Saturday, October 29, 2011

Homemade Caramel Corn (two ways!) + Halloween Trail Mix


A few things:

1. Caramel corn is ridiculously easy to make in the privacy of your own kitchen. Without annnyone around to judge you when you can't. stop. eating it. Good or bad thing? You decide.

2. Confession: I burnt my first batch of caramel. I actually didn't realize this until I tasted the caramel corn every time I opened the oven to stir it after it was done. But for some reason I still couldn't stop eating it. I tasted piece after piece after piece "just to see if it was really burnt."


3. You probably shouldn't respond to emails on your iPhone while making caramel.

4. I'm not dressing up for Halloween. Mostly because I just don't like dressing up, but also because I'm still scarred by the disappointment I experienced two years ago when I bought a several bags of candy, dressed up as a bumblebee, and didn't even get one trick-or-treater. It was devastating.

5. Stephen and I are much too practical to buy a costume for Charlie. But we decided that if we were going to, we'd definitely dress him up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. And when I say that "Stephen and I" are much too practical, I'm sure you know that I actually just mean Stephen is.


6. If you're one of my coworkers, please disregard everything I said in #2. I would never give you burnt caramel corn and try to disguise it by mixing it in with un-burnt caramel corn, chocolate drizzled pretzels, and Halloween candy. Never.

7. Have you heard about this and this and this? Just stop it. Halloween is weird enough as it is.

Traditional Caramel Corn
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

15 cups popped popcorn
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup salted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Place the popcorn in a large bowl (at least 6 quarts). Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a half-sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the molasses, brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Note: Do not attempt to answer emails during this step.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda; the mixture should become foamy. Carefully pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and stir until all of the popcorn is coated.

4. Transfer the caramel corn to the sheet pan and spread it into an even layer. Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Maple-Toffee Popcorn
Adapted from Babble

10 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Place the popcorn in a large bowl (at least 6 quarts). Preheat the oven to 200°F and line a half-sheet pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for four minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda; the mixture should become foamy. Carefully pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and stir until all of the popcorn is coated.

4. Transfer the caramel corn to the sheet pan and spread it into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Halloween Trail Mix

20 cups caramel corn
12 cups chocolate-drizzled pretzels (see instructions below)
2 cups Reese's Pieces
2 cups candy corn

To serve as a party snack, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. As Ina would say... how easy is that?

For individual treat bags, assemble as follows:

  • Bottom Layer: 2 tablespoons Reese's Pieces + 2 tablespoons candy corn. (To make this easier, I used a 1/4 cup measure filled halfway with Reese's Pieces and halfway with candy corn)
  • Middle Layer: 1 & 1/2 cups caramel corn (I used a mixture of both caramel corn recipes in each treat bag)
  • Top Layer: 1 cup (about 8) chocolate-drizzled pretzels
Tie each treat bag with an orange, black, or purple ribbon. Use treat bags as currency to buy the affection of your coworkers, neighbors, and friends!

Makes about 12 treat bags.


Chocolate-Drizzled Pretzels

12 cups pretzels
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Working 4 cups at a time, arrange the pretzels in an even layer on a piece of parchment paper.

2. Melt the chocolate chips by heating them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Transfer the melted chocolate to a pastry bag or a gallon-size plastic storage bag.

3. Cut about 1/4" off the end of the filled pastry bag. The hole should only be big enough to comfortably squeeze the chocolate through. Always err on the side of cutting the hole too small; you can always make it bigger!

4. Drizzle the chocolate over the pretzels by gently squeezing the pastry bag and making a zig-zag pattern. Immediately top with Halloween sprinkles.

5. Allow the chocolate to set for 2-3 hours. To ensure that the pretzels don't stick together and the chocolate doesn't smudge, place the pretzels in the freezer for about 10 minutes before assembling the treat bags.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

German Vanilla Cupcakes


So, they're not the most beautiful cupcakes I've ever made. But the colorful leaves helped, right? Please tell me they helped.

When I took these over to my parents' house (because I was too embarrassed to bring them to work), I actually left a note that said "They taste better than they look!" so my dad wouldn't be afraid to eat them.

The idea for these cupcakes was born from my love of that dubious looking coconut pecan topping. I wanted to find something other than german chocolate cake (which, as it happens, has nothing to do with Germany) to put it on. And since my favorite cake-frosting combination is vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream, I thought that would be a good place to start.



You might not be able to tell from the pictures, but my experiment was a success. There are a lot of flavors going on--vanilla, chocolate, coconut, caramel, pecan--but they manage to complement each other really well. I used Martha Stewart's vanilla cupcake recipe, which wasn't bad by any means, but I'm still searching for the ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe. Let me know if you have one I should try!

In other news, I did a cupcake decorating demo at the Tacoma Holiday Food & Gift Festival for the cupcake shop I work at earlier this week, and now I'm completely in the holiday spirit. It's taking everything I have not to create a Christmas station on Pandora. Instead, I've resorted to listening to this way more than I'd like to admit.

It's a situation.

German Vanilla Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart, Brown Eyed Baker, and Betty Crocker

For the cupcakes:

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk

For the chocolate buttercream:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 & 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
3 ounces milk chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

For the coconut pecan topping:

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg yolks
1 & 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:

1. Prepare the coconut pecan topping. In a medium saucepan, stir together the brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat for about 12 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool for at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the cupcakes. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter for about one minute at medium speed. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar. Beat the butter and sugar for about two minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the vanilla, and continue mixing until totally incorporated.

4. Reduce the mixer's speed to low, and alternately add the dry ingredients and milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for one minute at medium speed.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the lined muffin cups, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for about five minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the chocolate buttercream. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes. Reduce the mixer's speed to low, and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once the sugar is mostly incorporated, add the melted chocolate and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed for about two minutes, or until light and fluffy.

7. To assemble: Frost the cooled cupcakes with a swirl of chocolate buttercream and top with one to two tablespoons of coconut pecan topping.

Makes about 12 cupcakes

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins with Spiced Crumb Topping


You knew it was only a matter of time before the onslaught of pumpkin recipes began, right?

For the past five days, I've been struggling to think of some words to write about these muffins that would convince you that you need to try them. Here's what I came up with:

Pumpkin. Cream cheese. Muffins.




Convinced?

While these were baking, I may or may not have occupied my time by swiffering the floor while listening dancing and lip syncing to songs like this, this, this, this, and this.

I know how it is. You're not going to click on every one of those just to find out how ridiculous I really am. But at least click on the second to last one. Trust me. Then you can wonder along with me how something like that was EVER cool.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For the muffins:

1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling:

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

For the crumb topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

1. Make the filling by combining the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl and stirring until smooth. Scrape the mixture out onto a piece of plastic wrap at least 12 inches long. Form the mixture into a 12-inch log, wrap tightly, and freeze for at least two hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

3. Make the crumb topping by using a fork to combine the flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and melted butter in a small bowl.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar, canned pumpkin, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a spatula just until completely combined.

5. Remove the cream cheese filling from the freezer and cut it into 12 one-inch pieces. Divide the muffin batter evenly among the muffin cups. Press one piece of the cream cheese filling into the center of each muffin, then sprinkle each muffin with about one tablespoon of the crumb topping. Gently press the topping into the batter to ensure that it sticks.

6. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center muffin comes out clean. Cool muffins in the pan for about five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 12 muffins.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Buttercream


Something exciting happened to me last week.

More exciting than usual, I mean. And when I say "usual", I think we both know that I mean watching 90's TV shows on Netflix and making iPhone videos of my dog.

Anyway. The exciting thing: my friend asked me to make a cake for her sister's wedding reception! I was shocked, honestly. And flattered. Even though I bake all the time and constantly barrage my Facebook friends with pictures of said baked goods, it never occurred to me that someone would actually want me to make something for a legitimate social occasion.

I was tempted to say no at first. I mean, it had only been two weeks since I had finally accomplished my new year's resolution to successfully assemble and frost a layer cake for the first time. But I didn't say no. I said yes. And as much as I hate complimenting myself, I have to say that I'm pretty proud of how it turned out:


I think I could have spent all of eternity trying to make the frosting completely smooth on the top and sides. Never going to happen.

After working so hard to make this cake perfect, I wasn't in the mood to make anything complicated this week. I just wanted something simple. Something that tasted like fall. Something that I could put brown sugar frosting on. Obviously.

Something = sweet potato spice cake.

The only time I really eat sweet potatoes is at Thanksgiving. Candied sweet potatoes, specifically. The potato part of which, let's face it, is just a vessel for brown sugar. Kind of like this cake.

The flavor of the sweet potatoes is very subtle once the cake is baked, but it pairs perfectly with the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice that really give this cake its flavor. In my opinion, this cake tastes best slightly chilled. The brown sugar frosting, although completely delicious, can be overwhelmingly sweet at room temperature.

Then again, maybe you like that kind of thing. Do what feels right.


And yes... I do normally eat cake right next to my living room window. With pine cones nearby.

Sweet Potato Spice Cake
Adapted from Epicurious

3-4 sweet potatoes
2 & 3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Pierce sweet potatoes several times with a fork. Microwave on high for about 16 minutes, turning the potatoes over halfway through. All the potatoes to cool, then peel and mash them.

2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously coat a 13x9-inch pan with nonstick spray. 

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Measure out 2 cups (about 15 oz) of mashed sweet potatoes into a large bowl. Add the sugar and vegetable oil to the sweet potatoes and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. 

4. Add the eggs to the sweet potato mixture two at a time, mixing well after each. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients; mix just until combined. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Brown Sugar Buttercream
Adapted from Food Network

This recipe will make quite a bit more frosting than you'll need for this cake, so feel free to halve it. You know, unless you trust yourself enough to feel comfortable having a bunch of extra brown sugar frosting around the house.

3 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar

1. In a microwave-safe container, whisk together 1 cup butter, heavy cream, brown sugar, white sugar, and vanilla. Microwave in one to two minute intervals until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly. Allow to cool completely.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining 2 cups of butter for about two minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the of the cooled brown sugar mixture and beat one minute more. With the mixer running on low speed, add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time. Once the sugar is fully incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2-3 minutes or until the frosting is smooth and creamy.

P.S. Did you notice the new page I added called "How to Measure"? It's there to help you convert volumetric measurements to weight measurements! Trust me, all the cool kids are doing it.

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