Dessert Mecca

The weekend before last, I traveled to Boston with my mom to attend the New England Dessert Showcase, an event hosted by the Anthem Group to celebrate some of Boston’s most talented culinary professionals. I eagerly awaited this event for months and built it up to be something spectacular in my mind, but sadly, it wasn’t. It was a mediocre event with no published timeline, hordes of people traveling through the booths by way of long lines, and deliciously talented people crammed into a tiny little area. This was what I looked like when it started to get crowded: :-(

However, on the sunny side of things, there were several lovely vendors there, and the room was filled with talent and culinary creativity that absolutely inspired my mind and my taste buds. I attempted to sample EVERYTHING before the crowd got too heavy, and I watched two demonstrations. Check out my photos below, and visit some of these vendors if you’re in the area!

Chocolate Therapy demonstration

Check out Chocolate Therapy in Dedham, MA. They not only treat chocolate like an art form, they attempt to make it therapeutic for your taste buds and your body. The chocolates are filled with rich, healthy ingredients like cinnamon, green tea, and even brown rice. I’m dying to go here on my next trip up to Massachusetts!

BudiBar demonstration

Make your way over to BudiBar to check out snack bars made of natural superfoods that help support focus, concentration, and health.

Cookie & cupcake display from Baker’s Bloom

Who knew cookies could be so sexy?

Baker’s Bloom had to be one of my favorite vendors at the showcase. They had an assortment of decorated cookies in all sizes and shapes, and they were delicious! I sampled a lemon cookie with buttercream icing, and it was light and not super sugary. These cookies make great gifts for bachelorette parties (like the above!), wedding showers, favors, and hundreds of other occasions.

Enjoying a flourless chocolate piece of heaven

I could’ve died happy after eating this cake…and I have no idea which bakery it came from. My apologies to the highly-talented chef-I don’t know who the heck you are, but I loved your cake.

Paris cupcakes from Konditor Meister

French-themed cake display from Konditor Meister

Konditor Meister  is to cakes what Christian Louboutin is to shoes. Okay, not quite, but pretty close. Their cakes are artful and GORGEOUS. I’d heard so many good things about them before coming to the showcase that I was delighted to find that I was immediately drawn to their French-themed display (for those of you are unaware, I’m obsessed with all things Parisian). I sampled a pastry or two, and as it turns out, the quality matches the appearance. I would die to be this talented.

Glorious whoopie pies that came in several flavors!

Another one of my great obsessions-all things whoopie. Who can pass up a whoopie pie? This bakery had them in traditional chocolate, red velvet, chocolate chip, and carrot cake along with a few other flavors. I tried the carrot cake whoopie and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, but again, I walked away without getting the bakery name…notice how that happened each time I couldn’t resist stuffing my face?

I’m feeling truly inspired after seeing and tasting all this creativity, and since it’s nearly officially fall, I think it’s time to start spending some quality time in the kitchen. :-*

Banana Cookie Butter Ice Cream

I’ve just made the second best peanut butter decision of my life. The best decision, of course, was Dark Chocolate Dreams, but this is a very close second.

Cookie butter. COOKIE butter?!? Because I’m the girl who eats peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon on a near-daily basis, I couldn’t possibly walk past this in the nut butter/spreads section of Trader Joe’s without being intrigued. I highly recommend purchasing it as soon as you can and finding a safe spot to relax with the jar. And a big spoon. However, if you have a Trader Joe’s local to you, try finding it there before going on Amazon because it appears to be around $12.00 while I paid $3.69 in the store. I recently came across a vegan-friendly ice cream recipe that required no ice cream maker which probably makes it less “ice cream” and more “frozen delicious treat”, but I’m certainly not the one to judge. The recipe used cashew butter or almond butter as the base of the ice cream, but both of these products are very expensive and slightly bitter. I replaced the nut butter with the cookie butter, and it was nothing short of heaven. I also used a combination of maple & agave syrup, but if maple (pure maple) syrup is easier to find, feel free to use that as your sweetener.

It’s been days since I finished this ice cream, and I’m still drooling thinking about it. Must.have.cookie butter.now….

Banana Cookie Butter Ice Cream

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes approximately 2 cups

  • 3-4 large ripe bananas, sliced and frozen
  • 1 jar Cookie Butter (or one cup nut butter)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup plus 2 Tbsp agave nectar (or 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

How to Do It

  1. Blend the frozen banana slices in a food processor with several short pulses or just enough to finely chop the bananas.
  2. Add the cookie butter, maple & agave syrup, and sea salt, and blend for 3-4 minutes on high speed until the mixture is fluffy and similar in texture to peanut butter. Serve immediately, and freeze the remaining portions (if there are any).

Recipe adapted from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan.

Tips & Treats

  • Let your bananas ripen for 2-3 days, and slice them before freezing. This will make it easy and quick to blend them into the ice cream later on.

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Pumpkin Mousse

Cocoa Pumpkins

I recently read on the Cupcake Project that because I have a food blog, I can do whatever the heck I want involving food. Given this permission, I thought it’d be a good time to start the pumpkin season (I’m aware it’s only August, but I love pumpkin the way I love peanut butter…and also, I can do whatever the heck I want involving food). I also prepared pumpkin pancakes for our guests last weekend, and I couldn’t bear to let the remaining pumpkin puree go to waste. I had a small portion of chocolate ganache left over from my Peanuts cake so I figured I’d try a little experiment-cocoa and pumpkin.

No, no, that’s Coco and pumpkin.

This is cocoa and pumpkin. Two fabulous ingredients blended together into one delightful little cupcake…that I hated. As you can see from the picture above, the cupcakes look lovely, and they’re moist and fluffy and pumpkin. Something was just off for me….

Mmm chocolate!

…I even dipped them in chocolate ganache…

Ooh whipped cream frosting!

…and topped them with a fabulous cinnamon whipped cream cheese frosting…

…and still nothing. I just couldn’t fall in love with these. Why am I still posting them, you ask? Because someone once told me that just because I don’t like it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I thought some of the more adventurous bakers out there may enjoy this because surely I do not. Anyway, I’ll pumpkin-up in the next few months with some fabulous, delicious things :-)

Cocoa Pumpkin Cupcakes

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

For the Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 batch of chocolate ganache

For the Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

How to Do It

  1. Line two muffin pans with paper liners, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a small mixing bowl, and set aside. Lightly whisk the pumpkin, buttermilk, and vanilla extract together in a separate bowl, and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars together using the whip attachment in a stand-mixer or whip with an electric hand mixer. Gradually add the eggs one at a time, and add the yolk. Once the eggs are blended, scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Add approximately 1/3 of the flour mixture to the bowl, and whip at low speed. Alternately add 1/2 of the pumpkin mixture and 1/3 of the flour mixture until all the ingredients are combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  5. Use and ice cream scoop to scoop the batter into the prepared pan, filling each liner no more than 2/3 full. Bake the cupcakes for 28 minutes, rotating the pan once at the halfway point, or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed.
  6. While the cupcakes are baking, make the frosting. Whip the heavy cream and granulated sugar at high speed until stiff peaks begin to form, and the whipped cream is heavy and thick. Set the whipped cream aside. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese with the paddle attachment of a stand-mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend the confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon in a small bowl, and begin adding the mixture to the cream cheese 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary, and when the ingredients are fully combined, remove the bowl from the mixer and begin to fold the whipped cream in with a sturdy rubber spatula. Chill the frosting in the refrigerator in a stainless steel bowl while the cupcakes finish baking and cooling.
  7. Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and let them cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling. When the cupcakes are cool, dip the tops in chocolate ganache. This is easiest when you dip the cupcakes upside down into a shallow bowl of chocolate ganache, and spin them until they’re completely covered. Chill the dipped cupcakes for 15 minutes or until the ganache layer has hardened. Top with cream cheese frosting, and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Cakeeventsblog.com

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Love & Peanut Butter

Hello there! It’s been awhile!

This hostess-with-the-mostess hosted her fiance’s five closest friends and two sisters this past weekend to celebrate his 29th birthday. In a one-bedroom house. With one bathroom and no air-conditioning (minus the bedroom). If you did your addition correctly, you would know that was 9 people total sharing those accommodations plus my two furry children. There was only one monster birthday cake I could think of that would be able to take on that kind of crowd:

The “Honey I’m Peanuts About You!” cake. This recipe has a terribly corny (or nutty…?) name, but it’s a fabulous concoction of chocolate ganache, peanut butter buttercream, moist chocolate cake, and honey roasted peanuts. It takes the combination of peanut butter and chocolate one step further by incorporating the honey roasted peanuts, and the salty sweetness keeps it from tasting too over-indulgent. I made the cake for the first time two years ago for my honey’s birthday when I was still an amateur baker who was more interested in decorating than creating. I guess I still am an amateur baker…unless a paid internship counts. Anyway, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks since then that doubled the appeal and quality of this cake this time around, and I’m prepared to share them with you so you can delight in the peanut buttery goodness too.

As a side note-it’s more than a coincidence that I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my life with a man who is as obsessed with peanut butter and chocolate as I am. What the heck would I do with a guy who only liked vanilla?

“Honey, I’m Peanuts About You!” Cake

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes one 9-inch cake with 12-16 servings

For the Cake

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups hot, strong coffee or espresso
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, sifted or chunks removed
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 9″ round cake pans, greased and lined with parchment paper

For the Buttercream

  • 18oz jar of creamy peanut butter
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

For the Ganache

  • 24oz semisweet chocolate chips or chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup (12oz) heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 12oz package of honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped or broken (see tips below)

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Dissolve the cocoa and the buttermilk into the hot coffee or espresso, and set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together, and set aside.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer at medium speed for 5-6 minutes, or until the ingredients are light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs and vanilla extract to the mixture, and scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and begin alternately folding in the dry and wet ingredients. This works best if you use a heavy rubber spatula and alternate folding 1/3 of the dry ingredients with 1/2 of the wet ingredients. The batter will be lighter than an average cake batter, but be careful not to overmix. The cake should be very moist when it’s fully baked which won’t happen if the batter is overmixed.
  6. Pour half the batter in each prepared pan, and bake for 40-42 minutes, rotating the pan at approximately 20 minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a fork or toothpick into the center of each cake. Remove from the oven, and allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a baking rack.
  7. While the cake is baking, cream the butter and peanut butter together using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until ingredients are completely blended and very creamy, 4-5 minutes. Remove the paddle attachment, and replace it with the whip attachment (if you’re using an electric mixer, you don’t have to worry about switching). Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar 1/2 cup at a time while continuously whipping the buttercream. The buttercream should be spreadable but not soft and should be similar to the texture of a thick peanut butter. If it’s still too soft after 2 1/4 cups of confectioner’s sugar are added, add more sugar 1/4 cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached. When you’ve finished whipping the buttercream, set it aside until the cake has completely cooled.
  8. Make the ganache while the cake is cooling. Place the chocolate in a large stainless steel mixing bowl, and place the heavy cream and butter in a small sauce pan. Heat the cream over medium-high heat until it begins to thicken and boil. When the cream begins to rise quickly to the top of the pan, remove it from the heat and pour it over the chocolate immediately. Allow the chocolate to rest with the hot cream for 5-10 minutes before stirring. At this point, use a heavy wire whisk to blend the chocolate and cream until the mixture is consistent and creamy. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes before using. The final consistency of the ganache will be similar to a canned chocolate frosting-spreadable but solid.
  9. When the cake has cooled completely, gently remove it from the pan, and using a sharp knife or cake leveler, split each layer in half horizontally. Place the first layer on a cake stand or flat plate, and generously top with peanut butter buttercream. Gently spread the buttercream over the layer to completely cover it, and place the second layer on top. Repeat until you’ve place the final layer on top of the cake. Spread a generous portion of the cooled chocolate ganache on the top and sides of the cake until it’s completely covered, and while the chocolate is still soft, cover the sides with chopped honey roasted peanuts.
  10. Cover the cake (this is easiest in a cake caddy so the sides do not touch anything), and refrigerate for at least three hours up to overnight before serving. You can freeze the cake for up to 4 hours also if you’re able to let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. This firms up all the layers and makes it extra indulgent!

Recipe adapted from FoodNetwork.com.

Tips & Treats

    Honey roasted peanuts are delightful…but they’re not easy to “chop” unless you have one of those handy-dandy slap-chop things. If you’re aren’t that lucky, put them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, sealed with as much air pressed out as possible, and use a rolling pin to roll over them several times. This will give you fine pieces to cover the sides of the cake with, and be sure to press them on while the ganache is still soft.

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My First Time Making Whoopie

Relax kids, this is a family show.

I’m talking whoopie pies, of course! After I had an epic failure for a chocolate cream pie with a Thin Mint crust (I used coconut milk to make the whipped cream, which would not whip, and therefore the “mousse” was just slush…and I wasted a box of Thin Mints I’d been saving for months for the right recipe…looks like that wasn’t it), I had to redeem myself. I’ve decided to embark on my newest project using recipes from cook books I already own. Yes, actual cook books, which are piling up on my shelves, can be used for more than just decoration. There are so many incredible recipes out there, and I probably have 25% of them already sitting in my kitchen, silently vying for my attention. It just so happens that the first recipe I pulled out on the first page of the book United Cakes of America was for chocolate whoopie pies with a rum meringue frosting straight out of whoopie pie-obsessed Maine.

Whoopies are actually much easier than I’d imagine, at least in this case. This recipe is your traditional whoopie pie with a slight twist on the frosting, and the entire process can be done under a half hour. I used vanilla and almond extracts and Mount Gay Eclipse Rum (an amazing gold rum from Barbados), but it would be easy enough to completely transform the frosting by adding raspberry or strawberry extracts or something even warmer, like cinnamon. I’ll have to get back to you on changing the cakes…pumpkin whoopies in the fall are enough to make me wish for the cold.

Whoopie Pies

 

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 8 pies

For the Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (either 2% or whole or almond)
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter or Earth Balance, softened
  • 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Baking sheets, parchment paper

For the Filling

  • 1 1/4 cups superfine granulated sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp rum
  • Hand-mixer, stainless steel mixing bowl, and small saucepan-you’re gonna do some cooking here!

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray each sheet lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients for the cake together in a mixing bowl, and set aside. Combine the milk, molasses, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, and set aside.
  3. Begin creaming the butter and both sugars together with the paddle attachment of a stand-mixer at medium speed for 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula as necessary.
  4. Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients in 3-4 steps each into the mixer, and scrape down the sides and into the bottom of the bowl to ensure all the ingredients are blended. Whip for an additional 15-20 seconds.
  5. Drop 1/4 cup-sized scoops of batter 2-3 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are firm and a fork or tooth pick comes out mostly clean when placed in the center of the cake.
  6. Remove the cakes from the oven, and let them cool completely on the pan.
  7. While the cakes are cooling, make the filling. Fill a small sauce pan with 1-2 cups of water, and bring to a simmer on the stove. Combine all of the ingredients except for the extracts and rum into a stainless steel mixing bowl that can be placed on top of the saucepan, and prepare your hand-mixer. An oven mitt would be helpful here as well.
  8. Place the bowl over the simmering water, and beat with the electric mixer on low speed. Gradually increase the speed of the mixer to its highest setting, and continue whipping the filling for a total of 7 minutes. The filling should thicken and develop stiff peaks. Carefully add the extracts and rum, and whip for another minute. Quickly remove the bowl from the heat, and set aside to cool.
  9. When the cakes and filling have cooled, use a pastry bag to pipe approximately 2-4 tablespoons of filling on the flat side of half the cakes. Place the flat side of the remaining cakes on top, and enjoy yourself a whoopie pie!

Tips & Treats

  • A note on sugars-this recipe calls for “superfine granulated sugar”. If you’re stopping by the local grocery store, you may not be able to find “superfine granulated sugar”, so you’ll have two choices to compensate: a)do what I did and purchase fine organic sugar, like Florida Crystals, which has a smaller granule than generic granulated sugar, or b)throw your granulated sugar into a food processer and pulse for 30 seconds to cut it up. The finer texture actually helps to cut through the butter when creaming more easily, which provides for a more consistent product.

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Veganlicious

Looking for a vegan-friendly dessert that will blow your mind?

GOT IT.

Trying to find a gluten-free treat that actually tastes delicious?

GOT IT.

Searching out something that doesn’t sacrifice taste just because it’s a little healthy?

GOT THAT TOO!

AND you don’t feel like baking??

Oh, I GOT IT!!

How is it possible something so delicious could be so guilt-free on many levels? I had to combine a couple of recipes and search far and wide for some ingredients (if by traveling to two grocery stores with one being a teeny tiny Trader Joe’s means “far and wide” then I, of course, am not exaggerating in any way), but once I tried the final product, the effort was so worth it. If you’re not interested in meandering a healthier route, which I suspect you may not be if you’re often checking out this blog, you can easily make this dessert a one-stop-shop and a 15-minute project. Have no fear omnivores who love gluten, I’ll post the replacements below. Oh, and please read the tips below before starting on the recipe!


Strawberries & Cream Tart



Stuff You’ll Need


Makes one 9″ tart

For the Crust

  • 1 oz good-quality dark chocolate
  • 2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate or carob chips
  • 2 tsp safflower or canola oil
  • 1 package of vegan-friendly, gluten-free chocolate wafer cookies (I used Pamela’s Simplebites Extreme Chocolate Mini Cookies) or about 3 cups worth
  • 9″ pie plate or serving plate


For the Filling

  • 6 oz non-dairy cream cheese, like Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp dark agave nectar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch


For the Topping

  • 2 Tbsp all-natural strawberry preserves (no sugar added) or strawberry fruit spread
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 lb strawberries, hulled and quartered


How to Do It

  1. Using a food processor, finely ground the chocolate cookies. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and continue to heat until melted, stopping every 15-20 seconds to stir. Add the melted chocolate and safflower or canola oil to the cookie crumbs, and blend again. Remove the mixture from the food processor, and press into the bottom of a 9″ pie plate, until the plate is entirely covered. Put the crust into the freezer for 15-20 minutes while you work on the filling.
  2. Make the coconut whipped cream by scooping out the heavy part of the coconut cream that has risen to the top of the can. Whip the cream on high speed until the beater begins to leave marks through it. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and add the agave nectar, corn starch, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Whip again at high speed until blended and slightly thick. Place the bowl in the freezer for approximately 15 minutes to firm.
  3. Combine the cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and almond extract in a large bowl, and whip on low speed until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Heat the strawberry preserves or fruit spread in a microwave-safe bowl for 10 seconds, or until soft and almost liquid. Stir with a fork, and mix in 1 tsp vanilla extract and lemon juice. Pour the juice over the prepared strawberries, and use a large wooden spoon to stir the ingredients together and coat the strawberries. Set aside.
  5. Remove the chocolate crust and the coconut whipped cream from the freezer. Gently fold the frozen whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, and spread the mixture on top of the chocolate cookie crust. Top with strawberry topping, and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Kitchen Meets Girl and The Chemist’s Daughter.



Tips & Treats

  • To make a successful whipped coconut cream, refrigerate the can of coconut milk before opening. Most sites suggest at least 4 hours, and I refrigerated mine overnight. It’s also best to chill everything you’re using to make the whipped cream-the beaters, the bowl, and maybe even in the spatula. Depending on what brand of cream you use (I used Goya), it may not separate as the original recipe describes, but it may be creamy throughout. It’s okay to use the whole can if this is the case, but be aware that it will be different from what you’re used to if you’re transitioning from Cool Whip or real whipped cream. The texture is slightly softer, but the taste is dramatically better (assuming you like coconut).
  • Just a quick note on sugar: if you’re entirely vegan, and you choose not to consume sugar that you’re unsure of the refining process for, check out this website for vegan-friendly sugars. Oh, and avoid Domino.


Omnivores Rejoice

  • If you’re not interested in making the Earth- and health-friendly replacements, you can substitute the gluten-free chocolate cookies for 25 chocolate wafer cookies, the Tofutti cream cheese for real cream cheese, and the coconut whipped cream for frozen Cool Whip. However, I encourage you to try something new and be open-minded, as this is one heck of a dessert that will blow any misconceptions of a healthy diet to smithereens.

Summer Muffin’ Had Me A Blast

I went a little nuts at farmer’s markets and at Trader’s Joe’s this past weekend. I couldn’t help it. Everything is so fresh and bright, and I love fruits and veggies. However, I’m terrible at using everything up from these produce binges before they start to spoil so I decided this time that I would just let the food inspire me. I was going to pick up whatever I felt like turning into something delicious. Since I’ve been craving fresh berries and fruit smoothies daily ever since the temperature started to creep up over 90 degrees, I decided I couldn’t pass up the chance to get some juicy red strawberries before the season started to wane.

I looooooooooove strawberries. I would pick a bowl of juicy, ripe strawberries over any cookie/brownie/cake in this world if I had the choice. I suppose that’s a bit of an extreme statement and may be a slight exaggeration, but when I think of that burst of sweetness from biting into a strawberry or how they make me feel after snacking on them over a heavier dessert, I tend to think it’s accurate. I think strawberries can be paired well with almost anything too-they’re fabulous in a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, they’re refreshing in a bowl with sliced bananas and kiwis, and they’re lovely covered in dark chocolate.  And they make a really fabulous lemonade.

And because I was already getting lemons to surprise my fiance with homemade summer shandies (lemonade mixed with beer, all the rage on the beer scene right now), I figured maybe the lemons could do double duty.

They could flavor my beer and flavor my muffins. All at once.

What a fabulous summer idea. I don’t normally make muffins. In fact, I never make muffins because, quite frankly, I just feel like that’s far too many calories and too much sugar for something that normally doesn’t have any frosting on it that you’re supposed to consume for breakfast. Normally, I’d say “no thank you”, but I’ve had a recipe for strawberries and cream muffins sitting on my iPhone browser for approximately six months. I figured there had to be a reason, and since I had every other ingredient in them already waiting at home, I thought perhaps my strawberry raid at Trader Joe’s would finally be a good excuse to clear my browser history. The addition of lemon zest was just a fun little addition to satisfy the strawberry lemonade I’ve been craving.

Lemon Strawberry Cream Muffins

 



Stuff You’ll Need

 


Makes 16 cupcake-sized muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk
  • 2/3 cup regular half and half
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into small pieces
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest


How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 1-2 muffin pans with paper liners.
  2. Sift together the all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Lightly whisk the ingredients, and set aside.
  3. Blend the cream cheese, 1 1/2 Tbsp of the liquid from the lightly beaten egg, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, and the lemon zest in a separate mixing bowl with a fork or small whisk. Once the mixture is blended but still soft (not liquid), set the bowl aside.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, half and half, and milk into the saucepan, and continue the stir. Heat the mixture over low heat until it’s thoroughly warm but not bubbling. Continuously whisk the milk mixture while adding the eggs, and continue stirring until the ingredients are warm and just slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour the milk mixture evenly over the flour blend. Using a whisk, gently blend the ingredients together until they’re just uniform. Don’t over mix!
  6. Scoop the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cup about halfway up. Put several chunks of strawberries into each cup so they’re still visible, and spoon a tsp of the cream cheese mixture on top of each cup. Cover this with a small spoonful of the remaining batter, and top it with more strawberry chunks.
  7. Bake the muffins for 26-30 minutes or until they begin to brown around the edges and the tops spring back slightly when pressed lightly. Remove the muffins from the oven, and allow them to cool in the pan for 5 minutes on top of a wire cooling rack. Transfer the muffins to the wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Recipe adapted from Jane’s Sweets & Baking Journal.


Finally, I can make room on my iPhone browser for something else! Stay tuned, my next little delight will be vegan-friendly :-)

Mocha Monkey Cupcakes

I don’t often toot my own horn, but I must say, quite frankly, these cupcakes are THE BOMB.

I recently started following a blog called The Cupcake Project, which is written by a very creative woman who makes cupcakes out of everything but the kitchen sink (though I wouldn’t be surprised if that was next). She announced an annual contest for ice cream cupcakes in conjunction with Scoopalicious with the grand prize winner receiving a $250 gift card to a kitchen supply store of his or her choosing. Once I realized how simple it was to make “ice cream cupcakes” (i.e. cupcakes with ice cream on top…um, delicious), the little cupcakes in my head started spinning with ideas. After numerous Venn diagrams, spreadsheets, and web diagrams, I decided to mimic my favorite frozen treat in the world, the Mocha Monkey.

Unless you live in Quincy or Braintree, MA, you may not know exactly what I’m referring to though I’m certain plenty of other variations exist across the planet. The Mocha Monkey is a frozen coffee drink that has very little coffee but plenty of mocha, bananas, and peanut butter in it. It’s literally everything I love about dessert masked with the term “coffee”, which naturally makes me want it for breakfast. Unfortunately, I’m not one of the lucky ones who lives in Quincy or Braintree, MA, so the only time I get my precious Mocha Monkey is when I visit my very lovely jewelry-making, nature-loving, dog-mom friend Lauren, which is far too infrequently.

So I thought what better treat to come up with than an at-home cupcake version of the Mocha Monkey? If you enjoy banana bread, peanut butter, chocolate, or caramel macchiatos, you’re in for a treat.


Mocha Monkey Cupcakes



For the Cupcakes


Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 16 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 bananas, mashed
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


How to Do It

  1. Line two muffin pans with liners, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add the mashed bananas, egg yolks, and vanilla, and beat the mixture again until blended and creamy. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. Using the whisk attachment or a handheld electric mixer, whip the egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form, 8-10 minutes. Gently fold 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the banana mixture.
  4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until blended. Fold the remaining 2/3 of egg whites gently into the mix.
  5. Scoop the batter into the prepared pans, and bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes, rotating the pan once at the halfway point. Remove the pan from the oven, and let them cool slightly in the pans. Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.


For the Ganache


Stuff You’ll Need

  • 8 oz heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 oz semi-sweet baker’s chocolate, chopped


How to Do It

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl.
  2. Heat the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it begins to boil, and remove it from the heat. Pour the cream immediately over the chopped chocolate, and let the mixture sit for 3-4 minutes. Whip with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted, and the mixture resembles chocolate sauce.
  3. Refrigerate to cool while making the buttercream and allowing the cupcakes to cool.


For the Buttercream


Stuff You’ll Need

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp creamy natural peanut butter (not an extra sweet kind)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted


How to Do It

  1. Cream the butter with a paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter, and whip again with the paddle attachment until blended. Add salt and vanilla, and whip again. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle, and switch to the whip attachment.
  2. Add one cup of confectioner’s sugar, and whip at low speed to blend the sugar. Increase the speed as the sugar incorporates into the peanut butter mixture. Add the second cup of sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mix is slightly stiff but fully blended.


For the Ice Cream Topping

  • Two pints of Starbucks Caramel Macchiato ice cream or another rich coffee flavor


Putting it All Together

Here comes the fun part. Well, really, the fun part is eating the cupcake, but it can be pretty fun making it too. After I made the different components, I used a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to pipe clumps of the peanut butter buttercream on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and I put the pan in the freezer while I worked on the other items. Next, when the cupcakes were completely cooled, I dipped the tops of each of them in the chocolate ganache, and stuck them in the freezer so the ganache would harden slightly. I then poured myself a glass of delicious Rose wine, and took the ice cream out to soften. Once it was soft enough to work with, I used a large pastry bag fitted with a large cake icer and piped the ice cream (the best I could) over the chocolate-topped cupcakes. I used a sharp knife to cut slices of the ice cream from the icing tip, and finally, I placed the peanut butter rosettes on top of the ice cream.

Though it’s tricky to eat, this cupcake is on par with Heaven. I’m actually getting hungry thinking of one right now…

Wish me luck for my contest entry, and I’ll post a link to vote as soon as it goes up!

Lemon Blueberry Cream Cheesy Goodness

I’m not sure what it is about lemon and blueberry that makes such a delightful combination. Perhaps it’s the blend of fragrant citrus and the natural juicy sweetness of the blueberries that makes this such a refreshing summertime flavor, or maybe it’s the fact that blueberries are loaded with antioxidants and lemons provide a heavy dose of vitamin C, which is reason enough to indulge.

If you don’t care about the health benefits of blueberries and lemons, perhaps you’ll just appreciate that they’re delicious together, especially if there’s a range of textures in the dessert as there is in this one.

And if you can’t appreciate that, well maybe you’ll just like that you can layer the dessert in a wine glass. ;-)

I mixed several different recipe ideas to create this little parfait with the thought that none of them could be too heavy or rich. After all, this is swimsuit season. I stumbled on this lemon-vanilla pound cake recipe when I was searching for ideas for Mother’s Day, and I scribbled a little note on it that said “blueberry compote or strawberry?”. I pushed it aside when my mother told me she wanted something “healthy” for Mother’s Day and didn’t think of it again until I ran into this: blueberry and cream cheese trifles from Sweet Revelations. That’s when I started thinking about how delicious it would be to do it with lemon pound cake…you know, so I could get all that vitamin C.

So the following is an original creation with a few influences and a lot of deliciousness.


Lemon-Vanilla Pound Cake



Stuff You’ll Need


Makes one 10″ Bundt pan

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 10″ Bundt pan, pastry brush


How to Do It

  1. Generously brush a 10″ Bundt pan with melted butter, and refrigerate pan until butter hardens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Brush any uncovered spots, and place in the fridge again while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Bring milk and butter pieces to a boil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat , and set aside.
  4. Sift flour and salt together in a small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Beat the eggs until very light and fluffy at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes in a stand-mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with an electric hand-mixer. Reduce the speed to medium, and gradually add 2 cups of granulated sugar until blended. Add the extracts (or 1/2 tsp lemon juice).
  6. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour and salt slowly until the ingredients are just blended. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the batter, and add baking powder. Beat until blended, and remove the bowl from the mixer.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, fold the lemon zest into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan, and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester or fork inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
  8. While the cake is cooling, pour the lemon juice over the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Lightly whisk the ingredients with a fork, and set aside.
  9. Invert the cake to a wire cooling rack to finish cool, and using a fork, gently poke holes throughout the surface of the cake. Use a pastry brush to brush the lemon/sugar syrup over the entire surface of the cake. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe adapted from Redbook.


Baker’s Tip

The original recipe calls for 1/2 tsp lemon extract, which can be very strong. I used lemon juice (mostly because I forgot to pick up extract at the store…), and the lemon flavor was PERFECT-subtle without being overly sweet or citrus. Don’t waste your money if you don’t have it already on hand, and use some of the juice you squeeze for the syrup.


Extra Baker’s Tip

To get the most juice possible from a lemon, quarter, rather than halve, the lemon, and squeeze each piece until there’s nothing left.


Blueberry Compote



Stuff You’ll Need

  • 1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice


How to Do It

  1. Heat 3/4 pint blueberries, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium-high heat until the liquid begins to boil. Stir and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until the blueberries soften. Remove from heat, and let the syrup cool briefly.
  2. Put the mixture into a food processor or blender, and whip until smooth. When completely cool, stir the remaining 1/4 pint blueberries into the compote.



Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting



Stuff You’ll Need

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp butter, unsalted and softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 12 oz heavy cream


How to Do It

  1. Whip butter and cream cheese until fluffy with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla extract, and whip again until blended. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and switch to the whisk attachment.
  2. Add 12 oz of heavy whipping cream, and whip at high speed for 4-5 minutes. Add the salt and lemon juice, and whip until blended.
  3. Put the mixer on high speed, and begin adding the confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time, stopping the mixer as needed to scrape the sides. Whip until the mixture is creamy and slightly stiff. Add additional confectioner’s sugar 1/4 cup at a time if needed to reach desired consistency. Remove from the mixer, and refrigerate while assembling other ingredients.


Layer the parfait by laying pieces of the pound cake on the bottom, top with blueberry compote, and scoop some cream cheese frosting on top. Add as many layers as you think you can handle, and always serve in a wine glass. ;-)

 

My Kitchen, My Sanctuary

Moving is not fun. Moving on a hot weekday from a second story apartment with your 73-yr-old dad and his equally aging friend who are both just in a hurry to get the heck out of there is even less fun. It’s sweaty, it’s stressful, your stuff suffers the damage of being thrown down a flight of stairs (no, seriously…), but throughout the days of heavy lifting, cleaning, and stuffing my possessions into old boxes, all I could picture was how serene and beautiful my new home was going to be compared to my last one. It was going to be airy and roomy and have an old farmhouse charm. It would be surrounded with trees and a stream and wildlife galore, and there would be NO screaming children on any side of us. Brendan would have a place to disappear, my girls would have plenty of windows to watch little birds frolicking from, and MOST importantly, I would have my own private sanctuary…

I couldn’t wait. Naturally, the kitchen was the first room I unpacked, and I’ve managed to mostly finalize it while still tripping over boxes to get to my wardrobe. Of course, it may never be “perfect” because I’ll always find things to add or ways to improve it, but as of now, I’m completely, utterly, head-over-heels in love with my kitchen.

A fabulous new feature to my kitchen. In my old apartment, which had thismuch space in the open kitchen, I was able to watch TV while cooking and baking, but I usually used that time to watch my DVR. I don’t have a DVR on this TV, and I have no choice but to watch inspirational things while working in the kitchen, i.e. Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

What’s up Pinterest project?

A shelf for extracts and flavors

A shelf for liquid ingredients and decorating sugars

A shelf for dry ingredients

A cookbook nook (I made that up, but feel free to steal it. It’s quite clever.)

Dining Room hutch where I store my library of books and my pans because a lady should be well-read and well-baked

And well-drunk.

An old cookie tin serves as a place to store foil wrappers for candies, stencils, and other decorating tools-plus it’s kinda cute.

So there it is. My lovely little kitchen. I didn’t take pictures of the gorgeous granite bar, but I will once I start baking again. Speaking of, FINALLY, I’ll get to start baking again this weekend after a month-long hiatus that has made me less-than-friendly and overly anxious (kind of like withdrawal symptoms…). I can’t wait! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written, but I’ll be updating with fun new recipes starting again next week.

With that said, enjoy your weekend, drink your wine, and enjoy the view from my kitchen window.

;-)

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