Over the last few years, I’ve developed a sort of mania for baking; most especially cakes and cupcakes. The past several months have brought many delicious creations to the table:
One of the partners at my office is slowly retiring (its a process) and we wanted to make a little celebration for him, as he requested no big party. In the end, I was asked to make a cake. I knew he loved licorice flavor, and had a feeling Sambuca was a tipple he enjoyed. Sambuca is this Italian anise-licorice liqueur that I can’t stand but anyone who loves these flavors thinks is absolutely amazing (case in point, my husband). The best way to enjoy this, according to tradition, is with three espresso beans in the glass, for luck. So, after several days of brain storming, recipe combining, and a test cake. I ended up with a dark chocolate cake with a Sambuca-aniseed glaze and espresso butter cream. Even coming from MY palate, which cannot enjoy even so much as a Good N Plenty, I knew this was a winner. I wanted to inhale the espresso frosting.
Luckily, the partner LOVED it! He even took the small amount left over home to share with his wife. Woo hoo!
I also made a chocolate cake with peanut butter butter cream (always popular) for my sister-in-law Mandy’s visit:
For Super Bowl Sunday, I got a hankering to make something with an orange flavor. Ended up finding this brown butter cake, and knew it was fate. Result: a perfectly crumbly brown butter and vanilla cake, orange cream cheese frosting, and pineapple ‘flowers’.
Over the three day President’s Day holiday, I told Marco we could do any fun thing he wanted to do. He said, “Mama, me make a cake!” I couldn’t really argue with that. After sorting through my To Do list of recipes on Pinterest, Marco picked the ‘funfetti’ style cake. It was sweet and tasty and fluffy. I went with the marshmallow creme (no gelatin!) buttercream, but used less sugar than the recipe called for, because it is already a sweet frosting.
Our family was invited to share a New Year’s Eve dinner with Marco’s best friend and his parents, and I was put in charge of desserts – my favorite course!
Seeing as how it was NYE, I knew a champagne cupcake was in order, and winter is a wonderful time for pomegranate. But, in case there were guests who did not enjoy cake as much as I do, I thought a fruit and cheese coupling would do nicely. I had found a recipe that contained brie and apples in a puff pastry, and thought I’d easily duplicate it with different pairings.
Champagne cupcakes (I actually used a Prosecco, as it is sweet, dry, and inexpensive) – based on the recipe from Homemade by Holman
2 3/4 C all purpose flour (I used 2 3/4 C + 2 tbsp whole wheat cake flour)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 C unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 3/4 C caster sugar or Baker’s Sugar
3/4 C champagne
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare your muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners. Combine the champagne and vanilla together in a small bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy (approx 3 minutes). Add the flour in three separate batches, alternating with the champagne mixture (ex flour mix, champagne mix, flour, etc) until combined. Set bowl aside.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the batter then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into cups until each is about 2/3 full. Bake approximately twenty minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool about five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack until cool enough to frost.
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pomegranate puree (I use Perfect Puree pomegranate concentrate)
cornstarch, as needed
Let butter sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature, then cut into cubes. Using an electric mixer, beat on high until the butter if fluffy. Add sugar, 1 cup a time, until combined. Add the puree concentrate 1 tbsp at a time, checking for your flavor preference – I wanted a lot of the tartness to come through. Because so much liquid is added to the buttercream, but I still wanted a thick frosting, I added two tablespoons of cornstarch to the frosting to help keep it thick. You can also add more sugar, if that is your preference. Cornstarch is good because it has virtually no flavor, and will not over-sweeten your frosting.
Frost your cupcakes as you wish! I used the Wilton 1M star tip and disposable bags, and made a basic cupcake swirl, then sprinkled edible decorating pearls for a little pizzazz :-)
Fruit and cheese puff pastry envelopes (makes 8) – similar recipe HERE
2 D’Anjou pears
Pear butter (Whole Foods carries many varieties)
small block of Point Reyes bleu cheese
8 whole dried black mission figs, cut in half
1/2 wheel of Rouge et Noir triple creme brie
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry (or, if you have more time, make your own!)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Using a pastry brush or spatula, spread a light layer of the pear butter onto each quarter of puff pastry.
Add 3 or 4 pear slices and some good sized crumbles of Point Reyes blue cheese.
Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold the corners in to look like envelopes. Place the pastries on a prepared sheet pan.
Repeat process with the second sheet of puff pastry, only this time use the fig butter and sliced dry figs, and two or three small slices of brie.
Brush the tops of each with egg wash. Bake the pastries for about 24 minutes, rotating the pans once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.
Both desserts were a hit! The best part about the puff pastry envelopes is that they are easily adaptable to suit palettes. Any fruit and cheese combinations can be used – aged cheddar and apple would do nicely!
The past month, my kitchen has seen a lot of action. Get your mind out of the gutter…I actually mean food. Dirty girl. Luckily, I always have the iPhone nearby for snaps…
Peach cupcake with brown sugar cream cheese frosting. Practiced more flowers, stars and swirls! I made these for a work luncheon.
Same combination as above, and also some dark chocolate spice cake with cinnamon buttercream – all to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday!
Maple Spice muffins – modified from Jessica Seinfeld’s recipe in Double Delicious! I used currants instead of raisins, whole-wheat all-purpose flour, and 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice instead of 1 tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp clove (which I didn’t have on hand)
Banana Bread, adapted from recipe I found on Pinterest (original links HERE). I used raw honey (my favorite) instead of pasteurized honey. Also subbed in 1 C almond meal and 1 C whole-wheat flour (recipe called for 2 C whole-wheat flour).
Blueberry scones with Lemon Glaze – Tyler Florence’s recipe, with my healthy mods (whole-wheat pastry flour and almond meal) and blueberries from our garden. These were for a sweet co-worker (a few leftovers made it into Marco’s belly – he loves mommy’s pastries). Side note: can I live on lemon glaze? Yep.
Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookies – good flavor, but the texture is more chewy-crunchy than chewy-gooey, which is what I generally prefer.
Lemon Cake with Black Tea frosting – found on Pinterest (original link HERE). My second layer of tea frosting (I was stingy at first, fearing I didn’t have enough for the outer layer) did a disappearing act into the lemon glaze, but other than that just as I’d hoped it would be. I used Zhena’s Gypsy Tea in Gypsy Rose flavor (a favorite in our house, both for its scent and its flavor), and it was PERFECT for this frosting, which is almost marshmallow-y in texture. I ended up making this twice in the same weekend: Saturday for a girl’s night and Sunday for a family visit.
I realize I hadn’t posted about the super-deeelish cupcakes I made for Marco’s 2nd birthday party – and I think this should be remedied immediately. I’d wanted to make a dessert that Marco would love, and that would be appropriate for kids and grown-ups. Who doesn’t love Peanut Butter and Jelly?! If you don’t love this perfect flavor combination, well…let’s just say you might want to rethink your life choices.
I started with a very moist white cake – imagine dry bread with your PB & J – no bueno, am I right? So the cake had to be perfect. Eggs and milk are the secret here, folks.
Hollow out some room for that tasty strawberry jam (I prefer Strawberry preserves, but this is harder to pipe)
Ohmigosh it took forever.
Tim almost tackled me so he could eat this out of the mixing bowl.
But I managed to get the butter cream onto the cake.
results: so good I wanted to squeal for joy, and everyone at the party seemed to agree with me, especially the birthday boy, who devoured his cupcake in mere moments!
Another baby, another batch of cupcakes for the office baby luncheon!
This time, the food was mostly Italian (gnocci, pizza, lots o’ garlic), and I wanted something to go with the theme. I came up with a Cannoli cupcake! I figured if I went a little Sicilian with my offering, no one would really notice (LOL)
I did not have the time, energy, or equipment to make proper cannoli shells, so instead I substituted the shells for a cupcake base. I found THIS great cannoli cupcake recipe after a quick google search, and with just a few teensy tweaks, I produced what my husband has deemed “the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten”.
Pardon, all of these are taken with my iPhone
First, I started with my ricotta. I didn’t make my own this time, but I’m thinking I will for the next batch!
To strain, you need to wrap the cheese up in cheesecloth, set in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with a towel. Place heavy cans on top of the cheese to help it drain better. This was placed in the fridge for three hours.
While the ricotta strained in the fridge, I whipped up yellow cake cupcakes (yes I cheated with a box mix yellow cake!), and let them cool.
Then, I hollowed out a small section of each cupcake, so I could add the filling
Next, I made a chocolate ganache
Then dipped my cupcakes and swirled in the batter
I let these sit tight while I kneaded the ricotta to make sure it was ready to mix.
Orange zest – I added 2 1/2 Tbsp instead of 2 ( i like oranges )
I used 1 1/3 C powdered sugar, instead of the 1 2/3 C recommended, because I didn’t want it to be too sweet. Cinnamon and vanilla rounded it all out with a hint of warmth and spice
Then I piped the filling into the cupcakes, used the same filling as the topping, and dropped mini chocolate chips to give it the official Cannoli look
My coworkers seemed to enjoy them, and Tim is begging me to make them again – so, I definitely consider these a success!
A couple of weeks ago, my office had a baby shower luncheon for a few employees that are expecting babies in the next month. It was a potluck luncheon, so I offered to make cupcakes (I’m known in the office for good desserts).
I ended up making two flavors: my chocolate covered strawberry (seen HERE), and a lemon-lime variation I made up as I went along. It turned out to be the BEST lemon butter cream I’ve ever had (and I am saying a lot there – I love lemon desserts!). I was so happy, and am sorry
but not really to say that I ate quite a bit of butter cream with a spoon.
The cake batter was a basic white cake, but instead of adding the full amount of water, I substituted a smidgen of Odwalla Summertime Lime, and then a squeeze of fresh lime juice. It turned out light, with just the right amount of sweetness.
Anyway, the butter cream is pretty basic; all ingredients that I already had on hand: unsalted butter (some say full salt butter, but i really don’t like it – all preference), 2 lemons (zest and juice), powdered sugar.
Soften 1 stick of unsalted butter, and whip it in your mixer (beat it up, don’t be afraid). Slowly add the powdered sugar in (i ended up using about 3 1/2 cups). Add 2 tablespoons hot water (1 at a time) and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. I then added in 2 tablespoons of lemon zest to round out the flavor. If you like it creamier, you can add in a teaspoon of whole milk.
Now I want to make another batch.
The holidays are beginning (anyone else totally freaked out that Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow?! Where the heck did November GO?), which means it’s time to start compiling the recipe list for Christmas treats. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest (internet crack), and have found so many great ideas for appetizers and desserts! I can’t wait to try them out.
Wednesday night I attended the long-awaited concert at the Warfield in San Francisco. Unfortunately, Tim could not join Micaela and I in enjoying the beautiful music! He had to work really late on a phone issue, and couldn’t make it.
I started listening to Iron and Wine after I saw the movie ‘In Good Company’; the song “The Trapeze Swinger” plays during the end credits, when Topher Grace is running on the beach. After almost 10 years of enjoying Sam Beam’s music, I finally got to see him live! It was a very exciting event for me.
I couldn’t take my camera with me, but I do have a few iPhone pictures to share:
He changed up some of the songs, so that a slower tempo song became upbeat, more jazzy… Sam told us audience members that he didn’t want to just give us the songs we could listen to at home. I agreed and disagreed; I fell in love with the sounds on the album, but I did enjoy his new versions of some of my favorites! His voice was AMAZING! All appreciation I had for his recordings became heightened by the knowledge that he sounds just as good, if not better, live.
The last picture is of Mr. Beam singing “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” without accompaniment (other than a few spare notes on his guitar). I gotta tell you: I felt shivers in my spine. It was so freakin’ awesome. Thanks to Adrienne for keeping an eye on my boy while I attended the concert!
Marco’s birthday AND birthday party were a beautiful success. I cried, we all laughed, and I smooched Marco about 100000 times. I have a 1 year old child! Wow.
He looks so much like a big kid now!
Carrot cake cupcakes with low-sugar cream cheese frosting! I made these for Marco’s classmates and teachers. The recipe for the frosting called for cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and 1 whole box of powdered sugar! Ewww! I put in half the sugar, and the flavor was perfect for the carrot cake. I may share with you my super-secret-but-not-very-complicated carrot cake recipe. But I might not. We’ll see… LOL
Marco’s party was a lot of fun! We had about 28 people at our house, and they all wanted to talk to, cuddle with, and kiss the birthday boy, and Marco was a total champ! He even took a few steps for his family and friends. I’ll post more pictures of his party later.
Roux also celebrated her first birthday (May 26th), and she was happy with her very own tuna cake!
ALSO!! Our garden is doing very well, and we’re finally getting lawn in our backyard! It’s so exciting to see the green shoots. Proof of my gardening skills:
My very own strawberries! Small, but delicious. I feel like a real farmer! LOL, not exactly…but it is fun to grow my own food.
Speaking of food, I almost forgot to mention my big decision: I decided to become a full-fledged vegetarian! After 3 1/2 years of a mainly meat-free diet (chicken only – no fish, fowl, beef, or pork products), I finally took the plunge. I’ve been ENTIRELY meat-free for 2 weeks now. It’s a little difficult, but I managed! I didn’t give up dairy products, though! More power to the vegans out there, but I love cheese too much.
Phew! That’s what I get for slackin’ on the posts!
What have you been up to?? I hope you have wonderful weekends!
With the help of my handy iPhone pics, here is a recap of Valentine’s Day!
Our friends Jacqi and Donovan were kind enough to watch Marco while we had dinner and went to a concert. They have two little ones of their own – I don’t know how they handled 3 kids!! Marco had fun playing, and (luckily) he behaved like a gentleman.
Tim and I drove home, changed into more festive outfits, and headed out.
Dinner at Gott’s Roadside in the Oxbow
The Fox! Totally my favorite venue now. It was AMAZING inside.
The Decemberists were fantastic live. Not only was it awesome because I love the music, but Colin Meloy is a true performer (interesting, funny, and VERY nerdy).
It was fun to be included in the performance; when they played ‘The Mariner’s Revenge’, they made sure the entire audience were yelling, moaning, and groaning as if we were being swallowed by a whale (trust me, look up the song).
How was your Valentine’s??
P.S. We were a featured pic on Busy Bee Lauren’s blog yesterday! Check it out HERE
Okay phew! I finally have some time to post the 2nd part of my birthday post.
Wednesday evening, the Gomers came up to Napa to have a Gomer-Dickson birthday dinner, as Justin and Belle would not be able to make the dinner on Saturday. We went to Firewood Cafe and had a very delicious meal, which included a free pizza – I love coupons!!
Thursday was a relaxing day with my baby boy and hubby, and Friday night I covered a shift at work for my co-worker. It was kind of a crazy day, between taking care of Marco, working, grocery shopping, baking cupcakes for Saturday, and trying to eat somewhere in there. After all the chores were done, Tim and I relaxed with 2 episodes of ‘Dexter’ (almost done with Season 3!!) and books. I’m still working on The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Saturday I slept in (thanks, Timmy!), went to La Vie Nail Spa and got a manicure, pedicure and my eyebrows done. My nails look awesome, I love the OPI color ‘My Private Jet’.
After that, I put together some goody bags for my birthday dinner guests. I didn’t really know what to put in them, so it ended up being some silly, random items. I put bags of one of my favorite Tazo teas, EO Sweet Orange shampoo, Fun size Snickers, Skittles, mini notepad, temporary tattoos, and Hershey’s kisses.
My birthday dinner was at Il Fornaio in Walnut Creek. I’ve been to this location several times, and to the one in downtown San Jose. Good Italian food and a fun atmosphere. Marco was an angel the entire time! He was wide awake, but had hardly any fussiness and was generally happy just hanging out with everyone!
All my friends just looked so lovely, and I was so excited with my outfit. I ended up picking the pink and grey strapless peplum dress from ModCloth. I love that my birthday has become a dress-up event.
Okay, I love presents. My mom and sister TOTALLY spoiled me! They gave me a Nordstrom gift card, a purse, a Betsey Johnson necklace and earrings!!
It’s been an amazing birthday week! I love my friends and family, and thank you so much for making this week so perfect. XOXOXOXO
I decided to pinch a few pennies this year and make the cupcakes for my birthday dinner, instead of buying them from Icing on the Cake like I normally do (best cupcakes, but at 3.25 apiece, and around 10-15 people to feed, it adds up!). So, I went to the store and stocked up on white cake mix, strawberries, Hershey’s chocolate and Scharffen Berger unsweetened natural cocoa powder. I chopped up the strawberries and mixed them into the white cake mix along with 2 drops of pink food coloring. Then I poured the mix into cupcake cups (a little over 2/3 full) and added a slice of strawberry to the top.
Bake as directed on the white cake mix (350 degrees for 16 minutes) and let cool.
For the chocolate buttercream, I started with the buttercream recipe on the back of the C&H powdered confectioner’s sugar box.
1 lb box of Powdered sugar
1 stick of unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 C milk
Mix all ingredients together in an electric mixer on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. After that, I added 1/2 cup unsweetened chocolate powder, and Hershey’s syrup to taste. You may need to add a little more milk to get the desired creaminess.
I don’t have any icing bags, so I took an extra larger ziploc bag, filled with the frosting and cut a small tip off the corner. It doesn’t make the frosting pretty, but it gets the cupcakes frosted much more quickly.
I used candy Pearls and chocolate chips to make them look cute, and wrapped some Wilton’s cake wraps around them. I found the wraps at Target in the Halloween section. They were supposed to be some kind of cemetery design, but I thought they looked a little like crowns, hee hee.
My experiment worked! The cupcakes tasted delicious YAYYYY!!!