Sunday, October 05, 2008

pumpkin cupcakes w/ salted caramel frosting

Fall is approaching, and you know what that means...? PUMPKINS. More importantly, pumpkin food. Pumpkin DESSERTS. A few miles south of Columbus (my stomping grounds) there is a little town called Circleville, which is home of the official Circleville Pumpkin Show. For 4 days, it's nothing but serious pumpkin worship--pumpkin food of all sorts (from pizza to doughnuts to fudge) a Miss Pumpkin Show Queen contest, parades, pie eating contests, pumpkin toss contests, the list goes on and on. All in the name of pumpkins!!

One of our recent interns at work was originally from Circleville. She's a super sweet , super enthusiastic girl who is 110% proud of who she is and what she does. You know what that means? She's 110% WAAAAY into fall and WAAAY into pumpkins. She was pretty widely loved at work, so at the end of her second quarter with us, I decided to dedicate a round of baked goods to her. The results? Some really freakin amazing pumpkin cupcakes with salted caramel frosting.

Since I'm no baking expert (I just play one on tv! Hah! sorry, bad joke...) I googled pumpkin cupcakes and landed upon a promising recipe from none other than my personal hero, Martha Stewart. Say what you will about her, the woman knows her shit. She has built an incredible business empire doing what she's good at and what she loves and I admire her for that. So Martha, here I come, making your cupcakes.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
(straight from Martha Stewart Living...)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated 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
  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, ginger, 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.
So this recipe here, this recipe makes the best moist pumpkin cupcakes quite possibly on earth. The recipe, straight from Martha's website, also claims it makes a quantity of 18. Martha may be good in the kitchen, she may be a killer w/ the crafts and a pro with floral arrangements, but I'm starting to doubt Martha's ability to count. Since I was taking these cupcakes to work, I thought "Oh hey, I better double the batch so I can make sure to have enough! If i have a few left over for myself, then that's cool." Eighteen would've fallen a bit short b/c some days, the baked goods go fast! Well, I doubled it. I had a big freakin bowl FULL of pumpkin cupcake goo. So technically, this would've made somewhere around 36, right? Maybe a little more, a little less? AW HELL NO. I got 42 cupcakes AND A SMALL CAKE!!!! If I hadn't used the batter for a cake, i would've easily gotten at least 48-50 cupcakes. HOLY MOLY. Well, at least I'd have plenty to bring to work! (and then stash away to stuff my face at a later date...)

Well the cupcakes need a frosting and Martha's recipe merely mentioned a cream cheese frosting. I was on my own. Which is okay, b/c I'm pretty confident when it comes to making crazytown frosting. A salted caramel frosting sounded like the perfect match, and I was SOOO RIGHT. THEY WERE SO GOOD.

The salted caramel frosting is made w/ a homemade caramel sauce. I stumbled across the recipe several months ago on a dearly beloved and now defunct blog, Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit. The full instructions are as follows:

Salted Caramel

4 tablespoons water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, kosher or sea

1. Combine the water, sugar, and the corn syrup in a deep saucepan and cook over medium heat.
2. Stir together with a wooden spoon until the sugar is incorporated.
3. Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
4. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
5. Do not stir from this point on, but it is important to carefully shake the pan so that one area of the caramel doesn’t burn.
6. Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even amber color then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds.
7. *** This is the dangerous part *** Pour the heavy cream into the mixture. Wear oven mitts, stand away from the pan, and be careful. The mixture will bubble up significantly.
8. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
9. Measure 1 cup into a Pyrex measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Note: There was a small bit of extra caramel that I poured onto a small plate that I covered in aluminum foil and greased with vegetable oil. I transferred the plate to the freezer for about 30 minutes. I chopped the caramel quickly into squares (its starts to get soft) and topped each cupcake with a square.

Salted Caramel Frosting

2 sticks butter
8 ounces or 1 package of Philly cream cheese
5 to 6 cups powdered sugar
1 cup salted caramel

1. Bring butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours.
2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
3. Sift 3 cups of powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
4. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
5. Sift 2-3 cups of powder sugar, in 1 cup increments and beating between each, until you arrive at the thickness and sweetness you desire. I used 6 cups. The frosting wasn’t super thick, but it was starting to get pretty sweet.

I accidentally burnt my first batch of caramel, which may have been a blessing in disguise. You gotta work w/ this stuff FAST FAST FAST. So b/c I was bringing them to work and had a reputation to uphold, I made a better batch of caramel. I used it all in the frosting, and thought it needed a little more carameliness. That's when I added a few tablespoons of the burnt caramel which actually helped punch the caramel flavor through the sometimes-too-sweet confectionary sugar. So it all turned out okay! WOO HOO!! I also probably didn't use the full 5-6 cups of sugar. Well, maybe 5, but quite possibly a bit less. I hate that the flavors get lost b/c confectionary sugar is so strongly sweet--it tends to mask the glorious flavors its' working with. I would rather have a gooey frosting full of delicious flavor than something that resembles a perfectly fluffy buttercream that just tastes like a sugar pile!

Overall, the cupcakes were a huge success. The next weekend I made the same things for my dad's birthday, and only made ONE batch, which still yielded 27 cupcakes instead of the supposed 18. Mom and Dad loved them. So seriously, give this one a try. They're amazing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Strawberry Cream Parfait

This is based on a recipe for a
Strawberry Ricotta Parfait on Epicurious/from SELF Magazine.

Recently, my bf and I had dinner with some friends of ours. My mission was to bring dessert, but as it turned out, the week was extremely busy w/ late work nights in order to meet a big deadline that week (Hah, what else is new?). I can never make up my mind about what I really want to do for a recipe, which just added to the stress of "WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE FOR FRIDAY NIGHT?!?!" Then it hit me. A PARFAIT OF SORTS! Yes! I can buy some pound cake, throw together some layers of goo, make it look pretty and voila! Dessert in less than an hour--I just need prep time.

I knew I wanted to do something like strawberry shortcake, and I already had some ricotta waiting for me in my fridge. After watching the Food Network as much as I do, you eventually figure out that as long as you have a few of the following--ricotta and/or marscapone, pound cake, chocolate and/or Nutella, and an alcohol of sorts--your possibilities for dessert are endless. Hah, it actually feels like a rather Taco Bell-type approach to dessert--same ingredients everytime, just a slightly different formation.

I used the Epicurious/SELF magazine recipe as my "base recipe," but altered it for my own taste. I get yelled at lot for this. I alter the recipe to my liking before even trying the pure form of the recipe. Baking/cooking is probably the one area in life I can actually be spontaneous! Hell, why not throw in a little extra alcohol? Some pudding maybe? Sure, sounds great! As I read in a recent issue of EveryDay with Rachael Ray, a young but wise culinary student said that a recipe is merely a template for you to use as a guide to make your own creation--edit as you wish (something to that affect, anyway).


Strawberry Cream Parfai
t (I renamed it since I altered it. I guess that's okay.)

• For the strawberry layer

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, or 1 cup frozen, sliced

(I totally used the frozen sweetened kind, due to lack of time and primo produce at my Kroger that evening)

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

1 tbsp rosewater

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp cornstarch, to thicken mixture (optional)

1 tbsp cold water (for cornstarch only)

• For the cream layer:

15 ounces lowfat ricotta

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 snack-cup of vanilla pudding (yeah, those little things you ate as a kid. one of those)

Sugar, to taste (I used about 4 tbsp, the original recipe recommends only 2.)

• For the cake layer

2 tbsp spiced rum

2 tbsp juice from strawberries (if using frozen)

1 pound cake (Sara Lee from the frozen section is pretty good. Entenmann's is a close second.)

• Garnish: This could be mint leaves, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, etc. I used a single Nilla Wafer cookie to top each parfait.

4-6 cups/glasses in which to distribute the parfaits.

• Directions:

Prep the strawberries, whether that means washing/chopping/hulling or just thawing and draining. If using frozen berries, reserve the juice. If your natural strawberries have been in a container and have juices, you can use that as well. If not, don't worry about it. I chose to boil the strawberries for a few minutes to bring the ingredients together and to thicken the sauce. I probably would not have done this if I were using fresh berries, but since my berries were frozen and mushy anyway, it seemed like a good idea. Either way, mix all the ingredient for the strawberry layer together. If simmering, mix 1 tbsp cornstarch + 1 tbsp cold water until completely dissolved, then add to strawberry mixture and simmer until mixture thickens. Let cool.

Remember the strawberry juice you reserved? Now's the time to do something with it. Mix 2 tbsp of juice w/ 2 tbsp spiced rum (you could also use wine, champagne, Grand Marnier, triple sec, schnapps, you get the picture.) and get out your pastry brush.

Next, slice pound cake anywhere from .75" to 1" thick. Obviously, slice enough to allow at least one slice per serving. If your cups (and the pound cake!) allow for multiple slice, then power to you. I was working w/ short small glasses, so I only fit one slice. Also, make sure you trim the slice to fit in the cup. Alternatively, you could also crumble the cake and use that as a layer instead of using a solid piece.

Mix cream filling ingredients together, adding the sugar slowly and occasionally tasting (with a clean spoon!) in between additions to make sure you get the sweetness you prefer. Blend well, until nice and smooth.

Here comes the fun. LAYERING. The assembly order:

1. Strawberry mixture. Spoon into glass/cup.

2. Pound cake

3. Juice + Rum mixture. Brush this onto the cake--I recommend brushing each slice a few times.

4. Ricotta Cream mixture

5. Garnish.

The longer these sit, the better the flavors will blend together. Whatever you do, make sure you refrigerate this stuff until you eat it.

You might also have some stuff leftover, like the ricotta cream mixture. Refrigerate and use however you like. Perhaps as a base for a cannoli filling? Another parfait? A delightful dip for cookies/wafers/biscuits? Use your imagination. Be wild!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Adventures in Dessert Salsa

(first comes the blabber, so if you just want the recipes, scroll down a bit)

At work each year, we have several competitions. In October, we have the pumpkin-carving contest. In January, we have a chili cook-off. The pie-bake-off is always for the 4th of July (or rather, since we're in Columbus, the Red White & Boom event). But now it's early May, meaning Cinco de Mayo, meaning the SALSA CONTEST. The only problem w/ that is--I'm not a huge salsa connoisseur. Sure, I'll eat it, but i'm not CRAZY about it. I'm not huge on super spicy foods either--i'm kind of a wimp, unfortunately.

In the past I've been totally happy to not participate in the salsa contest--i just eat the stuff and vote. It's less stressful that way. Salsa making isn't my thing--whatevs. BUT THIS YEAR I had an epiphany... WHAT IF I MADE A DESSERT SALSA?!?! Dessert IS my thing....sort of. I'm not a pro, for sure, but i bake a hell of a lot (mostly cupcakes and french macarons) and i watch enough of the food network to believe that i have a decent understanding of the "dessert" concept. I thought "I'll give this a whirl. Why the hell not? What better time to try this out??"

I just had to decide on what I actually wanted to do! Chocolate? Fruit? This is gonna be on a tortilla chip after all. I couldn't make up my mind and I had two ideas. One w/ a spicy chocolate base, and one w/ a fruit base.

If you're familiar w/ Vosges Haut Chocolat (I'm obsessed) then you might know that they have chocolate covered tortilla chips. This made me pretty confident that a spicy chocolate "salsa" would work. However, salsa's got some chunk to it, so I needed some texture. That, however, wouldn't be hard to figure out.

The fruit one was a bit more of an experiment. I found this recipe from to get an idea of a fruit base. I decided to go w/ strawberries instead of raspberries though--cheaper and less seedy. I'm not into mass amounts of seeds. But besides the fruit I wanted a sauce to kind of "adhere" it. I figured I'd give it a go w/ a caramel glaze. So after a trip to kroger, it was time to get to work!!! Here we go.

1. Spicy Chocolate Dessert Salsa.
I wanted a chocolate sauce consistency, not just melted chocolate that'll harden a few minutes later. I used this
  • 6 ounces water
  • 4 1/4 ounces sugar
  • 2 1/4 ounces corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces cocoa powder
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate chips (the recipe calls for dark chocolate, but i think milk chocolate goes better w/ the salty-factor. i'm trusting Vosges on this one!)
First, heat the water. Add in the sugar and corn syrup and stir until the sugar's dissolved. Then add the cocoa powder and chocolate. I stirred it pretty constantly. After it's all combined, it's time to add the fun part.

• Heath Toffee Bits (not more chocolate--just the toffee)

• chopped/ground peanuts (whatever will come out of your food processor)

• zest of 1 orange

• lime juice
• cinnamon. LOTS

• hungarian paprika. LOTS

• chili powder. SERIOUSLY A LOT

• sea salt. not quite lots.

Adding the spices to the chocolate was surprising. Unfortunately, I didn't measure exactly. I'd sprinkle some in, taste it, then sprinkle some more, taste it again, and just keep dumping stuff in from there. It took a couple tablespoons, I'm willing to bet, but it also depends on the flavor you're going for. You can definitely detect the flavor of cinnamon and chili powder, but it's not overpowering. It may not hit you in the back of the throat, but it has a wonderful smokey flavor and hint of spice. It's quite good. I thought I added enough chili powder to give you a small hit of spice in the back of your throat, but after actually eating the salsa the next day, it wasn't very strong. That could be a good thing though--you can eat more of it before the spice builds up!

The citrus from the orange zest and lime juice added a nice tang. I probably added about a tablespoon of lime juice or just a little more. (again, i just squeezed straight out of my little lime-shaped thingy--no real measuring.) I also added some salt--everyone love the salty chocolate combo. I added probably a teaspoon's worth? I didn't want it to be too overpowering, just more of a hint.

All in all, the chocolate salsa had a very nice complexity to it!!! You could taste the chocolate and experience the crunch of the toffee and peanuts (which actually mystified many people, surprisingly), then you sensed the lime, then the spices. I was very happy w/ the way it turned out. The response was very good too--everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It didn't win or even place, but the positive response was enough. I had a lot of people say that they "just kept eating it and then had to stop themselves," which to me was just as good as winning. Mission #1 accomplished! I have some left, which means it'll be recycled into a lovely topping for cupcakes or brownies!!! Oh man that's gonna be GOOD.

2. Whiskey Caramel Fruit Salsa
• strawberries
• kiwi (peeled)
• peaches (peeled, or use frozen)
• pears (peeled)

For the strawberries and kiwi, I bought one of those larger-sized pre-cut/pre-peeled containers from Kroger, plus 2 or 3 extra kiwis. I used some frozen peaches I had in my freezer, probably the equivalent of 1 large peach to 1.5 peaches (it depends on your preference). Later in the process, I added 1/2 pear (add this right before it will be consumed, so the pear doesn't oxidize to brown yuck). Slice all that fruity goodness to small bits. Mix it all up in a bowl. Voila. Part 1 done. On to the glaze.

Whiskey Caramel Glaze
• 1 container caramel apple dip (I had this left from a party and I was dying to get rid of it)
• heavy cream (you'll only use a few ounces)
• corn syrup (again, a few ounces)
• Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey (approx 1/2 cup)
• Heath Toffee Bits (no chocolate--just the toffee. approx 3/4-1 cup)

Just like the chocolate salsa, this was a total experiment... meaning no actual measuring was done. I put the caramel glaze in a double-boiler--i figured this would heat it more evenly and i wouldn't have to worry about sugar burning, working quickly, etc.

First, I heated the caramel and added a little corn syrup. The corn syrup was to help thin it out, but maintain a sugary-glaze quality. Perhaps I didn't even need the corn syrup--i have no clue. It seemed like a good idea. But anyway, I probably added about 2 ounces. Then I added 3-4 ounces of heavy cream, also to help thin it out and make it a creamier caramel than what already existed. After that was all mixed together, I added Jack Daniels. You need to stir constantly (i found using a whisk most helpful instead of a spoon), b/c the cream tends to separate a bit when adding the Jack. I added enough Jack to taste, which probably was around 1/2 cup. You can add as much as you like--I find that the flavor of Whiskey is a nice addition to the creamy, sugary caramel. It adds a unique punch, especially when mixed with the fruit. Overall, you want to add enough corn syrup, heavy cream, and Jack Daniels to turn the caramel to a medium-thick liquid consistency so it doesn't congeal to a big nasty glob, especially when added to the fruit.

Add this mixture to the fruit slowly--perhaps a few tablespoons at a time--so you get the salsa-consistency you want. You may want lots of caramel, you may just want a little bit. I personally like more caramel b/c the fruit flavors are pretty strong. After you mix the caramel and fruit together, you need one more addition--THE HEATH TOFFEE BITS. They get lost easily, so I added somewhere between 3/4-1 cup. Seriously--the Heath adds great texture and flavor to each bite. However, that was when I was eating it straight up w/ a fork. It's a little different when eating it w/ tortilla chips.

The response to the caramel salsa was pretty good as well, but I think the chocolate went over better. When eating the caramel fruit salsa w/ tortilla chips, the Heath bits unfortunately weren't very noticeable--probs due to the crunchiness of the chip. However, the caramel fruit salsa (with the heath!) would be AWESOME with lots of other things... shortbread cookies? Ice cream?? Cheesecake?? Some sort of pudding pie??

So that was my adventure in Dessert Salsa creation. Sounds exciting, no? The overall process went pretty quickly so if time is a concern, I'd say 1 recipe will take you around an hour or less--it all depends on your kitchen skills.

If you're making these recipes ahead of time, I recommend keeping the caramel glaze separate from the fruit until the very last minute. B/c of refrigeration, the caramel will congeal so you'll have to heat it for a little bit to get it to thin back out. Can you imagine how gross that would be if the fruit were mixed in?? Heating the fruit w/ the caramel mixture??? Igh. I imagine it'd be kind of gross. Once the caramel is thinned out and added to the fruit though, it won't re-glob-ify as long as it doesn't experience any super cold temperatures.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We've only just begun…

At long last I'm starting a blog. If you know me at all, then I'm sure you already know I have lots of random ideas and obsessions. For now, this will be my way of recording them all and for you to keep up! Have fun :-)
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