Springtime Cupcakes

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It may be nearly a month late, but spring has finally come to London! Today was the first day that it’s gotten above 40°! In fact, it was nearly 70°! Ben and I had the balcony doors open to our flat and let the warm Southern breeze float through our living room – a welcome freshness to help air out an apartment that’s been hermetically sealed for the winter since October or November.

For some reason, it feels like winter lasts forever in the UK, but then one warm day and POOF! every single flower and tree is in full bloom and the grass is suddenly a bright shade of green as it soaks up the sunlight.

To welcome the season, here’s a simple cupcake that will bring the spring from outside in to your kitchen.

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Ingredients

For the cupcakes (makes 12):

  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup (100 grams) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
For the frosting:
  • 6 Tablespoons (86 grams) butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups (160 grams) icing sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 36 chocolate minieggs

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Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (175°C). Place cupcake liners into the pan.

2. In the bowl of your mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes; then beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. Gently mix in the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder, being careful not to overmix.

4. Spoon the batter into your cupcake liners, then place in the oven to bake for 15 minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on them, as chocolate cupcakes have a tendency to dry out really quickly. Once they’re finished, allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. To make the buttercream, place your butter into the bowl of your mixer, and beat it on medium-high speed until it’s light and fluffy. Then, lower your speed and gradually mix in the icing sugar. Beat until they are well mixed, then add in the milk and vanilla. Divide your batter by thirds, dying one third green and the other two thirds brown. Place each frosting color into a piping bag.

6. Fit the green piping bag with a grass-type decorating tip (it has a bunch of little holes in it). Roughly pipe the grass around the outer rim of your cake, lifting and releasing the pressure each time so that it breaks up into several ‘tufts’ of grass. Fit the brown pastry bag with a flower-type decorating tip. Use this bag to create your nests by swirling it around while leaving the middle hollow. Arrange three minieggs into each nest to finish.

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Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Cake

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Usually when I get a craving for chocolate and peanut butter, I make something with it, stuff my face, and the craving subsides. However last week’s cookies didn’t seem to subdue my cravings, as they carried into this weekend. I was wondering what I should make, and I kept trying to think of how I wanted to marry these two amazing flavors.

And then I found it.

I was perusing one of my favorite baking blogs, Sprinkle Bakes, when I found this recipe for her peanut butter cup brownie cake: three dense chocolate brownie layers separated by creamy peanut butter. I couldn’t resist. I had to make it.

And boy was this a monster! This cake was so tall that the Reese’s cups on top were scraping the top of my cake carrier, easily crowning it as the tallest cake I’ve made to date. But it was delicious and it totally cured my craving.

Sprinkle Bakes recommends very thin slices (25 slices per 9-inch cake), and that was seriously correct. In fact, the richness of this cake lended itself to making it one of the few of my bakes to last two days in our office – and that’s quite an achievement.

So if you decide to bake this cake, proceed with caution. And if you get a massive sugar rush, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂

Ingredients

For the brownie layers:

  • 1 1/2 cups (345 grams) butter
  • 6 ounces baking chocolate, chopped
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
For the peanut butter layers:
  • 6 cups icing sugar
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup double/heavy cream
For the chocolate frosting and decorating:
  • 1 1/2 cups (345 grams) butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons brewed coffee
  • 8 peanut butter cups, cut in half
  • chocolate shavings

Directions

1. First make the peanut butter layers. In the bowl of your mixer, blend together the icing sugar, peanut butter and melted butter until it forms a crumbly mixture. Add the cream 1 Tablespoon at a time until it forms a thickened dough that you can work with (like sugar cookie dough). It should hold together if you squeeze it into a ball. Line two 9-inch cake tins with parchment and butter the pan. Then divide the dough evenly between the two pans, and press it firmly into each tin to form the peanut butter layers. Place them in the freezer to set while you make the brownie layers.

2. Next, make the brownie layers. preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease 3 9-inch cake tins, line with parchment, and flour each pan.

3. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring until smooth. Once everything is melted, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the sugar, followed by the eggs. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda.

4. Divide the dough between the three prepared cake tins and bake for about 25 minutes until they’re done. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack completely.

5. Once everything is cool, prepare your frosting. In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter and icing sugar together. Switch the attachment to the whisk, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat again until light and creamy.  Next, add in the cocoa powder, vanilla, and coffee. Mix on high until everything is incorporated and the mixture is light and airy.

6. Now you’re ready to assemble. Place your first brownie layer on the base and coat with a very thin layer of your frosting. Next, turn out one of your peanut butter layers and place in on top of the brownie layer. Coat the peanut butter layer with a small amount of coffee, then repeat. Your layers should be: brownie, peanut butter, brownie, peanut butter, brownie.

7. Once all of your layers are assembled, coat the top and sides with another thin layer of frosting, Place the rest of your icing into a piping bag and use it to pipe 11 rosettes around the top rim of the cake, and 4 more in the middle. Place each Reese’s cup half into each rosette. To finish it all off, sprinkle some chocolate shavings over the top of the entire cake.

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(Just ignore the slight leaning of my cake. It still tasted good!)

Double Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cookies

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In my continued theme of quick and simple bakes, I made double chocolate and peanut butter cookies. To make these, I used a bag of Reese’s peanut butter chips that I brought back with me from the States after Christmas (However, I did see these on Amazon for those of you in the UK). I think next time I made these, I want to try them with Reese’s Pieces, just to get the color added in. The oranges and yellows would look awesome against the dark chocolate color of the cookie.

I adapted this recipe from the one provided with the chips, but I added in more chocolate (of course!). It makes a TON of cookies – I got nearly 5 dozen out of it – so you’ll have plenty to share!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup (288 grams) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 package Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips
  • 2 cups chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In the bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vinall and mix well.

4. Add in the flour mixture and beat well. Finally, stir in the peanut butter chips and chocolate chips.

5. Place rounded tablespoons of the cookie dough onto a baking pan. (As usual, I used my favorite tool – the cookie dough baller!) Bake them for 8-9 minutes. Allow them to cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Today is Ben’s and my anniversary, celebrating two years of adventures together. We decided to go to the Science Museum here in London today to check out a special exhibition they were hosting called “ZombieLab”, followed by a special screening of the new film Warm Bodies. While the exhibition turned out to be a bit of a bust, the movie was a lot better than what we had expected. We laughed a ton!

Knowing I wouldn’t have a lot of time to bake this weekend, I decided to make something simple: chocolate chip cookies. Now, normally when it comes to this classic treat, I stick to the Toll House original recipe. It’s what my mom always made, it’s what I’ve always made and it’s never failed us. Or anyone for that matter.

But a few of the food blogs I read all posted the same recipe for chocolate chip cookies. And a quick Google search reveals that just about every food blog completely exploded over these cookies: the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe.

After a quick read of the recipe, it seemed like a good idea. Mix the dough and let chill for 24 hours – meaning that I would have cookie dough ready and waiting for when we got home tonight so that we could have some fresh, warm cookies and milk.

I must say, these cookies are good. They puff up quite nicely, and the sea salt gives them a bit more flavor that the Toll House recipe. However, they aren’t as soft as the usual ones and are quite dense. So, while delicious, I may just stick to my old standby next time.

Try this recipe for yourself and let me know which recipe you prefer!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups + 2 Tablespoons cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (287 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups chocolate chips

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Directions

1. Sift together the two flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and set aside.

2. In the bowl of your mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop the chocolate pieces in and incorporate them. Press plastic wrap against the dough and refrigerate for 24-36 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with baking paper and set aside.

4. Scoop the dough into balls that are slightly larger than a golf ball and place them on your baking sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown and soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.

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Chocolate and Sour Cherry Bread

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Happy New Year, bakers!

My blog is now officially one year old. Some weeks it was a struggle, but I managed to bake something nearly every week. (There were a few I missed due to travelling.) But I said I’d do it, and I did!

Ben and I flew back to the US to visit my family for the holidays. We visited lots of people, shared many laughs, and ate lots of food. So much food that I think we were sick of the sight of it by the end of the trip!  After a couple of weeks off, we’re both ready to get back into gear.

The question on everyone’s lips at home was asking about Great British Bake Off – well, at this point, I haven’t heard anything about my audition or if I’m invited to the next round. I’ve got everything crossed in hopes I’ll hear something soon though! If anything, no news is good news because it means I’m still in contention!

I didn’t bake last weekend because we landed Sunday morning and were severely jetlagged, so I had to wait until this weekend to get back to baking.

One of the books I got over the holidays was Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads. Seeing as I need to beef up my bread-making skills, it was perfect. It has so many great flavors and recipes to try – and many of them are perfect for adding my own flair too!  So this week’s recipe comes from his book, I didn’t adjust too much, except for using a different yeast (I used active dry yeast rather than instant) because it was all I had in the cupboard. But this bread still turned out amazing!

It has a wonderfully crisp crust and the flavor is fantastic. I could have eaten both loaves in one sitting – but then I’d get fat. So instead, I sent one home with Ben’s mom, who stopped by today for a visit, and split the other one with Ben.

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Oh! I almost forgot to mention: one of my Christmas gifts from my grandmother was a pop-up photo studio with lights and everything! Hopefully now that means I won’t have to worry as much about the awful lighting in my flat, and hopefully my photography will get better this year – that’s the goal for 2013!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups strong white flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 15 grams (2 packets) active dry yeast
  • warm water (about a cup, but you may need more)
  • 1 can black cherries (make sure you take the stones out and roughly chop them)
  • 200 grams chocolate chips

Directions

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, olive oil, and yeast. Be sure to keep the yeast away from the salt to start with – as salt kills yeast. Slowly add warm water and mix until you get a soft, pliable dough. Only add enough water to bring everything together, you don’t want the dough to be too wet.

2. Once everything is mixed, turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 or 6 minutes. (I tested it to see how stretchy it was before I finished kneading.) Coat your bowl with a bit of oil, then place the dough back in, cover and let rise for an hour.

3. Once the dough has risen, line two baking sheets with some baking paper then divide your dough into two halves. Add half of your cherries to each half, then mix them into the dough. Add a bit more flour if the dough gets too wet, just work it in as you work in the cherries.

4. Next, add in the chocolate chips; again, splitting them between both halves and working them into the dough so everything is pretty much evenly distributed.

5. Form your dough into two balls, then place on your baking sheet. Gently press them down, flattening them until they’re about 2 inches thick. Dust them heavily with flour and score diagonal lines into the top with a sharp blade. Set both of them aside to rise for an hour.

6. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Once heated, bake both loaves of bread for 20-25 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.

sourcherrybread_2This bread tastes fantastic, especially as a bed-time snack!!