While I, as a member of the fairer sex, am genetically predisposed to like traditional chocolate made from actual cocoa, my husband only enjoys white chocolate. That is why you'll rarely see chocolate recipes on this blog. It seems wrong for me to be so selfish as to make a dessert only I will enjoy and even more wrong to eat the entire thing by myself. I imagine some couples get divorced over these types of divisive issues but we're both saintly enough to allow the other his personal preference, no matter how stupid and misguided that preference might be.

When I saw Sweetest Kitchen's recipe for Peanut Butter White Chocolate Cupcakes I knew I had to make them for my husband. Perhaps I'd even make the ultimate sacrifice and sample a few myself. But then the cravings kicked in. Cravings for chocolate. Delicious rich, dark chocolate. Not the impostor white stuff masquerading as chocolate. Clearly it was time for a showdown between these two flavors to see which would emerge as the champion.

Both began with the same peanut butter cake recipe. Which is TO DIE FOR. This is the absolute best peanut butter cake recipe I've ever tried. Somehow it manages to combine that stick to the roof of your mouth peanut butter sensation with a light cake. It's not dense or chewy at all. Just simply sublime. I see myself making this one again and again with a variety of frosting flavors. I'm picturing honey, Nutella, or banana working nicely with this. But for now it was all about the chocolate.

Using the same frosting recipe, I divided the butter and powdered sugar and made a half batch with melted white chocolate and a half batch with semi-sweet chocolate. Both blended well and piped on nicely. There was a smooth, buttery texture to both. The taste test, however, would be the proof of the pudding. I wish I could be unbiased and report that because both were essentially made from the same recipe they were both equally good. However, my personal preference for regular chocolate outweighs any sense of fairness I may have so I am declaring those to be the winner!

But wait. One cannot make these sorts of bold proclamations based on a sample group of one. It's fair and just to allow my husband to participate too. Only trouble is, his vote was already cast before he took his first bite. The truth is that both were delicious because you really can't go wrong with a fantastic peanut butter cake topped with chocolate of any kind. Even the kind that is only loosely defined as chocolate. While I'd happily eat both, I know which one I'd reach for first and I know my husband would always go for the other. I guess in the end this answered nothing except the age-old question, "What's for dessert?"

Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Adapted from I Heart Cuppycakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter, room temp
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin wells with paper cupcake liners.

2) Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

3) In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, peanut butter and brown sugar until smoothly blended and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Mix in egg. Add vanilla and beat for 1 minute or until batter smooth.

4) On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing until the flour is incorporated and the batter looks smooth.

5) Fill each liner with a generous 1/4 cup of batter, to about 1/3 inch below the top of the liner. Bake just until the tops feel firm and are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. There will be cracks on the top. Cool cupcakes for 10 minutes in the pan on wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream
Adapted from BBC Good Food

50g semi-sweet chocolate
50g white chocolate
140g unsalted butter
140g icing sugar

1) Melt the semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler, stirring often. Leave to cool. Do the same with the white chocolate in a separate bowl.

2) Beat the butter and icing sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Remove half of the mixture and set aside. Add semi-sweet chocolate to the remaining mixture and beat to combine. Pipe onto 6 of the cupcakes.

3) Take other half of butter and sugar mixture and place in clean mixing bowl. Add white chocolate and beat to combine. Pipe onto 6 of the cupcakes.

4) Invite your friends around to judge which cupcake is superior. Or eat them all yourself because they're too good to share.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Jewelry Roll From One Yard Wonders

What to make for a stylish teenager who grew up in LA and is now living it up in Austin, Texas? One Yard Wonders to the rescue with another easy pattern! I'd already made her a purse last year so I wanted to try something different for her birthday this year. I figured, what teenage girl doesn't like to take some jewelry with her when she travels? Might as well do it in style. And since I've heard from her father that she's nothing short of a perfect angel I decided to use this funky "Urban Angel" fabric I bought a few months back. It's trendy, glittery, and best of all features pink, her favorite color.

The pattern's easy to follow with clear instructions, the size of the finished roll is perfect for travel, and it has two handy zippered compartments and a ribbon across the middle for tying up rings. It doesn't even come close to using up a full yard of fabric. As you can see, I'm still working on my zipper sewing skills, which would probably be improved if I either found where the cats hid my zipper foot or bought a new one. Still, this is a hard pattern to mess up and a quick one to work through. I plan to make more of these because I think they make perfect presents.

My only suggestions are cost saving ones:
  • Use a plain fabric for the inside of the pockets and the one body piece that will only be seen when the zippers are open. I've seen someone else do this and I think the contrast actually looks nice in addition to saving you more of your main fabric.

  • I didn't do this myself, but next time I'll skip interfacing the inner pocket pieces. It felt a little bulky with both pocket pieces and both body pieces interfaced and none of my jewelry is fragile enough to need that much padding.

Thanks for another winner, One Yard Wonders!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Orange Cupcakesicle Cupcakes

One of the popular entries in the Mystery Box tea-themed cupcake challenge is My Baking Empire's Orange Cupcakesicle Cupcakes. They're a creative blend of Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Tea with an airy orange cake. Since the theme of this post is "using up everything I have in my fridge and cupboards" I'll start by saying how thrilled I was to discover that I just so happened to have three Wild Orange Tazo tea bags left from a tea swap I did with a friend. Happy days! And clearly a sign that these cupcakes and I were meant to be together.

The cake recipe's a nice, simple one with no strange ingredients required. I had everything else on hand so I got to work first thing in the morning. The only change I made was using all three tea bags instead of the two called for in the recipe, which was probably a good move because the tea flavor is very subtle in the finished product. So subtle that my tea-hating husband happily chowed down on them without detecting a thing. Due to my more advanced palate I was able to taste some of the flavor of the tea although the orange zest is pretty strong and gives it a big citrus flavor. Because it calls for so much baking powder the cupcakes bake up a lot in the oven and the cake is nice and light. Just be warned that they seem to get stale quickly as a result.

I made major changes when it came to frosting the cupcakes. Not content with plain old whipped cream (I'm a frosting fiend!) I again continued in my quest to randomly use up half-empty containers of ingredients and made a whipped cream-based citrus topping. I added a few drops of Fiori di Sicilia, a flavoring with vanilla and citrus, and I think it nicely added to the taste while maintaining that cool texture of whipped cream the original recipe was going for. I'll be the first to admit that my recipe's not flawless and if I'd had more on hand to work with I might have been able to improve it but it works well with the flavor of the cake, which was all I really hoped for. It's a bit runny, too runny for piping and holding its shape, but if you're into the rustic look and or are in too much of a hurry to chow down to bother piping fancy shapes it'll do the trick.

Orange Cupcakesicle Cupcakes
Thanks to Jessie at My Baking Empire for the recipe

1/2 cup unsalted butter – room temp
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Tazo Brand Sweet Orange Tea – use 3 tea bags

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 16 cupcake wells with liners.

2) Boil water and measure out slightly over 1/2 cup. Steep three tea bags in the water until cool. Remove tea bags, squeezing as much liquid as possible back into the measuring cup.

3) Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

4) Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla and orange zest, and then each of the eggs one at a time – blending until incorporated. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

5) Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the mixer, blend a bit until almost incorporated, then add half the tea, then more flour, the rest of the tea, then the rest of the flour until it’s completely mixed together. The important thing here is to start and end with the flour. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure there’s nothing hiding down there that didn’t get mixed in.

6) Divide batter evenly among the 16 cupcake wells, filling each about halfway. Bake for 17-20 minutes until there's light browning on top and cupcake springs back when pressed.

7) Let cupcakes cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Let Me Rummage Around in the Cupboard Frosting

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 heaping Tablespoons marshmallow fluff
1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
3/8 cup confectioners' sugar

1) In a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip cream until stiff peaks form. Remove from bowl and set aside.

2) In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend butter until smooth. Add marshmallow fluff one tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition.

3) Add Fiori di Sicilia and blend well. On a low speed, add confectioners' sugar and blend until incorporated.

4) Remove mixer bowl from the mixer stand and add whipped cream, folding in gently by hand. Spread onto cooled cupcakes and enjoy!

Also entering my version in Hoosier Homemade's summertime cupcake challenge. What screams "summertime fun" like cheap novelty ice cream bars, after all?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Trying To Class Up the Joint

What I needed was a super duper easy project for me to complete quickly because I've itching to get something done. I haven't touched my sewing machine since the July 4th weekend so I've been missing that feeling of accomplishment. Time to whip out my staple gun, which hasn't seen the light of day since I single-handedly insulated our attic, a time in my life I'd prefer to forget. That plus some fabric would be all I'd need to complete my next project. No sewing machine required for this one!

We got this iron outdoor table and chair set off of Craigslist after we bought a house and needed to start living like adults. We intended to use it as an indoor dining table since we're all about being unconventional and saving a few bucks. Plus we rarely eat at the table so we didn't need anything fancy for our needs. It was a little scuffed up from the start and its condition has only worsened while in our care but scratches and small spots of chipped paint don't bother me too much. It's the drab, mismatched, and discolored fabric covering the chair cushions that's bugged me the most.

I've idly kept an eye out online for dirt cheap clearance fabric to replace it but by the time fabric gets to that discount level only the truly hideous stuff is left. Although I don't think we'll hang on to this table forever I don't want it to be an eyesore while I still have to look at it. I gave in and bought some home decor weight fabric from Jo-Ann using a 50% off coupon. Yes, yes, I know I tentatively agreed to participate in The Great De-Stash Challenge over at The Train To Crazy but since I don't impulse buy home decor fabric I didn't already own anything suitable. At $5/yard it was still more than I'd wanted to pay but I'm so in love with the fabric that I'll take any excuse to buy more. I've used it before to make myself a spiffy bag for hauling my big camera, guide books, and maps around London last year and I was so pleased with the end result.

I don't imagine a tutorial is even required for this one. It was simply a matter of removing the old fabric, cutting the new fabric to the same dimensions, and stapling it in place. I started with a staple in the middle of each side, pulling as tightly as possible as I went along, and tucked the fabric at the corners in like I was wrapping a present. Et voilà! It's like a whole new dining set and all of it done in about 30 minutes! The fabric goes perfectly with the black iron and the swirling pattern of the table and chairs.

It's almost enough to make me want to repaint the table and chair frames as well. Almost...

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Friday, July 23, 2010

I Think This Is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Meet Loretta*, my pastel blue KitchenAid mixer. She has been my trusty sidekick throughout most of my baking (mis)adventures these past ten months. I don't know how I ever survived without her. Sure, I had an old Sunbeam mixer (a gift from a wonderful friend when he upgraded to a KitchenAid) that did a lot of the same functions, but because it was so very beige I kept it hidden away in a cupboard and didn't always bother to dig it out unless absolutely necessary. While I'm sure I built up some nice muscles from doing most of the stirring by hand in those days, I was thrilled when my birthday rolled around and I was able to combine a great sale with a rebate to finally snag my very own goofily-colored KitchenAid. As with all big ticket items that only I'm going to use I really had to talk myself into it but there's no doubt I've put mine to good use since then.

Is it just me or does the ice cream maker look like a legless Adipose from Doctor Who?

Like any fashion-forward young woman, she has a variety of accessories and now, thanks to a good price at Amazon a month ago, she even has a brand new one: an ice cream maker attachment. Grr, I actually now see that the price has dropped even further since then. So if you're in the market for one you can now grab it for $59. Much better than the $67 I paid. But even at that price I have to wonder what took me so long to get around to buying it. I am a homemade ice cream convert already! Oh, the things I can do with the power to not only control what goes into my ice cream, but also to control exactly what flavor I wind up with!

I'm hoping to make healthier versions in the future, perhaps even experiment with gelato, but the first recipe I tried does not fall into the category of healthy one bit. It was chosen mostly because it happened to arrive in my mailbox the same weekend I was already planning to make ice cream and because I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand, including exactly four egg yolks left over from another baking project. Plus I didn't want to use some fancy ingredients only to have the endeavor fail and wind up in the rubbish bin. Nutella ice cream will have to wait until I've perfected my skills.

I made Brown Sugar & Spiced Banana Ice Cream from a recipe in the current issue of ReadyMade magazine. You'll notice that it uses a lot of cream, which you can really taste in the final product. When I say it's creamy I'm not just talking about the texture but also the taste. I did use heavy cream instead of the whipping cream called for because that's what I had on hand. Apparently there's a slight difference between the two. If you're lucky enough to live in an area that offers both you'll probably want to pick up the slightly less fatty whipping cream for this one. The spices are lovely but, perhaps because I used extra potent Vietnamese cinnamon, completely overpower the banana flavor. In fact, my husband thought it was supposed to be pumpkin ice cream because the combination of spices is exactly what one would expect to find there. I doubt I'll make this one again without some major changes, but it was a good beginner recipe.

The attachment was extremely easy to use and I had no problems at all setting it up. I of course followed the instructions precisely even though it meant I had to wait while the ice cream bowl sat in the freezer overnight. And wait some more while the cooked custard cooled completely, about four hours. And even more waiting once the ice cream is churned because it still needs to chill in the freezer an additional three hours. So the process is definitely more time consuming than driving to the grocery store and picking up a carton and it's also more expensive, but I plan to go crazy coming up with unique flavors one can't find in the supermarket. I can see this as the beginning of a wonderful love affair with my ice cream maker.

There is a tragic footnote to this story: After I'd written this blog post I went home to discover that my husband had accidentally put the container of ice cream into the fridge after he scooped some out. Woe. :( I think he got confused due to the homemade nature of the ice cream and because the container it was in (a Ziploc plastic storage tub) is nothing like the cartons he's accustomed to. I suspect it's ruined but am hoping to rejuvenate it a bit in the freezer, at least back to the point of being edible. What a sad end to my first homemade ice cream experience.

Brown Sugar & Spiced Banana Ice Cream

Recipe from ReadyMade Magazine (June/July 2010 issue)

1 medium ripe banana
1/4 cup plus 1 3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Puree the banana and ¼ cup of the milk in a food processor until smooth.

2. Combine the banana puree, the remaining 1¾ cups milk, ½ cup brown sugar, the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Scald the milk mixture (heat nearly to a boil) over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes.

3. While the milk is scalding, whisk together the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl. Add the remaining ½ cup brown sugar and whisk until the eggs are light and fluffy. Whisking constantly, add a small amount of the hot milk to the egg mixture (to temper the eggs). Gradually whisk in the remaining hot milk.

4. Return the custard mixture to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and place in a bowl of ice water to quickly cool the custard. Let the custard cool, stirring often, for 5 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, combine cream and vanilla in a medium bowl. Stir in the custard mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and press wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight. The custard may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

6. Freeze the chilled custard mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place in the freezer for 2 to 4 hours before serving.

Makes about 1.5 quarts

*Alright, I'll admit I haven't actually named any of my kitchen appliances, but in an effort to make it seem more personable and likable to you I went ahead and put the first name that came to mind. Clearly I've spent too much time watching Monty Python's Life of Brian and it has irreparably warped my tiny little mind.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vote For Me (Pretty Please!)

If you read my last post you'd know that I entered an online tea-themed cupcake contest. Well, now we're at the voting portion of the competition so I am pathetically asking everyone I know to please go and vote for me. Although if you take one look at my entry and want to puke feel free to vote for someone else instead.

To vote click the link below, look through the entries, and vote in the poll on the right sidebar. Mine are the "Sweet Coconut Tea Cupcakes With Caramel Filling and Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting."

You actually get two votes but are not allowed to vote for the same cupcake twice. And please don't try to vote multiple times because the owner of the site apparently has special magical powers that will allow her to see through your ploy and my cupcake could wind up being eliminated. Voting ends July 26 so head on over soon! Thanks!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

London Calling

Since I'm considering giving up the local Iron Chef Cupcake Challenge meet-ups I was pleased to find a similar online contest that I could participate in instead. This way I won't have to drag my husband out of the house, sometimes driving quite a way to get to each competition. The online contest can all be done from the comfort of my own home without frittering away any of my precious baking budget on petrol.

The idea of a Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge intrigued me right off the bat because a different ingredient will be featured every month and it will hopefully lead to the sharing of everyone's wonderful recipes. This month's ingredient is tea, something I adore in its unadulterated state and something I've experimented with in baking before. But it wouldn't be a challenge if I didn't try to one-up myself (and the competition, of course) so I've been brainstorming trying to come up with something more creative and intricate than plain old chai cupcakes with white chocolate frosting. Good, but I've been there, done that.

After dismissing a few ideas for not being innovative and exciting enough, I got the brilliant idea to draw inspiration from the fancy afternoon tea my brother and I had while on vacation in London last year. He was there for the scones and decadent pastries (and to keep me company) but I was excited by the wide variety of teas they had on offer. One in particular stood out: a green tea with coconut, caramel, and ginger flavorings. Man, oh man was it good and unlike anything I'd had before. Even my non-tea drinking brother had a few sips and declared it to be "bearable" after I'd added a few extra sugar cubes for him. High praise, indeed.

Trying our darndest to act prim and proper

The best part is that I happened to already have the perfect teas in my stash to help me recreate those flavors in cupcake form. This made the frugal girl in me quite happy! I did a test batch of tea combining Celestial Seasonings' Vanilla Ginger Green Tea and Sweet Coconut Thai Tea to be sure they'd blend well. Let's just say I finished my first cup and was on my second before I'd even started making breakfast. You'll find that the Vanilla Ginger Tea is discontinued, which clearly puts me into the category of "tea hoarder." I can't deny this, alas, but at least my hoarding practices aren't so bad that I won't willingly share when friends come over. The good news is that if you want to try this recipe at home you should have no trouble finding a comparable substitute out there. Or just stop by my house and I'll gladly help you out. I've got plenty, after all.

In keeping with the London theme, check out the Paddington Bear fabric I used as a backdrop. I knew all that fabric I keep buying on impulse would come in handy one day!

I hunted down a coconut cake recipe that uses shredded coconut and coconut milk. Although some revamping of the recipe was required, I liked that it called to heat the coconut milk, perfect for steeping the tea. So I dropped in three tea bags at the start and ended up with an extremely flavorful milk by the end.

Check out the action shot of butter melting! Go, butter, go! The before pic:

And after heating for five minutes it turned this lovely caramel color:

Because the ginger in the Vanilla Ginger Tea was so strong I used only one tea bag of that flavor but two of the Sweet Coconut Thai Tea for an extra kick of coconut flavor.

Once cooked and cooled, I made a batch of caramel and, using the cone method, filled each cupcake with a dollop of sugary goodness.

Now here's where it gets weird. I'd planned to make plain old ginger cream cheese frosting, delicious with diced candied ginger and ginger powder to boot. But this is a tea-themed competition, isn't it? How could I stop at just making the cake tea flavored? Only trouble was the frosting recipe didn't call for any liquids and I didn't want to risk having to overcompensate with more sickly sweet powdered sugar if I tried adding some. Instead I improvised. Taking a Vanilla Ginger tea bag I carefully dampened it, not enough to drench it but enough to get the tea and spices activated. Then I rolled it around in the softened cream cheese, applying pressure with the back of a spoon and stirring. I rewetted the tea bag about five times and repeated the process until I could definitely smell the tea in the cream cheese. Just don't get carried away and taste it yet because I can tell you from first hand experience that it doesn't get good until the rest of the ingredients are added. Be patient! The end result is worth it. It's even worth the painful blister I now have on my index finger that's making it difficult to type this. Since I'm dispensing advice left and right I'll also take the time to warn you that it's a very bad idea to stick your finger into the caramel dripping off of your spoon as you're heating the molten hot sugar. Then again you probably knew that because you have something called common sense. But I digress...

I'm so pleased I got this recipe right on the first try! As I've mentioned before, I'm a bit leery of experimenting and straying from the recipe that's printed on the page but this challenge has certainly made me push myself. Not only creatively but also technically in making sure I don't alter the consistency of the cake with any of my changes. This one couldn't have turned out better if Martha Stewart had written the recipe, if I may say so myself. The end result is a light cake with plenty of spicy tea flavor, crunchy coconut, oozing caramel, and a tangy ginger frosting with a hint of tea. I'm glad I'm forced to blog about this if only so I can be sure to get the recipe down while it's still fresh in my mind. I'll definitely be making these babies again!

Please go vote for me! Voting's open until July 26 so hurry on over!

Sweet Coconut Tea Cupcakes With Caramel Filling and Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from My Kitchen in the Rockies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup plus two heaping tablespoons canned unsweetened coconut milk (stir well before measuring)
2 tea bags Celestial Seasonings Sweet Coconut Thai Tea
1 tea bag Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Ginger Green Tea
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Heaping 1/4 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened or sweetened)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 11 cupcake wells with paper liners.

2) Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

3) Pour the coconut milk into a small saucepan, add the tea bags and butter, and heat until the milk is hot and the butter is melted. Reduce heat to low and simmer 3-5 minutes until mixture has turned a nice caramel color. Remove pan from heat and remove tea bags, squeezing as much liquid back into the pan as possible.

4) Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar at medium-high speed until pale, thick and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.

5) Keeping the mixer on low, add the coconut, mixing only until it is blended, then steadily add the hot milk mixture. When the batter is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that any dry ingredients that might have fallen to the bottom of the bowl are incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pan and bake for 18-21 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for five minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Caramel Filling:
Recipe adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, at room temperature

1) Melt the sugar over medium heat in a large pot. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar as it melts and cook until it becomes a deep amber color.

2) Add the butter and salt and stir it in until melted.

3) Pour in the heavy cream (mixture will foam) and whisk until you get a smooth sauce. You may have some lumps but keep stirring until they have melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

4) Cut a small round piece out of the tops of each cooled cupcake and pour in approximately one teaspoon of caramel. Replace the cake piece and set cupcakes aside.

Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting:
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 tea bag Celestial Seasonings Vanilla Ginger Green Tea
Water to dampen tea bag
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar sifted
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt

1) Dampen tea bag in a small amount of water. Add to bowl with softened cream cheese and press gently with the back of a spoon. Flip tea bag over and press again with a spoon. Remove tea bag and stir cream cheese. Dampen tea bag again and repeat five times or until there's a distinct tea scent coming from the cream cheese. Remove tea bag and discard.

2) In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy. With mixer on low speed, beat in confectioner's sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Increase speed to medium-high, beating until light and fluffy. Add crystallized ginger, ground ginger and salt, beating until well mixed.

3) Pipe or spread onto cupcakes and top with additional diced crystallized ginger if desired.

Just so you know what's at stake here, the winner of July’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:
Thank you to all the prize sponsors! Wish me luck!

Link parties:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Recycled Dessert

Yeah, "recycled" is probably not what you want to hear when someone hands you a dessert. Unless you're me, in which case there isn't much that could dissuade you from eating a dessert, but then I am hardly the norm. So we're agreed that it's a less than appealing name. Unfortunately I couldn't think of anything more apt since I basically reused the leftovers from a dessert I made last week. At least I took the time to re-imagine it in a way never anticipated by the creator. That counts for something, right?

I didn't blog about the original dessert because I made it in the midst of baking for the cupcake competition and in an effort to use up the leftover egg yolks before leaving on vacation. Needless to say it was a hectic time. When I first saw The Pioneer Woman's recipe for Blackberries With Sweet Cream I was aghast at the number of egg yolks it called for. Ten?! Why, that's nearly a dozen! (Yes, my math skills are that good.) What the heck am I supposed to do with the ten egg whites I'd have left?! Then I paid attention to the rest of the recipe and realized that anything that calls for an entire pint of heavy cream is probably not designed to be eaten by just two people. Coincidentally I happened to have five egg yolks left from my cupcake baking escapades. So a half batch it would be!

Turns out even a half batch results in an insane amount of dessert. Not that you heard anyone in my house complaining as we worked our way through half of it. It was superb! Really. Go make it now and pair it with whatever fruit happens to be in season. You can thank me later. I popped the rest in the freezer hoping it would emerge intact. I then got to thinking about how the strong vanilla flavor is similar to crème brûlée, how the texture is like a more fluid version of the same, and how everything tastes better with a crispy layer of burnt sugar on top. A plan for how to use the leftovers was formulating in my tiny little brain and my inner pyromaniac couldn't wait!

I began by whipping up a small batch of white chocolate ganache. I wasn't terribly precise in my measurements but how can you go wrong by combining cream and chocolate? Each of two individual portion-sized serving dishes got a generous layer of ganache spread along the bottom. I popped them in the fridge for 30 minutes to set. It would have been nicer if they had chilled longer but I was too eager for dessert to wait. Then an even more generous helping of leftover sweet cream sauce topped with sprinkles of granulated sugar. After a little blow torch action the treats were ready to go!

Recycled Dessert
(feel free to use a different name when you serve it to your friends)

1/4 batch of sweet cream sauce from The Pioneer Woman's Blackberries With Sweet Cream recipe
Heaping 1/4 cup white chocolate chips
Heaping 1/8 cup heavy cream
Approx. 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Whatever fruit you have on hand

In a heavy saucepan boil the heavy cream over medium-high heat. Place white chocolate chips in a stainless steel bowl and pour boiled cream on top. Let sit three minutes until softened. Stir until completely smooth. Evenly divide ganache between two individual-sized serving dishes. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Remove from fridge and top each with approximately three tablespoons of sweat cream sauce. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar and cook with a chef's torch until crisp layer forms.

Serve with any fruit of your choice for a dose of healthiness but be sure to hide the bathroom scale for at least a week. Just in case.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why I left the house this weekend

I will preface this by saying that I'm usually bored by vacation blog posts on others' blogs so I will understand if you choose to skip this. Odd, because I do like traveling but something about seeing lots of pictures of some people I've never met visiting some site I've never heard of just doesn't do it for me. That said, if you ever plan to visit the Poconos there are some interesting things you should check out while there. I'll give you some of the highlights.

It should shock you to learn that I left the house this past weekend for something other than a trip to the fabric store or a stop at the produce stand to replace the wilting and slimy veggies that seem to invade my refrigerator on a regular basis. Not only did I leave the house but my husband willingly went too! In fact, he's the one who planned our weekend getaway in the Poconos as a belated anniversary gift. He did a wonderful job, starting with the lovely B&B he booked for us, Santosha on the Ridge. This was the view that greeted us from our room and the rest of the grounds were equally lush.

We spotted a small car show and spent the evening shopping for our next vehicle.

On Saturday, after some rain showers that seemed to make the air more humid and hot than before, we paid our $20 for the privilege of hiking at Bushkill Falls. Normally I'd object to spending money on, well, anything, but in this case I think the clearly marked trails, debris-free paths, and helpful stairs made it worthwhile. Especially for someone like my husband who is not used to trekking about in the outdoors. Besides, can't complain too much when we were rewarded with beautiful views like this:

Lunch was at Tandoor Palace Restaurant, a pretty tasty Indian place located in an old train car. Their naan was sublime! Just the right combination of crispy buttery goodness with soft, pillowy bread. Mmmmm. I got to pretend I'd been whisked away on the Hogwarts Express even if the view was nowhere near as impressive.

By far one of the best parts of the trip was stumbling upon Frazetta's Fantasy Costumes in East Stroudsburg. Neither of us is big on costumes but they did have some fantastic high-end Halloween décor. As in, if you have a spare $3,500 to spend on a life-size animated figure in an electric chair this is the place for you. Alas, most of it was out of our price range but it was nice to window shop and pose with the especially evil ones. We didn't make the connection until we were inside but we've since found out that the store is owned by one of Frank Frazetta's sons. If you grew up reading as much classic sci-fi as I did you'll recognize the art if not his name.

For those of you with an interest in all things creepy and Halloween, more pictures (and pics from the whole trip) can be seen here.

In an effort to keep this short enough so as to not bore those of you strong-willed enough to have made it this far, I'll end with a review of the fabulous German restaurant we visited, Der Jaeger. It's a unique combination of antique shop, BBQ shack, B&B, and restaurant that serves everything from the aforementioned BBQ to homemade German food almost as good as my grandmother's. It was just like sitting down to one of her meals back in the day as everything was clearly lovingly prepared just for us. Reservations for dinner are required and now I see why. It's a small place with only a few tables nestled among the antiques and once the owner found out an actual German was coming to visit she pulled out all the stops. Her preparations began a week in advance when she put the Sauerbraten in to marinate just on the off chance that I'd want to order it. Turns out her hunch was spot on as it's precisely what I went for with a side of my perennial favorite, spätzle. In an effort to further remind me of my family (as if her German features and mannerisms weren't enough) she guilted me into ordering a vegetable as well, and boy am I glad I did. The red cabbage was perfection and this is coming from someone who used to eat the smallest portion of the stuff that I could get away with. The portions were huge so I have plenty of leftovers to tide me over for a few days to come. Not that I let that stop me from getting dessert, a mango mousse cake that arrived with an extra dish of whipped cream on the side.

You know you're in a German restaurant when the serving of whipped cream is bigger than the actual dessert it's meant to accompany. What can I say? To the Germans whipped cream is its own distinct food group and one must be sure to get the proper daily dose.

I should also explain that the critter seen at the top of this post was a lucky find at Odd-Lot Outlet. At only $1.99 we just couldn't resist. He is yet to be named even though we formally introduced him to several people over the weekend. I'm sure they weren't frightened at all by our love for this adorable little dear. Even if I suspect he snuck sips of my pineapple upside down cake martini while we all dined at Pistachio Bar & Grille in Allentown. That little lush!