Recipe: Butterscotch Crème Brûlée

I have a hard time figuring out what to bake sometimes. There's just SO. MUCH. OUT there. Love the internet, but damn, the oodles and oodles of recipes can be overwhelming. How does one even choose? For me, I'm a very visual person so often times it's the photographs that draw me into a recipe <pretty colors! shiny lights!>, sometimes it's the sheer number of good reviews it gets and other times it's simply the name of the recipe. My process goes something like this. Once I figure out the specific dessert I want to make, I usually put in a good amount of research before deciding on the recipe. Maybe I'll find a handful via Pinterest or maybe it's just from random online research. After that, the hemming and hawing process beings. Even after all the research, the recipe could suck, or I screw up the execution of it. Poopie. I'm definitely my hardest critic, but I've learned that it's not the end of the world if I bomb a recipe. It's only dessert! I'm not saving lives here!

When I heard my dad wanted me to make butterscotch créme brûlée for his birthday, I forgoed my usual process and literally went with the first recipe listing I found on the web, and called it a day. Sometimes, a girl gets lazy. Lucky for me, it turned out pretty good. Plus, I got to use a blow-torch for the first time which was awesome.

Butterscotch Crème Brûlée
Recipe from Chef Jamie
Yield: 8 servings, 6-ounce ramekins.

Ingredients
1 cup whole milk
4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for caramelizing
12 large egg yolks
1 cup brown sugar

Directions
1.  Place eight 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups in the bottom of a deep roasting pan. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
2.  Place the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat while stirring with a wooden spoon. The sugar will begin to melt and lump. Continue stirring until the sugar starts to turn golden. Chop up large lumps of sugar into smaller pieces with the end of the spoon. They will dissolve as the sugar caramelizes. Stir until the caramel is a deep gold/brown color. If there are still a few lumps it is of no concern, they will be removed when the custard is strained.
3.  When the sugar is golden brown in color remove the pan from the heat. Slowly pour in the cream and milk, a few tablespoons at a time at first, while stirring constantly to keep the sugar from seizing up and turning into hard ribbons. Note: Use caution when you pour the cream-milk mixture into the sugar. Do not place your face directly over the pan and be conscious of where your hands are. The steam rising form the pan can cause a serious burn. After the cream mixture has been added place the pan back on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and caramel in color. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Place the oven rack on the lowest rung. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk the yolks and brown sugar together lightly. Bring the cream mixture back to a boil. Pour it in thirds over the eggs while whisking constantly. Strain and skim off the air bubbles from the surface of the custard.
4.  Pour the brulee into your cups or ramekins to fill 1/4-inch below the rim. Pour enough hot, not boiling water, into the roasting pan to come up three-quarters up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards in the preheated oven on the low oven rack, covered with a piece of parchment paper until set, 30 to 40 minutes. To test to see if the custard are done, jiggle one gently with your hand. They are done if the custard is set in all but the very center, a circle about the size of a dime. Pro Tip: Same jiggle test I used for my Pots de Creme recipe. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath. Cool the custards before placing in the refrigerator, uncovered, until they are completely cold. Then cover tightly with plastic until ready to serve.
5.  To caramelize the brulees, sprinkle the top of each with 1 tablespoon of granulated or superfine sugar. Roll and tap the ramekin to spread the sugar evenly on the surface of the custard. Use a blowtorch or a broiler to brulee the sugar just until it has melted and turned golden. Be careful not to curdle the custards when using a broiler. (See blow torch tips below).

Blow torches are a crowd pleaser

Blow Torch Pro Tips:
•As you torch, move in circle motions. It doesn't have to be fast movements, just don't hold it in one spot for awhile or else you'll burn the sugar.
•Your flame should be a few inches away from the brûlée. I cranked mine to high and as the gas ran out, I moved in closer to the brûlée.
•After 10 seconds or so, you should start to see the sugar melt and form bubbles.
•When are you done torching? When the sugar is melted and the majority of it is a nice golden color.

Recipe: Compost Cookies

Terrible name for a cookie, I know. You won't care after you taste them though, because they will KNOCK your socks off. I heard about Compost Cookies from my sister's friend who swears by them and happens to be an avid baker as well. I first tried one when my sis wisely brought back five of them from the said friend's house. The dear offered one to me and I scarfed two without breathing. These cookies hit on all the right things: crispy, salty and sweet. I taste notes of caramel and brown sugar along with pockets of salty goodness. The texture is outta control too. It's one of the tastiest cookies I've ever had. Believe it. The recipe comes from a legit place too: the cookbook of the famous NYC bakery Momofuku Milk Bar. Christina Tosi, the chef/owner of Milk Bar, gave the cookies this name because it's made up of a hodgepodge of her favorite snacks: chocolate and butterscotch chips, potato chips, pretzels, graham crackers and coffee. She says "My brother-in-law calls them 'garbage cookies'; others call them 'kitchen sink cookies.' Call them what you want, and make them as we make them at Milk Bar, or add your own favorite snacks to the cookie base in place of ours."

One thing to note, some of the ingredients aren't commonly found in grocery stores, such as "glucose," but luckily Amazon seems to have them. I've included links for the challenging ones.

Compost Cookies
Recipe from Momofuku Milk Bar (I recently acquired this book for my burfday, thank you sister!)
Yield: makes 15 to 20 BIG cookies (see picture below to get an idea of scale)

Ingredients - Compost Cookies
225 g (16 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
150 g (2⁄3 cup tightly packed) light brown sugar
50 g (2 tbs) glucose
1 egg
2 g (1/2 tsp) vanilla extract
225 g (1 1⁄3 cups) flour
2 g (1/2 tsp) baking powder
1.5 g (1/4 tsp) baking soda
4 g (1 tsp) kosher salt
150 g (3/4 cup) mini chocolate chips
100 g (1/2 cup) mini butterscotch chips
1/4 recipe (1/2 cup) Graham Crust (recipe below)
40 g (1⁄3 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
5 g (2 1/2 tsp) ground coffee
50 g (2 cups) potato chips (Cape Cod is what's recommended)
50 g (1 cup) mini pretzels

Ingredients - Graham Crust (you only need 1/4 of this recipe. I just halved the recipe.)
190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tbs) sugar
3 g (3/4 tsp) kosher salt
55 g (4 tbs) butter, melted, or as needed
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream

Large and in charge

Directions - Graham Crust (you only need 1/4 of this recipe. I just halved the recipe.)
1.  Toss the graham crumbs, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl to evenly distribute your dry ingredients.
2. Whisk the brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream together. add to the dry ingredients and toss again to evenly distribute. the butter will act as a glue, adhering to the dry ingredients and turning the mixture into a bunch of small clusters. the mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand. if it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons) butter and mix it in.
3.  Eat immediately, or deploy as directed in a recipe. the crust is easiest to mold just after mixing. stored in an airtight container, graham crust will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or for 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

Directions - Compost Cookies
1. 
Combine the butter, sugars, and glucose in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes. (See page 27 for notes on this process.)
2.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. (Do not walk away from the machine during this step, or you will risk over mixing the dough.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
3.  Still on low speed, add the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, graham crust, oats, and coffee and mix just until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the potato chips and pretzels and paddle, still on low speed, until just incorporated. Be careful not to over mix or break too many of the pretzels or potato chips. You deserve a pat on the back if one of your cookies bakes off with a whole pretzel standing up in the center.
4.  Using a 2 3/4 oz ice cream scoop (or a 1/3 cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature— they will not bake properly.
5.  Heat the oven to 375°F.
6.  Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be very faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center. Give them an extra minute or so if that’s not the case. Pro Tip: Mine took 16 mins. Always start a few mins under the recommended time when baking. Every oven is different! I pulled a rookie move and overcooked my first batch because I went with 18 mins. Dummy.
7.  Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or an airtight container for storage. At room temp, cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

Tips from Christina: In a pinch, substitute 18 g (1 tablespoon) corn syrup for the glucose. For the “coffee grounds” in this cookie, we tested the recipe with freshly roasted and ground artisanal coffee from Stumptown as well as with crap-tastic coffee grounds that you can find just about anywhere. We discovered that it doesn’t make a difference what kind you use; the cookie is delicious every time. Just make sure you don’t use instant coffee; it will dissolve in the baking process and ruin the cookies. And, above all else, never use wet, sogalicious grounds that have already brewed a pot of coffee. We use Cape Cod potato chips because they aren’t paper-thin, and so they do not break down too much in the mixing process.

An Insider's Tip: The Perfect Cupcakes and Muffins

I appreciate useful shortcuts of any kind in life. Cliff Notes, for example, were a godsend in high school (sorry Shakespeare, you got Cliffed). Also, keyboard shortcuts, they're so money, ammi right designer friends? <nerdy laugh>

Here's a great baking "shortcut" that I got from my friend's mom years ago that I love and use whenever I'm working with a regular sized muffin/cupcake pan. The process of scooping the batter into the pan tends to be a pokey, messy process. My least favorite part is trying to proportion out each cup equally. "That one is near over-flowing, oops...and that one looks low so lets add an extra spoonful....blah." It's a bit annoying. Here's your solution: snag a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop fully with the batter and pour into cup. It's the perfect amount (2/3 full) every time. BAM.

Now go put that 1/4 cup to good use and make some cupcakes this weekend!

Recipe: Cocoa Brownies for a Brownieholic

My very desserty friend just got matched for residency. Hugely exciting, so to show my congratulations, I made him one of his most favorite desserts: brownies. As I mentioned in my Chocolate Chip Cookie Hunt post, he's actually eaten a WHOLE pan of brownies in the middle of the night because he couldn't resist...or stop himself once he started. I mean...who DOES that? Brownieholics, that's who. The first step is admitting you have a problem, buddy. Just sayin'.

Can we take a hot minute to appreciate the adorable plate I got for my Birthday? It's like a little me, but cuter and Frencher.

I found this quick n' easy recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and may I just say, that chick is a shark in the kitchen!

Best Cocoa Brownies
Recipe from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet
Yield: Makes 16 larger or 25 smaller brownies

Ingredients
10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65 grams, though some brands may weigh more) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or a heaping 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (75 grams) walnut or pecan pieces (optional...skipped this because I like my brownies sans nuts)
2/3 cup chocolate chunks or chips (optional, but I love brownies with bonus choco pieces inside so I definitely did this)

Directions
1.  Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil.
2.  Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added. Pro Tip: I made this really easy by nuking it in the microwave for 20 seconds (or until butter is mostly melted), stirred, back in for 30 secs, stirred, back in for 30 or so, until it's hot.
3.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
4.  Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion mine took at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Pro Tip: If you're antsy-pantsy, toss the pan in the fridge or freezer for a while to speed things up.
5.  Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Have a glass of milk handy, because you're going to need it.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies

Nutella is officially my favorite condiment, but peanut butter takes a close second. When I found this recipe, I couldn't not make it (was that a double negative? Shrugs). I mean, why wouldn't I pair my two <condiment> loves together and win at life? This is my second time making these and they are a synch to make. They come out soft and chewy and you may eat 5 before you even know what's happening.

Peanut Butter Nutella Swirl Cookies
Recipe from Sweet Tooth
Yield: 40-45 cookies

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (my PB of choice when baking)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup Nutella (plus 1 tablespoon to sample...quality control people)

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  In a medium bowl, beat together butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3.  Add in the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just combined.
5.  Microwave Nutella for 20 seconds and then drizzle over the dough. Fold in Nutella with a spatula until well-distributed throughout the dough.
6.  Chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes and then roll small balls by hand.
7.  Place about an inch apart on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and use a fork to press down the balls slightly. Pro Tip: My ball layout was 6 balls x 4 balls...and that's the first and probably last time I'll ever say "ball layout" in my life.
7.  Bake until the edges are lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Pro Tip: Mine took 6.5 mins, 8 mins+ made them too dry, but it really depends on your ball size <insert joke here>.
9.  Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 2 minutes, and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Nutella-marbled

Forked

Ready to be consumed in 3, 2, 1...

Recipe: Birthday Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting

A few weekends ago, a good friend of mine turned the big 3-0, so a Birthday Cake was in order. She requested a classic: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I debated between a few recipes, but ended up going with this one because the frosting sounded divine, and easy as sin (the directions: throw all ingredients into a food processor and blend. Done).

So I ran into a few snafus while making this cake, to put it lightly.

First snafu: I overcooked the two layers slightly. Which lead to a game-time decision: should I make two new layers, stick with the two sub-par layers, OR...get crazy and make a four layer cake?! The last option was just too tempting, so I went for it, balls out. Pro Tip for next time: Bake a few mins below the recommended time to avoid over-cooking.

Second snafu: the cake layers weren't flat, even though I bought these damn things. After I stacked and frosted the layers, my cake looked like the leaning tower of fail. Sigh. Pro Tips for next time: 1. Drop cake pan(s) several times a few inches above countertop to even out batter and get rid of bubbles. 2. Use cake strips again, but soak them really well in water before applying to pan. 3. Rotate pans halfway through bake time.

Last and certainly not least snafu: the cake decided to play a fun game of slip 'n slide on the cab ride over to the party. Fricken frackin! What used to be "the leaning tower cake," was now "Jenga cake." Once I arrived to the party, I quickly greeted the birthday girl and scrambled to the bathroom to try to take care of my little "situation." With the help of a friend, we slid the cake back into place, touched up the frosting and it became a passable cake again. Luckily, the cake tasted tasty and that's all that matters....right guys? And the frosting...it was so yum, I wanted to take a bath in it. Pro Tip for next time: Let frosting harden by sitting for a few hours before transport (overnight is best) to avoid cake-sliding.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting
Recipe from Sweetapolita
Yield: One 3-layer, 8-inch round cake or one-2-layer. 9-inch round cake

Ingredients – Cake
4 whole eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (360 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (4 g) salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Ingredients – Frosting
Yield: Makes about 5 cups
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Directions – Cake
1.  Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, butter the rounds and dust with flour.
2.  Put the eggs and yolks in a medium mixing mixing bowl, add 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Whisk to blend well.
3.  Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixer bowl; whisk to blend. Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients and with the mixer on low, blend together. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
4.  Add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the side of the bowl and mixing only until thoroughly incorporated.
5.  Divide batter evenly among the prepared pan (if you own one, use a kitchen scale to ensure 3 even layers). Bake the cake layers for 28-32 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.

Directions – Frosting
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

As my mom would say, "this was a good learning experience." My biggest regret is that I didn't snap a friendly pic of my Jenga cake. Que lastima!

Baking at Altitude

My baking ego took a few blows this weekend. I'm OK guys, don't worry. I'm confident I know why it happened and who the culprit was to blame. His name is altitude and he's a real a-hole. A group of friends and I were spending the weekend in Tahoe and all I wanted to do was satisfy them with a few tasty treats, but altitude had another thing coming: failure. Am I being too hard on altitude? Perhaps. Or perhaps he's 99.9% to blame.

So yes, apparently baking is a bit challenging when you're six-thousand feet up. I knew this, but thought it only really affected the baking time and temperature. Nope. Couldn't have been more wrong. After bombing two of my desserts that a few of my friends choked down as a courtesy, I had to redeem myself before I gave this blog a bad name (too late). I did some research the next morning on baking at altitude and found an abundance of confusing, frustrating information. Every kind of item you bake, whether it be cookies, cakes, bars, pies, etc. have different "rules" and suggestions. For example, if you're making cookies, one source says you need to:

• Decrease butter or shortening (2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup) if cookies spread too much
• Decrease sugar slightly if cookies spread too much (amount depends on size of batch and other ingredients)
• Increase liquid by 1 to 2 Tbsp only if dough is too dry and cookies don’t spread
• Increase flour (starting with 1 or 2 Tbsp) if cookies spread too much
• Increase bake time by 1 to 3 minutes
• Decrease bake time by 1 to 2 minutes

Huh??

My studies concluded to this: baking in altitude is a complete crap shoot and you need to set aside a day for trail and error. I unfortunately didn't have the patience for this nonsense, nor did I have the time. I had to nail my next dessert on the first try.

Enter food blogger: Katie Goodman of Good Life Eats who lives at altitude. This dear has already done the hard part for me. Katie, thank you for saving my dignity and the tiniest (non-existent) reputation that I had. I made her Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting and luckily, they didn't suck.

Vanilla on Vanilla

Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Good Life Eats
Yield: 18-20 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 large egg whites, room temperature
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients – Frosting
Side-note: this makes a ton frosting so don't be shy with it
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to maintain the bright white color)
1 ½ pounds (24 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the racks in the center position. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Set aside.
2.  In a large bowl combine both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.
3.  In a medium bowl whisk together the milk, sour cream, and egg whites. Set aside.
4.  Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or use a hand mixer. Add the butter, sugar and vanilla to the bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes, or until light. Scrape the sides as necessary.
5.  Add the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture while beating on medium speed, again scraping the sides as needed. Beat in half of the sour cream mixture. Alternately add the remaining flour mixture and sour cream until all the wet and dry ingredients have added, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth.
6.  Use a large scoop (about 3 tablespoons), evenly divide the batter between 18 lined muffin tins filling each about 2/3 of the way full.
7.  Bake for 15-24 minutes (Pro Tip: Mine took 13 mins), or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter and vanilla bean seeds. Beat until fluffy. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add the confectioners' sugar while continuing to beat.
2.  Once well blended, add in the vanilla and 4 tablespoons heavy cream or milk. Mix on low speed until well combined and moist. If desired, an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until your desired consistency is reached. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

And that my friends, is why it royally blows to bake at altitude. For those of you who want to try it, I recommend "cheating" and finding a recipe that has already been tested successfully. If not, I hope whoever you're feeding enjoys piss-poor desserts. : )

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Big news. I just discovered a recipe that one-ups my famous Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars. They're named Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars (similar name, different levels of deliciousness). I feel bittersweet about this discovery because the PB Choco Chip Bars hold a very special place in my heart, but dammit these new bars are simply, just better. How can this be, you ask? Well, these have more butter, peanut butter and chocolate chips in it, and a bonus layer of ganache on top. They don't have baking soda/powder in it too so they're more dense, almost brownie-like. So I guess my other recipe didn't really stand a chance. PB Choco Chip Bars...I still love you, but lets just be friends.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: Makes roughly 32 bars, depending on how you cut them

Ingredients – Bars
2 sticks (1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar
1 cup (255 grams) creamy peanut butter (Pro Tip: I used Skippy Natural, don't use the kind you have to stir first)
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)

Ingredients – Ganache
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Pro Tip: bittersweet chocolate chips work great too for a more grown-up taste

Directions – Bars
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack in middle. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan, then line bottom of pan with parchment paper and butter parchment.
2.  Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until mixture is light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce mixer sped to low, then mix in flour until just combined.
3.  Mix in chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) then spread batter in baking pan, smoothing top. (It will be thick, almost like cookie batter.)
4.  Bake until brownies are deep golden, puffed on top and a wooden pick inserted in center come out with some crumbs adhering, 40 to 45 minutes. Pro Tip: Mine took 37 mins. Start lower than you think and tack on a min at a time if it's not done.
5.  Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 1/2 hours.

Directions – Ganache
1.  Put chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) in a heatproof bowl.
2.  Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan, then pour over chocolate chips and let mixture stand for one minute.
3.  Gently whisk in butter until it is incorporated, chocolate is melted, and a smooth mixture forms.
4.  Spread ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 15 minutes. Best if made the day before.

Have a glass of milk handy, because you're going to need it.

Recipe: Romantical Chocolate Hazelnut Pots De Creme

My first Valentine's Day with my boyfriend (now hubs) was slightly dreadful. Not the company of course <shifty eyes>, but it was the whole Valentine's Day experience. We had reservations at a French restaurant and when we waltzed in, we noticed that the place was chalk full of couples...wearing pink and red...and we were one of them. We were living in a cliché and frankly, I was kinda grossed out. We were squeezed into a table, side-by-side with the couple sitting next to us, and served a below average, rushed meal. We couldn't wait to get outta there. Never, never again, we told ourselves. Since then, we've done much better usually staying in for the night, avoiding pink and red in our faces.

Remember Valentine's Day back in elementary school? It was definitely more acceptable to be clichéy...and there was more candy and crafts too. We had to give everyone in class a Valentine card and it was a delicate process figuring out which Valentine/candy hearts went to whom. You never want to give someone the wrong impression with a too forward candy heart ya know.

For this Valentine's Day, the husband is out of town for work, but I'm luckily spending it with my girlfriends. I've made us Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme by the domestic goddess Martha Stewart, mostly because I'm obsessed with choco hazelnut right now and I've never made pot de creme. It should pair nicely with the RomCom I've picked out too.

Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme
Recipe from Martha Stewart
Yield: Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon hazelnut-flavored liqueur, such as Frangelico
Whipped cream, for serving

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bring half-and-half just to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes.
2.  In a large bowl, stir together yolks, vanilla, cocoa, salt, and liqueur if desired. With a fork, stir chocolate mixture until smooth, then gradually stir into yolk mixture. Pour through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup.
3.  Place 4 custard cups or ramekins (3 to 4 ounces each) in a shallow roasting pan, and divide chocolate mixture among them. Pour hot water into the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of cups. Pro Tip(s): Line a towel on the bottom of the pan to keep the ramekins from sliding. Also, have a tea kettle ready with the hot water and pour in with the pan pulled out on the oven rack.
4.  Bake until custards are almost set in centers, about 30 minutes Pro Tip: How to know when it's done? Jiggle test- grab a ramekin and hit the side, if it jiggles and then stops right away, then it's done. (custards will firm as they cool). Carefully remove cups from hot-water bath; let cool slightly. Yet another Pro Tip: Use a spatula to lift the ramekins out of the pan.
5.  Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate. Just before serving, dollop with whipped cream, if desired.

The result? I was pretty happy with how it turned out. My only disappointment was that I couldn't taste the hazelnut at all. I think I'll try to work in some finely chopped hazelnuts into it next time.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours!

Dessert Guilty Pleasures

Dessert guilty pleasures. We've all got 'em. Sometimes they originate from childhood, sometimes they sprout out of no where. I'm talking about that one dessert you're embarrassed to love. You may or may not feel shameful about it, but it exists and you're mostly ok with it.

What's mine? I've gotta go with ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins (or as I like to call it, Raskin Bobbins). The first time I had it was probably at one of my single digit birthday parties at the local bowling alley. I probably brattily insisted that my slice had to have the pink rose in it too. My favorite flavor is Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake. Last year, my hubs got me this exact cake for my birthday and I just about died. Kept it cool on the outside of course, but was as giddy as a school-girl on the inside.

Time to out some people's DGPs (dessert guilty pleasures). Lets start with my sister's: vanilla Costco cake with vanilla frosting, more specifically, the corner piece because it has the most frosting. I admit, it's pretty tasty, if you like average cake. My other sister's is Ding Dongs. I literally just saw a pack of these on her kitchen counter yesterday. #noshame My husband's DGP is Betty Crocker's yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Not bad, but not good. My coworker's is chocolate/vanilla Costco frozen yogurt. The irony is that she doesn't have a membership but has somehow managed to get her fro-yo on. She told me she was denied only once for lack of a membership, which drove her to tears. Apparently it had been a long, bad day and all she wanted was a happy little $1.25 Costco fro-yo. Long story short, she ended up driving to the next nearest Costco, which was an hour away, and was luckily able to fulfill her hankering.

A few others I've heard: Nutella by the spoonful (ok, but who hasn't done that), Hostess Powdered Donettes (craptastic!), Nutrageous (hello 80s candy bar), and lastly a friend insisted that all dessert is a guilty pleasure <shakes head>.

Ok, now that I've shared mine, and outted several people's, what's YOUR dessert guilty pleasure? I promise not to mock you...much.

Recipe: Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting

Don't ask me why, but I looked up the definition of "cupcake" and here's what I found:

cup·cake [kuhp-keyk]
noun
1. a small cake, the size of an individual portion, baked in a cup-shaped mold.
2. Older Slang
a. a sexually attractive young woman.
b. a beloved girl or woman.

Well hello definition number two. Can't remember the last time I've heard someone call a chick a "cupcake," but I think we should bring this back. Discuss amongst yourselves.

My definition would be more like this:

cup·cake [just sound it out you yammo]
noun
1. A three bite, pretty, miniature cake that tastes like happiness consumed often by a tall ginger.

I find it quite hard to say no to cupcakes. Especially these Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting. I first made these for my Guinness-addicted friend's birthday a few years ago, and they were well received. I made these again for a work bake sale this week and apparently, they sold like hot cakes. The cake is super super moist and may I just say that chocolate and Bailey's just belong together. They're the loveliest of pairs.

Side Note: For transporting these beauties or other cakes/cupcakes, I use this cupcake/cake carrier. I'm kind of in love with it.

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from food.com & grouprecipes.com
Yield: 24-30 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cake
1 cup Guinness
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Ingredients – Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 pinch table salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar (ProTip: I used 3 cups so they weren't overly sweet)
3 tablespoons Bailey's
1 tablespoon milk

Directions – Cake
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F Grease cupcake tins, or fill with paper liners.
2.  Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and add the sliced butter. Heat until the butter is melted and remove from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
3.  In a separate bowl, beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla.
4.  Add the sour cream mixture to the Guinness mixture in the saucepan.
5.  Beat in the flour and baking soda.
6.  Divide the batter evenly amongst the cupcake cups. Bake 19-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out mostly clean.
7.  Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In a bowl of stand mixer, cream butter until very light and fluffy. On low, add salt, and slowly add confectioners sugar. Add a couple of spoonfuls at a time until it has all been absorbed into the butter.
2.  Add Bailey's and milk until spreadable consistency is achieved.

Review: Three Twins Ice Cream

When my BF (now hubs) and I moved in together, we were stoked to discover an ice cream shop two blocks from our new place. "This could be very, very dangerous" I recall saying to him. The shop was Three Twins Ice Cream, and we were excited to see what it was all about. After waltzing into the hard to miss lime green shop for the first time, it didn't take long for us to fall madly in love with the shop and their ice cream. Three Twins was founded by Neal Gottlieb, his twin Carl, and his twin's wife Liz, hence the clever name. Their ice cream is organic (how very San Francisco) and they kindly donate one percent of sales to land conservation initiatives through 1% for the Planet. Eat delicious ice cream for a good cause = reason to never feel guilty about eating ice cream again. I'm game. Also, if you're feeling really generous (and hungry), you can order the World's Most Expensive Ice Cream Sundae, that clocks in at $3,333.33. When I win the lottery, this may or may not be one of the first purchases I make...I mean...how could you not be curious about this?!

Naturally, we became regulars here in no time. We loved trying each of their creative mash-up of flavors such as Chocolate Orange Confetti and Lemon Cookie. YUM. My personal favorite is Sea Salted Caramel, which I like to pair with Chocolate Malt or Madagascar Vanilla <cue drooling>. Pro Tip: If you are going for a two scooper, I recommend you ask someone working there for a suggestion. They're the pros, after all. My hubs has many a time gone rogue and paired up flavors that create a questionable combo-bite. Order wisely my friends.

A few months after we discovered our precious spot, we were crushed to hear they had to close due to damage caused by a fire in one of the apartments over the shop. They said not to worry and that the repairs should only take a handful of months. Two years later...(which was a long painful ice cream-deprived wait), they opened their doors again, which are a boring grey now, but we didn't care. It was like Christmas when we happily skipped over to the shop's re-opening night. We giddily placed our order, after a sample or five, and felt complete again.

Hook yourself up with a double scoop at one of these shops and thank me later, or if you're feeling lazy, grab a pint at a SF grocery store (most have Three Twins), or if you're the laziest of lazy, order some pints online.

Overall Rating: 5 Ice Cream Cheers'

A Very French Holiday

Photo Credit: thecooksatelier.com

This year for Christmas and New Years, my hubs and I decided to ditch 'Merica and go to France! It was a lovely lovely trip that involved road trips through the French countryside, village hopping, putting regular gasoline in a diesel car, and copious amounts of bread, foie gras, cheese, bread, dessert, wine and bread. I did a top-notch job of carb-loading. After spending Christmas in Paris, we made our way down to the small town of Beaune and partook in a cooking class taught by The Cook's Atelier (The Cook's Attic). It's run by a mother/daughter team who are absolutely adorable. We heart them. They celebrate the connection between the farmer and the cook through their hands-on cooking classes. Their story, in a nutshell, is they both used to live in the states, but moved to France after the daughter fell in love with the country and a Frenchman. The mom is a trained chef and pastry chef (a girl after my heart) and the daughter is trained in viticulture a.k.a. wine (again, a girl after my heart). After gathering our ingredients at the local market, we dove into cooking. I knew the dessert was going to be something special (did I mention pastry chef?!) and it did not disappoint. We made something I've never tackled before: an apple tart. So French, right? It was a several step process, but not as challenging as I thought it would be. Simple ingredients and not overly sweet. They kindly let me make most of the dessert, after I told them about my dessert-fiendness, It was fun and looked so pretty, as French tarts often do. Their delicious recipe follows. I can't wait to make this again!

Photo Credit: my hubs

French Apple Tart
Recipe from The Cook's Atelier
Yield: Pâte Sucrée makes enough for 2 tarts; Apple Filling: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients – Pâte Sucrée (pastry dough)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter
Whisk the cream and egg yolks together in a small bowl.

Ingredients – Apple Filling
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced into even 1/8-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

for the apple purée
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled cored and diced
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Directions – Pâte Sucrée
1.  In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter on medium speed until you have a coarse meal. Gradually add the cream and yolks, and mix until just combined. Do not overwork the dough.
2.  Transfer the dough to a large work surface and bring it together with your hands to incorporate completely. Divide the dough in half, shape into a 1-inch-thick discs, and wrap one of them to freeze and use later.
3.  If the dough is too soft, put in the refrigerator for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up a little. If the dough is manageable, place it on a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and roll it out into a 1/4-inch-thick circle, flouring as necessary.
4.  Starting at the one side, roll and wrap the dough around the rolling pin to pick it up. Unroll the dough over a 10-inch tart pan. Gently fit the dough loosely into the pan, lifting the edges and pressing the dough into the corners with your fingers. To remove the excess dough, roll the rolling pin lightly over the top of the tart pan for a nice clean edge, or work your way around the edge pinching off any excess dough with your fingers. Chill for 1 hour.

Directions – Apple Filling
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2.  Line the tart pan with the pâte sucrée. Prick the bottom with a fork and line the shell with parchment. Fill the lined tart with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 15 minutes until the edges are set and lightly browned. Take the tart out of the oven and carefully remove the parchment paper and dried beans.
3.  To make the apple purée, put the diced apples, vanilla bean pod, sugar and butter in a saucepan with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Cook gently, stirring often until soft, adding more water if necessary, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Using the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean, then discard the pod.
4.  Transfer the mixture to a food mill or mash with a fork until smooth.
5.  Heat the butter in a sauté pan and gently sauté the apple slices to coat them in the butter until just softened.
6.  Spread the purée evenly in the partially baked tart shell. Carefully arrange the apple slices in a neat circle around the edge. They should be tightly overlapping but not squished together. Depending on the size of your tart pan and the apples, you can repeat to create an inner circle or just fill in the center in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle over a tablespoon or two of sugar.
7.  Bake in the preheated oven until just browned and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraîche or Calvados spiked whipped cream.

Photo Credit: my hubs    •    Sift powdered sugar over each piece for a pretty presentation.

From this...I declare that this year will be the year of the tarts! First step is to buy a tart pan. Wish me luck.

Thanksgiving Desserts Part One and Deux

My apron of choice.

One of my family's Thanksgiving traditions is to make a crap-load of desserts. I'm talking, at least 7 desserts. Fo real. We don't mess around either, my mom and I team up and we conquer the desserts, one at a time. You should see us in action. We start first thing in the AM, tie on our aprons in sync, cue the Christmas music (it's acceptable this close to December) and it's go-time. She kindly takes on the roll of the reliable sous-pastry-chef and dishwasher while I take on the role of pastry chef diva.

This year, I jetted to Boston first to celebrate Thanksgiving early with my in-laws. They've adapted nicely to my dessert fiendness and happily join in on the dessert making. This year, we made PB Chocolate Chip Bars (see previous blog entry for the recipe), Mini Pecan Pies, Grandma's Special- Pistachio Whipped Cream Angel Food Cake Heath Bar Parfait (there's gotta be a better title for that), Croissant Pudding with Whiskey Sauce, Pumpkin Ice Cream, Vanilla Heath Bar Ice Cream and Apple Crisp. They were all delish, but the standout was, in my humble opinion, the Croissant Pudding! That recipe had me at "croissant." This is basically bread pudding, but better because it's with croissants. I've never made bread pudding before- for some reason, it always seemed very daunting to me. Luckily, it was far from that. Honorable mention goes to my mother-in-law's Apple Crisp. I'm such a sucker for it.

Croissant Pudding...hello lover...

Croissant Pudding with Whiskey Sauce
Yield:
8 servings

Ingredients – Pudding
6 large croissants, sliced in half lengthwise
8 large eggs
1 cup granulated white sugar
3 cups cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Ingredients – Sauce
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup Irish whiskey or bourbon

Directions – Pudding
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.
2.  Layer the croissants in pan, making sure entire surface is covered, with no space between the slices.
3.  Whisk eggs and sugar together, and blend well. Whisk in the cream and vanilla.
4.  Slowly pour cream mixture over the croissants, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid. Push down the croissants with the back of a spoon so they absorb more of the liquid.
5.  Set baking pan into a larger shallow pan or baking dish, and pour hot tap water into the outer pan, until the level reaches halfway up the side of inner pan.
6.  Place on center rack of oven, and bake until pudding is just set, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and remove the inner pan from outer pan.

Directions – Sauce
1.  Beat the egg yolks and sugar in large bowl until pale yellow. Add whiskey and beat until well combined.
2.  Transfer mixture to the top of a double boiler, or a heatproof bowl set over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium high heat until the mixture is thick and creamy.
3.  Whisk just before serving. To serve, place a slick of the pudding (warm or chilled) on a plate, and drop with sauce.

My sister-in-law's husband modified the drizzle recipe or, some would say, he went rogue (he simply used melted vanilla ice cream) but it was darn tasty. I'm definitely making this recipe again.

Thanksgiving Desserts Part One

My adorable nephew sous-chef

The setup is key!

Next up, Thanksgiving Part Deux at the Thompson household. My mom and I, as I mentioned earlier, did our thing and made 6 of the 7 desserts: PB Chocolate Chip Bars (appetizers), Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake, Classic Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting, Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Pumpkin Cheesecake and Apple Pie. My hubs made the 7th which was another round of the Vanilla Heath Bar Ice Cream, but this time with a hot fudge swirl. Such a damn showoff. Everyone's favorite, of course, was the husband's dessert (PISH POSH!). Honorable mention goes to the Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe from All Recipes & Martha Stewart
Yield: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup white sugar
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant butterscotch pudding mix
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients – Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 24 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners. Whisk together the flour, pudding mix, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, allspice, cloves, and crystallized ginger in a bowl; set aside.
2.  Beat the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Add the room-temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin puree with the last egg. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.
3.  Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy.
2.  Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Overall, 'twas a successful dessert Thanksgiving. The only flop we had was that we didn't grease the pan well enough for the chocolate cake so half of it decided not to come out (see below). We tried to patch it together with the frosting, but it was a hot, hot mess. Luckily, it still tasted good and, in my humble opinion, that's all that matters.

Happy Holiday baking friends!

Thanksgiving Desserts Part Deux

Recipe: Chunky Apple Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Fancy froster again, FTW

I was recently given the challenge to come up with a recipe for a Chunky Apple Spice Cupcake with not-so-sweet Cream Cheese Frosting. "It has to have CHUNKS of apple in it...don't forget the CHUNKS!" my dessert challenger said. After much research, I started with one of Martha's (Miss Stewart and I are on a first-name basis) recipes but added in my own flair. Sidenote: These would make a bomb.com Thanksgiving dessert too...

Chunky Apple Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients – Cupcakes
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pounds Pink Lady apples, 2 cups coarsely shredded, 2 cups chopped
(bite-sized)

Ingredients – Frosting
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions – Cupcakes
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla.
2.  Reduce speed to low; mix in apples. Add flour mixture; mix, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until just combined.
3.  Fill lined cups halfway with batter; bake until tops are springy to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from tins; let cool on a wire rack.
4.  When completely cool, frost cupcakes and store in fridge.

Directions – Frosting
1.  In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy.
2.  Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

The chopped apple gave it great texture and I'm kind of in love with the frosting. I'm definitely going to reuse the frosting recipe for a Thanksgiving cupcake I'm making tomorrow (deets on that to come next week). I'm pleased to report, my dessert-challenger was darn happy with them too. : )

Recipe: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

"Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars." These badboys are as amazing as they sound. I had to make them as soon as I discovered the recipe over a decade ago in my mom's cookbook "All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed Baking Book" by Judy Rosenberg. Best. Cookbook title. Ever. I whipped up my first batch for Thanksgiving and my family went absolutely nuts for them. They now insist that I make them for every Thanksgiving and Christmas or else they'd disown me. Well, they never said that last part, but it's mostly likely true. My cousins don't even call them "dessert," they instead call them "appetizers" because they can't wait to eat them until dessert. I like this recipe because clearly it's a crowd pleaser in my family, but mostly because it's a quick, simple recipe. Win-win!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
Recipe from All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed Baking Book
Yield: 30 bars (depends on how big you cut them)

Ingredients
1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour (these measurements sounded odd to me too, but they need to be precise)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup commercial smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I overflow my cup)

Directions
1.  Preheat over to 350. Lightly grease an 11x17-inch baking pan with butter or vegetable oil (note: I used an 8x8 for thicker bars).
2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium-size mixing bowl and set aside.
3.  Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter, peanut butter, both sugars, and the vanilla until light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
4.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed until partially blended after each addition, about 10 seconds. After the last addition, beat until blended, about 30 seconds, stopping the mixer twice to scrape the bowl.
5.  Add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix with a spatula until the flour is absorbed. Then mix on low speed until blended, 7 to 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl, especially the bottom.
6.  Add the chocolate chips and blend for several seconds. Scrape the bowl. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
7.  Bake the bars on the center oven rack until the edges are deep golden and the center is lightly golden and slightly puffy, 25-30 mins (these taste much better undercooked!) The center will drop when the bars are taken out of the oven. Cut the bars into squares after they have cooled a bit on the rack.

Chewy texture, perfect ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. Enjoy!

Happy Thanksgiving Baking everyone!

Thompson Sibling Dessert Drink Challenge (Guest Writer!)

Courtney's Brother – Guest Writer

To the loyal readers of Courtney’s Dessert Blog:

A few weeks ago I posed a challenge to my siblings. We would all come up with a dessert drink and the winner would get top billing in Court’s dessert blog, a prestigious honor filled with full bragging rights. And it is with great pride and enthusiasm that I would like to announce that I am officially the winner of the Thompson Sibling Dessert Drink Challenge.

After being absolutely robbed for first place in Court’s birthday dessert competition a few years ago I’ve felt beaten down and was in despair. It wasn’t like I made this fantastic version of bananas flambé that got beaten out by my oldest sister’s age old family cake that could easily be served at a retirement home. But whatever, I’m not bitter or anything…So, I came into last Friday’s battle ready to get after it. I knew competing against all of my sisters would be a dubious task, but I felt that I needed redemption, and redemption is exactly what I would have.

The stakes of the competition were simple. Each sibling would have to make an adult flavored dessert drink. Aside from that, anything went. Our drinks were graded based on presentation, aroma, texture and taste, straight top chef style. In the week leading into the competition I spent a handful of time researching dessert drinks. I found several recipes I felt would get me competing for the top prize, but none that stood out as clear cut winners. It wasn’t until I was driving home from work that the prized concoction came to me.

If you are unfamiliar with the Thompson sisters, they are a savvy bunch of ladies, and after years and years of devouring gourmet desserts they’ve all got a refined pallet. As competitors, my oldest sis has a knack for getting into the hunt no matter what the competition is, my second oldest sis is as sharp as a tack and can never be counted out. Courtney, my younger sis, as we all know, is practically like a bloodhound when it comes to desserts.

For my drink I began thinking about one of my favorite ice cream flavors, sea salted caramel, and then it hit me while I was stuck in traffic on the 680 listening to some JT. I would combine a scoop of sea salted caramel gelato, add in some milk, and then top it off with Baileys and some caramel liqueur. I know what you’re asking yourself, and yes it’s true, caramel liqueur does exist and can be purchased at a nominal fee at your local BevMo.

At the competition my eldest sis came in strong out of the gates with her drink, “The Angry Leprechaun.” And let me tell you the name says it all. This little doozy will get you feeling good and buzzed with just a single serving! After a couple you may very well feel like tossing on a green hat and pants and start dancing around the room to an Irish jig. What it lacked in flavor it made up for in strength. A pretty nice blend of Jamison and whatever else she had in it.

The Angry Leprechaun
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients
1 part Jamisons
2 parts Baileys

Directions
Stir, pour over ice

Court was up next with her drink, “Hot Buttered Rum” and let me just say that I expected a little more out of my baby sister. I mean, Court is a well refined, married woman nowadays. I expected her drink to reflect her new level of calmness and maturity, but wow, her drink very politely put looked like a glass full of dinosaur vomit (I put that in bold so you can really get a visual). Perhaps she should have titled it, “Barney’s Barf.” It was some awful combination of brown sugar and booze. My little pooch Bacardi didn’t even want anything to do with it.  

Hot Buttered Rum & Carmel Crush

Hot Buttered Rum
Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, softened 
2 cups light brown sugar 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg 
Pinch ground cloves 
Pinch salt 
Dark rum
Boiling water 

Directions
1.  In a bowl, cream together butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Refrigerate until almost firm.
2.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the butter mixture into 12 small mugs.
3.  Pour about 3 ounces of rum into each mug (filling about halfway).
4.  Top with boiling water (to fill remaining half), stir wall and serve immediately. 

I came in next with my delightful beverage which I titled, “Caramel Crush.” A wonderful blend of the ingredients, again listed below, and let me say the judges, aka my parents and my brother-in-law, really took to it. I knew right away I was in the running.

Caramel Crush
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients/Directions
1.
 Scoop of Sea Salted Caramel Ice Cream
2.  Some Milk
3.  Rip of Baileys
4.  Nip of Caramel Liqueur

My second oldest sis had the evening night cap, and being half drunk at this point, I had no clue where the judge’s heads were at. After a glass or two of wine, my dad is just as likely to start imitating a pirate much less decipher a game winning dessert drink and my mom, who has been on an absolute re-decorating binge at my pad, was probably more concerned researching ways she can make it more bachelorpadish. As it went down, my dear sister came in with not one but two drinks! #teacherspet She made these delightful looking drinks she called the “Boozy Affogato.” One had chocolate ice cream, coffee liqueur and hazelnuts and the other was a mix of vanilla ice cream, Limoncello and macadamia nuts. You go girl! I was sweating it pretty hard after my sister's drinks were brought to the table, but thankfully the taste factor went to me, but wow, she really brought the heat. Amazingly enough she didn’t even come in second! Sorry sukka, better luck next time. Maybe you should have brought an apple for the judges?

The Angry Leprechaun & Boozy Affogato

Boozy Affogato
Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients - Chocolate Shots
3 cups chocolate ice cream
3/4 cup coffee-flavored liqueur
Whole hazelnuts

Ingredients - Vanilla Shots
3 cups vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup lemon-flavored liqueur
24 whole macadamia nuts

Directions
1.  Place a small scoop of ice cream in each glass. Top with 1 tablespoon liqueur and 2 nuts. Serve immediately.

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening and if you’ve never busted out a dessert drink competition with your family, I’d highly recommend it. Let me just say that my mother is hell bent on having another contest in the near future where she can get in the mix.

To cap off my guest post all I have to say is, Caramel Crush for the win. I hope everybody reading this has a fantastic Turkey Day filled with fun, family and my award winning beverage.

The Scorecard & Birthday Funfetti Cake (note the classy candle)

Recipe: Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting

Finally got to try out my new fancy froster! Frosting has never been so easy. 

We had a fierce Halloween "spookify your cube" contest at work last week that I sadly did not win. I put in a D-level effort though, so I wasn't surprised in the least. Although, when I first heard about the contest, I was going to turn my cube into a scene from "The Birds," but quickly vetoed that when I found out fake black crows cost $2-$3 a piece and I wanted my cube to be bombarded with those buggers (you can't half-ass a scene from that movie, you've gotta whole-ass it)!

The cube deccs were to be judged by a handful of higher ups, including the CEO of our company, Williams-Sonoma (shit just got real). My angle was to bribe the judges, so I stayed up until 12am making Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting that I hoped would dazzle them. I dressed up as a "baker" (again, D-level effort) and brought in two dozen cupcakes. Truth be told, I actually did dazzle one of the judges- the CEO. I was told she was raving about my cupcake and said she "wanted to steal me for Williams-Sonoma." I'm not exactly sure what she meant by that (who cares! It's the CEO!), but I'll take that as a high compliment.

Baker, Vinny, Witch & French Spider (James & The Giant Peach) 

If you're looking to impress a CEO or someone as charming as Vinny (see above), make these. Note: I frosted half with raspberry buttercream frosting, for variety, but truth be told, I fell madly in love with the Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting. It's amaze. Other amazing things: my NEW and fancy froster! Swoon.

Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting
Recipe from Sweetapolita
Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients - Cupcakes
5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature|
1 whole egg
1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces

Ingredients - Frosting
3 sticks + 2 tablespoons (375 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
3 cups sifted (475 g) confectioners' sugar (icing, powdered)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped (Note: You can eliminate the vanilla bean and use a total of 1-1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.)
1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Directions - Cupcakes
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line muffin tins with liners.
2.  In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
3.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the "stir" setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
4.  Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it's cold (you can keep some in refrigerator while you're adding pieces). Continue to mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add milk, and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (You want to ensure that the batter is homogenous.) Fold once or twice to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated. Note: I don't own a Kitchen Aid, so I used a hand mixer and really wanted to find the person who invented this recipe so I could punch them right in the jugular. Yes, this part was time-consuming.
5.  Fill cupcake lined pan, each 3/4 full. ProTip: I like using a 1/4 measuring cup to scoop.
6.  Bake until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center, about 17-20 minutes ProTip: start with the lowest time, test with toothpick and adjust accordingly if needed.
7.  Let cool on racks for 15 minutesish or until completely cool before frosting.

Directions - Frosting
1.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed (I use "4" on my KitchenAid). Butter will become very pale & creamy. Note: I used a hand-mixer which worked just fine.
2.  Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes. Frosting will be very light, creamy and fluffy. Best used right away. Pro Tip: If you hate, hate frosting bags like me, get this and thank me later.

50 frosted cupcakes later... 

Some snapshots from Halloween night...

Michael Jackson (note the crotch grab), Baberaham Lincoln (oh yes I did) and Katy Perry (notice that Katy is covered in dessert)

Katy Perry, Peacock, Moose, Skunk & "Ghostly Gal" 

Top Gun (rocking Abe's beard) & Man with Ginger Mullet

Recipe: Iced Pumpkin Cookies

So the next thing I know, I'm married and it's almost November. What?! Time flies when you're in a wedding tornado, I tell ya. Now with the wedding behind me, I have MUCH more time on my hands to do important things like finish up season 2 of Homeland (holy crap that was one heck of a season finale!), partake in happy hours (hi wine! I've missed you) and BAKE (nice knowing you wedding diet)! Yes, I'm back in the saddle my friends. Since it's Fall and all, I decided to make something with gourds because that shit is so seasonal. Cue Iced Pumpkin Cookies. This is a nice straight forward recipe, no fancy moves in this one. This would also make for a fabulous Thanksgiving dessert (speaking of Thanksgiving, somebody needs to tell Macy's that Christmas is NOT the next Holiday).

Iced Pumpkin Cookies
Recipe from All Recipes
Yield: Makes 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients – Cookies
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients – Icing
2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
1. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.
2.  In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of  butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly. Pro Tip: I skipped the flattening part.
3.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies, then drizzle glaze with fork. Note: Mine took 12 mins on the nose and I love me some glaze so I spread small dollops on each cookie with the back of a spoon for a better glaze to cookie ratio.
4.  To Make Glaze: Combine confectioners' sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed, to achieve drizzling consistency.

photo cred: my hubs

I’m in love with my cookie scooper. It completes me.

Half tempted to close this with a line from McSweeney's article, but I'm afraid I'll offend someone...so I'll go with the PG version:

Welcome to autumn, yammos!

Our Wedding Cake

A little over 3 weeks ago I partook in the best day of my life. No, not a day spent at an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet (great guess), it was my wedding day <cue awws>.  While I could easily talk (write?) your ear off about the wedding, I instead want to hone in on the wedding dessert highlight: the cake. I posted awhile back about the cake tasting, courtesy of the lovely Amy, that knocked my ankle boots off and holy cow did Amy deliver on the wedding cake. When I first laid eyes on the cake, it was, frankly, love at first sight. I mean, check this beauty out.

The two flavors we chose were: (top two layers) chocolate espresso cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and (bottom layer) golden yellow cake with orange zest with vanilla buttercream frosting. Needless to say...I had 3 slices throughout the night.

Amy, thank you again for making us a stunning and ridiculously delicious wedding cake

Had to be done. You can see the slight guilt on my face.