A Very Baking Christmas

You may be saying to yourself: ‘Meris doesn’t care about her blog anymore…either that or she’s become a vegan and spends her time shunning technology in an Amish hideaway.’ Lies, all lies. Truth is, I’ve been baking up a storm the last few weeks, squirreling away recipes and hurried photos so that I can once again bombard the Internets. [*Sidenote: I don’t think the Amish are vegans, but whatevs]

To begin with, I made strawberry cupcakes from a box with jar icing for my coworker, Little Jake, who says this is his favorite kind of cake and icing. Behold, my foray back into Betty Crocker [I couldn’t help it-had to make little star decorations]:

xmas2Next came the holiday cupcakes for my office:

xmas6Everything was made with either gum paste or stiff buttercream.

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The snowman was everyone’s favorite. And yes, I realize that’s more pimp hat than snow hat.

xmasThe cupcakes are red velvet with cream cheese frosting and gingerbread with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. You can find the recipe for the red velvet cupcakes here and for the cream cheese frosting here. The gingerbread cupcake recipe is here at King Arthur Flour and I use my own cream cheese frosting I listed above rather than KAF’s, but change it a bit by adding cinnamon to taste.

xmas5Enough to please a crowd!

xmas4My editorial cohorts, Denny and Jake in their holiday finest 😉

denny_jakeLaura and I in our 4-glasses-of-wine finest. I made duck face because I thought we were taking a funny photo…no one told me it wasn’t supposed to be funny o__0

laura_meAnd finally the Bûche de Noël (a French Yule Log) for my boyfriend’s family. [You can find my Frenchie mother’s handed-down-through-generations recipe here] Before I show you what I made this year, I thought I’d show you my very first try a few years back:

bucheAnd the Bûche de Noël of 2013! A little less cartoonish? My meringue mushrooms also don’t look like little albino poops. [You can find the fool-proof meringue mushroom recipe here]

xmas7I tried really hard to make a pine cone by just “winging it” and no research into how gum paste pine cones are actually made…sooooo it’s a flower-pine cone 😉

xmas8The holly-looking decoration was made with gum paste.

xmas9Aerial view. The “bark” was made by melting chocolate onto a huge sheet of waxed paper, letting it dry ALMOST completely, then breaking it off randomly into chunks.

xmas10I apologize for the lack of quality photos this time, peeps! I really was in a huge rush making these things this year for some reason, so I snapped and wrapped without much thought. Future posts will have much better photos!

Speaking of future posts, stick around…burnt caramel custards are on the horizon. And by that I mean literally in the next few days and not another few months as has been my horrible habit lately 😉

Happy belated holidays, everyone!

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Pumpkin Apple Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (Revisited)

It’s officially fall, peeps, and besides the normal seasonal bouts of afternoon narcolepsy and maxing out my credit card at Starbucks, my diet always switches from corn dogs to harvest vegetables-the only time of year I really consume veggies [my body is crying it’s so happy].

I also go apple picking and ham it up for the camera 😉

applepick20132

He was both an officer and a gentleman.

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Jess and Salwa making friends.

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I made these pumpkin cupcakes, which are moist, cinnamon and applesauce stuffed morsels of fall deliciousness a couple years ago when I first started this blog. And just for shits and giggles, it’s fun to see how my food photography has improved from 2 years ago:

Um…just…no

pumpkincupred

‘A’ for effort?

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Besides learning how to take a photo, I’ve updated these clove, allspice, and brown sugar-laced cupcakes with a new frosting, which I think is a lot better. You can find the NEW frosting recipe below and the recipe for these pumpkin apple cupcakes here.

Okay. Enough typing. Time to go make some s’mores with my kitchen torch and plug in my overpriced Bath & Body “cabin”-scented room freshners [I don’t even really know what that means. Does it smell like burning wood, old animal skins, and my uncle after one too many cigars? WHAT IS “CABIN”?!] City girls unite for fall! 😉

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[*Note: This frosting recipe might need to be doubled to cover all the 30-35 cupcakes the recipe makes. Mmmmm so many…]

Equipment:

  • Electric Mixer
  • Sifter

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, rm. temp.
  • 1/2 cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. maple flavor, which you can find here
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, maple, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl occasionally.

Artsy cupcake.

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So much better than 2 years ago.

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All in a row.

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I made the flowers on top using fall pastry cutters from Williams Sonoma and colored gum paste with edible dust.

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Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Lots of important foodie stuff has been happening lately:

1. Dunkin Donuts has created a glazed doughnut bacon & egg sandwich. Weirdly enough, it has less calories than their original b-fast sandwich. This is clearly a sign that Jesus does, in fact, exist, and is currently performing miracles. Next up: Zero-calorie chili cheese fries. Right, J-Dog…right?

2. It seems the frumpy little doughnut is getting it’s time in the spotlight! Cronuts are the new “it” dessert, combining a croissant with a doughnut…if the French ever stopped guzzling rosé to unpack the guillotines from storage, it would be over this vulgar perversion of their beloved pastry. I am also going to start combining desserts just to f-k with names. For instance, I will soon create the bronut: brownie doughnut.

And that brings me to #3: Anyone who tells you they don’t like dessert always likes what they consider non-dessert desserts, like carrot cake.

And since there seems to be a growing movement of people hating sugar and butter, which I attribute to a secret race of aliens slowly invading humanity as their hosts, I’ve been making a lot of carrot crap, lately. Thankfully, it tastes damn delicious.

Now, this is a recipe I’ve posted before here, so I’m kind of lazy this week, but I promise the next couple of weeks will have some new stuff…if I don’t find myself currently living inside a Dunkin Donuts 😉

[*Note: If you want to make the carrot cake recipe for about 24 cupcakes, I’d halve the recipe listed in the link. Otherwise the recipe makes about 48.]

carrotcupcakes3All in a row

carrotcupcakesWhy are all carrot cake decorations just a carrot? I rebelled and threw on some edible orange dust.

carrotcupcakes2I get bored sometimes

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White and Brown Spring Cupcakes

We’re not even going to talk about how long it’s been since I posted anything, because it’s spring and time for new beginnings and better time management!

I recently read an article on cupcakes, saying that this “trend” is fading fast and being replaced by things like rustic [read: ugly] pies and macarons. If that’s the way things are swinging, so be it. But NOTHING will ever tear me away from bite-size cake…okay, maybe cheeseburgers.

The recipe for these fancy ladies is nothing I haven’t posted already, and you can find the chocolate cake recipe here and the vanilla frosting recipe here (I just sub the peppermint extract for clear vanilla extract). I also thought I’d throw in some tidbits of real life [excuses for being blog lazy].

Miss Maman came to visit for a few weeks-we were having fun as usual 🙂

missmamanI tried some amazing dim sum after boycotting it for almost a decade.

dimsumA lot of eating happens in my life. A LOT.

meSometimes outdoor markets happen too…for outdoor eating. (With Salwa and Amy)

amy_salwaDrinking happens, too. (With Shana, Salwa, Ebonee, Debbie, and Jess)

ladiesIt’s more fun to drink when you’re in a crazy hat.

me_salwaReally, I just wanted to let everyone know I’m alive, that I will be posting more regularly, and to stop my lovingly annoying friends from saying “Soooooo the blog? That still happening? Maybe you can, like, not go out tonight and post something.”

You know you need to re-invest in sweatpants/fug over-sized t-shit time when your early 20-something friends tell you to take it down a notch, or at least get your hungover booty back in the kitchen 😉

sarahcupcakes4Coming together in harmony. All decorations were made using gum paste.

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Profile.

sarahcupcakesAll in a row.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buttercream Cupcakes

I wish I could say that I’m a huge chocolate peanut butter combo fan, but I’m actually more of a vanilla and rainbow sprinkles kind of girl. That being said, when you haven’t eaten something for a long time, I think your mind/palate start to crave what it considers exotic.

A girl can only eat so much yogurt.

bfastAnd if I’m going to make something only once every few years, it better be worth it…and these cupcakes don’t disappoint. Stuffed inside the moist chocolate cake are bits of gooey semisweet chocolate chunks, and the peanut butter buttercream is light and creamy-not at all that cloying stickiness peanut butter icing sometimes has.

Even better? The cupcakes can be made in just one bowl and it doesn’t even need beaters. The buttercream you ask? Well, okay, it’s a tad more involved, but still much easier than classic buttercreams. It’s worth the smidge of effort.

And in the words of my dad who helped me eat one immediately: “I love the aftertaste of this cupcake…almost like a fine wine.” Ah yes, if anyone can turn cupcakes into a refined ordeal, it’s my family 😉

chocpeanut4[Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit; makes approx. 12 cupcakes]

Equipment:

  • An electric mixer
  • A metal bowl that fits over a pot of water or a double boiler
  • Whisk

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 oz. finely chopped semisweet chocolate

For the buttercream: [note: this is NOT a pipe-able frosting. Think of this more like a meringue than a stiff buttercream]

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Egg whites of 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 Tbl. chilled, unsalted butter cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts

chocpeanut5For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with liners. Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Add oil, vanilla, and 1 1/4 cups water and whisk until smooth. Fold in chopped chocolate. Evenly fill liners and bake 20-25 min.

Nice cracked top

chocpeanutFor the buttercream: Combine sugar and egg whites in a medium metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot to the touch, 3-4 min. Remove from heat.

Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until cooler and thick, 5 min. Beat in vanilla, then peanut butter. With mixer running, add butter pieces a little at a time, beating THOROUGHLY to blend between additions. Season with salt.

Frost cupcakes and sprinkle with chopped chocolate and peanuts. Keep a few days in an airtight container at room temp., then refrigerate up to a few more days.

chocpeanut6Mmmm. You can see the gooey bits.

chocpeanut3

Twitter Cupcakes

In my Clark Kent life I’m an editor and reporter for a small education news publication–a publication that just hit over 20K+ followers on Twitter and our CEO decided we should celebrate.

We have a lot of foodies [and by that I mean people who just love to eat good food] in the office, so instead of celebrating with happy hour like normal companies do, we decided to throw a Twitter-themed potluck…basically the color blue exploded all over the conference room.

Now, it’s also understood that whenever potluck is mentioned, Meris will be the one bringing the desserts. And not wanting to sully my reputation as a sugar addict, I made these Twitter cupcakes.

At first, I tried to be lazy and just order a Twitter logo cookie cutter. Yeah…they don’t exist. But my laziness couldn’t be conquered so easily, so I ended up trying to order one from a start-up in Silicone Valley, only to have a rousing email exchange about the legal implications of designing, selling, and purchasing a brand logo. Over a cookie cutter. My life is exciting.

Finally realizing I would have to whip out some old-school Girl Scouts camp arts & crafts talents that had been lying dormant for decades, I managed to create a Twitter bird for my cupcakes. I’ll explain how to do this below. These blue cupcakes are vanilla bean with vanilla frosting [recipes provided below].

I also thought: Okay, if you’re not going to be lazy, then go big or go home, so I also made some cupcakes based on our company’s Twitter logo. These are red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting [recipes provides below].

Was I up until 2 a.m. mid-week? Yes. Do I now know that a cookie cutter could influence legal history? Yes. Did I cover my entire apartment in blue dust? Yes. Are these cupcakes cute? Yes! And that’s all that matters 😉

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

To see the recipe for the red velvet cupcakes, click here.

Cream Cheese Frosting [from Bon Appétit Desserts; makes about 3 cups of frosting]

Equipment:

  • Electric Mixer
  • Sifter

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, rm. temp.
  • 1/2 cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl occasionally.

*Note: To get perfectly round puffs of icing onto your cupcakes, use a piping bag fitted with Ateco’s 806 round tip or any other large round tip. Hold the piping bag completely vertical and squeeze while not moving the bag up or down–just squeeze and hold steady.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting

The vanilla frosting is from Momofuku Milk Bar and can be found here in this post under the heading “Birthday Cake/ Homemade Store-Bought White Frosting.”

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes [makes (2) 8”, (1) 9” or 24 cupcakes. I tinted the cupcakes blue by adding Americolor’s Sky Blue gel coloring before the egg whites were added]

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 Tbl. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp. vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pan with liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter until soft and smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and smooth. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides. On low, alternate adding flour and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in vanilla extract and vanilla beans.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir in 1/2 cup whites into the batter, then fold in the rest in several additions.

Divide batter between cups and smooth. Bake 20-25 min.

* Decorations were made using gum paste [tinted black for the black squares] cut with square biscuit cutters and left to dry for 2 days. The eSN logo was piped on using royal icing and the bird logo was made by printing and then cutting out the Twitter logo. Using edible blue petal dust, place the cut out onto the gum paste square and, using outward strokes, dust around the image.

All done!

My coworkers at potluck [Denny, Vince, Carol, Rob, Nancy, Lee, Carla, Shana, Victoria, and Laura]

Someone dared Vince to eat an entire cupcake in one bite. Mission accomplished.

Summer Send-Off Peach Cupcakes

“To everything-turn, turn, turn/ There is a season-turn, turn, turn”

You know it’s time to switch gears into cinnamon, pumpkin and apple when the temperature lowers to a nice, cool 85 degrees in D.C. and you find yourself paying $11.95 for a fall baking magazine at the checkout counter 😉

One of the fruits I’ve always had the most problems with is peaches: They’re hard to ripen, removing the skin is a bit–, and they always seem to make my pies runny.

But two can play that game, Peaches! Instead of slicing them and surrounding them in some kind of crust, I thought I’d purée the hell out of them and stuff it inside a batter. Who’s laughing now?!

I was making these for a last-minute dinner invitation and at first I thought I could cheat by using a recipe I found on the internet that uses a white boxed cake mix as the base. If you see this recipe DO NOT USE! You can’t taste the peaches because the only flavor that comes through is Betty Crocker.

So after indulging in about five of those cupcakes [hey, I like boxed cake just as much as the next person] and then saving the rest to throw to the abnormally large catfish in Georgetown’s river, I started from scratch using my recipe for berry cupcakes and subbing in peach purée. I modified it just a smidge to bring out the peachy-ness and I’ll re-provide it below. I also made a nice peach frosting using more of the purée and a healthy dose of schnapps to cap it off.

Now, because I was in a rush, the frosting wasn’t as thick as I would have liked to make my roses [I’ll discuss this more below] but you gotta’ just say ‘to hell with it’ sometimes.

Adiós, summer! “I really love your peaches/ Want to shake your tree”.

[Makes 12 cupcakes]

Equipment:

  • Food processor or blender
  • Stand or electric mixer

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

  • 2/3 cup peach purée *Note: To remove peach skin, see instructions below
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. peach schnapps
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • Dash cinnamon

For the frosting:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, rm. temp.
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 6 Tbl. peach purée
  • 1 Tbl. peach schnapps
  • 3 Tbl. peach jam, puréed [this will turn your jam into a different consistency but will help stabilize your frosting. I puréed the entire jar of jam then took out 3 Tbl.]
  • 8 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted [this makes an extremely sweet frosting. If your frosting doesn’t need to be piped for a design, I would decrease the sugar by 2-3 cups]
  • Terracotta gel food coloring [optional]

For the cupcakes:To remove the skin from peaches they MUST be blanched first. If you try to remove the skin with just peeling they will turn out mushy and pulpy. To blanch, boil a large pot of water on high heat. Once it reaches a good boil, turn off the heat and submerge your peaches for about 45-50 seconds. Remove the peaches with a spoon and place in a cold ice bath to halt any cooking of the peach. Using a sharp paring knife, make an incision in the peel and peel using your finger-it should come right off. If you’re still having trouble, place back in hot water for another 30 seconds. To see a video on this, click here.

Slice peaches and purée. Keep purée, covered, in fridge overnight or up to a day to let sweeten. It will turn color-from orange to brown-but that’s okay because the purée is still good and your cupcakes will still be a nice color, promise!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan or grease pan. In a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt until well-mixed. Add the eggs, vanilla extract, and schnapps and beat until mixed. Add the milk and peach purée and beat until mixed. Add the cornstarch and baking powder and mix to incorporate. Add the flour and cinnamon and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.

Divide batter among cups. Bake for 20-22 min. Let cool completely.

For the frosting: Mix shortening, butter, and peach schnapps with a stand or electric mixer on low speed. Add purée and jam and mix on low. Add confectioner’s sugar and beat until incorporated. Add terracotta gel coloring [optional].

To learn how to pipe an inverted cupcake rose, click here. To do this, you will need a 1M piping tip.