blueberry muffins

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It’s almost July 4th, and your RSS feeds are probably glutted with cakes decorated as American flags and recipes for red, white, and blue Jell-O.  As fun as the strawberry stripes and blueberry stars are on a bed of white buttercream, though, I’ve seen the patriotic desserts enough to be over it.  I’m all for providing content that’s timely and useful – which, admittedly, flag-themed desserts sometimes are – but if I were a really good blogger, I would have offered up something boozy and refreshing here instead of the arguably hypocritical blueberry muffins I’m about to show you.

It’s my birthday weekend, though, and this year, that means more drinking of alcohol than cooking with it.  So instead, I’m bringing you these blueberry muffins.  It happens, of course, that these are half patriotic already, meaning I’ve already broken my own rule – and which also means that you now have free reign to make them additionally so with the addition of some chopped-up strawberries.  I’ll be busy drinking the alcohol I wasn’t cooking with – and thus will be far too busy to judge.

Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours

1 1/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, separated

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup yogurt

2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen and un-thawed

Line 2 muffins pans with paper liners.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whisk together dry ingredients; set aside.

With the whisk attachment, in the (very clean) bowl of a stand mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt to glossy peaks.  Gently scrape whites into a separate (also clean) bowl.

In the same mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Add egg yolks; beat about 2 minutes.  With mixer on low speed, gradually add half of the dry ingredients, then yogurt, then other half of dry ingredients.  Stir until just combined (there should still be some visible traces of flour).  Gently fold in egg whites, then blueberries.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.  Bake 30 minutes, or until edges are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool completely.

a cupcake almost-fiasco

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I feel like I should shove these photos in someone’s face threateningly.  “Those cupcakes sure look nice, don’t they?  You better appreciate those cupcakes.  You almost didn’t get those cupcakes at all!”  (Side note: I wonder if anything threatening has ever actually been done with cupcakes?)

The confusing part is that these were actually fantastic until the frosting came into play.  “What?” you say.  I know.  The frosting is the best part, especially this cream cheese frosting I whipped up (previously seen on this red velvet cake and probably some other things I haven’t told you about), which was declared “the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever tasted” by my good friend Courtney and of which there is a massive tub in my fridge that I am trying desperately not to devour with a spoon, perhaps a ladle.  Oh, bikini season.

 

Overconfidence was my downfall.  Sure, I can make Hello Kitty cupcakes for your five-year-old’s birthday party.  No, I don’t need fondant.  Thirty smiling cream cheese feline visages on thirty chocolate and vanilla cupcakes coming up.  Made sturdily from frosting and optimism.

I’ll leave it at this: My thirty chocolate and vanilla cupcakes decorated cheerily with flowers and little polka-dot borders looked lovely.

 

Despite my decorating failures, however, these cupcakes were still great.  With a soft but defined crumb and perfect little domed tops, I somehow managed to pick two winning recipes.  I suggest you make at least one of these…but please, no Hello Kitty.

not too bad, when all was said and done.

 

Vanilla Cupcakes

Adapted from Deb

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, slightly softened

1 1/3 cup sugar

3 eggs

½ cup sour cream

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups flour

1/6 cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line muffin pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add sour cream and vanilla; stir until smooth.

In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients, then slowly add to butter mixture until just combined.  Fill cupcake liners to 2/3 full.  Bake 20-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool before frosting.

 

Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from Epicurious

1 ¾ cups flour

¾ cup cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup/1 ½ sticks butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup hot water

1 ¼ cups chocolate chips, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line standard muffin pans with paper liners.  Stir together dry ingredients.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly incorporated.

Beat in vanilla, half of flour mixture, and hot water.  Stir in remaining flour mixture until just combined.  Let batter stand until cooled and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter among muffin cups.  Bake 22-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out with a few crumbs attached.  Cool completely in pans.

gluten-free chocolate cupcakes

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The last time I tried to make something that was gluten-free (white chocolate macadamia nut cookies), I made a point not to tell anyone until after they tasted it.  And it worked really well – every single person raved about how good they were and couldn’t believe that they were gluten-free.

chuck it all in the food processor

The one person with whom I didn’t pull my shenanigans, though, was my food snob coworker, and he took full advantage.

Me: “Here, Nick.  Try one.  These are gluten-free, but I made some regular ones that I’ll bring over in a sec.”

Nick (taking a bite): “Eh, they’re not bad.  For gluten-free.”

ready for the oven

Yeah, okay.  I get it.  Gluten-free is a turnoff, as are vegan and vegetarian and all of those food philosophies that require dietary modification.  And, to be honest, I kind of agree, if only because a “food philosophy” just sounds radically pretentious.

The one exception, though, is those recipes that are unintentionally dietarily philosophical, the ones that don’t require rice flour or fermented cashews or whatever the digestively challenged substitute for real food in their baked goods.  This is one of those recipes.  You won’t find any suspicious health food store ingredients in here – just chocolate, almonds, honey, and a pinch here and there of things you probably already have sitting in your pantry.  And even if you work in an office that houses all breeds of eaters, I defy them all to find a reason to abstain.

 

drizzled and cute

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted generously from Jen

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup almonds (I used lightly salted)

3 eggs

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners or lightly grease each cup.

In a food processor, combine chocolate chips and almonds until they have the consistency of coarse sand.  Add eggs, agave, vanilla, and salt; pulse ten seconds or until combined.

Fill each cup to just over 3/4 full.  Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cupcake comes out clean.  Let cool in pan five minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Decorate with your favorite frosting, or just drizzle on some melted chocolate like I did.

strawberry shortcake mini-cheesecakes

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If my typing seems a little stiff and awkward, I apologize; it’s probably because 3/4 of my body is covered in cheerful, peeling sunburns.  It’s been a stressful few weeks – money is tight, the future is kind of generally uncertain, and it’s been hard not to be a little grumpy here and there.  My chronically studious/obsessively productive side told me to find more work to do; my do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do boyfriend* told me to take advantage of his parents’ Baltic cruise and lay out in their backyard.  You can probably guess which option I chose.

*Please tell him it’s his turn take a vacation.

graham cracker crumbs for crusts

Despite my apparently pitiful sunscreen application techniques, my five-day staycation (thanks, Memorial Day) was exactly what I needed.  If you’re not a freelance writer with a flexible schedule, however, that may be difficult to pull off – which is why I bring you these strawberry shortcake mini-cheesecakes.

press into muffin cups

These are summer in a muffin tin.  They’re delicious, with a flavorful graham cracker crust, soft pound cake, and tangy cheesecake, but what really does it is that strawberry swirl.  I don’t care what mood you’re in or how much money you don’t have; I defy you not to smile at that jaunty little splash of red.

chop up pound cake

For freshness and aesthetic purposes, I recommend making these the day you’re planning to serve them, but they can be made a day in advance.  If you want to really amp up the cuteness factor, try them in mini muffin tins and start checking for doneness a few minutes early.

Strawberry Shortcake Mini-Cheesecakes

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 package frozen strawberries, thawed and pureed

1 recipe pound cake, below, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch squares

Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line two muffin tins with paper or aluminum liners.

Place graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, flour, salt, and melted butter into a mixing bowl to combine.  Press a few spoonfuls of crumbs into each muffin tin, pressing up the sides about half an inch.  Bake 5 minutes, or until just browned.  Remove from oven.

In the bowl of a stand  mixer, beat the cream cheese with the sugar until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined and scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a spatula.

Place two pound cake squares in each muffin cup, then top with 1/2 teaspoon strawberry puree.  Fill each cup with cheesecake batter to about 1/4 inch below the top of the cup.  Top with another 1/2 teaspoon puree.  Swirl slightly with a knife; repeat.

Bake 25 minutes, or until cheesecake edges are just beginning to brown and centers are almost set.  Remove from oven and let cool completely, then refrigerate.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Pound Cake 

1 stick butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting the pan

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

2 eggs

Scant 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour a loaf pan.  Stir dry ingredients together; set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Add vanilla.  Beat in eggs.  Slowly stir in flour mixture; pour into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.

cinnamon swirl crumb cake

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I think pretty much everyone who knows me also knows that I’ve been baking since I was old enough to sit on the kitchen counter without falling off and dump sugar into the mixing bowl.  That’s fun and all, but everyone knows that the best part of baking is eating the batter, and if you don’t subscribe to that belief we probably can’t be friends.

streusel fixings

pressed into the bowl

Now, cookie dough and cake batter are great and all, but some crazy actually probably kind of smart people shy away from those because of the raw eggs, and I may or may not get a little bitter because I know I should have such healthy and self-preservative qualms.  But you know those delicious piles of crumbs you’ll sometimes find on top of those cakes, the ones made of brown sugar and cinnamon and butter and little else?  Those don’t have eggs in them.  And I defy you to find a single warm-blooded human being who can resist those crumbs.*

*So much so that, for a friend’s birthday last year, I presented her with a giant Tupperware bucket of crumb cake topping.

cake time

ready for the oven

So if you make this cake – which you should – and complain that you ate too much of the crumb topping (a.k.a. streusel, if you’re curious), I will feel no pity at all.  You’ve been warned.

ignore my ghetto pan

seriously, just eat it.

Cinnamon Swirl Crumb Cake

Adapted from Deb

For the crumbs:

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 3/4 cups flour

For the cake:

1/3 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup cake flour

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, softened and cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease an 8-inch square baking pan [Alli’s note: I used a 9-inch pan with no problems].

In a large bowl, whisk together sugars, cinnamon, and salt into melted butter until smooth.  Stir in flour with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Press together into bottom of bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture; mix on medium speed until flour is moistened.  Increase speed and beat 30 seconds.  Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Scrape about 2/3 of batter into prepared pan.  Using your fingers, break crumb topping into about 1/2-inch pieces (but please don’t stress too much about uniformity).  Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of crumb mixture over batter (I supplemented this with a little extra cinnamon).  Spoon remaining batter over and smooth out slightly.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes.  Cool completely; serve.

sticky blood orange pudding

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I have to say, the words “sticky” and “blood” together in one title don’t do much in the way of selling this post to the reader.  For that, I’ll blame the coworker whose birthday it was and who took advantage of my offer to bake him something by requesting this doozy.

I don't know if there's anything prettier than blood oranges

Don’t get me wrong – for the most part, the people for whom I bake don’t know enough to request the tough stuff.  And when it comes right down to it, this isn’t a very difficult recipe; it just has more steps than most.  The problem, I think, is with the actual writing of the recipe.  Between candying slices of blood orange and making caramel from the candying liquid, this requires a little bit of extra attention, and while I am of course not bitter at all,* it maybe would have helped if someone had mentioned a candy thermometer, or perhaps just a decently concrete indication of caramel doneness.

*not even about the bowl filled with brickish and irascible caramel and the spoon planted in it, both of which I will likely have to throw out.

ugly, I know, but just in case you wanted to see the caramel

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try this recipe, though.  It’s tasty, if the cake batter is any indication, and the birthday boy seems to enjoy it very much.  Just do me a favor and seek out a slightly more informative guide to caramel.*

*Which I should have done, but was – tragically, as it turned out – too devoted to multitasking; next time, the laundry will wait.

ta -da

 

Sticky Blood Orange Pudding

Adapted from here.  For key information on simple syrup and caramel, I suggest perusing the embedded links.

Candied Oranges

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups water

3 medium blood oranges

Combine the sugar and water on the stove to create a simple syrup.  Slice the blood orange thinly, then place in the pot of syrup.

Reduce on medium low heat for about 30 mins, or until the blood orange peel is soft and sweet to taste.  Let cool, then remove the candied orange from the syrup (reserving the liquid) and puree it until it reaches a jam-like consistency.  Set aside.

Vanilla and Blood Orange Caramel

Reserved syrup from candying process

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch salt

Place all the ingredients into a small heavy sauce pan and reduce over medium heat until the consistency of honey.

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

1 stick (8 tbsp) butter, room temperature

2 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

8 ounces candied blood orange puree

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9-inch round cake pan.  In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Slowly add the eggs one at time, then add the vanilla.  Gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined.  Fold in the candied blood orange puree.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumb.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Once  cooled, release from pan and pour about 2 tbsp of the blood orange caramel into the bottom of the pan.  Place cake back into the pan and let sit for a few minutes.  When ready, remove from pan and drizzle with with more caramel and fresh blood orange.

 

funfetti cake

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Yesterday, as a full-fledged Adult Who is No Longer In School (yikes), I did my taxes for the first time.  Admittedly, this year, “doing my taxes” actually looked more like “sitting behind Dad and handing him pieces of paper,” but it was the first time I actually had to deal with form numbers, withholdings, expenses.  The English degree, unfortunately, was not terribly helpful.

this is the fun part...oh, who am I kidding. all of Funfetti cake is fun

While I’m a little late on this front (I generally prefer to ignore all but the most necessary aspects of intimidating financial matters), the organization kick that I’ve been on during the last few weeks was well-timed.  Two cheap Target binders and a few sheets of printable labels later, I’m feeling much more organized.

except for folding egg whites.

Lest we tip the scales too far toward responsibility and adulthood, I offer the childhood classic that my anti-box-mix parents never made me: Funfetti cake, resplendent in a classic white birthday cake frosting and jaunty rainbow sprinkles.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better, cheerier birthday cake, so it’s a good thing I had someone to give it to this weekend.

In the annals of irony, which I hope actually exist, homemade Funfetti cake has to be in there somewhere.  Not only is the point of Funfetti cake its fluffy artificiality, but the damn homemade version is, if not drastically, at least significantly more complicated than nine out of ten cakes you’ll find.  Whipping egg whites?  Folding?!  Seriously, it serves me right for messing with a classic.

When all was said and done, though, even taking into consideration the mass consumption of sketchy homemade wine by the guests of the party at which this was served, it was a pretty decent effort.  Just light enough to balance out the chocolate peanut butter fudge cookies served alongside it (coming soon) and just cheery and sweet enough to celebrate a birthday, this is one I have to recommend.

Homemade Funfetti Cake

Adapted from a variety of  sources across the Interwebs

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted

1 Tbsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

2/3 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cups milk

1/3 cup colored sprinkles (or jimmies, depending where you’re from)

4 egg whites

Additional sprinkles, for decorating

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray two 9″ round cake pans [*Alli’s note: I used 9″ square] with cooking spray.  Lightly coat with flour; set aside.

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  Cream butter with 1 1/4 cups sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in vanilla extract.

Alternately stir in dry ingredients and milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Mix in sprinkles.  Set aside.

In a clean bowl with your mixer’s whisk attachment, beat egg whites until foamy.  Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until whites form soft peaks.  Fold gently into batter.

Divide batter equally between cake pans.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until cakes are a bit springy and pull away slightly from the edges of the pans.  Cool.

 

Basic White Frosting

2 lb. (usually one bag) powdered sugar

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)

2 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch salt

2/3 cup water

Beat together butter, vanilla extract, and salt.  Gradually add powdered sugar, regularly scraping down the sides of the bowl.  In small increments, beat in water until frosting reaches desired consistency (you may not end up using all of the water).  Easily frosts a 9″ two-layer cake.