Monday, January 30, 2012

Slightly Less-Molten Lava Cakes

I love get-togethers. PID loves wrestling. Put those together and you get a last-minute Sunday night get-together to celebrate WWE's Royal Rumble pay-per-view.  An odd party to say the least, but one we had to prepare for. PID was satisfied with chips and pretzels but you know me, I just gotta bake!

I've been wanting to take a crack at a molten lava cake ever since I swooned over the one I had at Morton's The Steakhouse two Valentine's Days ago. I decided last night was the perfect opportunity to give them a shot.

Here's what you'll need for the cakes:

8 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. sugar (with a little extra for sprinkling)
6 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

Begin melting your chocolate in a double boiler (or I simply use a glass bowl on top of a steaming pot)

Pre-heat your oven at 400 degrees.  Spray a muffin-tin generously with Baker's Joy until fully coated.  Then, sprinkle the tins with sugar, discarding excess.

Cream your butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Begin adding your eggs, one at a time then gradually add your flour and salt, scraping the sides of the bowl until fully incorporated.

Once your chocolate is fully melted and smooth, mix it into your batter on low.

Evenly fill 12 muffin tins and bake for approximately 12 minutes.

Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, then turn your tin up-side-down, turn your cupcakes right-side-up and dust with confectioner's sugar.

I allowed mine to bake a LITTLE too long (about 14 minutes).  Because every oven is different I advise keeping a close eye on your mini-cakes. If the center of the cupcakes begin to peak, turn down your heat or immediately remove.

Though my over-baking mistake meant mine didn't ooze with gooey chocolate, they were still completely delicious!  I ate two that night and they were almost completely gone by the end of the evening.  Semi-success and one that I plan to turn into a full success next chance I get.

Let me know how your attempt goes and if you have any tips for further perfection!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Daily Happy #10

The little things...

Almost four years ago I was searching for the perfect accessory for a Halloween costume and I stumbled upon an adorable pair of white convertible mittens at...wait for it...Target (cue angel choir).

I wasn't really in the market for new mittens - I just needed "paws" - but these puppies had opposable fingers AND thumbs and from that point on, I pretty much never wore anything else in cold-weather months.

This love affair came to an abrupt end about a month ago when left mitten went rogue and left me behind on the 51L.  I was devastated. The hunt for replacements began immediately and, to my surprise, to no avail. There were plenty of adorable fingerless, hand-knit gloves on Etsy and a plethora of semi-convertible mittens, well, all over the internet.  But none had the stinkin' convertible thumb! I gave up.

Until last Friday morning when I found myself scraping off my windshield, fingers-a-freezin'. I re-instituted my search that day and finally found a pair of hideously colored completely convertible mitts from Eastern Mountain Sports. But did I seriously want to incorporate "deep grass green" into my winter wardrobe? I certainly did not. After some digging I found they DID sell a white color, but had none in stock online. So I called the manufacturer and asked if they had any idea when they might have a pair in, say, a size small. Ten minutes later I got a return phone call telling me a store in Vermont just happened to have ONE last pair in their inventory...and it was mine! 

Tonight I came home to find my fabulous new mittens waiting for me on my doorstep!

(big props to Jasper for providing an adorably furry backdrop)

HOORAY!  Now I can text, pick things up, open up plastic packaging on DVDs and anything else imaginable, all while my hands are comfy-cozy and warm! PID poked some fun at my over-reaction to their arrival, but I say it's the little things (like an opposable thumb) that can make for happy little moments.  They don't have to be material things. In fact, they rarely are. There's a pair of "perfect mittens" out there for everyone. You just have to let yourself find them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Daily Happy #9

The unwavering love of a canine...

There are few things more uplifting than the enthusiasm which emanates from deep within my dog's bones the moment he realizes I'm finally home from work. Rarely do I feel more wanted, more needed or more loved than I do when he greets me (and all of my imperfections) with abounding excitement and his Pleepleus.

He is such a significant part of the reason I live and breathe. He is my light. My heart. My furry little son.

Am I being over dramatic? A little weird? I don't think so. Not one bit.

Thank you, Scout, for reminding me every single day that I am loved. And remember, it's reciprocated. Ten fold.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chocolate Avocado Honey Mango Cupcakes

For a while now I've been trying to dream up a way to incorporate avocado into a cupcake recipe.  I've somewhat recently become an avocado fanatic attempting to weasel it into every salad, sandwich, hot dog, chip dip, fish filet and general savory dish on my radar.  But cupcakes are my thing. So as avocados slowly become my... other thing... I thought it was time to give it a shot as an ingredient.

I'll warn you, this adventure was riddled with trial and error and even after my third go, I still feel it has room for improvement. But at least it was a start.

I had originally intended to simply make my chocolate chili cupcake until I did some digging online and found a recipe at using mashed avocado in place of butter.  It may not be any fewer calories, but it's a way to substitute good fats for bad and certainly added to the "avocado-yness" of my cupcake.  So I made a few tweaks and gave it a shot!

If you've never pitted an avocado, I'll give you a brief tutorial. Stand the avocado right-side up and slice around the pit. When you have your slit, simply grab each side of the fruit in the palms of your hand and twist!  It should pop right in half.  When it does, you can remove the pit by (CAREFULLY!) slapping the thick part of your knife blade against it, so it sticks.

Then simply twist and pull and the pit will come right out!

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:

2 squares unsweetened (Baker's) chocolate
1/4 c. cocoa
1.2 c. boiling water
1 fully ripe avocado
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, room temperature -- 2 full, 1 yolk
1.5 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1 tbs. potato starch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. plain yogurt (or Greek yogurt or sour cream)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together your flour, baking soda, baking powder, potato starch, salt and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

Place your chocolate squares and cocoa into a small bowl and pour in the boiling water, stirring until the chocolate is melted together and smooth. Set aside.

Cream your avocado on medium-high until smooth like butter, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl and mush large chunks.  Add sugar and eggs, one at a time and continue to cream on medium-low.

Add in your chocolate mixture, then gradually begin to add in your dry mixture - alternating with the yogurt and vanilla until fully incorporated.

Fill 12 baking cups and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Now I played with a few options for the frosting. At first, I tried to completely substitute avocado for butter as I had in the cake batter, but for reasons I can't explain, the frosting was more like a glaze and adding more confectioners only made it like glue.  Literal glue.  Check this out:

So I tried again, this time only using half an avocado and 1/4 c. shortening to level the playing field - and it worked!

So here's what you'll need for the frosting:

1/2 fully ripened avocado
1/4 c. shortening
2.5 c. confectioners sugar
1/8 c. heavy whipping cream
Juice from 1/3 of a lime
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt

Begin by creaming your avocado and shortening on high, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl and mush out any chunks.

Next, gradually begin adding your confectioners sugar 1/2 c. at a time, stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl as you go. Alternate your sugar with your whipping cream, vanilla and lime juice as you go.

Continue whipping on high until your frosting reaches a desirable consistency.

The cupcake toppings were an adventure all their own.  I knew the cupcake needed something more and sprinkles just weren't going to do the job. PID suggested crushing lime infused tortilla chips to complement the chili pepper and avocado flavors.

It wasn't terrible, but it just wasn't right.

So I whipped up a batch of mango-scented chocolate ganache.  I'll tell you how I made it, but it wound up not doing the trick. There was too much chocolate...if you can believe that.

8 oz. bitter sweet chocolate
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 tbs. butter
1/8 c. mango rum

Boil 1 c. of water in a small pot.  Place your chocolate in a glass bowl and set it on top of the boiling water, allowing it to melt.

Meanwhile, heat your heavy whipping cream in a skillet until it begins to bubble. When it does, pour it on top of your chocolate, removing from heat and allow it to set without stirring for 1 minute.

Add your butter and mango rum and stir until all incorporated.

I glazed one of my cupcakes with it before icing, then drizzled it on top.  But it just didn't give it enough depth. I still had work to do.

I happened to have one leftover mango in the fridge, so I sliced it and pureed it, simply placing that on top of the cupcake.  I tried it and it was better...but still missing SOMETHING. So I opened my cabinets and stared...and stared...and stared. Then finally it hit me.  I drizzled a little bit of honey on top of the mango and voila! It was a perfect combination of flavors.

The cake recipe turned out to be a little dry, so the juiciness of the mango and stickiness of the honey wound up giving it some much needed moisture and texture.  And the avocado frosting was surprisingly delicious!  The lime juice really helped to call out the creamy flavor of the avocado.

I'll work to perfect the cupcake recipe and when I do I'll update!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Salted Caramel Pretzel Cupcakes

This week's props have got to go to the fine folks at Burgatory Bar who inspired my most recent cupcakeventure.

PID and I celebrated yet another anniversary this past week and (being the super-amazing doll that he is) he surprised me with Penguins tickets to celebrate!  We strategically planned to head to the arena early so we could check out the Burgatory satellite shop on the upper level. And it turned out to be a pretty darn good idea.  We each had the Morty's Steakhouse burger and shared a Caramel Pretzel shake.  I loved the burger, PID thought it tasted reminiscent to meatloaf, but we both instantly became obsessed with that shake. 

There were tiny chunks of real pretzel to give it a surprising (in a good way) texture.  I immediately knew I wanted to be a copy cat and put this delicious combination of salty and sweet to the test in a cupcake. And so I did.

I was a little nervous to give them a shot -- I had high expectations after that amazing shake and I didn't want to come out disappointed.  But I have to tell you, PID and I both agreed that these are some of the best cupcakes I've made. Ever.  And now it's your turn.

Here's what you'll need for the cupcakes:

1.5 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tbs. potato starch
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 eggs, room temperature -- 2 whole eggs, 1 yolk
1/3 c. plain yogurt (or Greek yogurt or sour cream)
1.5 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp caramel flavoring -- or -- 1/8 c. caramel sauce
1 c. crushed, salted pretzels (reserve about 1/8 cup for garnish)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Start by sifting together all of your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and potato starch) into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream your butter and sugar, then add your eggs one at a time. Add your vanilla and continue to cream on low.

Gradually begin to add your dry mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, alternating spoonfuls of yogurt and your caramel flavoring until they've all been integrated.

Stop mixing and add your crushed pretzels, gently folding until evenly dispersed in your batter.

Fill 12 baking cups 3/4 of the way full (or I use an ice-cream scooper as measurement) and bake on the middle rack for 18-20 minutes.

Test with a toothpick, which should come out clean when they are done.

Here's what you''ll need for the buttercream:

1/2 c. butter-flavored shortening
3 c. sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. caramel flavoring -- or -- 1 tsp. caramel sauce

And for the decor:
Caramel sauce
Sea salt
Reserved crushed pretzels
12 mini pretzels

Start by creaming your shortening on medium-high speed and gradually add in your confectioners sugar, 1/2 c. at a time (you'll want to use the lid on your electric mixer if you've got one!).

After adding about 1.5 c. of sugar, pour in half of your whipping cream, salt, vanilla and caramel flavoring.

Continue adding the rest of your confectioners sugar, followed by the rest of your whipping cream, salt, vanilla and caramel flavoring.

Whip on high for 2-3 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl intermittently.

Frost your cupcakes (I use a piping bag, but you can fill a gallon ziplock bag and cut the bottom corner OR frost traditionally with a butter knife).

Drizzle caramel sauce on top of your frosted cupcakes, then sprinkle sea-salt and remaining crushed pretzels on top, finishing off with a whole mini-pretzel!

So if you find yourself in need of a salty-sweet fix like I did, set aside 50 minutes of your day and whip up a batch of these delicious Salted Caramel Pretzel Cupcakes. I promise you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Daily Happy #8: Adorable Organization

When it all comes together...

After a solid month (or more) of holiday chaos, PID and I dedicated this weekend to regaining some order in our lives.  We took action in more ways than one, but one of my tasks actually turned out to be...wait for!

We're plagued with a lack of storage in our humble cape cod.  Though we recently invested in a kitchen redeaux to gain more counter space (yip!), we unfortunately gained no cabinet space. As a baker, I've got an excess of flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar and every other ingredient under the sun. Because of this, I've noticed recently that we've been shoving boxes and bags in a somewhat (ok...totally) unorganized manner into any space we can find which leaves us clueless on what we have/don't have. So today, I set out to find a solution.

I found myself at Busy Beaver staring at a mile-high wall of storage solutions, but nothing was really clicking.  I kept perusing when I caught sight of an unlikely fix -- cases of mason jars stocked well beyond my reach, yearning to be purchased.  And so I did.  And so my organization solution was born.

Here's what you'll need to put together these adorable little storage containers:

  • Quart and/or pint-sized mason jars (tip: do the math before you shop, then get a few extra just in case!)
  • Ribbon (about 8-10" per mason jar)
  • Multi-colored card-stock (cut into 2.5 x 2" pieces)
  • Fiskars pattern scissors
  • Craft glue
  • Permanent marker
  • Hole punch

Start by taking an inventory of all of your "jar-worthy" cupboard items and make a list.  Once you've got it, cut your lighter-colored cards ever-so-slightly smaller than the darker color cards. Then write out each item in as fancy or plain a way you'd like.

Next you'll simply trim the edges with your Fiskars patterned scissors, glue the lighter cards on top of the darker cards, punch a whole in the upper left-hand corner and trim the edges of the darker card (be sure to punch the whole first or you might cut off too much space).

Next, cut your ribbon into 8-10" pieces and feed a piece through the hole in your card, front to back, then tie them onto your jars! 

I found it easier to label each jar BEFORE filling them -- it kept me in line.

The process was a little messy, but once it was all over I loved what I saw! It really streamlined my cupboards and gave my entire kitchen a more put-together feel. 

Not only were these cute little mason jars a great way to keep my cupboards presentable and organized, but they're an extremely cost-efficient alternative to purchasing pricey decorative dry-ingredient containers.  

After a night of crafting I can't wait to do it again -- but I could use some suggestions of how to make it worth my while! What are some of your favorite DIY projects?  

Happy organizing!