Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo! Chocolate Cupcakes


We had a potluck lunch today at work and since I volunteered to bring dessert (shocking, right?), I wanted to make something that everyone would enjoy but that was also Halloween-y.  Last year, I made dirt pudding, but this year, I wanted to really make something special.

My cake decorating skills are still pretty limited, but I figured I could easily pipe some lines of frosting on a cupcake to look like a mummy.  M&Ms for eyes add the perfect touch.

I went into this cupcake making adventure completely blind.  While I've had good results from the recipes in my KitchenAid book, I haven't tried them all.  The frosting recipe was something I found online awhile ago and then tucked away for a time when I could figure out what to put with it.  I thought chocolate cake and marshmallow frosting would taste something like a whoopie pie.  Since I was making them last night while waiting for game 7 of the World Series to start (spoiler alert: my Red Sox won!), it seemed apropos and timely.

I've used the white cake recipe in the KitchenAid book before and it make about a dozen cupcakes, so I doubled this one, thinking I'd get about 24.  Obviously something crazy happened, because I got 36 regular sized cupcakes and 10 mini ones.  Ah well.. at least I had enough frosting!

As far as the frosting goes, I'm learning that patience is key.  When it says "whip butter until smooth and creamy", that means whip the butter until it's smooth like... well, like buttah!  Seriously, you want the butter to be super smooth and creamy.  And then you really want to thoroughly mix in the marshmallow fluff, until the contents of your bowl are white.  This was the fluffiest frosting I've ever made and it was the perfect piping consistency.  It made me wish I was better at decorating so I could have tried something better or more intricate than just crisscrossing lines.  I think as long as I'm patient with my regular buttercream frostings, I'll be able to get consistently fluffy results every time.

We live in an apartment building and there aren't many kids that live here, so we don't get any trick or treaters.  Instead, we're hanging in our PJs, eating mummy cupcakes and watching the Bengals-Dolphins game (hey, the Bengals are Halloween colors!).  How are you celebrating Halloween?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Chocolate cake:
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted*
*I substituted 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil for each ounce of melted chocolate

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers or spray with non-stick spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine dry ingredients.  Add shortening, milk and vanilla.  Turn mixer on low and beat until combined - batter will be a little lumpy. Add eggs and chocolate; mix until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for about 1 minute, or until batter turns from a dark chocolate to a milk chocolate color.

Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full.  (I got 16 regular sized cupcakes from the recipe above).  Bake for 18 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pans for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Marshmallow Frosting:

1 cup (2 sticks butter), room temperature
1 7.5 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
2 c. confectioner's sugar
2-4 Tbsp milk

Using a mixer, cream butter until smooth and creamy.  Add in marshmallow fluff and beat until fully incorporated.  Slowly add in the sugar, making sure each additional is fully combined before adding more.  Add in the milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Beat until frosting is soft and fluffy, adding more milk or sugar to reach desired consistency.

To make the mummy cupcakes, put the frosting into a zip top bag and snip off the end.  Pipe crisscrossing lines across the cupcake.  Use m&ms for eyes, "m" side down.

Monday, October 21, 2013

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

I've been dying to make something "seasonal", like apple or pumpkin, but Joe is only "meh" on pumpkin things and I keep eating the apples before I can make anything with them.  I bought some cranberries to put in my salad and had some left, so I wanted to use them in something.  They're pretty seasonal but also a little tart, so I thought they'd be perfect in something a little sweeter.

We've been on a huge cookie kick (try saying that three times fast!) lately, and when I realized I had some white chocolate chips hanging around in the cabinet, I thought this would be a perfect way to make something with some unexpected seasonal flavors.

I only made a half batch of these cookies, mostly because I wasn't sure if Joe was going to like them.  Turns out, I should have made a full batch, because I barely had time to take the few photos you see here before he started stuffing them in his face a la Cookie Monster.  Since you'll probably want to make more, simply double (or triple) the recipe that you see below.

The sweetness of the white chocolate is a really nice balance to the tart flavor of the cranberries.  I've only been able to have a few, but I think these would be PERFECT with a nice tall glass of milk.  The way the holidays fall this year, my family will be celebrating Chanukagiving (Chanukah starts at nightfall on Thanksgiving), and I'm already thinking that these will make a perfect holiday dessert.

What are your favorite seasonal flavors?

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
To print this recipe, click here

1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 c. white chocolate chips
1 c. dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except for flour, cranberries and chocolate chips.

Mix in flour until thoroughly combined.  Add in chocolate chips and cranberries.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto greased baking sheet.  Bake for 9 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pizza, pizza, pizza!

If you're awesome enough to hang out with us on a Sunday, you know that dinner is going to one of two ways: we're either gonna go big, with a huge, homemade dinner, or we're gonna literally phone it in and call the pizza guy.

When I first mentioned making our own pizza a few years ago, Joe looked at me like I was crazy.  I told him that I knew how to do it and I promised him it would be delicious and worth it.  I may have over-exaggerated the first time, because while it came out pretty okay, it was not the best pizza ever.

Since then, though, my pizza makings skills have greatly improved.  I don't have a pizza dough recipe that I like, so alas, all I have to share today are pictures and some tips.  Our local grocery store sells pre-made dough balls in the refrigerated section, so that's what I use.  I like them because I just have to let them thaw/come to room temperature and rise for about an hour, and then I can get started cooking.

The dough is really, really plain tasting so you definitely have to add some spices.  I usually add garlic powder, onion powder, italian seasoning and a little bit of red pepper flakes, then rub them in a bit so the flavors are evenly distributed.  I actually kind of like that the dough is so bland, that way I can season it for whatever I'm making.  The premade dough is also much faster, and dinner is usually ready and on the table within about an hour so.

I'm not really sure how big the dough balls are, but for the pizza pans that we have, one ball is not quite enough dough.  Two balls is a little bit too much, but I like a really thick and puffy crust on my pizza so it works out well.

I always make sure to prebake the crust for about 7 minutes before I add any sauce or cheeses or anything, just to make sure it doesn't get soggy.  This also lets the spices I've added get baked in, so the flavor is more uniform than with random overpowering pockets.  We usually just do plain (cheese) or pepperoni, but we've tried a potato pizza before, with so-so results, and bbq chicken always comes out delicious.

What's YOUR favorite kind of pizza?