Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week 7 - Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes

Mocha cake with peppermint buttercream and crushed candy canes.

Nothing says Christmas to me like the cool flavor of peppermint. Mix that with the warmth of mocha and you always have a winning winter flavor1 This cupcake is a simple variation of two recipes I've used before, a basic chocolate cake with coffee added to it and regular buttercream with peppermint added to it. Easy peasy! If you want to use a boxed cake mix, you certainly could, and I'll add instructions for modifying a box mix and frosting at the end.

 Chocolate Mocha Cake
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 Tbsp instant coffee granules

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill muffin trays with paper liners (or grease and flour).
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir coffee granules into boiling water and stir into batter. Batter will be very thin. Don't worry, it will be fine. You could substitute 1 cup of very hot, very strong coffee for the instant granules and boiling water if you like.
3. Pour the batter into prepared liners, filling the cups 2/3 full. You can fill them a little more if you want big, overflowing cupcakes. I like mine to sit neatly within the liner, so I fill them 2/3 full.  
4. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Set pans on wire racks. Cool in pans until completely cooled. This keeps them from falling completely apart when you pick them up. 

Peppermint Buttercream

  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • 3-5 drops peppermint oil or 1/4 tsp extract (or more to taste)

  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • red food coloring or gel colors

    Beat butter until light and fluffy, then add in the sugar. Beat until well mixed, adding the milk as needed to thin. Whip in oil or extract - use a light hand with this until you get the flavor you want. When the frosting is light and spreadable, separate about 1/4 of it into a smaller bowl and stir in red coloring.
    Frost your cupcakes after they are completely cool. To achieve the swirly colored frosting, use a pastry bag or ziploc with the corner snipped off to frost. Smear some of the red frosting against one side of the bag, then fill with white. As you squeeze out the frosting, the white will drag a little red with it giving you a pretty swirl.
    Sprinkle with some crushed candy cane and you're good to go!
    If you crave this cupcake but are a box-mix kind of baker, you can make simple subtitutions and get similar results. Use a chocolate cake mix, and whatever water is called for, substitute coffee. Make it strong. If you want to use canned frosting, go for it... just add a little peppermint flavor. It's that easy.
    Whether you make them from scratch or use a mix, make these cupcakes. They taste like the holidays, and will make you happy. Promise. :)

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    Bonus Recipe - Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Maple Cream Sauce

    Pumpkin bread pudding with caramel maple cream sauce.

    I know this is not a cupcake recipe, but it was so good that I feel like I need to share it with everyone I know. The pumpkin bread pudding is a slight adaptation of the recipe Bobby Flay made in his Throwdown challenge against The Pioneer Woman just before Thanksgiving. I made this, along with the pies that my family loves so much, for Thanksgiving dinner. Let me tell you, it was the star of the show. Pie was left uneaten on dessert plates while seconds of this dessert were served. One of my friends said, "This is the best thing I've ever put in my mouth," and several others made me vow to make it for Christmas.

    Bobby Flay made some elaborate sauces to go with this, one for underneath and one for on top. The recipes for those sauces  and the original pudding recipe are available here, but I went with something a little more simple - a rich, thick caramel sauce with a hint of maple. I also made two changes to the recipe. The original recipe called for whole milk in addition to the cream, but I substituted egg nog, and I will never make it any other way. It added a hint of... well, nog to the finished product that made everyone say, "What is that?"  I also used a good vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans, simply because I didn't have a bean.

    Make this recipe. If your family even remotely likes pumpkin, they will love you for it. Expect sighs and groans. If you're fishing for a marriage proposal, add whipped cream. Delicious.

    Pumpkin Bread Pudding 

    • 1 cup eggnog
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 6 large egg yolks
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
    • 1 cup pure canned pumpkin puree
    • 2 tablespoons bourbon
    • Pumpkin Bread, toasted and cubed, recipe follows
    • Caramel Maple Cream Sauce, recipe follows
    • Freshly whipped cream
    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the cream, eggnog, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk together the yolks, sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined,  and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.

    Scatter the pumpkin bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.

    Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour.
    Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.
    Spoon the caramel sauce over a scoop of bread pudding, top with whipped cream, and enjoy!

    Pumpkin Bread:

    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 8 ounces (scant 1 cup) canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2/3 cup water
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

    Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl - you can use a hand mixer), beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar, and oil at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times. 

    Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and water and mix until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes.

    Let cool in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely.
    Once the bread is cool, slice in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread the cubes on a large baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree oven until lightly toasted, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

    Caramel Maple Cream Sauce:

    • 1 can dulce de leche
    • 1 C heavy cream
    • 1/2 C pure maple syrup
    • pinch of salt

    In a microwave safe bowl, empty the can of dulce de leche. It will be really thick. Microwave for about 30 seconds, stirring once, until you can easily stir the caramel. Whisk in the cream and maple syrup. Add the pinch of salt (only a little pinch!) and whisk until fully combined.

    If you haven't noticed by now, this is a time consuming recipe. Let me tell you a few ways to make this recipe easier on you.

    1. Make and toast the pumpkin bread the day before, or even two days. When cool, store in an airtight container. It's fine if they dry out... that's even better.

    2. You can use any pumpkin bread recipe you want. You could even use pumpkin muffins. If you want to buy a mix, do it. The custard is the most important part, so cut yourself some slack with the bread.

    3. Make the custard the night before and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you are going to bake the bread pudding.

    4. Make the caramel sauce whenever you darn well feel like it. I made mine two days ahead, and it was still good several days later.

    5. Whipped cream in a can. While fresh whipped cream is the best, seriously, it doesn't matter. Everyone will still love it.

    6. The easiest way to make this recipe:  convince someone else to do it. ;)

    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Week 6 - Coconut Cupcakes

    Vanilla buttermilk cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and coconut.

    I know it's been more than a week since the last cupcake, but for the sake of not confusing people new to this blog, we can call this week 6 1/2.

    When I was growing up, my mom always made a coconut cake for Christmas. I looked forward to it every year because, like so many other beloved recipes, we only had it once a year. Why do we do that? Anyway, as soon as I started making a list of holiday flavors for this month, I thought of tender vanilla cake with sugary frosting and fluffy white coconut. Mom always used a white cake mix and seven minute frosting, but I branched out a little. Please, don't tell Mom.

    I found this cake recipe all over the internet, and copied it (with a minor modification) from Baking Bites. If you're wondering why I chose a buttermilk vanilla cake, it's because... well, I was out of regular milk. Frankly, I'm glad, because this cake recipe is amazing. It's light and fluffy and moist. I was afraid the tang of the buttermilk would overwhelm it, but it's barely noticeable, and the acidity served to make a very tender cake. Don't be afraid of the buttermilk. It's amazing. 

    The modification I made was to add a wee bit of coconut extract instead of the almond called for in the recipe. If you don't have it, you can just use almond or extra vanilla. It's worth it to get the coconut extract, because it gives even the cake itself a subtle hint to coconut that will make your eyes roll back in your head in delight. Unless you hate coconut.

    Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes

    • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
    • ½ teaspoon baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup sugar
    • ¼ cup butter, room temperature
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • ¼ tsp coconut extract (or any other extract - almond and orange are great ideas for this cake)
    • 1 cup buttermilk

    Preheat oven to 350 F. Place liners in a 12 cup muffin tin.
    Nom Nom Nom
    In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until it looks creamy. Beat in the egg and the vanilla and coconut extracts until mixture is smooth.  Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until almost combined. Add buttermilk and stir, again, until almost combined. Add the rest of the flour and stir until all ingredients are mixed in.
    Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Bake for 18-20 minutes at 350F. At 18 minutes, check them. If they look like they're probably not done, barely press in the center of a cake and see if it springs back. If it does, take them out. You do not want to over bake these.  Let cupcakes cool for 10 minutes and then remove from the muffin pan. Cool completely before frosting.

    Makes 12 cupcakes

    For the frosting, I made vanilla buttercream. Because I wanted that sugary, crusty type of frosting that dries a little on the outside, I went with a butter/shortening combo rather than all butter. If the thought of shortening in your frosting makes you hurl, you can just use butter (and never, ever buy a cake with buttercream frosting from a bakery again). 

    Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
    • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
    • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
    • milk for thinning out frosting (I used buttermilk out of necessity, but use regular milk)
    Cream butter and shortening until light and fluffy. Mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time until frosting is fluffy but firm. Add milk as needed to thin the mixture enough to blend it.  Pipe on top of  the cupcakes using a pastry bag or a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off.

    To top your cupcakes with coconut, dump coconut in a bowl and fluff it with your fingers so there are no big lumps. Turn your cupcake upside down and gently press it into the coconut, rolling slightly to cover the sides.

    That's it! There are a million ways you can decorate coconut cupcakes, but they're beautiful on their own. I was planning on making an elaborate decoration for the top, but these adorable cupcake papers with their little toothpick toppers magically appeared at my house, so I went with them. Aren't they cute? They are Wilton, and they came from Walmart, 24 liners and 24 picks for... are you ready? $1.50. If you don't have holiday liners, white would be just as nice. Stick a gumdrop on top and call it a day. It doesn't matter what you top them with, because they're still going to taste like a little bite of heaven.  Enjoy!