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.

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.

 

lemon bars redux

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I don’t know what it is with me, but I never seem to bake with fruit unless it’s specifically requested by someone else.  Case in point:  I’ve made these lemon bars three times, all for birthdays, and honestly, you’d think I’d wise up and do this sort of thing more often.  I mean, if nothing else, I’ve found that the addition of fruit often makes people more inclined to eat whatever sugar-laden concoction I’ve brought in, even the health nuts I work with.  Since I’ve posted this recipe before, I’ll be brief and let you enjoy the food porn…and your weekend.

cream together butter and sugar for the dough (the recipe calls for white; I used brown)

pat the dough into the pan

bake until golden (and ignore my spatula marks)

pour in some lemon, sugar, butter, eggs

careful not to spill!

they don't look like much from up top...

...but powdered sugar cures all ills.

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.

 

cinnamon rolls

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As much as I love making desserts – brownies, cookies, cakes, pies – well, everyone makes those, don’t they?  I like making things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to try at home.  Especially for something special – like Christmas.

rolled out, after the first rise

...and rolled up, for the oven

I started on yeast breads years ago.  They’re kind of perfect as an intermediate challenge – lots of variables, but not too labor-intensive.  Anything with yeast requires experience, though.  You can go by the numbers (105*-115*F to proof the yeast, rise at 80*F, so many grams or ounces of flour), but when all’s said and done, you’re dealing with a living organism.  And it might not like numbers.

if you use muffin tins, shorten the baking time a bit

just one more thing...

These aren’t as scary as you might think.  They may not come out perfectly the first time (as happened with mine – I was too heavy-handed with the flour), but they’re absolutely worth a few attempts, if for no other reason than how they make the house smell.  And next time, I’m adding bacon.

...frosting!

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

Adapted from Epicurious

Dough:
1 cup whole milk [*Alli’s note: I used reduced fat]
3 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling:
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough:

Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  [*Alli’s note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, combine well by hand.]  Add 2 1/2 cups flour, erring on the side of less if dough seems to be getting tough. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl [*Alli’s note: you can do this by hand; it’ll just be difficult.  You may have better luck kneading the last bits of flour in on a floured surface]. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.  [*Alli’s note: You can also do this with the dough hook in a stand mixer.  It shouldn’t take more than four minutes.]

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.  [*Alli’s note: I put a glass of boiling water next to the bowl with the dough, then overturn a brown paper bag on top.]

For filling:

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.

Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at one long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.  [*Alli’s note: I’ve also baked these in greased muffin tins.]

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

For glaze:

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

chocolate peanut butter (fire truck) cake

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I like making things special.

Special, luckily, does not preclude “goofy” and “at a level of maturity generally considered to be below my age,” which is why, the day after Thanksgiving (I know, I have a bit of a backlog), I spent a few hours in my kitchen carving a chocolate cake (with peanut butter frosting; let that not be overlooked) into the shape of a fire truck.  For a boy who was turning 27.

Sure, 27 is a bit out of the typical age range for obsession with emergency vehicles, but I believe in honoring excellence when it occurs, and this particular boy (aside from being quite the mensch, as a lovely Jewish grandmother I recently met would have said) happens to excel at fire trucks.  “But Alli,” you ask, “how does one – as you so clumsily put it – ‘excel at fire trucks?'”

Well, friends, I ask you this.  Can you, upon hearing a siren outside, determine whether it is a police, ambulance, or fire engine siren?  Are you familiar with the emergency codes transmitted among these vehicles, and do you eavesdrop regularly on said transmissions?  Have you, at any point after hearing sirens in your neighborhood, gone on a walk to “find the fire trucks?”

Didn’t think so.  And that, my friends, is why you did not receive a delicious (if a bit amateurish, aesthetically) chocolate peanut butter cake in the shape of a fire truck for your birthday.  It must be noted that, after having taken a few shots of a beverage more age-appropriate than this cake (but equally as much fun), the birthday boy made all partygoers smell said cake because “it smells EXACTLY like a giant peanut butter cup!”

soft, chocolatey, and left over. go to town, friends.

All teasing aside, this one was a pleasure to make, especially for someone who makes me as happy on a daily basis as the recipient.  I’ve tried to cobble together instructions as best I can below, but you’ll have to whip out your own creativity for a good deal of the process.  Don’t worry; when you start making cakes modeled after emergency vehicles, they will be well-received regardless of their aesthetic clumsiness.  Trust me – I speak from experience.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Adapted from the inimitable Deb

Alli’s note: I scaled this recipe up to 1 ½ times the original and baked in two 13×9” pans.

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and grease the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.  [*Alli’s note: I’m a horrible person and omitted this step.]  Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.  [*Alli’s note: Seriously, cool completely.  You might stick these in the freezer for a half hour or so, just to be on the safe side.]

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup of the peanut butter frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. [*Alli’s note: I recommend a crumb coat.  Frost your cake thinly with a layer of frosting, then stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to firm up.  This will make sure all the pesky little crumbs remain sealed in that layer and aren’t visible on the finished cake.]

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups [*Alli’s note: I believe I scaled this up to 1 ½ as well.]

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter (not the natural kind – you’re looking for one where the oil doesn’t separate)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

To make a fire truck cake:

  1. Place first layer on the serving platter or cake board.  Spread a layer of frosting on the cake; top with second layer.
  2. Cut a roughly 2-inch section across the width of the top layer, starting about 2 ½ inches back from what will be the front of your fire truck.  Reserve for another use (or just eat it).  Frost the cut area and top of the back (longer) section with plain peanut butter frosting, using the crumb coat technique.  Reserve a cup or so of frosting, just in case.
  3. Beat remaining frosting with 2 bottles of red food coloring, adding a few drops of yellow or blue if necessary to adjust the color.  Frost the rest of the cake in red, again using the crumb coat technique.
  4. This is where you get to get creative.  I cheated and bought black frosting because it was late and I couldn’t be bothered to make my own black frosting, but use black and white piped accents to make wheels, a ladder, the engine number (I chose 27, for reasons outlined in the above post), windows, etc.  I used gummy bears for the lights, which for some reason was really exciting for me.  If you’d like, you can go all out with edible silver candies, etc.