Saturday, April 25, 2009

S'mores Cupcakes Experiment

So, when we do coffee hour at church, I almost never bring just one thing. I like to give people options. And I've developed kind of a reputation, which I have to uphold! So coffee hour, when I do it, almost always involves cupcakes. They're so easy to do in large batches (well, the mini ones are, anyway), and everybody loves them.

I was looking at Chockylit's (sadly defunct) Cupcake Bakeshop for inspiration, and saw her s'mores cupcakes and knew that that was what I wanted to make. But I didn't want to make her recipe for them, because I didn't have time to make the little graham cracker crusts for like a million mini-cupcakes, nor did I have time for homemade marshmallows (although I plan to try my hand at marshmallows, someday). So I went exploring online, and found a LOT of s'mores cupcake recipes. Many of them are made with chocolate cake, which I didn't want -- chocolate isn't really the dominant flavor in s'mores.

So I looked for graham cracker cupcake recipes, intending to put milk chocolate chunks in them, and do some sort of marshmallow frosting. I found the recipe below, and it looked great - lots of graham crackers in there. I found a lot of frosting recipes that used the same basic concept as the one I used (below), so I was set!

The cake batter made me a little nervous as it was coming together -- all those crumbs made for a kind of curdled-looking batter. And I'd doubled the recipe, so I really needed it to work out! As you see, the cupcakes baked up beautifully, and they smelled wonderful in the oven.

The frosting also gave me some pause -- I've never put marshmallow creme in frosting before, and it definitely changes the consistency. It's hard to explain - it seems softer and looser than regular buttercream, but it has more structure at the same time. It made it hard to know when to stop tweaking (I usually just add a little more sugar and a little more water/milk until my frosting is "right").

Verdict: these were definitely yummy (my neighbor LOVED them, said they were the best thing I've ever baked), but I didn't get much "s'mores" flavor out of them. The main flavor I got was "sweet." The cupcakes weren't graham-y enough, which is kind of frustrating given how much graham cracker went into them! The frosting didn't taste marshmallowy at all, although that was probably my fault for adding too much powdered sugar.

I want to try these again, but next time I think I'll add chunks of graham cracker to the batter, and maybe make a streusel-type topping out of graham crackers, too. I will also make a swiss meringue buttercream-type frosting, which should taste more marshmallowy, and I think I'll try to toast it!

S’mores Cupcakes
Adapted from How To Eat a Cupcake
Makes just under 5 dozen mini cupcakes

For cupcakes:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 11 grahams)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 cup milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks

For frosting:
7 oz. marshmallow creme
6 Tbsp. (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
approx. 3/4 pound confectioner's sugar
1-2 Tbsp. water or milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, crushed graham crackers, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and milk and beat until batter is almost smooth. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling cups about 2/3 full (I use a #60 disher for mini cupcakes). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean . Remove from oven and cool.

Make frosting: beat butter and marshmallow creme in standing mixer until combined. Add powdered sugar and water until a nice, fluffy consistency.

Frost cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with grated milk chocolate or graham cracker crumbs.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My husband and I are filling in for coffee hour at church tomorrow -- one of my favorite things to do! I love baking for an audience. The only thing I don't love about baking for coffee hour is that you have to make a lot of whatever you're bringing; I usually bring about 200 pieces. On the one hand, it's nice to have an opportunity to make more than one recipe. On the other hand - whew, it's a lot of work! Especially since Trevor works on Saturday afternoons, so I'm toddler-wrangling while I bake.

Peanut butter and chocolate is one of my favorite combinations ever, and has been practically my whole life. And these are really good peanut butter cookies! They're lovely and crisp on the outside, but soft on the inside, and the chocolate and peanut butter chips are soft little pockets of flavor.

These cookies are pretty easy, too, although they do have the added step of rolling them in sugar. I used superfine sugar, but I think I'll use regular granulated sugar next time -- I like the look of the bigger crystals.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Smitten Kitchen
Makes approx. 4 dozen

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (smooth is what we used, but I am pretty sure they use chunky at the bakery)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup chocolate chips

For sprinkling: 1-2 tablespoons sugar, regular or superfine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter and chocolate chips. Place sprinkling sugar — the remaining tablespoon — on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (I used a #60 disher) into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Almond Cheesecake

Cheesecake is sort of a tradition in my family. My father-in-law makes heavenly cheesecakes, and he makes them for all sorts of events. He is known for his cheesecakes. He made our wedding cake (and lots of other peoples' wedding cakes, too). He doesn't do New-York-style cheesecakes -- he does chocolate cheesecakes. Chocolate orange, chocolate raspberry, white chocolate cherry, chocolate Kahlua espresso with hazelnut crust (my personal favorite), and others. They're creamy and just to die for.

So it was a while before I ever tried making a cheesecake. It just seemed like it was his arena, and he did it so well that why should I even bother? I eventually got over it, but I make different types of cheesecakes than he does. I certainly don't feel the need to attempt chocolate, but I like a good New-York-style cheesecake -- it's a different beast than the ones my father-in-law makes.

What I'm about to say next might be a little blasphemous in my family: I like this cheesecake even better than my father-in-law's cheesecakes.

Oh, it's close, there's no doubt. I love that chocolate Kahlua espresso and its hazelnut crust. But I love this almond cheesecake. It's so light and creamy, and almondy all the way through. And it's so insanely easy to make. (That's one of the nice things about cheesecake - you don't have to mess around with frosting.) It's like almond paste in cheesecake form (it doesn't get any better than "almond paste in _____ form" with me. I wish almond paste were good eats straight out of the can!).

Anyway, make this. Make it soon. You won't regret it.

Almond Cheesecake
from Bon Appetit, via

Note: The original recipe calls for sour cream and blackberry toppings. I don't really feel the need for them on this cheesecake, but I've done them in the past. I've also done just a simple berry coulis spooned over the top. You can also swirl some coulis into the filling, which is really pretty. Whatever makes you happy!

For crust
1 8-ounce tube almond paste
6 whole graham crackers (about 3 ounces), broken up
1/2 cup whole almonds (about 2 1/2 ounces), toasted, cooled
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For filling
1/2 cup sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
3 large eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Make crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set aside 1/2 of the almond paste for filling. Combine remaining almond paste, graham crackers and almonds in processor and grind finely. Add butter; process until moist crumbs form. Press over bottom and 2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Bake until crust colors, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Make filling:

Wipe out processor. Blend sugar and reserved almond paste in processor until mixture resembles fine meal, about 1 minute. Add half of cream cheese and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add remaining cream cheese and process until smooth. Add eggs, cream and almond extract and blend until just combined.

Pour filling into crust. Bake cake until just set in center and beginning to crack at edges, about 40 minutes. Chill cake uncovered until cold, about 1 1/2 hours.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lime-with-Bite Cupcakes

You can't tell from the picture, but these cupcakes are TART. Almost too tart for me. I made them for my friend James' birthday, and James loves citrus with a bite -- I made him tart lemon cupcakes a couple of years ago, and now it was time to try lime. The trick is, there aren't really any recipes out there for extra-tart lime baked goods other than key lime pie. So I had to figure it out myself. The lemon ones I did a couple of years ago were also no good as a starting point -- I'd used a doctored cake mix family recipe, and no one makes lime cake mix.

So I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that used a good deal of lemon zest and juice in the batter, and substituted lime. I used a little bit more zest than it called for, too, since lime is generally a subtler flavor than lemon.

The cake was good, but nowhere near tart. So once the cupcakes came out of the oven, I poked holes in them with a toothpick and poured a little glaze over, glaze made of lime juice with a little sugar. That made the cakes about as tart as I could get them without making like a million test batches -- I don't want to mess with the chemistry of baking that much.

But it's the frosting where you can really get zingy. There's a lot less chemistry in frosting -- with American buttercream, it's just a matter of tweaking for taste and consistency. So this frosting is really, really tart. James loved it, as did a lot of my friends. If I were making this again for myself (and I probably will, because I love lime), I would make it a good deal less tart, because that's my preference.

One other note - I had planned to fill these cupcakes with lime curd, but I ran out of time. So I incorporated some of the lime curd into the frosting. I've done this before, and I love the flavor of it. It's probably not strictly necessary, but lime curd is SO GOOD that I like putting it everywhere.

Lime-with-Bite Cupcakes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
makes 24 cupcakes

For cake:
3 tablespoons lime juice (from about 2 large limes)
2 tablespoons lime zest (from about 2 large limes)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
18 tablespoons (2-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar

For glaze:
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. Mince lime zest to fine paste (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Combine zest and lime juice in small bowl; set aside to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Combine lime juice mixture, vanilla, and buttermilk in medium bowl. In small bowl, gently whisk eggs and yolk to combine.
  4. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, cream butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Reduce to medium speed and add half of eggs, mixing until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining eggs; scrape down bowl again.
  5. Reduce to low speed; add about one-third of flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition (about 5 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Scrape into prepared pan.
  6. Bake until tops are golden brown and wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into center comes out with no crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool 5 minutes, still in pan. While cooling, mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice. (I stuck mine in the microwave for about 20 seconds to get the sugar to dissolve.)
  8. Poke holes in the cupcakes with a toothpick or skewer. Pour about 1 teaspoon of glaze over each cupcake, while the cupcakes are still hot.

Lime Curd
adapted from Martha Stewart, via chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop

4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, strained
1/2 teaspoons gelatin
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
7 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 tablespoon lime juice. Let sit.
  2. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and citrus juice in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in gelatin mixture. Stir in butter, piece by piece. Pour through fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (press the wrap onto the surface of the curd), and cool in the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours.
  4. Whip together cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold cream into the chilled curd.

Tart Lime Frosting
makes more than enough for 24 cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds confectioner's sugar
1/2 recipe lime curd (above)
approx. 1 cup lime juice
approx. 14 small TrueLime packets(optional)
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter until soft. Add about 1/2 pound of confectioner's sugar. Beat until incorporated.
  2. Add some lime curd (approx 1/2 cup). Beat until incorporated.
  3. Add some lime juice (approx 2 tablespoons). Beat until incorporated.
  4. Add approx. 1/2 pound more confectioner's sugar. Beat until incorporated.
  5. Keep adding lime curd, lime juice, and confectioner's sugar until the consistency is where you want it.
  6. If you want to bring the TART, add TrueLime packets until your mouth puckers.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

MaryElla - finished

Well, the MaryElla bracelet is finished and en route to my friend in New York! It went really fast once I got into it -- I knit probably 3.5 inches last Saturday. It's quite an easy pattern, for the most part -- just knitting and purling, with the occasional k2tog and YO. The main thing that I found very mildly frustrating is that it's a little hard to get into a rhythm when knitting it, because you have to stop every few stitches to slide beads up.

I would make ywo little changes to the pattern. First, as others on Knitty's discussion board suggested, I slipped the first stitch of every row (instead of knitting it) and it made a much, much neater edge. Second, I wish the author had made it clear that there will be beads on the right side and the wrong side -- I thought I was doing something wrong until I poked around online and saw that others did the same thing.

The other thing I changed is the closure. I was never all that enamored of the idea of snaps on this bracelet -- they seemed too... prosaic. Too practical, not pretty enough. But I didn't know what other options were out there, so I put them on anyway (as you see in the picture above). And I liked them even less once I got them on -- it felt like they were going to rip off or tear the fabric when I unsnapped them. So I went back to the bead store where I got the beads, and found a different type of closure:

I don't know what it's called, but I liked it a lot better. The two pieces slide together. I didn't attach it as neatly as I would have liked, but I needed to get the bracelet in the mail!

I think I'll make more of these, probably for Christmas gifts this year -- they go so quickly, and they're so pretty, and there are so many colors I could do!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cozy progress

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Here's my progress so far on the MaryElla bracelet. I love how it's coming along -- it goes pretty quickly, but the tiny needles are tricky to work with.

I'm hoping to finish it this week (ooh, still have to get snaps for the closure. Hmm.) so I can send it to my friend for a late Easter gift.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Seven-Layer Bars, Minus a Layer

So, apparently Seven-Layer Bars, or Hello Dolly Bars, are a staple of everyone's childhood except mine. I don't think my childhood was deficient in other ways (although my parents were very strict about movies), but I'm not sure I'd ever had one of these until I made them last night.

I used Deb's recipe (at smittenkitchen) as a starting point, but I made some variations. Deb and my husband both said that they were really sweet -- almost too sweet -- and I'm not a big fan of butterscotch to begin with, so I used peanut butter chips instead of butterscotch. Okay, I put a few butterscotch chips in there, too, but I swear I could taste every one of them and won't be doing that again. Also, I don't like coconut, so I left that out, too. I figured that would also help them not be cloyingly sweet.

I'm pretty pleased with the outcome -- they are still quite sweet, but I think they stayed just this side of too sweet. They're still pretty rich, so even I can't eat more than about 2 bars in one sitting -- but they smell so good that it's easy to forget that no, you really can't eat another bite.

They're also dead simple to make, and it's such a quick recipe that I can see myself making this again and again -- and probably playing with it a little every time. Maybe adding peanut butter instead of just chips, or -- ooh! -- Nutella and hazelnuts! Mmm. And maybe adding some caramel sauce. I think this recipe has a lot of room to play!

Seven Six-Layer Bars
(adapted from

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
1 packet graham crackers, crushed into crumbs in a food processor or smashed in a zip-top bag
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup peanut butter chips (probably a little more than 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup butterscotch chips (probably a little less, actually)
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8x8 pan with aluminum foil (the no-stick foil came in really handy here).

2. Melt the butter. Mix it with the graham cracker crumbs and press the mixture into the bottom of the lined pan.

3. Layer the chocolate chips, pecans, peanut butter chips, and butterscotch chips on top of the graham cracker crust. Pat it out to the edges of the pan.

4. Pour the condensed milk over the whole mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is light brown.

You should let it cool before you cut it -- it will make the cutting easier and neater -- but I had promised baked goods to the people I play pub trivia with, so the whole thing came with me, still hot. We let it cool some before cutting into it. It was messy but so good still warm!

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