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adventures in a culinary neophyte's kitchen

Posts Tagged ‘cranberry’

cranberry chai cupcakes

Posted by culinaryneophyte on January 27, 2012

My family doesn’t do a lot of the holidays together — really just Easter Saturday and Christmas Eve. For the latter this year, my stepmother, Becky, put me in charge of dessert. I came across’s recipe from cranberry chai cupcakes, and I just happened to have a bag of fresh cranberries in my fridge (and I just happen to love chai). The smell and colors of the cupcakes were too festive to not make for Christmas, but as I slid them into the oven, I suddenly remembered: My family hates trying new things.

I started to panic: How am I even going to get them to try these? The pun-like intentions of a “Chai me!” sign would either go over their heads or turn them off from the dessert altogether (‘Chai? Like… tea? Gag.’) Each cake is topped with a cranberry (‘No sprinkles!?’), and there’s not an ounce of chocolate involved. It was too late to call it off and whip up a more guaranteed crowd-pleaser, e.g. boring brownies or chocolate chip cookies, so I pressed on and hoped calling them “cinnamon spice cupcakes” might slightly soften their aversions. It’s not totally a lie, right…? (Adding cute Target toothpicks and sugar crystals could be a nice distraction, too.)

I was still a little on edge as dinner came to a close. The pressure of serving something everyone might hate as the sole dessert was a lot more nerve-racking than I anticipated. As we reconvened at the table and I started slowly setting out my cranberry chai cupcakes, salvation emerged from the other room in the form of an illuminated birthday cake. Amidst my dessert planning, I forgot we would have cake for Becky’s birthday — something she obviously didn’t mention when asking me to make dessert because it was a surprise. A Cold Stone ice cream cake — now that’s a crowd-pleaser. My weirdo spice cupcakes quickly faded into the background, and I was pretty okay with that.

Don’t feel too bad for the little weirdos, though: They found a happy ending. I had enough left over to bring to a gathering at my friend Jackie’s house, where I’ve been going after my family’s Christmas Eve dinner for the last 12 years now. (Wow, just realizing how long it’s actually been. We’re old.) I set them out at the dessert table and got some good reviews.

slightly adapted from 
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of black pepper

Combine in small bowl.

1/2 c. butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 c. flour
1 tbs. chai spices
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. chopped cranberries

In a medium bowl, combine flour, chai spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar in stand mixer on high until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then eggs one a time, mixing after each. Add 1/3 flour mix, then half buttermilk, then 1/3 flour, rest of buttermilk and rest of dry mix — beating on low after each addition. Do not overmix! Stir in chopped cranberries. Spoon batter into lined cupcake tin, and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick entered into cake comes out clean. Makes about two dozen.

♦Use my chai buttercream frosting
Sugared Cranberries (optional) 

Let cupcakes stand for five minutes before allowing to cool completely on wire rack. Make one serving of chai frosting, and top cupcakes. Add sugar crystals or other decor. Sugared cranberries make for a nice aesthetic, but I did not like the way they tasted. If you are interested, freeze 25 cranberries, then roll in granulated sugar.

Total time? 20 minutes prep, 18-20 minutes bake
Cost? $2 cranberries, $1.99 buttermilk and added costs for any chai spices you don’t already own. (I had to refill on cardamom — so expensive!)
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out 10. The biggest change in my adaptation of this recipe is the addition of more chopped cranberries. The first batch wasn’t tart enough, and this also helps make the cakes a bit more moist. The chai flavor is fantastic, and the frosting is just the right amount of sweetness. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not cooking to my audience, so these cupcakes didn’t exactly get the praise they deserved; but the sweet/spicy/tart combination make them a perfect little wintertime treat.


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cran them in your mouth

Posted by culinaryneophyte on December 22, 2010

Now that I’ve become somewhat of a baking addict, I’m oh-so-jealous of my friends who’ve been to cookie exchanges during the holiday season. The event seems like a middle-age woman type of thing, but the concept is genius: bake one type of cookie, trade with 10-20 people and come home with a vast assortment of cookies for you to keep picking at all week.

No cookie exchange invites for me this year, though; I guess word of my culinary prowess hasn’t yet reached the masses. But if you’ve got one coming up, or are looking for an easy sweet to bring to Christmas dinner this weekend, these dark chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies are perfect. They’re beautiful and freaking delicious. The dark chocolate chips (I used my fancy schmancy Ghirardelli chunks) were a perfect balance for the tart cranberries, and the hint of cinnamon was just right.

♦1-1/4 sticks of butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. Quaker oats
1-1/4 c. dark chocolate chips
1 c. chopped fresh cranberries

Cream together butter and sugars. Add egg, then vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, then add to butter mixture. Add oats, and blend well. Stir in dark chocolate chips and cranberries, and mix. Scoop onto lined baking sheets, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

Total time? 15 minutes prep, 18 minutes bake.
$3.99 for more fresh cranberries than you need, $2 oats, $2.50 Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (on sale)
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10. I’m not a sweets person, but I couldn’t stop eating these — like, every time I walked into the kitchen. I was desperately giving them away to friends and family to keep myself from gaining 10 pounds. Yields about 30 medium-size cookies. And if you’re not feeling the holiday warm-and-fuzzies, skip the cookie exchange and eat them all yourself. I certainly won’t judge.

the makings of a fabulous cookie

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cranberry turtle bars

Posted by culinaryneophyte on November 28, 2010

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I love this holiday because it’s the only one where food is truly the star of the show. I’m not yet at the point where I can cook the entire Thanksgiving meal on my own (nor am I anywhere close), but I managed to contribute this year by way of these cranberry turtle bars.

No disrespect to anyone who bakes homemade pies for the holiday, but I find them a bit boring. I wanted to throw a little variety into our dessert spread, and something cranberry that wasn’t a gross, gelatinous consistency seemed like a good idea. (Yeah, I’m as much of a fan of cranberry sauce as I am of pumpkin pie.) These cranberry bars have a perfect tartness, balanced by the shortbread crust and sweet chocolate drizzle.

looks aren't everything...

The ingredients were a bit expensive relative to other things I’ve made, but it was for the sake of the holiday and it yielded a ton of treats (about 20 giant bars, or 40+ smaller ones). Apparently, pecans are pretty elusive nuts compared to commonplace peanuts and walnuts; I struggled to find them in the store, and — not surprisingly — a small bag was pretty pricey.

Cubing the butter was a disaster, and cutting the butter into the shortbread crust mix didn’t go very well, either. When I pressed the batter into the baking dish, it didn’t seem as evenly dispersed as it should have been. To remedy the situation (and moisten the crust?), I gave a few spritzes of baking spray to the less buttery side.

The “caramel” involved here is a loose interpretation, and I’m sure this might have come together a little better if I had a candy thermometer; instead, I flew by the seat of my pants and prayed it’d all turn out okay. You can either follow my directions below, or see the above link for the legit recipe.

♦2 c. flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, cold, cut into cubes

2 sticks butter
1 2/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. pecans, toasted and cooled, coarsely chopped

2 oz. chocolate, finely chopped

Line a 15-by-10-inch baking dish with tinfoil, and butter all four sides (but not the bottom). Blend flour, brown sugar and salt in food processor, then add butter and pulse until it forms into small lumps. Sprinkle into pan and press down evenly with spatula. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until firm.

In the meantime, melt butter for topping in saucepan over medium heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup and salt. Boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. Stir in cranberries, then boil. Remove from heat, add vanilla and stir in pecans until coated. Quickly spread mixture over shortbread, distributing evenly. Garnish with melted chocolate. IMPORTANT: Let the bars cool completely before cutting; I waited two hours for this to be manageable.

Total time? About 35 minutes to prep, bake and prepare. Let stand two hours.
Cost? $4.99 for about 2 cups chopped pecans, $2.49 for light corn syrup, $3.99 for way too many cranberries.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10. My expectations wavered on this. Initially, I had high expectations, but once I got my hands into this (and realized I didn’t have a candy thermometer), they started to come back down to Earth. After I cut into the uncooled bars and the topping spilled over, I thought, “So…this was a disaster,” but the end product turned out to be pretty successful. Aesthetically, they could have been a lot better (they were nowhere near as beautiful as Curvy Carrot’s), but there’s always next time.

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