Almond Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Opposites attract. Sweet almond cupcakes with a salty, caramel buttercream…
I almost have no words, but that wouldn’t help you so I’ll make myself explain. These cupcakes are mind bogglingly delicious. The cake is light, moist and beautifully pure. The frosting is rich, complex with a caramel infusion and the salt (Fleur de Sel, French sea salt) brings out something that you would otherwise find missing. I’m not sure what that is, but you’ll just be thankful the salt is there.
If you think caramel is a daunting task…it isn’t. Consisting of water, sugar and cream, it takes minutes to make. The issue people have is they burn it – which is easy to do, but if that happens, try again.
After all those minutes of caramel preparation, you will find yourself with a perfect combination of salty and sweet. The cupcakes may have a bland, beige color, but their flavor is intricate and craveable. You’ll be happy you made a batch that might last you a week. You’ll be even more happy you perfected the caramel in order to make more batches.
Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

for the frosting:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line (12) muffin cups or mini cupcake pans with paper liners.

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap and allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl making sure everything is incorporated. Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat until combined.

With the mixer on a low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Set aside.

To prepare the egg whites, beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. This is when the eggs really hold a shape, like a bird’s beak.

With a rubber spatula, gently fold a little of the whites in the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Over-mixing will cause the batter to deflate, which you definitely want to avoid.

Pour or scoop the batter into cupcake pans until they are 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Combine water and sugar for frosting in a small saucepan, swirling to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, watching closely. Continue cooking without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes. It will turn this color VERY fast, so as soon as you see this color remove it from the stovetop. It can burn if you leave it for even seconds too long. Slowly and carefully add in cream as mixture will bubble and steam up (and can burn you).  Stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth; add salt. You may need to place it back on the stove over low heat to ensure sugar and cream are combined (and that sugar is not just hardened in the bottom). Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes. Add vanilla and stir.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until completely incorporated. Add caramel. Beat frosting on low to combine, then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Immediately frost cooled cupcakes with piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Garnish each cupcake with a small pinch of Fleur de Sel. Refrigerate until ready to use, taking out about 30 minutes before eating.

Margarita Cupcakes

Happy Birthday to me! Since I can’t have alcohol at the moment, the next best thing is cupcakes. And cupcakes that mimic margaritas? I’ll take 5, thank you.

Margarita cupcakes are the perfect sweet thing to go with a Mexican fiesta or a warm (humid) summer day. They are cool and refreshing, bright and happy. I’ve never met a cupcake that wasn’t happy.

If you are thinking the margarita flavor and cupcakes do not go together, just try this recipe. I was skeptical, but they are so delicious. You have the option of adding tequila, and either way, they are just a great cupcake.

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

for the frosting:

  • 1 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • Pinch fleur de sel (coarse salt, you don’t have to use specific fleur de sel)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream (or you can use tequila here)

How To:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 mini cupcake pans or 1 regular size cupcake pan with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Beat in the lime zest, lime juice and vanilla; scrape down sides of bowl and mix.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients in 2 additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat until just incorporated.

Pour batter into cupcake pans, filling each about 2/3 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar, egg whites, and salt in a the bowl of a stand mixer (or a glass heatproof bowl) set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking pretty much constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer and the sugar has dissolved.

Transfer bowl to the stand mixer and attach the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Stir in the lime juice and heavy whipping cream (or tequila) and mix thoroughly.  The frosting will look curdled, but continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes more (it will come together!!).

Frost cooled cupcakes with piping bag and large round tip, and garnish with candied lime or lemon slices or fresh lime (and perhaps a sprinkle of fleur de sel). Refrigerate cupcakes, taking out 1 hour before you plan to eat them. Buttercream can stay at room temperature, but I prefer to keep mine cold until I want to put them out.

Double Brownies

We love food in layers – salads, dips, sandwiches, and especially desserts. Brownies are usually one layer of simple chocolate. This brownie is made up of three and while it’s hard to turn down a brownie, it’s even harder when they look like this:

And anything with frosting, sign me up. The bottom layer is a blondie, which is like a vanilla brownie. The middle is a traditional chocolate brownie. The top is icing – butterscotch frosting, to be specific.

Making the brownie is easy. You can re-use bowls and simply clean off mixers in between steps (preferably in the sink, not with your tongue but it’s your brownie).

Each bite is complex in a good way, rich, gooey and cakey. Everything you want out of a brownie and so much more.

Ingredients:

blondie layer

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 /8 teaspoon salt
chocolate layer
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 heaping tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • dash salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
for the icing
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons milk
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 X 8″ baking dish. For the blondie layer, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well mixed. Add flour and salt. Stir until thoroughly mixed, but do not overbeat. Spread in prepared baking dish.

For the chocolate layer, melt butter with cocoa and let cool for several minutes. Beat egg until foamy, then add sugar, flour, salt and vanilla. Mix well but do not overbeat. Add chocolate-butter to egg mixture and blend just to combine. Spread chocolate layer over the top of the blondie layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool.

Bring butter, brown sugar and milk to a boil in a saucepan. Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Let cool. Beat in powdered sugar. Add 1 to 2 more teaspoons milk if frosting is too thick. Spread over cooled brownies. Icing sets quickly, so frost immediately. Refrigerate to store.

Categories Uncategorized

Cream and Fruit Trifles

There was a time I would glance upon Marshmallow Fluff in the grocery store and think it had been on the shelf since 1950, unmoved. I didn’t know what it was (though I could guess) and I had no idea what it would be used for. I am now in-the-know, and I will share what I know with you.

First off, it’s amazing. It’s a fluffy, sweet and absolutely delicious form of marshmallow that you just have to like. If you don’t like marshmallows, it’s most likely because of the consistency and let me just say that marshmallow fluff is 60 times better than just a marshmallow. It’s pure sugar. And a little vanilla.

It can be used to make weeknight s’mores without the fire, fudge, sweet potato casserole, fluffernutters (sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. You read correctly), shakes, fruit dips and now cream and fruit trifles.

You can use any fruit you want, pound cake, angel food cake or vanilla wafers. I used mini trifle bowls (from Crate and Barrel), but glass bowls or even regular bowls will work. What matters most is you get a good amount of fruit dip in with the fruit and mix in a little sweet cake. All the rest is just details.

Ingredients:

  • 1 container marshmallow fluff (7 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 container cream cheese (8 ounces), can use low fat
  • fresh raspberries
  • fresh blueberries
  • kiwi, sliced and cut in half
  • black seedless grapes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • pound cake or angel food cake, diced small
  • strawberries, sliced

How To:

Whip together the marshmallow fluff and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Spread a thin layer in the bottom of trifle bowls or glass bowls. Top with raspberries and blueberries. Layer more of the cream, then the kiwi and grapes. Add another layer of cream, topped with cake and strawberries. Makes about 3 bowls.

Categories Uncategorized

Plum Tart

Plums were on sale and I found them to be quite cute, to the point that I had to buy a lot of them. I wouldn’t want to see what happens if I were to walk into a pet store.
They looked great in my fruit bowl, but I realized I had to find a way to use them soon, or they wouldn’t be looking so nice. A plum tart was a great solution and Ina Garten had a great sounding recipe. I’m going to be honest and say I wasn’t in love when I tried it. Let the tart rest overnight, and eat it the next day with whipped cream. A great, great dessert.
The plums are tart and sandwiched between layers of nutty and hearty crust, creating something sweet. Anything that comes out of a tart pan just looks fancy, so making this for dessert might make you feel like you’re fine dining, at home.
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 pounds firm, ripe plums, pitted and sliced lengthwise, quarters or sixths
How To:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Stir the flours, walnuts and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and the egg yolk. Mix by hand (or you can use an electric mixer) until crumbly.

Press 1 3/4 to 2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2″ tart pan. Place the plums in, skin side down, in a spiral pattern (begin at the outside, end in the middle).

Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the plums. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned. Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Transfer tart to a flat place or cake stand. You can eat it at room temperature but I recommend chilling it and serving with whipped cream.

Salmon with Lemon Pasta

I meant to take more pictures of this dish, but within 15 minutes I was done and my memory kicked in at minute 16. I’m happy to have at least taken a few. A roasted (or grilled) piece of salmon is placed upon slightly tangy, citrusy pasta, atop a bed of fresh spinach.
Salmon with lemon pasta is a great go-to weeknight dinner. It cooks up quickly (as evidenced by lack of photos) and tastes fresh and light. You are actually motivated to do things after dinner; things that would have been left until the weekend while you watch TV on the couch. Of course, it’s ok if you still give into weeknight shows because you still feel good just by eating this meal.
Ingredients:
  • 2 (6-ounce) pieces salmon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to season
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to season
  • 1/2 pound whole-wheat pasta, any shape (I used twisty gobetti)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
How To:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rub salmon with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but al dente, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta reserving 3 tablespoons pasta water with the pasta and transfer both to a large bowl. Add the garlic, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Add the heavy cream, basil, capers, lemon zest and lemon juice to the pasta mixture and stir to combine.

To serve, place 1/2 cup to 1 cup spinach on each plate. Top with 1/3 of the pasta, then with a piece of the salmon. Serve immediately. Leftover pasta is there for a second serving.

Quinoa Salad

I had been wanting to make a quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) salad for a long time, but either didn’t feel like the “healthy” taste I was convinced this salad would amount to or couldn’t muster up the energy to get the ingredients. I was wrong on so many levels.

Quinoa salad is incredibly tasty and unbelievably easy. It will be a making many appearances at our dinner table. So it’s healthy, yes, but it is also a great filling grain (actually, it’s a seed, but I call it a grain) that is also gluten free. Anyone who suffers from a gluten intolerance can make this recipe in abundance. And the easy part? It cooks up in 10 to 15 minutes, you let it cool a little, add all your ingredients and there you have it: quinoa salad.

You can switch up the vegetables to use what you have on hand or work with the theme of your dinner. For example, if you are making a mexican dish, add in avocado, corn, salsa, and I’d even say black beans. Just a note, quinoa is a high protein grain, so added beans are going to give you a real protein punch. You could make the quinoa salad your meal alone. But let’s concentrate on this quinoa salad – refreshing, light, and filling with sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and cranberries. Just the thing for an almost 100 degree day.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa (the pre-washed variety)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1 zucchini, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/2 orange pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds or toasted cashews (optional)

Variations: diced cucumber, celery, snow peas, shell peas, green beans, carrots peeled and sliced thin, avocado, corn, salsa, chopped scallions, raisins, apricots, Greek olives, roasted red peppers (in water or oil), minced jalapeno pepper, fresh mint, parsley, cilantro, or basil, pinch of cayenne, garlic powder, fresh minced garlic, minced fresh or dried ginger.

for the dressing

  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
Dressing variations: Brianna’s blush wine vinaigrette, italian dressing, caesar dressing, your favorite vinaigrette.
How To:
Place quinoa, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until all water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. When done, the grain will appear soft and translucent and the germ ring will be visible. Place in a mixing bowl and let cool for several minutes.
While quinoa is cooking or cooling, mix lemon juice salt and pepper, then whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
Add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Toss with salad dressing and chill. Serve as a side dish or as your main meal.

Morning Blueberry Muffins

I must be on a muffin kick…I saw blueberries in the market and immediately thought of muffins (not a buckle, cobbler, pancakes or smoothie). I’ve had trouble with blueberry muffins before, so I needed to find a great recipe that would put these blueberries to good use. I believe I found that great recipe.

Blueberry muffins need a little lemon zest. They also need a little sweetness but not too much so they feel like a dessert. They are supposed to be a breakfast food after all. And the crumble…oh the crumble. I am now sold on the idea all muffins should have a crumble topping.

My issues have been blue muffins and dry muffins…these are neither. They are moist, the right “muffin” color, and have a tye dye blueberry pattern. They make me want to wake up and eat one. Any muffin that can do that, is worth baking. I think we all know this, but they don’t need to be morning only muffins. They can be morning, noon and night blueberry muffins.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups flour (I used a mix of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour)
  • 2/3 cup milk

for topping

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

How To:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease 12 regular-size muffin cups.

For topping, mix together sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add in cubed butter and process with hands or with a pastry blender. Set aside.

Sift together baking powder, salt and flour; set aside. In a medium bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and lemon zest and mix. Fold in half of sifted flour mixture then half of milk; repeat. Gently stir in blueberries. Spoon into muffin cups (about 3/4 full) and sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons topping onto each muffin. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Chunky Monkey Muffins

With its title, this recipe had me right away. The term chunky monkey actually means “the object of a chubby chaser’s affection,” (according to the Urban Dictionary) but in my dictionary it means food with bananas, chocolate, and peanut butter combined.

These muffins are actually most healthy, but don’t let that turn you away. They taste decadent and hearty, perfect for a chilly morning when its too late in the season for oatmeal and the berries have yet to arrive.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate chips)
  • 6 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 2 medium overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Coat liners with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine flours, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Mix together the yogurt, bananas, egg, vanilla extract, oil, and milk in a separate bowl until thoroughly combined (but banana chunks are ok).

Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture until just combined. Spoon the prepared muffin cups 1/2 full. Add 1 teaspoon peanut butter on top, then sprinkle with a few chocolate chips. Fill up the cups with more batter until 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops of the muffins look dry and they spring back if touched. Allow to cool for several minutes, then take muffins out of tins and place on a wire rack to fully cool. Let the affection begin, in the form of noshing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

I’ve always loved oreos and the base recipe for these cookies is a homemade oreo. I love peanut butter though, and thought it should be included in this party. That’s right, this is a party in a cookie. Lucky for you, you are invited.

Something I wished in an oreo but was always missing was a soft wafer. I’ve never liked a crunchy cookie. I like to think my cookies have perpetually just been baked, and still soft from the oven. Crunchy cookies somehow translate to stale in my mind (but certain cookies should be crunchy, like gingersnaps and nila wafers…I digress).

The mix of a soft chocolate cookie and a smear of peanut butter love makes these cookies pretty much irresistible in my book. Join the cookie party by baking up a batch.

Ingredients:

for the cookies:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room-temperature
  • 1 egg

for the filling:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract

How To:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. While on low speed (or pulsing) add the butter, then the egg. Continue to process until the dough comes together.

Using a cookie scoop (this REALLY helps create cookies that are the same size) or a teaspoon, drop rounded balls of dough on a lined baking sheet (use a silpat or parchment paper) about 2 inches apart. With moistened hands, flatten each ball. Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating once to allow for even baking. Let the cookies cool on baking sheets for several minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack.

For the cream filling: with an electric mixer, combine shortening and peanut butter in a medium bowl on low speed. Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high speed and beat a few more minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

To create the sandwich cookies, use a butter knife to spread 1-2 teaspoons on one half of the cookies, flat side up. Place another cookie (of similar size) on top and smoosh lightly down to spread the filling. Continue until all the cookies have been made into delicious sandwiches. Makes 25-30 sandwich cookies.