I’m well again! No coughing, no sniffling, no congestion–and best of all–no wandering around the apartment like a mindless zombie.   After 2 months of wondering what it feels like to be normal again, I am indeed myself again. With renewed energy, I’ve been excited to head back into the kitchen and start up the baking again.  This post? Involves absolutely no baking–just a wonderfully fast and easy way to whip up some deliciousness.

Before I get into the Cheesecake stuffed strawberries–I just want to give you guys a look at THE BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT (EVER)!  Every so often, I tinker with the idea about getting a DSLR…but I always end up chickening out of making such a huge purchase.  But it was time…and I decided I was going to do it.  Leave it to  Mike (aka best fiance in the world) to rush out and get me one before my designated April 1st purchase.  So, I am now the proud owner of the Canon Rebel T1i (and a Canon Rebel T1i for Dummies book I’ve yet to read).  It’s beautiful!

Okay, onward with the recipe!  Mike’s cousin sent me a link to this recipe a few months back and now that we’re back in strawberry season, I was excited about giving it a try.  Strawberries stuffed with cheesecake? Ingenious!  I had a baby shower to attend this weekend, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give these guys a shot.  And–they were DELICIOUS!  To top it off, they’re super easy!  And to answer your question–yes, they taste just as you’d expect them to.

Make them…make them now!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Original Recipe from Indigo’s Sugar Spectrum

Good for about 20 servings ( 2 green baskets of strawberries)

INGREDIENTS

2 green baskets of Strawberries, washed and dried.
1 8oz package of Cream Cheese, softened
1 tsp of Vanilla Extract
¾ cup Powdered Sugar
6-8 Graham Crackers, crushed
Semisweet chocolate, melted (optional)

  1. Once the strawberries are dry, slice off a bit of one side.
  2. Take a melon baller and spoon out the center of the strawberry, being careful to keep the walls of the strawberry intact.
  3. To make the cheesecake filling: With a mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Now, take the strawberry and fill the center with the cheesecake filling.
  5. Spoon the graham cracker crumbs over the stuffed strawberries.  Take a spoon and gently pat the graham crackers into the filling until crumbs “stick.”
  6. Drizzle strawberries with melted chocolate*.
  7. Place strawberries in refrigerator until ready to be enjoyed.

*Whenever I plan to drizzle desserts with melted chocolate/candy melts–I use Wilton squeeze bottles.  Fill the bottles with your choice of chocolate and carefully place bottle in a small pot with hot water to melt.  Super easy and a super neat way to enhance any dessert.  You can easily find them at your local Michael’s Craft Store.

 

 

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Red Velvet–the celebrated cupcake flavor that will likely define you as a baker.  And I say that with reservation, because before I found this recipe, I was never 100% happy with any red velvet cupcake I had baked in the past.  Simply put, there always seemed to be something missing.  That is, until i found this recipe.  This recipe is pure gold.  It’s perfect.  So perfect, my sister had three without frosting.  It’s so wonderfully moist and the flavor was just so distinctively red velvet.

oh-so-perfect crumb

I love this recipe.  I’ve found the one.

Oh! I also want to share this tidbit.  For the most part, I get my vanilla extract from Costco.  You get a huge bottle for about six dollars.  And to be honest, I’ve been happy with the results.  The vanilla is affordable and everything has always been tasty.  One day, I came across of bottle of vanilla from Williams Sonoma–at $20 for about 2/3 of the size.  The kicker? The vanilla extract was loaded with the actual vanilla beans.  I lost all will power.  I bought it…and regretted it the whole way home. $20?!?!  But I have to be honest.  The vanilla has truly made all the difference.  Without a doubt, the Williams Sonoma vanilla was far superior to the Kirkland brand.  It’s so wonderfully fragrant and the vanilla really comes through–even in a cupcake with so many complicated flavors.  While I may not use the WS vanilla in all my baked goods, it will definitely be my go to vanilla for all special baking occasions.

Favorite Red Velvet Cupcakes

makes 24 cupcakes

For the cake:
2½ cups cake flour
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. cocoa powder (Not dutch-processed)
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1½ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. (1 oz.) liquid red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

For the frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat on medium speed until well blended.  Add in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth.  This will take about 2 minutes–make sure to not over beat mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.  Let cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles

This weekend was the second (now annual) Cousin Sleepover.  So, around 7pm they began to trickle in until the last of the 5 had finally arrived.  Now, it may seem like quite a feat to equally entertain a group of people who’s ages range from 14-27, but I would say we pulled it off.  Somehow in the mist of everyone talking over everyone else, we managed to plan a really fun night.  Dinner, a scary movie, boba, and cupcakes and toss in some video games, and the last of us finally fell asleep at 5 in the morning.  Yes, 5am…and those monsters still wake up at 10:30!

Well, the annual event happened to coincide with a few birthdays, so I decided on making some cupcakes.  To be honest, I’ve been pretty tired lately and I haven’t had much time for myself.  So I decided that I wanted to do something quick and simple and decided a one-bowl cupcake batter would be a lifesaver.   I didn’t want to skimp on making anything special, so i splurged a bit and used Valrhona chocolate in place of traditional cocoa powder.  This was going to be one pricey batch of cupcakes, but I figured it was well worth it.  I didn’t have any particular frosting in mind, but in the end, made a great Oreo Cream Cheese frosting I will certainly make again.  Really, it’s nothing more than throwing tons of  Oreo crumbs into the cream cheese frosting…but you know what? It works!  The boyfriend was a huge fan…but in all honestly, I have a hard time accepting his praises since he’s never offered a single piece of criticism.  But, his cousins loved them (one of whom hates chocolate…i know…I didn’t know those people existed either) and made my day.

Either way, this recipe is soooooooo easy and produces such a wonderfully rich cupcake.

Look how beautifully dark the Valhrona comes out!

Now, I kind of wished I had one myself.  But with all the baking I’ve done for parties lately, I can’t afford to have any more dessert.  Not to mention Mike and I are having a big, fancy dinner for our Anniversary this weekend where I’m sure I’ll be inhaling 2 days worth of Calories.

Chocolate ValrhonaCupcakes

Yields approximately 18 cupcakes

3/4 cup Valrhonacocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Oreo Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2-2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 cup fine Oreo Crumbs

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in vanilla extract.  Gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar (I like to to a taste check after the first cup…because I base how sweet I like my frosting on the actual dessert it’s accompanying).  Lastly, once level of sweetness is achieved, mix in Oreo crumbs.

Recipe is my own.

I’m at the age where everyone around me seems to be getting married/engaged.  I think I congratulate someone on an almost weekly basis now.  So, because I’m a girl…and because I’d like to be engaged myself someday (probably not going to happen for a while…heck, I’ve only been with Michael for 11 years now), I looked thru a few wedding websites my friends were obsessed with.  And lo and behold…i was inspired, but not in the way they were.  Sure, I the girl in me thought “I want this at my wedding!” but for the most part, I was super intrigued by the dessert buffets.  How beautiful! Petit fours, cupcakes, truffles, AND CAKE POPS!  I know, I’m late.  It’s not to say I’ve never seen then before, I was just surprised how taken with them I was this time around.

So off to the market to buy all the necessary materials.  I have to tell you, I was pretty psyched.  And I’ll follow that comment with this–this was hands one of the most frustrating projects I’ve ever taken on.  And I’ve worked with fondant.  Honestly, you can check out the web and get tips from plenty of sites to make these pops.  I personally went to http://www.bakerella.com for some tips and watched her make them on Martha Stewart.  And they make it look sooo easy.  And well, it wasn’t.   You learn from your failures and while these pops certainly were delicious, I’ll need to hone my skills a bit.  Maybe my pops were just too big, making them far too fragile.  Maybe I was just being too stingy with the chocolate coating bc I didn’t want to blow the whole bag on an experiment.  Maybe a while lot of things.  In the end, I was able to make 20 pops.  I destroyed a good 8.  And the destroyed 8, tainted my white chocolate…and I was a very grumpy woman.  Will I make these again?  Yes, without a doubt.  They’re wonderfully fun and really make people happy.  Just don’t start the project thinking you’re going to finish with beautiful, perfect pops.

I’m not including any recipes, since this was really just a trial run.  You can get instructions on marthastewart.com or bakerella.com–and well, i have nothing useful to offer 🙂  But if you’re curious, the cakepop you see here is simply just the Hershey’s Perfect Chocolate cake recipe with my cream cheese frosting.

Dipping the stick into the chocolate first helps it adhere to the cake

Gently dip cake pop into melted white chocolate

nom nom nom

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the second wave of pops since I was running very late for a family bbq, but they were significantly better.  And I covered them with fine oreo crumbs.  Yeah, they were kinda a hit.  Next time, I’ll invest a bit more time and effort into beautifying them (so excuse my pictures). Enjoy!

Wow, has it been a super busy week and a half!  But after some time away, I’m glad to be back here.  So…red velvet.  It’s been such a hot flavor for such a long time.  And why shouldn’t it be?  The cake is wonderfully moist, cream cheese frosting is always amazing…but it’s the flavor…that unidentifiable but tasty flavor of the actual cake  that seems to make everyone an addict.  Some people say it’s the chocolate that “makes” he cupcake, but I’d have to respectfully disagree.  When you take a look at the ingredients and the proportions, it’s quite a stretch to attribute the unique flavor to just chocolate alone.

While recipes vary, the best red velvet recipes call for anywhere from 1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup of cocoa powder.  Some recipes call for butter while others call for oil.  With this much variation, it’s quite difficult to figure out what proportions cater best to your tastes.

Personally, I believe that red velvet shouldn’t actually taste like chocolate.  Chocolate should only be there to add depth to the cupcake itself, so I shy away from recipes that call for anything more than 1/4 cup of cocoa powder.

As far as the whole debate between butter vs. oil, I’m at a standstill.  Butter  imparts a wonderfully rich flavor only real butter can provide.  But, you’ll oftentimes find your cupcake to be on the “drier” and denser side.  Ultimately, you’re going to get something that is much more cake like, that cupcake like.  Oil, on the other-hand will provide that moist texture–but it will lack the rich, buttery taste.  More importantly, some may be turned off by the cupcake being somewhat “oily.”

So, I was in a dilemma.  Look–for whatever reason, people take their red velvet seriously.  Everyone has apparently morphed into a red velvet connoisseur.  I won’t lie–I do the same.  I’ve shunned many cupcake shops because their red velvet cupcake failed to please me. What was I going to do?  I reached out to a friend on Facebook who was now a pastry chef who said that I would have to find a recipe that combined both butter and oil to achieve the flavor and consistency I was looking for.  Okay, I know–it should have been a “Duh” moment for me.  But for whatever reason, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do that.  It’s a rather difficult task–oil is pure fat.  Butter is a combination of fat and water and a handful of other ingredients and you couldn’t just simply exchange them at the same ratio.

While, I wouldn’t say that I perfected the red velvet recipe, I think I’m super happy with what I created.  My boyfriend loved them and his aunt couldn’t stop raving about them.  So, my friends–here’s my version.  Just keep in mind, that whatever combination you choose to make your cupcakes, its the preparation that makes all the different.  Never beat the mixture on anything higher than medium low once the flour is in the batter.  Doing so will give you a very dry cake–remember, overbeating any batter will always give you dry product.   If you have any suggestions or ideas–please share!

As far as the frosting goes, go back to some of the older posts for the recipe.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self rising), sifted
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4  cups vegetable oil
1/2  cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon red gel-paste food color
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cake flour, cocoa and salt. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar, melted butter, and oil until combined.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed for 10 seconds.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 15-20minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months, in an airtight container.

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Pumpkin is totally underrated.  I look forward to pumpkin pies, pumpkin cheesecakes, and pumpkin cupcakes every holiday season.  I completely understand that pumpkins are an autumnal crop, but unless you’re pureeing your own pumpkin for your desserts–there’s no reason to limit pumpkin to just the end of the year.   Okay, okay…I concede that pumpkin pie doesn’t necessarily do anything for me in May, but throw pumpkin into a cheesecake or cupcake and I’ll be all over it.  There’s just something about the wonderful spices that always seem to accompany pumpkin–nutmeg, allspice, and even clove.

We’re always looking for desserts to be sweet (I’m always looking for desserts to sweet and À la mode).  While pumpkin certainly encompasses all that, I always feel like pumpkin imparts such a great savory aftertaste that makes it so unique.  That’s why pumpkin is part of my usual dessert rotation.  So, if you don’t want to wait until October to have the sweet scent of nutmeg in the air, try these pumpkin cupcakes.  They’re moist, flavorful, and delicious! Pair these cupcakes with some cream cheese frosting…and well…could anything be better?

I top my cupcake with a mini Oreo and some Almond Roca crumbs–beautiful!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

makes about 18 cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
  3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 sticks (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and brought to room temperature
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time (until you reach the level of sweetness to your liking)  and then vanilla; mix until smooth.  Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

***I’m sorry my frosting recipes always vary in the amount of sugar.  When it comes to frosting, I never use a standard amount.  I always adjust the level of sweetness based on the actual dessert.  I honestly think that’s the best solution for everyone.  The same goes for the amount of vanilla.

nom nom nom...

I have a lot of chocolate–I mean A LOT.  Ralph’s had a great sale on Ghiradelli chocolate baking bars a few months ago  and I somehow convinced myself it was the wise thing to do.  I told myself that I was being practical, when in reality, I was high off of all the endless possibilities.  $30 later I was home and feeling pretty remorseful.  I felt especially stupid since I had removed real groceries out of my basket to compensate for the chocolate.  Yikes.  Well, it was too late and there’s no point on dwelling on my moment of insanity.

After mulling over a few possibilities (chocolate cake?  molten cake? something with an awesome ganache?) I remembered a great recipe I photocopied from a friend’s David Lebovitz recipe book.  Ahhh, the drool inducing,  The Great Book of Chocolate. A book I terribly want, but never get around to buying.  A frustratingly long, 30 minutes later I was able to dig up the recipe– Black Bottom Cupcakes.  I was immediately enamored with the photo, but the basic description sealed the deal–(i’m paraphrasing here, but…)  Wonderful devil’s chocolate cupcakes with a rich chocolate chip cheesecake filling.

And while you don’t need it, I also opted to serve them with some cream cheese frosting (…i might have…failed to mention that I also bought a few boxes of cream cheese since they were under $2 a box…).

You can make these using your favorite boxed cake, but the cake batter is so simple and so delicious, I would encourage everyone to give it a shot.

They actually keep quite well in the refrigerator if placed in an air-tight container.  Mike even had some unfrosted cupcakes for breakfast the following day.

They are absolutely fabulous! I brought them to a bridal shower and they were definitely a huge hit.  David Lebovitz simply never fails.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup unflavored vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Make the filling
Beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside.

Make the cupcakes

Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.   Prepare cupcake tins with preferred cupcake liners.   In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients, stirring until just smooth. Stir any longer and you will over mix the batter and end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling them about 2/3 of the way.   Spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely.  This is fine, but keep in mind the ingredients will expand so if you overfill them, they’ll spill over a tad and create a more flat top cupcake.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed.