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adventures in a culinary neophyte's kitchen

Posts Tagged ‘vanilla’

cupcakes fit for the champs

Posted by culinaryneophyte on February 8, 2012

2012

The Super Bowl is the Thanksgiving of the sports world: At the heart is a celebration of an American tradition, but most people are just there for the food.

2008

As I mentioned in my last post, I was a little overzealous in the kitchen this weekend because I was not only cooking for a big group of people, but also super pumped for the game itself: a rematch of the greatest Super Bowl played since I’ve been alive, and maybe of all time. I get chills whenever I think about Super Bowl XLII — the Giants’ final drive, Eli’s Houdini-like escape, David Tyree’s epic helmet-catch, ruining the Patriots’ 19-0 dreams. Pure magic.

I was nervous for this year’s game all weekend, and the best way to take my mind off of it was to bake. I already showed you the Giants sugar cookies I made earlier in the week, and when I saw strawberries on sale, I decided to make festive chocolate-covered strawberry footballs. The stars of the show, though, were these chocolate chip cookie-bottom vanilla cupcakes, which I first saw on how sweet eat is. I wanted to take it a step further and add some Giants colors in there to support Big Blue. (That’s probably why they won.)

Note: The lighting in my house is awful, and my snarky friend Scott pointed out on Facebook that they look more like Broncos cupcakes than Giants. He said, “You should probably fix that before you put it on Pinterest” (mocking his girlfriend’s new obsession that I may or may not have introduced her to). The good news is that the New York Giants seemed to think the colors were suitable, because I received a notification on Twitter saying they had chosen my photo to publish on their website! In any event, they were clearly blue and red in person, so… yeah.

slightly adapted from how sweet eat is
COOKIE LAYER
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. chocolate chips

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in bowl. In stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and beat
on medium. Slowly add dry ingredients, and mix on low until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Spray each cupcake liner with a spritz of cooking spray and spoon in about 1 tablespoon of cookie mix. Press down evenly with spoon. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare cake mix.

CUPCAKE LAYER
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tbs. vanilla extract
1-1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 c. milk 

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. After a quick clean of the mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat. Add 1/3 dry ingredients and 1/2 the milk, and mix on low. Alternate dry and milk until all ingredients are just combined. Scoop cake mix into each liner until 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out cleanly. Makes 18 cupcakes.

FROSTING
For buttercream frosting, use this recipe (sans the chai spices). You might want to make a double batch, because I didn’t have enough and needed to use a little bit of Pilsbury vanilla frosting for my white component. To make the swirled effect, separate frosting in proportionate amounts into separate bowls, and add food coloring. (FYI: Wilton food coloring is much more effective than what I used for the sugar cookies because this blue color was perfectly royal.) Place in a piping bag in stripes, and push through even if it gets messy.

Total time? 35 minutes prep, 20 minutes bake. (You’re basically making two desserts.)
Cost? Nothing out of the norm here — just nominal baking supply costs.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out 10. I was a little concerned having cookie involved could dry out the cupcake portion, but these were surprisingly moist. (They don’t stay that way longer than a day or two, but you probably won’t have many leftover anyway.) The only complaint — if you could even call it that — is that the chocolate chip cookie portion was slightly overwhelming in a few of the treats and took it more in a cookie-cake direction. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s why I decreased the cookie measurement. These are a little time consuming, but definitely worth it. Sooo good! (And of course: Congratulations to the New York Giants on their Super Bowl XLVI win! Déjà BLUE all over again!)

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beercakes

Posted by culinaryneophyte on September 29, 2011

Let’s just pretend I got this post up 10 days ago, when it was still National Cupcake Week. Sadly, my Nashville business trip preparations took up more time than I would have liked, and I didn’t get the chance to share this beauty with you in time for you to celebrate that sweet week of itty-bitty cakes.

Fortunately, I used a little sumthin’ sumthin’ in these cakes that gives them a fall flair: Blue Moon cupcakes, made with new Harvest Pumpkin Ale. 

I stumbled across Miss Make’s recipe (sans pumpkin flavor) after finding a stray Blue Moon hiding in the fridge — which somehow survived the six-hour fantasy football draft — and thought it looked like an experiment worth trying for National Cupcake Week.

Be warned: If you do not like beer or Blue Moon, you will not like these cupcakes. I made the mistake of handing one over to a beer opponent, and he spat it out instantly. If you do like beer, these cupcakes are for you. You’re immediately hit by the wheat beer flavor, accented with orange [and pumpkin]. The best part of the cupcake, though, is the frosting — infused with orange and whipped into a beautiful froth akin to the head of a frosty glass of Blue Moon. Any other frosting would sit too heavily and overtake the beautiful flavors of the beercake.

FOR CAKES
♦3/4 c. butter, unsalted
1-3/4 c. sugar
2-1/2 c. flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest
1 c. Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale
1/4 c. milk

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer, beat butter on medium for 30 seconds. Add sugar in thirds, beating consistently for two minutes. Add eggs one at a time, and beat after each. Add vanilla and zest, and beat. In a small bowl, mix beer and milk (sounds delicious, right?). Add small amount of liquid mixture to mixer, alternating with flour mixture, and beating between each. Add to cupcake liners, and bake for 15-18 minutes at 375 degrees.

FOR FROSTING
2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbs. orange juice
1 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 c. water

Combine water, sugar and cream of tartar in small saucepan, and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. In the meantime, beat egg whites, juice and vanilla until soft peaks form. With mixer running on medium, add sugar mixture and beat continuously for seven minutes. (I’ve done my own frosting before, but never with egg whites. This was an exciting “science project” for me. I actually let out a shriek when I saw what these simple ingredients turned into after several minutes of beating. It’s seriously amazing.)  Once cupcakes are completely cooled, drop dollops of frothy frosting on top. Store in fridge in air-tight container. I found them still edible after at least four days.

Total time? 35 minutes.
Cost? $2.50 orange juice, $6 (?) pack of Blue Moon; use one for the cupcakes, and enjoy the rest.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I told every taste tester, “I won’t be offended if you don’t like this.” The flavor is very polarizing, so you’re either going to love ‘em or hate ‘em. Despite not being a beer drinker, I surprisingly fell into the love ‘em group. The cupcakes aren’t overly sweet, and you get every different flavor with each bite. I also loved dressing them up for the photoshoot. You can’t have a Blue Moon without an orange slice!

 

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welcome home float

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 24, 2011

I was saving this dessert post for a special occasion, and it feels appropriate share now that the circumstances are aligned with the circumstances under which it was first attempted.

Less circuitously, I made these root beer float cupcakes when my best friend came home from Europe on winter break earlier this year, and she’s just returned to the States for the foreseeable future. I figured I’d give her a little ‘welcome home’ nod, especially because when she left, she said, “Don’t make anything awesome while I’m away,” and — as I’m told — I didn’t listen.

I had Laura and her friends from school, Jessie and Marie, over that winter night. They supplied dinner in the form of meats and cheeses from Marie’s German homeland, and I agreed to make dessert — an ambitious one, as it turned out.

When I started, I struggled with which root beer avenue to take. I had bought a bottle of RB extract from a local candy store for $3, but I also had half a bottle of A&W that was going to go to waste anyway sitting on the counter, so I opted to simmer that down into syrup instead.

Then, embarrassingly enough, I couldn’t get the bottle open. I literally scraped up my palms attempting to get the cap unscrewed, so I went back to the extract.

Then, I took a good look at the recipe and realized that measly bottle (only 1 teaspoon!) wasn’t even close to what I needed, so I went back to the bottle. I took out a pair of scissors and started haphazardly gnawing at the cap and bottle with them. That didn’t work.

Refusing to be defeated by a bottle of root beer, I drew a large knife and started slashing at the bottle until I finally punctured it enough to get to that elusive liquid. Unfortunately, making soda into syrup takes a long time (like, an hour+), and when I tasted it, it was a little more vanilla and sugar than root beer, so I ended up using the RB extract, too.

The biggest challenge of these cupcakes is getting the root beer flavor to power through. I used Baking Bites’ recipe as a guide and strayed a bit, but I’d recommend following what she has here. It might also be a good idea to use the Sonoma Syrup Co’s Root Beer Syrup she suggests — not that I’ve tried it, but it has to be at least as good or better than whatever concoction I came up with. I’d also highly recommend reserving ample amounts of root beer syrup for glazing; it really takes the root beer flavor to the next level.

For cupcakes
♦1-1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbs. butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. root beer syrup
1/3 c. milk
Vanilla ice cream

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar, then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of flour mixture, then root beer syrup, another third of flour, then milk and the rest of the mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes. (I cut out small cones from the middle of each cake, and poured a little bit of reserved syrup into them; the cake soaks up the liquid and gives it even more RB flavor.) When completely cool and ready to serve, top each cupcake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For glaze
♦1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tbs. root beer syrup
1 tbs. water

Whisk together ingredients until smooth. Add more water if glaze is too thick. Drizzle over ice cream-topped cupcakes.

Total time? 2 hours if you can’t open a bottle of root beer and need to make syrup; 30-ish minutes otherwise.
Cost? Root beer extract $3 (not enough for entire recipe) and/or $1.50 bottle of root beer, $2.50 vanilla ice cream.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out 10. With all the trouble I went through to get that root beer flavor in there, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t that strong in the actual cake. On other hand, the root beer glaze was fantastic, and topping the cupcakes with vanilla ice cream brought home the root beer float feel.  Unfortunately, Marie wasn’t open to root beer floats (they don’t have those in Germany??), so I didn’t win over her vote, but they were hit among the others.

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vanilla chai granola

Posted by culinaryneophyte on June 21, 2011

And you probably thought I was going to have to give up my KitchenAid mixer.

I may have met my no-two-week-hiatus goal, but not within enough time for me to celebrate. I won’t bore you with all the details, but lately I’ve been too busy to breathe and too tired to function. This morning, I accidentally dumped some wintergreen mouthwash in my hands instead of hair gel. I need to either stop buying like-colored, dissimilar products, or get a few more hours of sleep per night. Either way…

I’ve been seeking quick-and-easy meals on the go during this hectic time, so I might as well share one of faves: vanilla chai granola.

I’m a little embarrassed about how long it took me to realize the gigantic canister of oats sitting on top of my fridge could be used for something other than oatmeal (or oatmeal cookies), but once I discovered how easy it is to make your own granola, I was hooked. So easy. So cheap. Endless possibilities!

For my first round of granola, I attempted to slice whole almonds into slivers, and shot shards of them all over my kitchen. If making things more difficult than they need to be isn’t your style, you can purchase sliced almonds at any supermarket. I used the same spice mix I did for the vanilla chai cupcakes with slightly different proportions, but feel free to experiment. Your house will smell amazing either way — well, as long as you don’t burn it.

♦4 c. old-fashioned oats
1/2 c. sliced almonds (can add more or less)
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. honey
2 tbl. granulated sugar
1 tbl. vanilla extract

Line a baking sheet with tinfoil, and lightly coat with baking spray. Combine oats, almonds and spices in a large bowl. Over medium heat, bring oil, honey and sugars to a simmer. Remove from heat, add vanilla and coat dry ingredients with liquid. Toss around until completely covered. Spread contents evenly across baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes. IMPORTANT: Be sure to check on granola every 8-10 minutes, flipping occasionally for an even bake.  The granola burns easily, so don’t neglect it! Allow time to cool before eating.

smells prettier than it looks!

Total time? 10 minutes prep, 22 minutes cook.
Cost? Sliced almonds from Wegman’s self-serve candy/nuts area, less than $2, oats (obviously more than you’ll need), $2.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10. My expectations were low; I just couldn’t believe something that’s so expensive in the stores could be so easy to make… and make well. The flavor was outstanding, and this yielded enough to have in yogurt, with milk or by the handful every day for nearly a week. (Store in a Tupperware.) I like to keep my granola simple — just oats and almonds — but feel free to add in sunflower seeds, wheat germ, walnuts, etc.

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sham shake

Posted by culinaryneophyte on March 10, 2011

I’m a little sad it’s been about two years since I last had McDonald’s famed Shamrock Shake — the frothy, minty treat sold throughout March to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The leprechaun libation helps brighten up this transitional month both literally — it’s so stunningly green you need shamrock-shaped shades — and figuratively, as the arrival of the shake means spring is just around the corner.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard the allure of the Shamrock Shake has dwindled a bit in recent years with the advent of the fast-food chain’s McCafe; the seasonal drink now comes in a fancy, café-like cup, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. That’s just… wrong. And not surprisingly, they’ve upped the price.

As is usually the case with my culinary replicas, price and caloric intake motivated my sham Shamrock Shake. I used lighter ice cream, 1-percent milk and no additional sugar. I did, however, get a little away from the traditional SS by adding a few crushed up Thin Mints for textural and taste variation.

Makes one serving:
♦1 c. milk (1% — whole for a thicker shake)
3 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 to 1-1/2 tbs. crème de menthe syrup (depending on mint preference)
♦2 drops green food coloring

Optional: Thin Mint cookie crumbs

Dump all ingredients into a blender. Pulverize into minty perfection.

Total time? 5 minutes.
Cost? $2 ice cream, $2 milk, $2.50 crème de menthe syrup (– enough to make multiple shakes)
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I like my milkshakes pretty thin (unlike the need-a-spoon consistency of McDonald’s), but this could have used a tiny bit more thickening. A certain “milkshake expert” I asked recommended Carnation Instant Breakfast powder to shape it up a bit (and to add a little bit of nutritional value to any shake). Either way, this shake was so good, I drank the entire glass in less than three minutes…and seven minutes later, I was doubled over with a stomach ache. Totally worth it.

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chai me!

Posted by culinaryneophyte on October 9, 2010

Got my obligatory pun out of the way early. You’re welcome.

It’s finally starting to feel like fall on the east coast, and I couldn’t be happier about it. In order to celebrate the onset of cold-weather months before it actually feels cold, I give you vanilla chai cupcakes, courtesy of The Novice Chef. Nothing I’ve made thus far has made the house smell more incredible than these babies, and eating one was just like drinking cup of my favorite hot tea beverage — except, ya know, in solid form.

chai spice mix, pre-mix

The only downside you might encounter in making these is the cost. If you don’t own a spice rack, you’re in trouble; and if you do have one, you might still end up dropping a few. I threw a hissy fit when I realized the rack in our kitchen didn’t have nutmeg. Seriously? How does this thing come with tumeric and coriander seeds, but not nutmeg?! And cardamom? Yeah, okay…

Chai spice mix
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Believe me: I considered the dollar store, but after my last experience with their products, I reconsidered. The good news is that if you invest in quality spices, your flavors will be intensified, thus justifying the purchase. (Check out this Spices101 post by TheFoodInMyBeard for a more sound explanation than I could give you.) Plus, having an abundance of cardamom means I’m going to get myself into all sorts of chai experiments, so that should be…fun.

For cakes:
♦1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Mix spices together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and beat in one egg at a time. Stir in half the quantity of chai spice mix. Fold in the flour and buttermilk alternately. Stir until well combined. In another bowl, mix together vinegar and baking soda. Add that to batter. Spoon batter into cups, about 3/4 full. Bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle of cupcake comes out clean. Wait until completely cooled to frost.

For chai buttercream frosting
1 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 quantity chai spice mix
1-2 tbs. cold milk, if necessary

In a stand mixer, beat butter until creamy. Mix in vanilla and rest of chai spice mix. Carefully beat in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency. If icing is too thick, add cold mix until it’s to your liking.

Total time? 45-ish minutes (including frosting-making).
Cost? More expensive than most, considering spices runs between $6-12. Apple cider vinegar ($2) isn’t the most common cabinet dweller, but I was fortunate enough to have some. The rest is pretty standard.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. I made these as part of National Cupcake Week 2010, and they were a hit amongst friends, family and co-workers (as they should have been; I took a vote to determine which variety of cupcakes to make, and these won out big time.) The flavor and aroma were amazing, and this time around, I used a professional piping tool and cutesy liners (at left), so the presentation was improved. Though the frosting was the star here, I deducted a point because the cake consistency bordered more on muffin. Definitely recommend giving them a chai, though! (Sorry, couldn’t resist [tea-hehe].) Yes, I’m ashamed; eyerolls encouraged.

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