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Red Velvet Cupcakes

I remember when I was a little girl, decorating Christmas cookies.  We had rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, those little silver balls that crunch and break your teeth, and colored sugar..  As I decorated, I would toss a handful of sprinkles in my mouth.  A little for the cookies, a little for me.  I got to the red sugar, and tossed a good teaspoon full in my mouth.  It was so bitter!  I ran for the water and tried to rinse out my mouth.  I spit mouthful after mouthful of red colored water in the sink, and vowed never again to stick anything in my mouth that had artificial red dye in it.

It’s been many years since then, and Red Velvet Cupcakes have become a popular flavor.  I love the idea of chocolate cupcakes, and I love cream cheese frosting, so the only thing keeping me from Red Velvet would be the full bottle or two of red dye that most people dump into the batter.  It hasn’t always been this way.  Historically, Red Velvet got its coloring from beets or non-alkalized cocoa, which has a natural red color.  I figured in this era, where basically any ingredient can be found on the internet, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to find non-alkalized cocoa.  Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention and picked an alkalized cocoa, thought it did claim to have a natural red color.  I ordered the Cocoa Rouge off http://www.guittard.com/.  There are many other brands out there that are legitimately non-alkalized and will turn red when mixed with the buttermilk, so next time I’ll make a better effort to research the product first.

For my recipe I was going to use the normal Red Velvet recipe, but then found that far too many used very small amounts of cocoa, only 1 or 2 tbsp.  So instead I used a base chocolate cake recipe, with some cake flour to give it a softer, velvetier texture, and only egg whites to keep the yolks from altering the red color.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 stick (12 oz.) butter
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. cake flour
  • 1 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

First, make sure all your butter, eggs and buttermilk are room temperature.  Beat the butter and sugar together with a mixer until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the egg whites, one at a time.  Then add the buttermilk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, regular flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Then gradually mix together the wet ingredients and dry ingredients until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the cake batter into 24 cupcake cups.  I found some red cupcake cups at a craft store that compliment the color nicely.  Bake at 350 degrees approximately 20 minutes.

I stored the cupcakes overnight in the fridge before frosting them.  Unfortunately I don’t have a good frosting recipe.  I used 12 oz. cream cheese, 6 oz. butter (both room temperature) and just added powdered sugar until it was a good consistency.   Then I used a quart plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe nice little spirals of frosting onto each cupcake.  The cupcakes need to be stored in the fridge after frosting as well, so make sure you’ve got plenty of room for 2 dozen cupcakes in there!

The cupcakes turned out with a delicious chocolatey flavor, a velvety texture, and the cream cheese frosting was a perfect compliment.  I think when I try again though, I’ll probably make a few changes.  I think I’ll try adding a tsp. of baking powder, since the cupcakes were a little dense, and I think the buttermilk would have provided enough acidity to make them rise nicely.  I also think using a different cocoa might have helped bring out a more distinct red color to the cupcakes.  I’ll try to find something legitimately non-alkalized, like Dagoba.

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Star Wars Pancakes

I bought the set of 3 Star Wars pancake molds from Williams-Sonoma and was very excited to try them out.  I was hoping that they would turn out as well as the cookie cutters I bought.  The set comes with a storm trooper, Darth Vader and Yoda.  The set also comes with a pancake recipe, which I’ll print here.  I can imagine a lot of people probably threw away their cookie and pancake recipes thinking it was part of the packaging.

Star Wars Pancakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c. sifted flour
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

The directions on the recipe don’t say so, but I always mix the butter and sugar first, then the eggs and the rest of the liquid ingredients.  Lastly I add the flour, powder and soda that have been sifted together, and mix just until the lumps are gone.  I found after the first batch, that the pancakes work better with thinner batter.  I added about 1/4-1/2 cup extra buttermilk to the recipe.

I tried to grease up the pancake molds the best I could.  I coated the entire inside with an oil-covered paper towel, and made sure the pan was also well oiled.  Despite these precautions, the batter stuck all over the pancake mold.  It was a real mess.  The storm trooper turned out pretty poorly.  In addition, the small handle that sticks up that you use to handle the pancake mold gets really, really hot.  I’ve had another one for years, a star, and it’s got a small wooden end on the handle to keep from burning your fingers.  I had to grasp the handle with a pot holder to keep from burning myself.

I tried again with Darth Vader, using even more oil on the pancake mold.  Again I had terrible luck trying to get the batter from sticking all over the pancake mold.  The end result, again, was a mess.  I think I was overfilling the mold too, which is why I started using some thinned-down batter.  I didn’t try with Yoda, it just seemed like too much work with no reward.  I was going to wait a week, think about the issue, and come back at it all with some non-stick spray.

 

 

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I stopped at the Williams-Sonoma at the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh 2 weekends ago and found a bunch of really cool Star Wars supplies.  I ended up buying 2 sets of cookie cutters, a Darth Vader spatula, a set of 3 pancake molds, and a lunchbox with 2 sandwich cutters in it.  The lunchbox we haven’t used yet; my son eats school lunch and I like to bring an insulated lunch bag with giant Pyrex containers inside, which wouldn’t fit in a lunch box anyway.  I don’t suppose we’ll get much use out of the lunchbox, but it’s still cute.  The sandwich cutters are in the shape of a tie fighter and Millenium Falcon.  My son was impressed the first time I made his sandwich with it, but it made for a lot of extra sandwich “scraps” he wouldn’t eat.

It was the cookie cutters I was the most impressed with.  I didn’t realize until I got them home that they actually press designs into the cookies as well as cut them out in different shapes.  I bought both of the sets they had there, so now I have 8 cookie cutters total.  The cookie cutters also come with a recipe:

Star Wars Cookies

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. butter (12 tbsp.)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Basically follows the same directions as most cookie recipes; mix the sugar and butter first, then the egg and vanilla, then the sifted dry ingredients.  They suggest chilling the dough 2 hours to 2 days, rolling it out, and baking the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

I didn’t like that there was no rising agent included, so I used a similar recipe that uses 1 tsp. of baking powder as well.  I bake my cookies at 400 degrees for 7 minutes and I like the results I get.  Perhaps someday I’ll follow their recipe exactly, but I was really happy with the way my cookies turned out.

Despite the fact that my cookies did rise more than their recipe would have, all the cookies maintained their pressed designs.  They were tasty and beautiful.  My only complaint is that the Death Star makes for a very large cookie, bigger than I normally like.  The Yoda was more my size.

I think I’m most happy with the cookie molds, and I would recommend buying these over the other Star Wars items that Williams-Sonoma was selling.  I think they’d be even cooler if I would have taken the time to ice them along their lines to make them colorful and sweet.

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Yeah, I used a box cupcake mix and premade frosting again.  It’s been another busy week and I just wanted something good for Halloween.  I’ve been addicted to those dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s and just wanted to incorporate them into some other kind of dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of dark chocolate fudge cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 bin dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s

I mix the eggs, butter and peanut butter together first.  Then I add the milk and mix according to the directions on the package.  The cake batter can be spread out to approximately 36 or more cupcakes, because the peanut butter cup in the middle will take up some space.  Only fill the tin about 1/2 full.  Then unwrap the peanut butter cup and place it in the center, pushing down only enough so that it sticks in the middle.  If you push the peanut butter cup down too far into the batter it will end up just making a mess at the bottom of the cupcake.

Bake approximately 21-22 minutes at 350 degrees.  The peanut butter cup will sink while baking.  By the time it’s done baking, the peanut butter cup should be completely hidden inside the cupcake.

After the cupcakes are cool, frost with a rich, dark chocolate or fudge frosting.  Then enjoy!

 

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I made this today for brunch, and it tasted great.  I’m still not sure what sort of dipping sauce might be appropriate.  This recipe is for 2 servings, 1 quesadilla each.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium tortillas
  • 12 crushed almonds (pecans would also work well in this recipe, but I prefer almonds)
  • 1/3 apple
  • one 4 oz. slice of ham
  • 2-3 oz. Fromager D’Affinois (or other very soft brie), w/o rind
  • 2-3 oz. shredded cheddar/jack mix
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup
  • cooking oil

Crush approximately 12 almonds (or pecans if you want).  Slice your 4 oz. ham into small pieces.  Then slice up about 1/3 of an apple into small pieces.   On medium heat, melt the butter and a tbsp. of oil.  Toss in the ham, apple and almond and stir.  It’ll take about 5-10 minutes to fry up, stirring about every 2 minutes or so.  About halfway through cooking, add the 1 tbsp. maple syrup.  Make sure you use 100% maple syrup and not “table syrup”, because flavored corn syrup won’t give it the same flavor or caramelization.

Ham, apple and almonds are about ready

While your ingredients are cooking, fold the tortillas in half to get a good seam down the middle.  Spread your brie over 1/2 of each tortilla.  You may have to purchase more than 3 oz. of brie to get the required soft parts you’re looking for.  The rind of brie is great with chardonnay though, so save the rind for later.

When your ham, apple and almonds are cooked well and most of the maple syrup has been absorbed, empty the pan into a paper towel lined bowl.  You can either wipe out the pan or use a new pan for cooking the rest of the quesadilla.

Tortilla, Brie, Ham, Apple, Almonds, and Shredded Cheddar + Jack

Spoon the ingredients onto the brie side of the tortillas.  Try not to get too close to the edges, otherwise your food will fall out.   Then top with the shredded cheese and fold the other half of the tortilla over.

You’ll want to cook the quesadillas rather quickly since the inside is fully cooked already.  Your main goal is just to brown the outside and get it nice and crispy.  Medium heat with a bit of oil in the pan should work fine.

When both sides are a golden brown color, remove from the pan and cut into 3-4 pieces.  As I’ve said, I haven’t figured out a good dipping sauce for this one yet, but the honey dijon sauce from the chicken/bacon/mushroom quesadilla recipe might go well with it.

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I’ve been wanting to make a Fromager d’Affinois cheesecake for so long, and since Southern Season was wrapping up their sale last Saturday I picked up 3 wedges.  I think my recipe turned out pretty well.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) Fromager d’Affinois (no rind)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 ready-made graham cracker crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a pan of water on the bottom rack.

First cut the cream cheese up into small pieces and put in a large mixing bowl with the sugar.  Scoop out the soft insides of the Fromager d’Affinois, saving the rind for later (it’s great with some chardonnay).  Fill up a 1 cup measuring cup, unless you have a kitchen scale, which would be more precise.  Mix for a few seconds until the sugar is incorporated into the cheese, then beat on medium high for a couple minutes until the cheesecake batter is smooth.  This will already look a bit thinner than normal cheesecake.

Add eggs, one at a time, and fully mix in between each one.  Make sure you’re scraping the bowl with a spatula as you go.  Then add the vanilla and mix it in.  By the end you’ll have a thin, bubbly mixture resembling pancake batter.

Now you might be asking, Magie, why do you spend $10-$20 just on this fine cheese, and then use a crappy old generic crust?  Honestly, it’s just a crust, it’ll save you 20 minutes of work and it won’t add or subtract anything from the flavor.

Have the graham cracker crust already on a baking sheet before you pour the batter in.  A nice trick I found is to save the plastic insert in the graham cracker crust, clean it off and pull off the little sticky bits, and use it to cover your cheesecake in the fridge.  It covers it perfectly and won’t ruin the top of the cheesecake.

Bake the cheesecake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes.  For some reason the Fromager d’Affinois browns more than cream cheese alone, so if you overcook it at all it’ll really get brown.

When it comes out of the oven it should be puffy and just barely brown.  I may have overcooked mine by a couple minutes, there’s more brown on this than I usually like.  Because this cheese is so much thinner and creamier, you probably won’t have any problems with cracks that you might in a typical cream cheese only cheesecake.

Let it sit on a cooling rack for an hour (still on the baking sheet), and then put in the fridge.  Cover it after it’s cool, otherwise you’ll get condensation drips which ruin the top.

Now this is the first time I’ve ever made this kind of cheesecake, so I wasn’t sure what kind of topping would go with it.  I got out a slice for my husband and I, and many different toppings, and we tried one bit with each topping.  The strawberry topping was typical but not spectacular.  The almonds were good but missing something.  The chocolate wasn’t very good with it, and neither were the blueberries.  The two best toppings by far were the cranberries and the white chocolate.  Even better, the cranberries and white chocolate together.  I’m thinking next time I’ll mix in a couple of squares of melted white chocolate into the cheesecake, then top it before serving with a cranberry compote.  Make sure if you so use white chocolate, you use real white chocolate, not “white chips” or “vanilla chips”.  Real white chocolate will have cocoa butter as either the first or second ingredient.  If the first 3 ingredients are sugar, milk powder and oil, then it’s not real white chocolate.

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Almond Cupcake Recipe

I base my cupcakes off a box mix.  I’d like to eventually make a recipe that doesn’t involve a box, but for the time being these cupcakes are delicious and easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box cake mix (yellow is good, but you can use butter or white too)
  • 8 oz. almond paste (Solo) or pureed almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup amaretto liquor (I prefer Disaronno)

If you can’t find Solo almond paste you can try to use marzipan, but marzipan usually has more sugar and is considerably harder to work with.  You can also use plain, unsalted roasted almonds, same weight (8 oz.) pureed with a food processor.  The higher percentage of almonds the better.  If you have a food processor, use that to break up the almond paste into the smallest bits you can.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can try using a mixer to mix up the almond paste with some softened butter, but you’ll probably end up with bits of butter and almond paste everywhere.

Once the almond paste is broken up into a workable consistency, add the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Then mix on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl with a spatula as you go.

Fill cupcake cups about 2/3 full.  Make sure not to overfill, because cupcakes rise more than muffins, and look bad if they overflow the cup.  Bake the cupcakes in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  This recipe makes approximately 30 cupcakes.  I usually frost with a white frosting like buttercream.

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