Friday, October 24, 2014

The smells of autumn: Maple sweet potato cupcakes with whipped cream cheese frosting

Pumpkin is everywhere right now. I've seen pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin coffee drinks, pumpkin cakes and cookies and crisps... now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of pumpkin, but these are a nice change of pace. Sweet potato and spices give these a perfectly autumn taste and the dollops of so-light-you-can't-believe-it frosting sit on top like little clouds. I made these for Halloween topped with candy corn, but they'd be equally well-suited for Thanksgiving or Christmas, too.

Maple sweet potato cupcakes with whipped cream cheese icing (makes 2 dozen)

  • 2 cups of cooked sweet potato, mashed smooth
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (you can substitute applesauce to make these lower fat)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease muffin pans or use liners.

Blend together sweet potato, oil, sugar, syrup, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. If the sweet potato doesn't seem quite smooth, use an immersion blender for this step.

Sift together flours, spices, leaveners and salt and fold into the wet ingredients.

This recipe rises high, so fill cups half full. Bake for 20 minutes or until cake springs back when pressed.

Whipped cream cheese frosting (makes enough for 1.5 to 2 dozen cupcakes, depending on  how much you use)
Note: Instead of vanilla, you can use cinnamon, caramel, or any other flavoring that sounds good to you.
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a chilled bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add in sifted sugar and  continue beating until peaks hold. Put the whipped cream into the refrigerator to keep it chilled.

In another bowl, beat the cream cheese, salt and vanilla until soft and fluffy. Very gently fold in the whipped cream and then blend together with the mixer until completely blended. Pipe onto cupcakes as desired.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fluffy Sunday Morning Scones

The past year has taught me -- again and again and again but let's not ruminate, yes? -- that food is about more than nourishment. Food can be a ritual, a tradition, a comfort. And for me, one of the most cherished routines has often been Sunday morning breakfasts. 

Saturday mornings in our household are for rushing headlong into the weekend... tackling all the tasks that have built up over the week, and jumping straight into special kind of chaos that only having two littles around the house can bring.

But Sundays... Sundays are different. After a whole day of rushing here and there with two children in tow, Sundays are more about slowing down a little bit and getting ready for the coming week. Sunday mornings are about enjoying your cup of coffee instead of gulping it down, and maybe getting a little indulgent with breakfast with things that could stand in for dessert.

Enter... scones. Sweet but not cloyingly so, rich, crumbly and practically melting on your tongue, scones are easy to whip up first thing in the morning but are just as good made the night before so you can hopefully eke out a few more minutes of sleep. 

This recipe is endlessly customizable with whatever flavors strike your fancy. I've made them with vanilla and chocolate chips, almond flour and almond extract topped with sliced almonds, and sweet cinnamon. But how about dried blueberries with some lemon zest and juice in the dough? Or bits of chopped apple and some caramel extract? Or perhaps a drizzle of simple glaze to take it over the top?

Fluffy Sunday Morning Scones
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups flour - I usually use a blend of whole wheat and all-purpose
  • ½ cup sugar with a little extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup yogurt (preferably full-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, use your hands, a pastry cutter or a food processor to blend the butter in with your flour, sugar, leaveners, and salt until it looks like coarse crumbs.

In a separate bowl, blend together the egg, yogurt and vanilla. Add to butter + flour mixture and gently press until dough holds together; add a bit of milk if needed to help it hold together. Add in chocolate chips if using them, or any other stir-ins. Scoop the dough onto your pan, sprinkle with sugar to prevent it from sticking to your hands, and gently pat it into a disc. Don't worry about making it perfect, as a bit of imperfection will make for a wonderful rustic texture! Cut into 8 wedges; pull them apart a bit and bake for approximately 15 minutes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chocolate cupcakes with fluffy marshmallow frosting

As much as we'd all like to deny it as we savor our kale salads and homemade yogurt, there's a part of our brains that occasionally lingers on those oh-so-unspeakable treats from our childhoods. You know, the kind that came in boxes on grocery store endcaps, with a shelf life of at least 2 years.

But you can't actually go back there. It's like going back to a childhood home... it's never quite the same way you remembered it.

So you recreate what you remember, but you make it better. No shortening. No chemicals. No artificial ingredients. Nothing that could sit forgotten for a few years in the back of the pantry, and still look exactly the same as the day you picked it up for 2/$1.

So today, I bring you the recipe for light, spongy chocolate cupcakes with a fluffy marshmallow frosting that melts in your mouth. The cake is springy, moist and flavorful; the frosting is dense enough to be sinful but light enough that it doesn't overwhelm the cake.

Here is the recipe, and a picture of them topped with a single chocolate wafer:

and as an alternative, sprinkled with mini chocolate chips instead:

Chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow frosting
(this recipe makes 2 dozen with a few extra for placating your hungry family, who apparently cannot wait all of one day until the party)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder; I used Ghirardelli
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

For marshmallow frosting:
1.5 cups butter 
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tubs of marshmallow fluff

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease your muffin tins, or use liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and sugar. 

Mix in oil, coffee, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla. Mix just until blended. Batter will be thin, and rise high, so fill cupcake tins halfway only. With this recipe, I would recommend filling and baking your pans ASAP - don't pre-make this batter and let it sit out on the counter.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through if necessary, and just until cupcakes spring back when pressed with a finger. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely.

At this stage, I usually vacuum seal the cakes and then freeze them in our chest freezer until the day of the event. I believe they are actually better after a freeze and thaw than they are fresh out of the oven... but that's just me. They do have to be fresh when you put them in the freezer though... no freezing is going to bring back stale cupcakes! If you do freeze them ahead of time, unwrap them completely and let them thaw before you decorate. It won't take long... never takes mine more than an hour.

To decorate these, I used a marshmallow buttercream frosting that tastes of marshmallow but is sturdy and pipeable like a buttercream. Simply whip together 1.5 cups (3 sticks) of butter, 3 cups of sifted confectioner's sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract on medium-high speed. When it's fluffy, add in 2 tubs of marsmallow fluff and gently whip on low speed until completely blended together and no large air bubbles remain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finding beauty

Irish Boxer Husband claims that for the longest time, I wasn't much of a fan of cut flowers... he might be right, as I have no doubt his memory may occasionally be more reliable than mine, but I have decided that I love flowers and can't have too many of them around the house. Attached to a plant and living or in a vase, I see their glowing colors their delicacy, and that subtle iridiscence... and it makes me happy.