Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Canadian Maple Cupcakes

As you may or may not remember, I bought a tub of red fondant for a Valentine's Day cake. I remember because that red fondant has been haunting me for months! You can catch glimpses of it on the Red Sox and Hokie Hi-Hat cupcakes, but I still have about a quarter of that tub leftover. Ugh. How many things can one do with red fondant?

Another little factoid that you probably wouldn't know unless I told you: my Canadian Lit class is meeting for the last time tonight. This class has been rough-going throughout and Evan even wrote a post about the existential crisis it has thrown him into. However, what final class meeting would not be improved by cupcakes?!

(The answer is none.)

So, in honor of our class closing and our Canadian-ish professor who finally said "ay" in class last week, I used as much red fondant as I could to decorate these (now Canadian) Maple Cupcakes.

Aren't they just too cute? This line-up reminds me of the Target circles. :)

In case you were curious about technique, I made another of my only marginally helpful stencils for the maple leaves. The letters I cut out with the cookie cutters from my Wilton 100 pc. set. That was so unbelievably easy that I'm going to try to have cookie cutters for all fondant dealings from now on! (It's not a practical wish, but a wish nonetheless.) And I love that the cookie cutter letters are just the right size to cover the whole cupcake without hanging off. Perfect!

And now I have a question for those of you who work with the fondant. See how my fondant is all shiny and soft? It gets that way when I decorate the cupcakes and then leave them in their carrier. I thought I wasn't supposed to refrigerate fondant, but is it okay that my fondant has gone all slippery and wet? It's not traveling yet, but I don't want it to get that far. And I know that if I were using the fondant for anything other than flat letters laying on a cupcake, then I'd be in trouble.

I might have just answered my own question by remembering that I refrigerated the hi-hats and those fondant VTs kept their shape.

Anyway... anyone who knows about the optimal storing conditions for fondant, do let me know!

To the rest of you, good luck trying to go through today without singing "Oh, Canada..." It's already taken up sure residence in my head.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maple Cupcakes

This afternoon, I made some Maple cupcakes for a very particular reason that will be revealed tomorrow.

I needed them to be very simply maple with no frou frou pecans, walnuts, apples, bacon or anything else. This recipe was harder to find than you might imagine.

I ended up using the cupcake recipe in Cupcakes Galore by Gail Wagman and the icing in Cupcakes by Pamela Clark.

This is an excellent cupcake and icing pairing. The cake itself is closer to a really soft biscuit or a thick pancake and for the maple flavor, that texture works really well. The icing recipe didn't make a lot of icing, but I wouldn't have wanted any more than a thin layer of this maple icing. It's tasty, but more would be too much.

Eaten together, the cupcake and icing are subtly mapled and very tasty. This is probably not a cupcake that one would want to eat more than one of. It's a slightly heavier cupcake even though the flavor is light.

I'm going to decorate these little gems tonight after I do a little bit more actual work. Anybody want to guess how I'm going to decorate these maple goodies? :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Maine Deer Tracks Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

The challenge host encouraged the Daring Bakers to be super creative with this month's challenge recipe. She provided us with a basic, tried and true cheesecake recipe and then told us to have at it! I had not made a cheesecake before, so I thought about just following the recipe and given. That would be enough of a challenge, right?


No. I quickly decided I had to stretch myself. My roommate and I started brainstorming about our favorite desserts and then - like a moose in Baxter Park - it came to me.

Maine is the home of Gifford's Ice Cream Stand Ice Cream. I'm sure that most of you non-Mainers have never had or even heard of Gifford's Ice Cream, but it is just about the best ice cream in the world. At least that I've had. My favorite flavor is Maine Deer Tracks. Here's the flavor description from the Gifford's website:

Rich Espresso Ice Cream with Crunchy Heath Bar Candies and Tracks of Thick Chocolate Fudge

Since I'm leaving Maine [and Gifford's ice cream :(] in just a few short weeks, I decided that a tribute cheesecake would be the perfect way to complete this challenge.

Without further ado, here is how you can replicate my humble attempt at a Gifford's inspired Maine Deer Tracks Cheesecake.

Begin the cheesecake process by combining 2 cups of chocolate graham crackers, 1 tsp of vanilla, 1 stick of melted butter, and 2 tbsp of sugar.

Make sure that everything, everywhere is yellow.

Once the crust is fully combined, press it into the bottom of the pan. The challenge said that crusting the sides was baker's choice. This baker chose to half-assedly crust the sides.

Cover the bottom of the crust with a solid layer of Heath bar pieces and set the whole deal aside.

Can you imagine being about an inch tall and stuck inside a cheesecake crust? I totally can.

At this point it's smart to do your espresso prep. Heat 1/4 cup of the heavy cream (you'll need one cup total later) in the microwave until it's quite hot. Then stir 1-2 tbsp of instant espresso into the hot cream. Set the espresso cream mixture by the rest of the heavy cream so you'll remember to use it all later.

Oh hey, sexy new mixer! Would you mind beating these 3 bricks of cream cheese and 2 cups of sugar until they're smooth and gorgeous. Thanks, Babe! ;)

After blending the cream cheese and sugar, add 3 eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl between each egg.

Once the eggs have become true friends with the cheese mixture, add 1 cup heavy cream and flavorings. For this cheesecake, I used the original 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp vanilla, and the espresso that I worked into the heavy cream earlier.

This batter is wicked smooth and lovely. The espresso really gave the cheesecake a nice rich latte color. Tasty. Okay, pour the batter into the crust you lovingly set aside earlier.

Now comes the nail-biting part of the thing. Our cheesecake recipe demands a water bath. Since neither the roommate or I have large pans for this type of roasting/water bathing situation, I picked up an aluminum roasting pan when I bought the casserole dish.

They nestle together quite perfectly. Once the roasting pan is in place with the cheesecake pan inside it, carefully add boiling water to the roasting pan. The water should come about halfway up the height of the cheesecake. Do this. Set the pot of boiling water down. Slide the rack back (with an oven mitt on) and heave a large sigh of relief.

And walk away. The cheesecake needs to bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.

The host for this challenge explained that the cheesecake will be ready when it "hold[s] together, but still ha[s] a lot of jiggle to it in the center". Hm. Hopefully I judged this well enough. I deemed it ready at 48 minutes.

At that point, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven in the waterbath with the door closed for one hour.

After the hour of in-oven cooling, remove the cheesecake from the waterbath (carefully, so carefully) and set it on a wire rack to finish cooling. Try to forget that you have a homemade chocolate/coffee/heath cheesecake sitting on the table next to you because - trust me - it's going to be a while. The cheesecake has to cool on the rack completely and then chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least 6 hrs.

Doo do doo do doo do do... do do do do DOO do do do... (Jeopardy! theme, duh.)

The next day, you can ready the ganache.

Be sure to place the chocolate on your student papers that you have only two hours to respond to before returning. That way, if there is any spillage, you'll have an excellent story to tell the class.

Once the ganache has cooled a bit, scoop some onto the cheesecake. I watched a YouTube video that insisted I could just pick up the cheesecake and let the ganache run, but that didn't really work for me. I think my ganache was too cool for that. (Ha! I meant that literally, but oh well!) I just spread the ganache around with my angled icing spreader. Sprinkle some more of those Heath pieces around the edge of the cheesecake and...

Oh. Em. Gee. That is one fine looking cheesecake.

This picture was taken after the whole deal chilled again to set the ganache. This shot is also nice because you can see my (im)perfect crust and my improvised "springform" pan. :) I do what I can.

Now would be the perfect time for you to cut the cheesecake. No one is around. It's just you and the cheesecake.

Personally, I did a (mostly internal) happy dance when I cut into the cheesecake and confirmed that it was, in fact, cooked through. The dance is optional. The next step is not.

Eat the first piece of the Maine Deer Tracks Cheesecake. Because someone has to. And you're the only one around.

Since you have a minute before your cheesecake cools (I'm just guessing here), I'll tell you how mine turned out.

It was... Gifford-tastic. The espresso cheesecake was so smooth and creamy that it could easily stand on its own. However, combined with the chocolate graham cracker crust and ganache, the espresso sang its caffeinated song in the perfect key. The Heath pieces inside and on top of the cheesecake provided a note of interest that was present but subtle. The overall effect: Gifford-tastic.

Later, when I took the cheesecake to campus, it received rave reviews. Ray, our janitor, asked if he could marry me.

And just in case you were wondering...

the bite that causes the cheesecake to fall over is my absolute favorite moment in cheesecake enjoyment.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cookie Cutter Quandry

Since there are 100 different cookie cutters in my bright, shiny new set, I'm not surprised that there are a few that are of... confusing shape.

Like the "cat on a sled" cookie cutter. (Idea and design (c) Kerry, 2009)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Flood Warning!

Even though (or maybe because) I'm stuck in the quicksand of job applications, curiosity got the best of me tonight.

I made some plain-o-plain sugar cookies and iced them with royal icing.

This was my first time working with the royal stuff, and let me just tell you that it is so super easy. With royal icing, you begin by piping a stiff outline around your cookie. Then you add a little bit of water to the remaining icing so that it's thinner and easy to spread. Then you drop it on the lined (now set) cookies and "flood" them to the piped edges.

It's crazy easy and the result is perfectly smooth shiny iced cookies.

I didn't dye the icing tonight because I was really icing out of desperation. I was (and still am) dead tired, but I just had to try my hand at this sugar cookie business. Sick, right? I know...

See what happens when I bake while slightly off my game?

Oh. Right. I guess those things happen anyway. :D

Friday, April 24, 2009

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You...


I finally gave in and bought the Wilton collection of 100 cookie cutters. Retailing at $9.99, the kit is packed with cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes. There are hearts and flowers and animals and types of transportation and letters and numbers and bears and people and... you get the idea.

The first time I saw this collection of cookie cutters, I was in a different store. And that particular store had a set of 100 animal cookie cutters. There was a youngish couple in the aisle with me trying to find one bat cookie cutter for their son's birthday party. Well, Mom was starting to panic a little and Dad was clearly ready to make a purchase and go. So, I witnessed this conversation.

Dad: "Let's just get the 100 animals."

Mom: "Is there a bat in there? I don't want to get it home and still not have a bat."

Dad: "Can you think of 100 animals that aren't bats?!"


I left the aisle at that point because I was cracking up and I knew that wouldn't help them. :)

Long story short: my cookie cutter collection contains one bat cookie cutter. And 99 others.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Ode to Soy Milk

I love love love soy milk.

When I first became lactose intolerant, I tried to have soy milk with my cereal and I just couldn't do it. As much as I love the creamy goodness of soy milk, I just see it as its own treat. So I very rarely buy soy milk for myself.

I usually only have soy at... Starbucks. If you've been paying attention, you know that I am no longer purchasing Starbucks coffee. And now I miss soy!

Well... I did. I bought myself a 1/2 gallon of Light Vanilla Soy Milk the other day. Since then I've been trying to create an at-home soy latte without the benefits of an espresso machine or foamer. I've been using instant espresso and just kind of heating the soy milk on the stove.

It's... okay.

Last night I made soy hot cocoa and it was so decadent and lovely. But hot cocoa has so much sugar in it.

So what's a girl to do?! I love soy milk and drinking it cold is fine, but I want to be able to make amazing hot drinks that I can pour into my thermos and tote to campus.

Do you guys have any suggestions?! I need help!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rainy Day Breakfast

I know I can't make you make your french toast like mine, but I wish you would.

Seriously. One egg lightly beaten + a splash of milk + sprinkling of cinnamon + 1/2 splash of vanilla. 2 slices of non-stale bread in a Medium-High heat skillet and you're done.

Today I topped my toasts with fresh strawberries and blackberries, a dusting of powdered sugar (for the look pretty much), and very small drizzle of VT maple syrup.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to grade 15 student papers and acquire a job for next year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hokie Hi-Hat Cupcakes

I teased you yesterday Saturday with the lovely - yet naked - Carrot Cake Cupsters with Cream Cheese icing (CCCCCI). Now you get to see what great destiny awaited those CCCCCIs! Just kidding! I will never use that horrific acronym ever again.

Anyway... I've been wanting to make hi-hat cupcakes for a long time. Traditionally, the hi-hat cupcake is iced with a stiff meringue and then dipped in chocolate. The finished product looks like a DQ dipped cone. Done well and cut open, they look like this one from Melanger.

Though I could have gone traditional, I'm sure you know by now that I didn't. Since these cupcakes are in honor of Evan's bright shiny future at Virginia Tech, I decided to go all out.

I dipped the cupcakes (or their icing, rather) in orange candy melts...

spent some quality time dying some of my red fondant burgundy...

and the Hokie Hi-Hat cupcake was born.

And now for the dissection.

This cupcake is an interesting one. Alton's carrot cake actually did work and I'm pleased with the result. I don't like my carrot cakes too chunky. I get distracted and a little bit upset when there are too many things happening. This carrot cake is just how I like them - carroty and very very lightly spiced. I give it a B+. The icing, like I said before, is perfect. See the previous post for recipe link.

Now... I must admit that though really adorable, the candy melt coating might be a smidge too thick for hi-hatting. When I bit into the cupcake the candy broke in a couple of places and as I continued to take bites of the cupcake, the icing started to squeeze out from under the candy coating. That's awkward. And a little bit messy. I don't think these will make it upstairs to the English department.

So, will I be hi-hatting again? Absolutely! Will I use candy melts? Umm... probably. :) The colors are just too hard to resist. I'm thinking mini cupcakes would be perfect for candy melt hi-hats. I could pile the icing up tall, cover it in a variety of fun colors and they'd still only be a couple (or if you're like me, a few) bites each. For the big guys, I should probably stick to chocolate hi-hats until I figure out how to thin the candy melts a bit.

In theory, the cupcakes are perfect. In practice, not quite so. Here's hoping Evan's time at Virginia Tech is great in both theory and practice! Go congratulate him on his new Ph.D. program home at FatallyAmbiguous.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blackberry Mint Muffins

I know, I know. What am I doing showing my face around this blog without the carrot cake/cream cheese icing cupcakes?! Well... I didn't want the interweb to see Evan's cupcakes before Evan did. So you'll get them tomorrow. :)

I hope you didn't check in today to find a tasty blackberry mint muffin. If you did, I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed.

These are the only Blackberry Mint Muffins that I have and they are just not tasty.

I won't even bore you with the details of how these sad sad muffins came to be, but just know that I followed the recipe for the most part.

I can't even really put into words what is wrong with these muffins. In discussion with the roommate, I just keep saying that these muffins have nothing to recommend them. They are largely flavor-less but they still manage to pack a strong after taste. To top it all off, I had something stuck in my tooth for a minute that my roommate informed me must be a "piece of health."

The roommate tried one of these muffins and her conclusion is that the muffin tastes like an awkward mixture of many herbal teas. Specifically, she picked up on the mint, berry, and lemon teas all wrapped up in one bad muffin.

So now we have four more bad Blackberry Mint muffins in the cute bowl on the kitchen table. Maybe I'll let them stale and toss them through some windows or something.

And just in case you are really curious about what went wrong, I found the recipe here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Carrot Cake Cupsters

In order to properly de-stress after my ridiculously stressful day, I whipped up a batch of cupcakes for a friend.

I started with Alton Brown's Carrot Cake recipe and followed that up with How to Eat a Cupcake's Perfect Cream Cheese Icing. Alton's list of ingredients wasn't too daunting and Cassie promised this cream cheese was pipe-worthy.

In actuality, the list of ingredients for Alton's carrot cake was not the most demanding part of his recipe. I should have known. He wanted me to make the batter in several stages in a food processor. Well... my food processor (like my kitchen and everything in it) is tiny. I knew there was no way that I could make a batter, start to finish, in my food processor.

I just forked the dry ingredients and beat the wet with the hand mixer. When it came time to mix the two, I just used the fork again.

I'm sure the science was against me, but Alton wasn't here to yell at me. Do you think Alton ever yells?

Cassie's cream cheese method is spot on. Follow the link and you will never make cream cheese icing the same way again! The icing was a sinch to throw together and it piped like a dream! It was smooth and perfect. I'm so in love. This will only encourage me to use cream cheese icings even more than I already do. Wow.

And how, you might ask, could these adorable carrot cake cupsters with perfect cream cheese icing get any better?

And why, you might ask, are they in the freezer?

Well... I guess you'll just have to tune in tomorrow at the same bat time, same bat channel to find out!

Friday, April 17, 2009

I'm not worried about...

Today I'm feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed. There are the usual things, of course, but I'm now acutely concerned about my lack of job for the next year.


At times like this, I find it helpful to make a list of things I'm not worried about.

I am not worried about...

1. my lack of tan.
2. Michelle Obama's proud display of her post-Title IX arms.
3. global warming.
4. losing myself in my current relationship. (i <3 being single!)
5. pirates... who don't do anything.

6. my present haircut or color.
7. my ability to bake a damn fine cupcake.
8. the completion of my master's degree.
9. the price of a soy latte at Starbucks. the taste of my ever-improving homemade soy lattes.
10. a devastatingly large mortgage.

See? Joblessness is not so bad after all! I could be dealing with a debilitating cupcake handicap or a pirate who actually does something!

Okay. I'm now getting back to the job hunt/application world. Here's something for you to do: Let me know what you aren't worried about so I'll have something to smile about when I take my next break.

Oh, and if you say that you aren't worried about finding a job then I will send you the worst interweb stinkeye you've ever seen or heard of.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Garlic Bread After my own Clogged Heart

This week the roommate and I are trying to be good disciples of Jillian Michaels. We're having mixed results so far, but things are going well for the most part. I'm - at the moment - trying to decide what to have for dinner and all I know so far is that it's going to be a big salad. Woot. What I'm giving you guys, of course, is much tastier.

Please enjoy my humble garlic bread submission.

I say "humble" because I found it on Hillbilly Housewife's website. Also, I made this garlic bread just because I wanted it. I had no pasta. No accompanying dish. This bread was just necessary.

So I

mixed these things together.

Rolled the dough into an almost square (a.k.a. a circle).

Put the rolled out dough in the bubbling melted butter to bake.

And VIOLA!* Garlic bread.

Despite the meh appearance of this bread in the sad lighting, it was really tasty. And I am sure that you have the ingredients in your pantry right now. Mmm... don't you want garlic bread with your... big salad? I know I do.

*One of the roommate's students misspelled voila! and now we can't get the VIOLA! exclamation out of our daily vocabulary. Try it out; you won't be disappointed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon, You've Let Me Down.

Just in case you haven't heard about the current Amazon flub-up, here is the skinny. Amazon just removed rankings from books that are now considered to contain "adult content." Rankings are what allow books to show up in searches and lists and so forth. The books are still for sale on Amazon, but it looks like searching for them without the title and/or author is... difficult. From what I've read, it looks like those who were hardest hit by this unranking move are authors that deal with gay, lesbian, trans, and even some sexy heterosexual topics (think Lady Chatterley's Lover).

But, as usual, my recap of this event is awkward at best. So here are a couple of links you should check out.

1. "Why the Amazon de-ranking of GLBT books matters" on Jenny Boylan's Blog - You might remember my still starstruck post about her visit to our campus last week. Her bestselling book, She's Not There, is now unranked. There is such a lack of "adult content" in that book.

2. "'Gay writing' falls foul of Amazon sales ranking system" from The Guardian This article explains a bit more about what is going on and what Amazon has to say about it so far.

I've always been interested in issues of censorship. I mostly feel that it shouldn't happen. We live in a world that doesn't censor much of anything that it should. We see sex and violence and drugs and hatred and high-fat foods and ignorance on a daily basis. Before we reach the age of 2!

Yet great books are banned every day because they might bring up topics that we aren't comfortable explaining to our children. And, I have come to expect this. But this is too far. To automatically consider LGBTQ texts "adult content" is homophobic and wrong. Hiding LGBTQ texts by pulling them from topic searches is such an horrific step back that I can't even really believe this is happening.

Like Jenny Boylan said in her blog, hopefully this will be old and over by the time you read this. I sure hope so.

But just know that Amanda's pissed.

Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

Let the record show that these are the most time-sensitive baked treat that I have ever encountered.

I was warned in Pennies on a Platter's recipe, but I just didn't believe that the effects of time could work so unbelievably quickly on a cookie. I mean... it's a cookie.

That's where I was wrong.

This is no ordinary cookie.

The peanut butter dough is exactly what a peanut butter cookie dough should be. I might... have... had some batter. And the apple chunks are warm and juicy after baking.

My classmates lurved these cookies for real. And, I encouraged them to have several since they have fiber-filled fruit intact!

In the end, Evan and I ended up eating a bunch of the leftovers as we walked from the class to our cars. It's a long walk and we needed nourishment. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Oh, and the time-sensitive bit: these cookies were best when they were warm just out of the oven. As soon as the cookies cool, they start to get a bit soggy from the apples. The next time I make these cookies, I'll be sure I have a group of hungry cookie munchers at the ready.

Best. Broccoli. Ever.

I love broccoli. And this recipe brocc-ed my world.

No dice? It worked with people used it for Obama!

Anyway, whatever you are having for dinner tonight, please have broccoli with it. Or in place of it. It's really that good.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Broccoli (c/o AllRecipes)

What You Need:
2 heads broccoli, separated into florets
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

What You Do:
Cut the broccoli into manageable bits. I keep florets and stems. They are both delicious in their own ways.

Toss broccoli with EVOO, sea salt, pepper, and garlic.

Roast in 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Until the broccoli equivalent of 'fork tender.'

Right after you remove the broccoli from the oven, squeeze lemon juice over the top of the green beauties.

Now eat the entire batch and debate about another trip to the grocery store to start the whole process again.