Wednesday, December 28, 2011


In all my years of baking, I have never made snickerdoodles before. Shocking, right? Well, my family didn't bake cookies during the holidays, and we rarely made homemade cookies at home (that's what neighbors are for, right?). This year I decided to change that and bake these cinnamon and sugar delights myself.

I was poking around Pinterest and did a search for snickerdoodles and came across this Martha Stewart recipe. I know that Martha's recipes usually turn out well so I gave it a whirl. Luckily, I already had all the ingredients on hand so I didn't need to make an extra trip to the store.

Man, oh man, do these cookies make the house smell delicious! My husband was upstairs and said, "It smells good in here!" These snickerdoodles have the perfect amount of crunch on the outside while maintaining a soft, chewy center. I love the combination of cinnamon and sugar and may have to make a cupcake version of these soon.

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Put butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

Stir together cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 20 (1 3/4-inch) balls; roll in cinnamon sugar. Space 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Yield: Martha's recipe says it makes 18 cookies, but I used a medium cookie scoop and got 29 cookies. 

Source: Talin Bee; originally from Martha Stewart's Cookies book, page 82

Sunday, December 25, 2011

4-ingredient fudge

Fudge is one of those sweets that I've always enjoyed but never took the time to make. I remember going to a friend's apartment during college and listening to her tell me that it's super easy to make (she had made a batch for us to munch on).  Although that statement always stuck with me, I didn't take action on it until many, many years later. Like 15 years, but who's counting?

This holiday season, I saw a bunch of fudge recipes pop up in an online fudge round-up.  I wanted my first attempt at fudge to be an easy, dummy-proof version with no requirements of using a candy thermometer (I have had several failed attempts at peanut brittle, which could be a post all on its own. And in case you're wondering, I still have not been successful with peanut brittle).

The fudge recipe below is simpler than I could ever have imagined.  It takes just four ingredients and one saucepan to put this one together. Now that I've created the simple version of fudge, I may just venture out and try some additional flavors. Only this time, it won't be years until I try making fudge again!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

  • 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Line a square 8” baking pan with wax paper or parchment paper. 

In a pot, over low heat, add the chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk and the sea salt. Melt, stirring often with a large wooden spoon.

Once all is well blended, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Pour into the wax paper lined baking pan and spread evenly with the back of the wooden spoon.

Refrigerate for 3-4 hours until firm.

Source: Daily Dish Recipes; who adapted from What's Gaby Cooking

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Candy cane kiss cookies

Is it obvious yet that I love Beantown Baker's recipes?  Many of my favorite sweets are from her blog, and I'm always scouring her website for something to make next. This recipe popped up in my Google Reader around the holidays last year, and I believe I made this for my coworker Leigh's annual cookie exchange. They were gone pretty quickly, so I guess that makes it a successful recipe!

These cookies are chocolately, minty and would pair perfectly with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.  They're similar to the ever-so-popular peanut butter blossoms, but they're chocolate and peppermint. Score! 

I guess I'm chock-full of chocolate and mint desserts this holiday season, seeing that the last few posts have all had this wonderful flavor combination.

  • 16 ounces/ 1 pound bittersweet morsels
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
  • candy cane or mint kisses, unwrapped and frozen

Melt bittersweet morsels, unsweetened chocolate and butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Stir often and heat just until it is melted. Remove from heat. Pour into a large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time to chocolate mixture. Stirring until fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Add vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Pour that into the chocolate mixture. Finally, add the chocolate semisweet morsels.

Refrigerate for at least an hour. Scoop out with a cookie scoop. Drop ball  or roll into a ball with your hands onto greased cookie sheet. Bake in a 325 F oven for about ten minutes. Remove from heat, immediately press kiss into cookie. If you don't mind them melted, you can return to the oven for one minute more (I did not do this). Otherwise leave them in the cookie and let it rest on cookie sheet for one minute and then transfer to a wire rack. You can also put the kisses in the freezer so they will not melt as fast.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Peppermint Brownies

I love when the weather starts getting cooler. It reminds me of hanging out with my family around the holiday season and celebrating my dad's birthday (he is a Christmas Eve baby). Another great thing is that Trader Joe's starts selling their seasonal Candy Cane Joe Joe's!  What is a Candy Cane Joe Joe, you ask?  It's basically a sandwich cookie (like an Oreo) except the cream filling has bits of crushed candy cane thrown in!  I could probably eat the whole box in one sitting...

I found this fabulous recipe from Beantown Baker a few seasons ago and have made these multiple times.  I always set out to Trader Joe's to buy the cookies just so I can make these brownies!  The brownie layer is the recipe from King Arthur Flour, and it's my favorite homemade brownie to date.  And the peppermint Joe Joe mix-in is just genius!

You can always create a much simpler glaze if you don't want to go extra fancy.  Simply mix some powdered sugar (about a cup) with 1-2 tablespoons of water. Add a splash of peppermint extract, and you're done!  If the mixture is too lumpy, add more water.  If it's too liquidy, add more powdered sugar. The drizzle that I made on the brownies above is 2 ounces of melted white chocolate with about 1/8 teaspoon of peppermint extract.

Enjoy these perfect bites of chocolate and peppermint!

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa (I use Hershey's special dark)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp espresso powder, optional
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ~25 peppermint sandwich cookies, such as Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe's, cut into chunks
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

Transfer the sugar mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, if you've heated it in a saucepan. Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, espresso powder, peppermint, and vanilla.

Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth.

Add the flour and cookie chunks. Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan.

Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool completely prior to cutting.

    White and Bittersweet Chocolate Peppermint Ganache
    • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate
    • 3 oz white chocolate
    • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
    • 6 Tbsp heavy cream
    Break white chocolate into chunks and place in a bowl. Break bittersweet chocolate into chunks and place in another bowl.

    Bring heavy cream and peppermint to a boil.

    Pour half of the cream over the white chocolate and half over the bittersweet chocolate. Let set for a minute then whisk each until smooth.
      Source: Beantown Baker

      Wednesday, December 14, 2011

      Peppermint meringues

      I was so excited when my generous mother-in-law gifted me a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine (thanks, Mom Lu!). Their pictures of food are always so gorgeous, and I always like to flip through the issues to look for recipes I should try.

      My first issue arrived on Friday afternoon, and I was excited to see some festive peppermint meringues gracing the cover. I'd never made meringues before and thought that this would be a perfect opportunity.

      I was able to whip these up pretty quickly while I was watching our daughter for the morning. The aroma of the peppermint made the house smell like Christmas! I eagerly bit into the meringue and liked its crunchy yet airy texture. To prevent myself from eating the entire batch, I packaged them into bags and will give them away as holiday presents.

      This is a very easy recipe to follow; plus, it makes a lot of cookies. If you're looking for a stress-free homemade treat to give away this holiday season, consider these red and white striped confections!

      • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
      • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
      • 1/3 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
      • 1/8 tsp peppermint extract
      • 12 drops red food coloring
      Preheat oven to 200F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I used my imitation Silpat)

      Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute.

      With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions, beating for about 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. 

      Add powdered sugar and peppermint extract; beat to blend, about 1 minutes.

      Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip. Twist top and pipe 1" rounds onto prepared sheet or Silpat. Space meringues 1" apart.

      Bake meringues until dry, about 2.5 hours. Let cool completely (for about an hour). Meringues will crisp as they cool.

      Note: Meringues can be made 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. The recipe above yields about 75 meringues.

      Source: Bon Appetit magazine, December 2011 issue, page 88

      Sunday, December 11, 2011

      Dark chocolate peppermint patty cookies

      My coworker Leigh hosts an annual cookie swap around the holidays. I searched high and low for a recipe to make for this festive event and had this recipe bookmarked for quite some time. Of course, I found it on Beantown Baker and knew that this would be a hit.

      We were asked to bring about 4 dozen cookies for the swap, and I saw that the original recipe made about 2 dozen so I doubled the recipe but only ended up with 40 cookies. I also wasn't sure what the "small" peppermint patties were but soon realized that they are the standard size patties that you can find just about everywhere. I bought two bags of them and had about 12 peppermint patties left over. Ok, maybe I snuck a few to eat, so there might be less than 10 left.  I'm not telling.

      These cookies were fantastic! They were time-consuming to chill, flatten and shape around the peppermint patties, but I think that they were worth it. I used dark cocoa to cut down on the sweetness and that worked very well. My husband exclaimed that these were his second favorite cookies to date (with his #1 favorite being the Jacques Torres mudslide cookies).

      I also didn't add any decorating sugar because 1) I felt the cookies would be sweet enough on their own, and 2) I don't have decorating sugar!

      I'm happy to say that my cookies were a hit at the cookie exchange - they went very quickly and seemed like one of the first kinds to go. Give these a try!

      • 2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1 egg 
      • 1 Tbsp milk
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1-1/2 cups flour
      • 1/3 cup cocoa (I used dark cocoa)
      • 1/2 tsp baking soda
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 24 to 26 small (1-1/2 inch) York Peppermint Patties
      • White decorator's sugar (I did not use)
      Beat butter and sugar in large mixing bowl; add egg, milk and vanilla, blending thoroughly. Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture, blending well. Refrigerate dough about 1 hour or until firm enough to handle. (Dough will be a little soft.)

      Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. Remove wrappers from peppermint patties.

      Roll dough into 1-1/4 inch balls. For each cookie flatten ball slightly; press peppermint patty into dough. Mold dough around patty so that it is completely covered. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Using knife edge press star design into surface of each cookie; sprinkle with decorator's sugar. (I did not do this last step.)

      Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until cookie is set (I baked for 12 minutes); sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 2 dozen cookies. (I got 40 cookies by doubling the recipe.)

      Source: Beantown Baker. Originally seen on

      Thursday, December 8, 2011

      Peppermint bark

      I love peppermint bark. The first time I tried it was from one of those pre-packaged tins from Williams-Sonoma. I remember balking at the price tag because it was close to $20 for a small tin. After I refined my baking skills over the years, I sought to recreate this wonderful holiday treat.

      I've worked with candy melts before and knew that I could make a version of peppermint bark using this no-fuss ingredient. In fact, my peppermint bark recipe only uses 4 total ingredients! I know that there are other recipes floating out there, but I honestly haven't seen them and like my super simple version. If I have the time (and money) to make a more expensive version, I might try it one day.  But not today.

      This is a treat that I make every holiday season to give away as presents. I give them to coworkers, my skating friends, my husband's swimming buddies and our daughter's daycare providers. Next time you see a package or tin of peppermint bark in the store, why don't you pass on it and try to make it at home instead?

      • 1 package white chocolate candy melts (can use white chocolate as a substitute)
      • 1 package dark chocolate candy melts (can use regular dark chocolate or milk chocolate)
      • 1/2 to 1 tsp peppermint extract
      • About 1/3 cup crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
      Crush the peppermints with a rolling pin, hammer or other heavy object. Set aside.

      Over a double boiler or in a microwave, melt the dark chocolate. Using an offset spatula, spread melted chocolate on a sheet of waxed paper lined on a cookie sheet. Let it set until dry.

      Once dark chocolate is dry, melt the white chocolate using the same method. Once the white chocolate is melted, add the peppermint extract. Stir quickly or else the white chocolate will seize. Again, using an offset spatula, spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate. Try to cover as much of the dark chocolate as you can.

      Immediately after spreading the white chocolate, sprinkle the top with the crushed peppermint or candy cane pieces.

      Let the bark dry, break into pieces, and enjoy!

      Source: An Eva Bakes original, but inspired by Williams-Sonoma and seen on oodles of other websites

      Sunday, December 4, 2011

      Mint chocolate chip ice cream (for Annie)

      I found out recently that a well-loved and popular blogger on one of my cooking forums lost her dad on Thanksgiving day.  I cannot even begin to imagine what that is like and what emotions she must be feeling right now.

      A group of us decided to create a virtual shower featuring comfort foods for Annie. My contribution is mint chocolate chip ice cream.

      Ice cream is comfort food in and of itself. My ultimate favorite flavor, without hesitation, is mint chocolate chip. It has always been and probably always will be. I love the refreshing taste of mint paired with one of my favorite things (chocolate), and together they are just the perfect combination. I made a batch of it this week and hope it will help calm me down before my upcoming figure skating test.

      Annie, although this ice cream is chilly, it really warms my heart and gives me comfort. I will be thinking of you and your family during this difficult time and wish I could send some of this ice cream your way. Virtual hugs to you, and please know that many of us are here to support you.

      • 1 cup whole milk
      • A pinch of salt
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 2 cups heavy cream
      • 5 large egg yolks
      • 1-2 teaspoons peppermint extract (I usually eyeball it and don't measure this)
      • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of mini chocolate chips (regular sized chips would work too)
      Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan.

      In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks and gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

      Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

      Strain the custard into a separate bowl with the heavy cream. Add the peppermint extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly - preferably overnight.

      Once the mixture is completely chilled, mix in the chocolate chips and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

      Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

      Thursday, December 1, 2011

      Key lime cheesecake

      My hard-working husband enjoyed a successful year in his job and found out that he had earned an all-expenses paid trip from his company! We got to choose between 3 or 4 cities to visit, and while we really wanted to go to San Diego (since neither of us has been), we thought it would be easier to stick closer to home this time around. After all, we'd be bringing our daughter, and with the travel and recent Daylight Savings time change, we wanted to keep things simple. So we opted to go to Miami, Florida.

      One of the restaurants we'd been dying to try is Joe's Stone Crab.  They have been featured on countless food and travel channel programs for their stone crabs. During one travel program, the host ordered stone crabs and had a slice of key lime pie for dessert. It sounded amazing, so we did the same.

      And my, oh my! That key lime pie was like a slice of heaven! I'm not usually a fan of tart desserts, but this was an exception. The tartness from the citrus was offset by the sweetness in the graham cracker crust. I wanted to make something to remind us of the time we spent in Miami, so I made a key lime cheesecake. My coworkers loved this cheesecake, so my ode to Miami was a success!

      • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
      • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
      • 24 ounces cream cheese, softened
      • 1 cup white sugar
      • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
      • 3 eggs
      • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest (I did not include)
      • 2/3 cup key lime juice (I read the user reviews and only used 1/2 cup to cut down on the tartness)
      Combine cookie or graham cracker crumbs with butter or margarine. Press into bottom and partially up sides of 9 inch springform pan. Refrigerate. (I did not refrigerate)

      In a large bowl, beat with an electric mixer the cream cheese, sugar, lime peel, and cornstarch until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, blending just until smooth. Add key lime juice with mixer on low. Finish mixing by hand. Do not overbeat, or cake will crack during baking. Pour batter into prepared crust.

      Bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 55 to 65 minutes, or until set. To minimize cracking, place a shallow pan half full of hot water on lower rack during baking. I skipped this step, and my cheesecake did not crack.

      Turn oven off, and let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes with the door open at least 4 inches. Remove from oven. Refrigerate cake overnight, and up to three days. 

      Source: slightly adapted from

      Wednesday, November 23, 2011

      Apple pie

      An apple pie is perfect for the fall. My husband continuously raves about his grandmother's apple pie, and I am so sad that I never got to meet her or taste her amazing food before she passed. Luckily, my mother-in-law had Grandma R's apple pie and gave it to me way back in 2003. I've been too chicken to try making it on my own.

      My sister-in-law gave me a pie plate, pastry cutter and a pie crust (dry) mix for Christmas last year. I no longer had an excuse to put off this recipe! My husband was super excited when told him that I was going to tackle this recipe once and for all. The only part I cheated on was the crust - since I had a pre-mixed crust, I did not attempt the homemade version.  Well, at least not yet.  I'll need to do that next time.

      My husband's Aunt Jo also makes a fantastic version of Grandma R's apple pie. Of the numerous pie varieties that she makes from scratch, this is by far my favorite. Mom Lu, Aunt Jo and Grandma R, I hope I did you good!

      Pie Crust
      • 3 cups flour
      • 1 cup lard
      • 1 tsp salt
      • 1 egg, beaten
      • 1 tsp vinegar
      • 6-8 TBSP water
      Mix all ingredients together and stir minimally. Roll thin. Bake at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Turn down to 350 degrees until pie is done.

      • 3-4 apples, peeled and sliced
      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1 TBSP flour
      • Cinnamon to taste
      • Enough milk to make a thick sauce
      Combine the sugar, flour cinnamon and milk. Toss with the apples.
      Put the filling into the baked pie crust and top with another layer of crust. Using a paring knife, make a few slits in the crust.

      Wet the top of the crust with a little bit of milk and then sprinkle with sugar.

      Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

      Cool and enjoy!

      Source: My mother-in-law Lu; originally from Grandma R

      Wednesday, November 16, 2011

      Lavender macarons with chocolate honey ganache

      This past spring I attended a cooking class for my friend Katie's birthday. A chef taught us how to prepare several dishes, including a lavender cake. I never heard of cooking or baking with lavender before, so I was intrigued. I asked the chef where to buy lavender, and she said that I could purchase it at Penzey's. But, after I looked on their website and browsed through their store, I couldn't find it. I was sorely disappointed.

      During my next trip to Penzey's, I asked an employee about the lavender. He had it hidden in behind the cashier's counter so it was out of sight. Score! The lavender sat in my kitchen for a few weeks until I found another recipe to use it.

      I went online and thought that I could make some lavender macarons and found this recipe from The Ginger Cook.  Since I don't own a kitchen scale, I altered the French macaron recipe I made last month and used that instead.

      These macarons smell like a fresh spring day. The dried lavender really comes through and isn't too strong. The chocolate honey ganache is a nice complement to the light and airy macaron, though I must admit that the honey flavor doesn't come through too strongly. The next time I may add more honey to make the filling more aromatic.

      • 1 cup (100 grams) almond flour (I used Trader Joe's almond meal and put it in the blender to chop it finer)
      • 1 teaspoon dried lavender
      • Purple/lavender gel food coloring
      • 1 1/2 cups (210 grams) confectioners' sugar
      • 4 egg whites (120 grams), at room temperature and at least a day old (I used 1/2 cup of egg whites, which were at least 5 days old; they sat out at room temperature for at least 12 hours)
      • 4 tablespoons (50 grams) sugar
      Line a clean, flat cookie sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper, and set it aside.

      Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in middle of oven.

      Grind almond meal/flour in the blender or food processor with the dried lavender and confectioner's sugar.

      Sift the almond meal mixture well and set aside. Make sure the mixture is well-sifted!

      In a spotlessly clean stand mixer bowl, whip the aged, room temperature egg whites on medium speed until they are foamy and you can start to see the tines of the whip leaving a trail in the whites, about 1 to 2 minutes.

      Add 1 tablespoon of sugar, and continue to whip for about 30 to 45 seconds. Add another tablespoon of sugar, and whip again for another 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat with the third and fourth tablespoons of sugar.

      When all of the sugar is mixed in, whip the whites for about another minute or two until they become glossy and shiny. Remove from mixer.

      Fold in about half of the almond flour/confectioners' sugar mix; when most of it is folded in, add the rest of the dry mix and the purple or lavender gel food coloring. Fold until mixture is smooth and a little stiff -- it should drop smoothly off of the spatula.

      Using a piping bag and a small round tip, pipe out small rounds of macaron batter about 1 inch in diameter. Try to pipe straight down and quickly pull away when you are done to minimize peaks. Pipe until you’ve used up all the batter.

      Rap the cookie sheet several times to flatten out the mounds and to pop any bubbles that might be in the batter.

      Let cookies rest for about 15 to 30 minutes, until they are no longer tacky to the touch.

      Place in oven, and immediately turn oven down to 300 degrees. After 8 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet. Depending upon your oven, cookies take from 15 to 20 minutes (mine took 15 minutes). Remove from oven, and let cool.

      Remove the meringues from the parchment and pair them by size.

      Chocolate honey ganache
      • ½ cup heavy cream
      • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used semisweet chocolate chips)
      • A few squeezes of clover honey
      Heat the cream in a small saucepan.  Pour over chopped chocolate, let sit for one minute, add honey, then whisk until smooth.  Place in refrigerator to cool, stirring every 10 minutes to ensure even cooling.  When are desired consistency for piping,  fill pastry bag fitted with ¾ inch tip and pipe onto macaron shell.

      Source: Macarons inspired from The Ginger Cook and adapted from Beantown Baker; ganache from The Ginger Cook

      Sunday, November 13, 2011

      Cupcake cake pops

      Gosh, I remember a few years ago when cake pops were all the rage (I think whoopie pies, cupcakes and macarons have taken their place). Bakerella was the pioneer that received all of the credit for these tasty treats-on-a-stick. I didn't want to be left behind in the dust, so I decided to join the cake pop bandwagon too.

      I first tried making what my college friends lovingly referred to as "cake balls" (for the full effect, you'll need to add the Beavis & Butt-head laugh afterwards). I baked a regular boxed cake (gasp!) and used canned frosting (the horror!) to mix up the two into this mud-pie looking concoction.  Turns out that once you dipped them into a candy coating, all was good.

      Once I got the hang of that, I decided to try to make the cupcake-shaped version. I scoured high and low for a flower-shaped cookie cutter and eventually found one in my possession from a cake decorating class I took years ago. Be warned that these pops take some time to assemble, but they are very much worth it when your friends take a bite and just smile. I just love it when a dessert renders someone speechless, don't you?

      For a more detailed tutorial, please hop over to Bakerella's web page. I recommend making these over a weekend (bake cake, add frosting and shape into balls one evening; shape and dip the next morning; package and store the pops either later that night or the following day).

      • 1 13x9 baked cake (from a box cake mix or from scratch … any flavor - I like using chocolate)
      • 1 can frosting (or about 2 cups equivalent from scratch - I am lazy and buy the pre-made frosting)
      • 1 flower shaped cookie cutter (1.25″ wide X .75″ tall)
      • 1 package chocolate bark (You can find it at Michael's or other kraft stores... some grocery stores carry them in their baking aisle as well)
      • 1 package colored candy melts or white chocolate bark
      • Lollipop sticks
      • Styrafoam blocks, for allowing the candy melts to harden
      • Sprinkles, M&Ms or something similar for top of cupcake
      • Small plastic treat bags and ribbon to package the pops

      Bake a cake from a mix or from scratch and cool completely.

      Crumble cake into a fine consistency into a large bowl (I use a fork). Add the frosting and mix well.  The mixture will look like one big, goopy mess.

      Using a cookie scoop, scoop out balls of the cake/frosting mixture and roll into balls. If you use a medium cookie scoop, you'll get about 40 cake balls.  Line a sheet pan with waxed paper and place the balls on top. Freeze.  I find that it's best to freeze these overnight.

      Remove from freezer and begin to shape the balls into a cylinder shape.  You'll want to press the mixture so the cake is well-packed and won't fall apart once you are ready to dip them into the candy coating.

      Press the cylinders into the flower-shaped cookie cutter. Push it into cutter until about half fills the cutter and the rest sticks out of the top in the shape of a mound. You may need to massage the cake a bit to make sure that your bottoms are flat and nicely shaped. 

      Then push the shaped cupcake carefully out of the cookie cutter from the bottom. Set right side up on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. Continue with remaining balls and put them back in the freezer for at least another 30 minutes.

      Heat the candy coating and chocolate-colored bark (either in the microwave or over a double boiler--I prefer the latter).  The chocolate bark will serve as the cupcake "bottoms" and the colored bark or white color will act as the cupcake "tops." 

      Remove the cupcake shaped mixture from the freezer and dip bottoms into the melted chocolate – just to the point where the mounded shape starts. Remove from chocolate, turn upside down and wiggle so that the excess starts to slide down slightly. Then dip a lollipop stick into the melted chocolate and insert into the chocolate "bottoms." Place them on the waxed paper upside down and continue with rest of the cupcakes. 

      Make sure the chocolate is dry before moving on. Dip the cupcake "tops" into your colored candy melts and make sure you shake off the excess. I like to swirl the stick around a few times.
      If desired, you can add sprinkles and an M&M on top to make your pops look extra cute.  Put the lollipop sticks into styrafoam blocks to allow the cupcake pops to dry.  When everything has finally dried and hardened,  you can insert them into cellophane bags and tie with a pretty ribbon. Voila!

      Source: Bakerella

      Wednesday, November 9, 2011

      Luscious lemon cake with lemon buttercream

      A have a little secret - this past weekend was my birthday! Of course, I had to celebrate by making my own birthday cake. I thought for several weeks about what I should make. My college roommate told me about her dad making a lemon cake many years ago, and for some reason, that just stuck in my mind. Having a fall birthday usually means that I am surrounded by lots of fall flavors like apple, pumpkin and cinnamon. Well, I wanted to change that and decided to make a lemon cake.

      This cake has a lot of bright lemon flavors since the cake and buttercream frosting both have fresh lemon juice. If you are a fan of lemon-flavored things, then this is the cake for you!

      • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (I don't have cake flour and removed 5 tablespoons of flour and replaced it with 5 tablespoons of corn starch)
      • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
      • 1 TBSP meringue powder
      • 3 tsp baking powder
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 2 extra large lemons, washed thoroughly then zested and juiced separately
      • 2/3 cup milk
      • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
      • 3 egg whites, beaten
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
      Preheat oven to 350F and prepare two cake pans.

      In bowl of electric mixer, sift and add flour, sugar, baking powder, meringue powder, salt and zest of one lemon (I mixed this by hand so the dry ingredients wouldn't fly everywhere).

      Add milk, oil, juice from two lemons, beaten egg whites and extract.

      Beat on medium to combine thoroughly, about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.

      Remove from mixer and stir with silicone spatula to thoroughly combine. Make sure there is no flour mixture left unincorporated at the bottom of the bowl.

      Fill prepared pans 2/3 of the way full and bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 25-28 minutes for 8 inch pans).

      Remove from oven, let cool 15 minutes in pan and then turn onto wire racks to cool completely.

      • 4 cups powdered sugar
      • 1 TBSP meringue powder
      • Tiny pinch of salt
      • 1/2 cup butter, softened
      • 1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1 extra large lemon, juiced
      In the bowl of a stand mixer, combined shortening, butter, and half of extract and lemon juice, stirring on low until relatively combined.

      In a separate bowl, combine sugar, meringue powder and salt.  Then add to mixer while sitll on.

      Stir, scraping down sides of the bowl until thoroughly combined, adding more lemon juice as needed.  Add water if needed to reach desired texture.

      Once cakes are completely cooled, even out tops of cakes if needed. Spread frosting in between the cake layers and frost the cake with the remaining buttercream.

      Source:  Little D Down Under, who adapted it from Good Things Catered

      Sunday, November 6, 2011

      Biscoff swirl gelato

      After making Biscoff cupcakes, I still had some leftover Biscoff spread. So I did what any normal girl would do - I made ice cream! Well, technically, this is a gelato, but who's keeping track?

      I love that this gelato is chock full of Biscoff. The custard base contains the spread, and then you add dollops of Biscoff and swirl it around before freezing. My husband declared this as his current favorite ice cream, so I guess this recipe was a success!

      • 2 cups whole milk
      • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
      • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
      • 4 egg yolks
      • 1/2 cup Biscoff spread
      • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • 6 Tablespoons or more of Biscoff Spread for swirling
      Pour the whole milk, heavy whipping cream and 1/2 cup of sugar into a large saucepan. Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

      While the milk is heating up, put 1/4 cup of sugar and 4 egg yolks into a large mixing bowl with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium high speed for 4 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and thick. (I got lazy and didn't want to use my mixer, so I whisked by hand until the egg yolks turned pale yellow)

      Pour in 1/2 cup of the warm milk and mix on medium speed. (Again, I did this by hand)

      Pour the mixture into the saucepan.

      Heat over medium heat for 10 minutes until it’s thickened up (I found that the mixture was good after about 5 minutes). Whisk the mixture while it’s heating up.

      Put a sieve over a large bowl and push the gelato mixture through the sieve. This will help eliminate any lumps. Add in 1/2 cup of Biscoff and the vanilla extract. Whisk everything together.

      Place plastic wrap over the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

      The next day, churn the gelato mixture according to your manufacturer’s instructions.

      Put some gelato in an airtight container. Then place drops of Biscoff spread on top of the gelato and swirl it into the gelato. Then add more gelato and more dollops of Biscoff spread and swirl. Repeat until you've used up all the gelato. You'll use about a total of 6 tablespoons of Biscoff spread (more or less).

      Cover the gelato and place in the freezer. Then enjoy!

      Source: Gingerbread Bagels

      Thursday, November 3, 2011

      Biscoff cupcakes with swiss meringue buttercream

      I recently heard that Biscoff spread was all the rage in the food blogging world. The only knowledge I had about Biscoff were the little cookies I received whenever I was on board a Delta flight. Little did I know that the company who had created the cookies also made them into a spread! The consistency is similar to peanut butter, but it tastes exactly like the cookie.

      I researched some recipes using Biscoff spread and found this cupcake on The Novice Chef blog that sounded intriguing. Rather than use the marshmallow frosting that was listed, I opted to use my favorite swiss meringue buttercream to give the cupcakes a nice, light and airy friend. I love this buttercream because it isn't too sweet, and I didn't want the frosting to overpower the cupcake.

      These cupcakes were well-received by my family and coworkers, so I'm sure I'll be making them again.

      • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
      • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
      • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
      • A pinch of salt
      • 1/2 cup Biscoff spread
      • 1/2 cups brown sugar
      • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
      • 1 egg
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      • 1/2 cup half and half (I didn't have any, so I subbed with heavy cream instead)
      Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake tin with cupcakes liners.

      In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

      In a stand mixer, beat Biscoff spread and brown sugar until creamy. Add vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla extract, mix well.

      Slowly mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the half and half, until completely combined.

      Spoon cupcake batter into prepared cupcake tin, about 1/4 cup batter per cupcake. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not over bake!

      Remove from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack. Then frost with swiss meringue buttercream (recipe can be found here).

      Sunday, October 30, 2011

      Vanilla bean ice cream

      I never dreamed of making my own ice cream until about a year or two ago. The contributors on a cooking forum that I am a member of kept talking about homemade ice cream, and I certainly wanted to give it a try.

      I've learned that David Lebovitz is pretty much the resident expert on homemade ice cream recipes. In fact, he wrote a book called The Perfect Scoop and includes several recipes in there. The recipe below is adapted from his vanilla bean ice cream and is a perfect treat any time of day. You can also add a scoop to your favorite desserts (brownies, anyone?).

      • 1 cup whole milk (do not use skim or 2%)
      • A pinch of salt
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
      • 2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
      • 5 large egg yolks
      • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

      Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Add bean pod to milk.

      In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks and gradually pour some of the warm milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

      Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

      Strain the custard into a separate bowl with the heavy cream. Rinse the vanilla bean and put it back into the custard and cream mixture. Add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly - preferably overnight.

      Once the mixture is completely chilled, remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

        Note: Used vanilla beans can be rinsed and dried, then stored in a bin of sugar. That sugar can be used for baking and, of course, for future ice cream making.

        Source:  Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz, from The Perfect Scoop

        Thursday, October 27, 2011

        Pumpkin pie snickerdoodle bars

        Last year, when there was a pumpkin shortage, I snagged a few cans of pumpkin and stocked my pantry. Unfortunately, my grocery store only had the large cans left, so I grabbed one. Since it's officially pumpkin season, I wanted to make some pumpkin desserts, and I finally broke into the large can of deliciousness.

        The first recipe I made with the pumpkin was pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. The second recipe I made was pumpkin whoopie pies. Then I made some pumpkin pancakes (those photos were horrible, so I am not sharing that recipe yet). Believe it or not, but I still had pumpkin left over! What's a girl to do?

        I went to my trusty baking source to look for a pumpkin recipe that would use up the rest of the can.  If you haven't guessed by now, I went to Beantown Baker and found this amazing looking bar. It's half snickerdoodle and half pumpkin pie. Yum! Needless to say, this was a huge hit with my coworkers, and several of them have asked for the recipe.

        One note to keep in mind with these bars is that the pumpkin layer might be a bit soft, but that's ok.  It's supposed to resemble a pumpkin pie, after all, so don't worry if it doesn't seem as done as the rest of the layers.

        Snickerdoodle Layer
        • 3 cups all-purpose flour
        • 2 teaspoons baking powder
        • 1 teaspoon salt
        • 2 cups packed brown sugar
        • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
        • 2 eggs, at room temperature
        • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
        Pumpkin Pie Layer
        • 1 cup all-purpose flour
        • 1 cup white sugar
        • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
        • 1 teaspoons baking powder
        • 1 teaspoons salt
        • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
        • 2 eggs, at room temperature
        • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
        • 2 tablespoons white sugar
        • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
        • 1 oz white chocolate, chopped
        • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
        Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan and lay a piece of parchment paper across the pan, so that it extends the pan slightly. The parchment paper is an optional step, but it will make it easier to get the bars out later. Note: I did not do this and just baked in my 9x13 pan.

        Snickerdoodle layer:
        Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth.

        Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan (you can use your hands if you want).

        To make pumpkin pie filling:
        In the same mixer bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined. This layer will be less thick and more pourable. Pour over the snickerdoodle layer, smoothing out the top.

        Combine white sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl. Evenly sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of the batter.

        Bake for 33-40 minutes (I baked for 35 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let the bars cool completely. They will deflate a bit and remain a bit pie-like on the top layer. The bars that are closer to the edges of the pan will be more firm.

        After the bars are completely cool, place the chopped white chocolate into a bowl or zip-lock bag and melt on low power. When it's completely melted, add the pumpkin pie spice and mix (or knead if using a zip lock bag). Use a spoon or cut a small corner off the bag and drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the bars and let it cool and harden.

        Use the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan. Place on a cutting board and cut into bars. Store in a covered container.

        Source:  Beantown Baker

        Monday, October 24, 2011

        Pumpkin whoopie pies

        My manager at work, Niki, and I share a love of baking. She was the one that encouraged me to make the french macarons. She even let me borrow her macaron book and gave me a lot of pointers.

        We were talking about fall baking one day, and she mentioned that she had a fantastic pumpkin whoopie pie recipe that I needed to try. I had bought a huge can of pumpkin and only used part of it for the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and I wanted to find another recipe to use up the remainder of the can. I finally asked Niki for the recipe and made it!

        These whoopie pies remind me of a well-made carrot cake.  The cake-like cookie is fabulous with the pumpkin pie spices, and the cream cheese filling is a perfect complement. And now my kitchen smells like fall!
        • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, 1 stick melted, 1/2 stick softened
        • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
        • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
        • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
        • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
        • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
        • 1 teaspoon baking powder
        • 1 teaspoon baking soda
        • 3/4 teaspoon plus 2 pinches salt
        • 1-2/3 cups flour
        • 4 ounces cream cheese, chilled
        • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
        Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

        In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon vanilla, the baking powder, the baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour.

        Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheet. Bake until springy to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

        Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, cream the softened butter with the cream cheese. Add the confectioners' sugar and the remaining 2 pinches salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

        Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting. Top each with another cake.

        Yield: Rachael Ray's website says it will make 6 filled whoopie pies; I was able to make 8

        Source: Niki, who found it on Everyday with Rachael Ray

        Thursday, October 20, 2011

        Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

        Hooray--fall is finally here! That means it's time for pumpkin-flavored goodies.  Well, if you can find canned pumpkin in your grocery store. During the past few years, there has been a pumpkin shortage so I am hoping that this year's crop has been plentiful. I made these beauties with a can I had stashed in my pantry from earlier this year.

        These are hands-down the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. My husband, who isn't even a fan of pumpkin-flavored things, was converted into a fan after tasting these. If that's not saying something, then I don't know what is!

        I've seen other recipes out there and honestly haven't tried them, but if something ain't broke, why fix it? You can certainly make your own fresh pumpkin puree and use it for this recipe if you are that talented (unlike me--I'll stick to the canned stuff, thankyouverymuch).

        • 2 1/2 cups flour
        • 1 teaspoon baking soda
        • 1 teaspoon baking powder
        • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
        • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
        • 1/2 teaspoon salt
        • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
        • 1 1/2 cups sugar
        • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
        • 1 egg, beaten
        • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
        • 1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
        • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional--I do not use)

        Set the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

        In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

        In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla and beat just until blended.

        Mix in the dry ingredients.

        Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or chunks and nuts, if using.

        Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.

        Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Rotate the sheets halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a few minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

        Source:, who adapted from"Too Busy to Cook?" Volume Two

        Sunday, October 16, 2011

        Patty's White Chocolate Cheesecake

        When I worked in my previous department, my coworker Patty was one of the frequent taste testers of the desserts I'd bring to work. I always looked forward to bringing her a sample and asking how things were going.

        One day Patty returned the favor and gave me a slice of her white chocolate cheesecake. She told me that this was her most requested dessert and that it was the one sweet that she's confident in making time and time again. I took a bite and just couldn't stop eating. With each bite, I was sad knowing that the slice in front of me would not last for much longer. About 30 seconds later, the inevitable happened--I had devoured the whole slice.

        I asked Patty the next day if she would share her recipe, and she was nice enough to give it to me. It's taken me a while to make this, but I'm so glad I did. Move over, Cheesecake Factory--there's a new cheesecake in town!

        • 1 stick melted butter
        • 16 oz Oreo cookies
        Line the bottom (outside) of a springform pan with foil to prevent the butter from the crust from leaking. Crush the Oreo cookies and combine with butter.  Spread half of the Oreo mixture on the bottom of the pan and the other half up the sides of the pan.

        • 32 oz cream cheese, room temperature
        • 1/4 cup sugar
        • 4 eggs
        • 4 oz butter (1 stick)
        • 16 oz white chocolate
        • 2 oz heavy cream (1/4 cup)
        • 2 oz sour cream (optional)
        Mix cream cheese with sugar. Add cream and eggs.

        In small saucepan melt butter, then set aside.

        In double boiler melt white chocolate over low heat. Chocolate will become lumpy when too hot, so be careful!

        Add butter and white chocolate to cream cheese mixture and mix until smooth. Pour into springform pan.

        Bake at 270 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door and leave cake in for 30 additional minutes.

        Cool completely and refrigerate. If desired, top with white chocolate shavings.

        This recipe makes one 8 or 9 inch cheesecake, or two 6-inch cheesecakes. 

        Source: My coworker Patty; original source unknown

        Tuesday, October 11, 2011

        Vanilla cupcakes with dulce de leche filling

        I still can't believe our little girl turned one this year. To help celebrate this joyous occasion and to mark us successfully surviving our first year of parenthood, we held a first birthday party for our daughter back in April. We had about 25 friends and family join us at a local, authentic Chinese restaurant and had a delicious 10-course meal. To finish off the feast, I made vanilla cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, cake pops and decorated sugar cookies for our guests to enjoy. I settled on a heart-shaped theme, so many items were in the shapes of hearts, including the cake pops and balloons.

        I wanted to mix things up a bit in case some people weren't into the vanilla/vanilla or chocolate/chocolate combo for the cupcakes. So, I decided to add some chocolate frosting to a few of the vanilla cupcakes, and some of the vanilla frosting to the chocolate cupcakes (I know, I'm such a rebel!).  I think they turned out pretty cute-don't you?  Oh, and as a super special treat, I made some dulce de leche and filled the vanilla cupcakes with it.

        Finally, to top things off, I made heart-themed royal icing decorations that you can see in the photo above.  These were quite time-consuming, but they added a nice touch to the cupcakes!

        One important thing to note is that even though I made these cupcakes a day in advance and stored them in an air-tight container, they dried out pretty quickly. If you can, I'd recommend making this recipe the day that you're going to eat them. I'm on the hunt for a vanilla cupcake recipe that doesn't dry out as much overnight--let me know if you have suggestions!

        Vanilla Cupcake Ingredients
        • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
        • 2/3 cup sugar
        • 3 eggs
        • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
        • zest of 1 lemon (optional)
        • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
        • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
        • ¼ tsp. salt
        • ¼ cup milk
        • 1-1 ½ recipes easy vanilla buttercream frosting

        Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.  Set pan aside.

        In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest, if using.

        In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

        Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan 5 minutes.  Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

        Prepare frosting.  Decorate cooled cupcakes as desired.

        Vanilla Frosting Directions
        • 20 tbsp. (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
        • 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted 
        • 1/8 tsp. salt 
        • 2 tsp. vanilla extract 
        • 2 tbsp. heavy cream 
        In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. 

        Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds.  

        Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds.

        Scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds.   

        Then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. 
        Chocolate frosting Ingredients
        • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
        • 2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
        • 3 cups powdered sugar
        • 1/3 cup milk
        • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
        Melt butter and stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

        Dulce de Leche Ingredients
        • 2 cans (or more) sweetened condensed milk 
        • Water
        Carefully peel labels off cans. Place a saucer at the bottom of the crockpot and set the cans on top (this is to prevent the crockpot from getting burnt).

        Add water - enough to cover the cans. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

        Cool completely before you open the cans and use.

        Note:  My crockpot got a lot of gunk on it from the glue on the labels. If you can, I'd recommend removing as much glue as you can from the cans. I only made one can of dulce de leche, and it was barely enough to fill the 12 cupcakes. Some cupcakes, sadly, went without filling.

        Sources:  Vanilla cupcakes and frosting from Annie's Eats, filling from A Year of Slow Cooking. Chocolate frosting from Hershey's.


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