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Cranberry Bliss Bars
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cranberry bliss bars

I think my parents thought I was crazy when I was looking at colleges.  My “fall-back” was a small state school in upstate NY.  And by upstate, I mean way-the-hell-upstate, not just a little north of NYC, as many downstaters see the upper Hudson Valley.  Potsdam is north enough in New York that you could almost throw a stone over the Canadian border.  It was an 8 1/2 drive to see the school.  In March.  Where it still snowed like a mutha.  My first choice, however, was an even smaller lush private school in PA where snow was “meh”.  I had butterflies when I visited.  I’m sure my parents were terrified of the cost.

cranberry bliss bars

You’ve heard this story before.  You know what happens.  That following August, this south-shore-downstater packed her Bean Boots, silk long underwear (a much better baselayer than traditional long-johns, FTR), heaviest winter clothes (who knew what November would bring even before Thanksgiving was in sight?) and half of her childhood bedroom (my mom would say three quarters) and headed north to her new home away from home.

Included in the massive amount of winter clothing that filled my tiny dorm closet to the brim that August were a few pair of flannel lined jeans.  On the mornings where the average low temperature in January was nearly 0 degrees F, these jeans came in handy.  And sometimes, the long underwear went underneath the flannel lined jeans.  It was freaking cold.  But those jeans saved me that year – they were like a warm hug on a cold morning.

cranberry bliss bars

These cranberry bliss bars are similar.  They’ll wrap you up and warm your soul.  If you’ve been to Starbucks this time of year, you know the treats I’m talking about…and surprise, surprise – they’re super easy to make at home!  With a white chocolate, cranberry, and brown sugar blondie base, a lightly-flavored orange cream cheese frosting, and more cranberries and white chocolate drizzled on top, how could you possibly go wrong?  There is a little bit of ground cloves in the blondies which pulls the orange and cranberries together beautifully and adds to the general addictiveness.  Those mushy-base “bars” Starbucks sells that you have to eat with a fork are no comparison to these homemade treats.  Perhaps paired with a mug of warm spiced wine or cider, these bars are perfect for a cold winter night.

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 2-4 dozen bars (depending on the size you cut them)

In place of the chopped white chocolate, you could use white chocolate chips but I really love biting into a substantial piece of white chocolate in these bars. The chips will get a little lost so if you go that route, you’ll want want to increase the amount of chips to 8 oz.

Ingredients

    For the blondies:
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) salted butter, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • For the frosting:
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp grated orange zest
  • 4 oz white chocolate, melted
  • ½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×11-inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  2. To make the blondies: Melt the butter and stir in all of the sugar until the butter has completely incorporated; let the mixture cool to room temperature. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed until the eggs have incorporated. With the mixer on low, gradually stir in the dry ingredients until no evidence of flour remains. The batter will be very thick. Stir in the cranberries and white chocolate until they are dispersed.
  3. Dump the batter to the prepared baking pan and with your hands, flatten it out (without mashing it) into the pan. Baked for 18 to 20 minutes until the edges are just barely golden brown (mine took exactly 18 minutes). Let the pan cool on a wire rack until the blondies are completely cool.
  4. To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined, about 30 seconds. Quickly mix in the orange zest.
  5. To assemble the bars: Remove the uncut blondies from the pan and place the whole piece on a large cutting board. Spread the frosting evenly over the blondies (an offset spatula works great here) right out to the edges. Sprinkle the cranberries over the frosting. Drizzle the white chocolate over the cranberries and frosting – don’t worry about being too neat in your drizzling here. Before cutting, transfer the blondies on the board to the refrigerator to allow the frosting to set up for 30 minutes. Cut the blondies lengthwise into thirds then cut each third into four squares. Cut each square diagonally in half into triangles. You can cut the triangles in half again if you want/need more bars. These bars can be kept at room temperature for a couple of days but they last better in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Serve right from the refrigerator or slightly warmed to room temperature.

Source

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Lemon Cupcakes with Fresh Raspberry Curd Filling
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I love it when an idea comes together.  When what I’ve been dreaming up in my head turns out just how I pictured it.  That was these lemon cupcakes.  I had made this recipe as full-on lemon poppy cake a few years back for a girlfriend’s baby shower and have since wanted to remake the recipe not only to share with all of you (because it’s pretty awesome) but also because I’ve always thought a cupcake version would be perfectly delightful.

And I was right.  The lemon cupcakes are soft-crumbed clouds with a dollop of fresh raspberry curd running through the center, topped with a billowy mound of the fluffiest lemon buttercream I’ve ever eaten.  The cupcakes themselves are sturdy and soft at the same time, a cupcake trait not always easy to achieve, and they were able to withstand a hollowed-out the center for the curd and the frosting on top without falling into pieces after the first couple of bites.  Of course flavor-wise, berries and citrus are a match made in heaven and even though you’d like to think that these cupcakes would be too lemony and tart between the cake and the frosting, the bright raspberry curd keeps perfect balance.  Of course, some sugar helps with this balance as well. ;)

You’ll cone-out the center of each cupcake and add some of your very own, homemade raspberry curd (don’t cut corners and buy it!), a treat worth licking the spoon for in and of itself.  If you’ve never made curd before, it’s quite a simple process which involves straining out all of the seeds so you’re left with a thick and silky sweet condiment that can be spread onto biscuits or scones, drizzled over ice cream, or used however else you can dream up.  It’s a lovely and necessary component to these cupcakes and I wouldn’t skip making it.

The verdict from Kyle, the non-lemon-loving heathen that he is, was clearly indicated by the random wrappers I’ve found around the kitchen.  One or two before I get home from work…another one while I’m making dinner…you get the point.  We both adore these lemon cupcakes and I know you will too.  In fact, I love them so much that I’m contributing them to Celebrations.com Memorial Day Virtual Blogger Potluck Party that I’ve been invited to.  Have a look on Celebrations (link below) to see the party as a whole and be sure to stop by the other awesome bloggers’ blogs to see what they brought to the party as well.

Lemon Cupcakes with Fresh Raspberry Curd Filling

Yield: about 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients

    For the raspberry curd:
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 pint ripe raspberries or 1 12-oz. package frozen raspberries, thawed
  • 5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • For the lemon cupcakes:
  • 2 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 2 ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • For the lemon buttercream frosting:
  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • For garnish:
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries

Instructions

  1. To make the raspberry curd: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the raspberries, egg yolks, sugar and salt, and cook, mashing the berries. Stir frequently at first and then constantly at the end, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture through a coarse strainer set over a bowl, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Cool to room temperature; the curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in lemon juice to taste. Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled. The curd can be made 2-3 days in advance.
  2. To make the cupcakes: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat just until stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted. Transfer the egg whites to a separate bowl (not plastic), clean and dry the mixer bowl and reattach it with the paddle attachment.
  4. Add the butter to the mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and beat until incorporated. Mix in the lemon zest. Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in ¼ cup of the milk until just blended. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture alternately with the remaining milk in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat until just blended. Using a rubber spatula, fold one quarter of the egg whites into the batter, being careful not to deflate the mixture. Once incorporated, add in the rest of the whites (including any liquid that may have accumulated on the bottom of the bowl) and gently fold in until well combined; no white should remain.
  5. Using a large cookie/ice cream scoop, divide the batter between the cupcake liners, filling each liner about 2/3 full. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18-22 minutes, turning the pans around halfway through the baking time. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes then remove them from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and zest on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the heavy cream and lemon juice and beat for one minute longer; the frosting should be light and fluffy.
  7. To assemble: Once the cupcakes have cooled, hollow out the center of each cupcake using the cone method and spoon about 1 tsp of raspberry curd in to each hollowed-out cupcake. The filling should sit just shy of the top of the cupcake. Frost as desired, taking care not to push the curd out of the cupcake with the weight of the frosting. Garnish with fresh raspberries.
  8. Serve and store at room temperature, though the frosting will soften significantly at temperatures above 75° F.

Source

source: adapted from Annie’s Eats

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Lofthouse Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
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I realize that Shanon said last week that she was the last blogger to post these cookies, but actually I’m right there with you, Shanon!  While it seems that they have been all over my friends’ blogs, I couldn’t help but get in on the action as well.  My cousin and I made a batch of these a few weeks ago (as making cookies seems to be our usual activity when she visits) and with this recipe on my radar for what seems like forever, we made it a point to pump these babies out.  And needless to say, I promptly sent her back to Johnson & Wales with over half of them because having them in the house is dangerous.  Seriously dangerous.  Let the college kids and their ridiculous under-30 metabolisms deal with the calories.

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Anyway, we all flipped out over these cookies.  Mariah and I lamented earlier in the afternoon about neither of us being able to pass up the Lofthouse cookies in the grocery store bakery but this homemade version blows the store-bought version out of the water.  There’s no comparison in texture and flavor and there’s no going back to the store-bought version now.  The recipe only yields around two dozen (we got 27) but they are definitely substantial cookies so while I wanted to put away (in my stomach, that is) a couple extra, one cookie was definitely enough to satisfy me…for one sitting anyway.  ;) I imagine that freezing some of the dough would work great and I definitely plan to do so the next time we’re craving these bad boys.  And now that I’ve found my measuring cups and set the stand mixer up, it’s entirely possible that they’ll show up in the new kitchen sometime this week.  Yay for having reasons to celebrate with cookies!

Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower
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Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower

One of my absolute favorite flavor combinations is sweet and salty.  Sit me down with some potato chips and a handful of M&Ms or chocolate-covered popcorn and I’m in trouble!  So you could imagine the level of my excitement when I flipped through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking for the first time and saw my nemesis flavor combo in a cake.  Add some salted caramel to a chocolate cake and I’m pretty much done for.

Now admittedly, I’ve had this cookbook on my shelf for well over a year and I’ve yet to make the cake.   It’s hard to justify making a whole cake for only two people just for the heck of it so the cake has ended up sitting on my list for what seems like forever.  And then came Courtney’s Virtual Baby Shower.  Among the many reasons why Courtney and I are such great friends (real-life friends, not just blogging friends!), I firmly believe that our love for Baked’s cookbooks links us together.  And while I’ve never visited the famous bakery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Courtney and her awesome husband, Eric, did a few years ago during a trip to NYC and they had a blast.  (For the record, I’m jealous.)  This cake is perfect for Courtney.  She is seriously one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met and would go to any length to help a friend, but she’s also got this “salty” side, a sense of sarcasm, dry humor, and frankness that I adore.  I was lucky enough to be able to spend a whole weekend with Courtney this past weekend with Josie and Annie in Richmond when we surprised her with a visit for a real-life baby shower.  It was an insanely fun girls weekend filled with soothing Southern comfort food, a chocolate shop that blew us all away, tons of laughs, and so many memories I have to cherish with some of my best friends.

Sweet & Salty Cupcakes for a Virtual Baby Shower

These sweet and salty cupcakes are truly an outstanding creation.  I used Baked’s sweet chocolate cake recipe (next time I’ll use my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe as I miss the domed cupcakes) and merged it with Sweetopolita’s recommendation of a salted caramel Swiss buttercream.  Need I say anything else?  Rich, sweet, salty, dreamy.  Perfect for my dear friend Courtney as she prepares for baby C’s arrival in the next few weeks.  Courtney, pour yourself a glass of milk, put up your feet, and enjoy!

Josie from Pink Parsley is hosting Courtney’s shower to be sure to head over there (and to Courtney’s blog as well!) to catch up on all of the other amazing treats nearly 15 other fabulous food bloggers have contributed to the shower!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
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Red Velvet Cupcakes

It’s known far and wide around the interwebs that anything red velvet is humungously popular around Valentine’s day and strangely enough after almost 5 years of blogging, I’ve yet to post a red velvet cake recipe.  So after quite a few reader requests in the past couple of weeks for a great red velvet scratch cake recipe, I decided it was about time to share.  And believe me, it wasn’t like you guys had to twist my arm!  I scoured a few recipes on Pinterest and my favorite blogs and decided on this one since it’s made with both buttermilk and vinegar to boost the tang that is so beloved in red velvet cake.  Topped with a swirled dollop of silky cream cheese frosting, these red velvet cupcakes are an outstanding way to say “I Love You” to the hunnies in your life.  And yes, if you’re thinking about making a layer cake instead of cupcakes, Annie says that it’s a great recipe for that too – just grease three 8-inch pans, divide the batter, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake
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Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake

For years I’ve been dreaming about finding a dense yellow cake recipe that could hold up to being stacked in layers as well as a thick layer of velvety frosting.  So many recipes I came across just didn’t fit the bill; either they were too fluffy negating the ability to even hold up to being frosted or they were flavorless and blah.

Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake

So when I saw this cake posted way back in June, I filed it away in the back of my mind as a possibility for this year’s birthday cake.  The thing is, I couldn’t shake this cake.  Every time I thought about my upcoming birthday this whole summer, visions of this cake floated into the forefront of my mind.  Pink.  Sprinkles.  Vanilla beans.  It was practically the most basic cake that I wanted so desperately – nothing fancy, no swirls or drizzles or compounding flavors.  And I insisted on waiting until my birthday to make it.

Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake

Believe me, there were many times where I almost threw in the towel…where this cake almost got made.  But I held strong and waited until last week.  And honestly?  I’m so glad I waited.  I made this cake, step-by-step, and feeling like it was a hot and stuffy August night in 1986 again, I had all the anticipation and excitement of the 8 year old me waiting for my candle-lit birthday cake to be brought in through the darkened room with drones of the [maybe not-so-purposefully] out of tune birthday song in the background.  Seriously, I was dancing with excitement to show Kyle this cake when he got home from work and had he OK’d eating cake before dinner (thank God for being an adult!), I think I may have burst.

Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake

And it was everything I wished for.  Dense, moist, tangy from the buttermilk, speckled with vanilla beans, with a smooth buttercream frosting that lent just the right amount of sweetness to the cake layers.  It was most definitely the prettiest cake I had ever made and I couldn’t be happier with how the towering three layers and frosting held up to being cut into such perfect slices.  Needless to say, I’ve found the yellow cake recipe I’ve been searching for all these years and I can see many birthdays in the future (mine and/or others) being brightened with this vanilla bean cake.

Pink Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: 12-15 servings

Ingredients

    For the Vanilla Bean Cake:
  • 3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature (on counter apprx 20 minutes)
  • 2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 9 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • For the buttercream frosting:
  • 3 ½ sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Ateco or Wilton color gel for dying

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter three 8" x 2" round cake pans, line with parchment rounds, butter the rounds, and dust the pans and rounds with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds into buttermilk. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated or finish by hand gently.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If possible, weigh the batter in each cake pan on a digital kitchen scale to ensure even layers. Smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once after 20 minutes. Cake is done when toothpick or skewer comes clean.
  5. Let pans cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks, gently, peeling away parchment rounds. Let cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Add in the salt. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4 minutes. Stir in the color gel to achieve your desired color.
  8. Frost and decorate the cake as desired.

Source

sources: cake adapted from Sweetapolita | frosting adapted from Sweetapolita via Annie’s Eats

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Peach Filled Cake with Dulce de Leche Buttercream Recipe
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It seems that I’m not at a loss for peach recipes this summer and since this week’s Project Pastry Queen recipe also involves peaches, I certainly couldn’t pass it up.  It’s a fortuitous 3 layer cake with fresh summer peaches baked into the layers and diced up peaches stuffed between them.  And what may be the best part about the whole cake?  I made my own dulce de leche for the frosting!

Overall, the cake was delightful…one that I could see being made again to celebrate each new peach season.  The peaches were able to stand on their own even after being baked into the cake and the peach filling, mixed with some apricot preserves, drips down the cake after each slice, making for a sweet hit of fresh flavor with each bite.  I don’t think this cake would have been complete without a super-sweet frosting…and the addition of a full cup of dulce de leche to the frosting took this cake from great to oh.my.gah.  On its own, the buttercream seemed as if it would completely overpower the delicate cake but once I slathered it on, the cake, filling, and frosting were definitely M.F.E.O. (10 points for the movie reference!).  A perfect summer cake with ripe summer peaches…life is good.

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Peach Filled Cake with Dulce de Leche Buttercream Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

This recipe includes a quick and basic buttercream frosting where the dulce de leche can be swapped out for almost anything: lemon curd, fresh lemon zest, a couple tablespoons of cocoa, chopped strawberries, some peanut butter…you get the idea.

Ingredients

    For the peach cake:
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp table salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream (light is fine)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup peeled and chopped fresh peaches
  • For the dulce de leche buttercream frosting:
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of table salt
  • 1 cup dulce de leche
  • For the filling:
  • 1 cup peach preserves or jam (either store-bought or homemade)

Instructions

  1. To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla until incorporated. On low speed, stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, fold the peaches gently into the batter.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth out the tops with an offset spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the cakes are light brown on top and firm to the touch. Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes then invert the cakes on the racks and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
  5. To make the buttercream frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for 2 minutes, until fluffy.
  6. Add in the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt, and beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
  7. Spoon in the dulce de leche and beat for an additional 2 minutes, until the buttercream is light and fluffy.
  8. To assemble the cake: Place one of the cake layers on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread the preserves or jam over the frosting. Place the second layer on top of the preserves. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting. The cake will keep covered at room temperature for 2 to 3 days if your kitchen temperature allows; if it is too hot, the frosting won't keep well so the cake can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator.

Source

source: adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather via Confections of a Foodie Bride

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Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
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Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

For the past three weeks I’ve been craving a yellow butter cake with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  This post obviously isn’t about that cake.  It’s about these Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Frosting that I nearly had to wipe the drool off of my keyboard from when I came across the recipe.  A chewy, dense, bright red (and in my opinion, all red velvet should be) brownie topped with a fluffy white chocolate buttercream frosting that actually tastes like the white chocolate I fell in love with as a child.  These are the type of brownies that will make your old Aunt Rhonda kick herself for not thinking to bring to the church picnic before her old rival, Harriett, did just that.  They’ll make people swoon and clamor over each other for seconds.  You’ll watch these babies disappear and will beam with delight.

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I’ve only made one other red velvet recipe in my lifetime and I had forgotten about the destructive power of red food coloring so be prepared to go slowly when it comes time to add it in.  Fortunately, the recipe seems to compress the mess because you’ll stir together the cocoa powder, food coloring, and some vanilla into a paste that you’ll add to the batter rather than pouring all of the food coloring into a whirling mixer.  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  The white chocolate frosting is insanely sweet and I almost thought it was too sweet but by the next day, the white chocolate flavor seemed to blossom and the sweetness had diminished just a tad.  Because of this, I highly recommend making the frosting a day or two in advance and sticking it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake the brownies; it will need to come to room temperature and will likely need a good stir before you’ll be able to frost.  Whatever you do though, don’t wait another millisecond to make these.   You’ll be kicking yourself when they show up at your next party and someone else will be doing all the beaming.

[9.2.11 Update] Note: I’ve edited the bake time of the recipe below to better reflect the comments people have left about the brownies being undercooked at 30 minutes.  All ovens vary so use your best judgement and the toothpick test to ensure doneness.

Red Velvet Brownies with White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 65 minutes

Yield: 12 brownies

Ingredients

    For the brownies:
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 oz red food coloring (or a scant 2 tbsp)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • For the white chocolate buttercream frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 oz good-quality white chocolate (not chips), melted - I recommend Callebaut
  • 1 - 2 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions

  1. To make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8"x8" baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, slowly stir together the cocoa powder, food coloring, and 1 tsp vanilla into a thick paste until no lumps of cocoa remain. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the remaining 1 tsp of vanilla. With the mixer off, add in the cocoa mixture, then turn the mixer to medium and beat the two mixtures together until they are one uniform color. Slowly add in the flour and salt and mix on medium-low speed, just until combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir up the batter with a rubber spatula once or twice just to ensure all of the flour has incorporated from the sides of the bowl and there isn't anything stuck on the bottom of the bowl. You'll want one uniformly colored (red) batter.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the brownies. Allow brownies to completely cool in the pan on a baking rack, about 45-60 minutes. Frost brownies in the pan, cut into 12 bars, and serve, or remove the entire batch from the pan to a cutting board, cut into 12 bars, frost, and serve.
  6. To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until soft and fluffy then beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time; allow the sugar to mix in before adding the next 1/2 cup. Once all of the sugar has been added, beat on medium speed for 30 seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the melted white chocolate and beat on medium speed until incorporated. With the mixer on low, add in heavy cream 1 tbsp at a time and beat at medium speed until the frosting has reached your desired consistency.

Source

source: adapted from How Sweet It Is

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Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
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Sometimes you need chocolate.  And what a better way to get your chocolate fix comes in the form of a cupcake!  I’m always on the hunt for a great chocolate cupcake recipe…sometimes to get that chocolate fix and other times just to have the perfect recipe up my sleeve in the event one of those cravings emerge.  And I’m happy to say that for now, my hunt has ended.  I saw Annie post this chocolate cupcake recipe a few weeks back as part of some decadent triple chocolate cupcakes and I was enamored with the perfect amount of puffiness these cupcakes had in her photo.  I should have known they would be a great recipe though, since it is a Martha Stewart recipe and Annie tends to have some pretty great instincts when it comes to great cupcake recipes.

All in all, both the cupcakes and the Swiss meringue buttercream had some fantastic reviews from my co-workers and I totally loved them.  The cupcakes were moist and chocolaty and the buttercream was velvety smooth, dreamy and can best be described as some of the best frosting I’ve ever tasted.  While the buttercream is a little more labor-intensive than my usual Wilton recipe, the results are much more satisfying and I can honestly say that this will be a mainstay in my repertoire.

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A couple of tricks to baking cupcakes that don’t sink:

1.  Find a good recipe…like this one!

2.  Don’t fiddle with the pans while the cupcakes bake.  If possible, don’t rotate the pans until the cupcakes are almost fully set.

3.  Ensure the cupcakes are fully baked through (use a toothpick!).

4.  Let them cool in the pan only until they are just cool enough to move to a cooling rack.  The majority of the cooling process should be done on a rack or on a room temperature baking sheet.  (I heard this tip on the Martha Stewart Sirius Radio channel during Martha’s recent Cupcake Week.)

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Coconut Cupcakes for Valentine’s Day!
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I’m one of those people who, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, could basically take it or leave it; unfortunately, I married a man who will always leave it. (Though flowers and a card always seem to arrive with my name on them on Feb. 14th…smart man…) So I’ve never really had an inclination to make anything fun for Valentine’s day but I really wanted to take advantage of Ina’s Coconut Cupcakes that were chosen for the first Barefoot Blogger recipe of the month. I’d been wracking my brain all week as to how to make these cupcakes more Valentine-y…coloring the frosting or dusting some cocoa powder on top in the shape of a heart were two ideas that came to mind but I wasn’t sold.  And then it hit me: the Crumbs cupcakes I sent to my best friend over the summer when she had her first baby (who needs flowers when you can have cupcakes?!) would be my inspiration…she squealed when the box arrived and they were promptly devoured, in case you’re wondering.

I love the look of the Crumbs cupcakes with the short frosting-decorated sides and flat top.  There’s just something so different about this look as opposed to big swirls of frosting or fully covered with coconut as I think these cupcakes were intended to be decorated.  To add a little Valentine’s Day spin, I colored the coconut with some red food coloring (liquid).  I have to admit, the way these cupcakes turned out made me happy!

The cupcake recipe itself is to die for and it’s one that improves over the course of a couple of days.  The coconut adds a great texture and flavor to the cupcakes but in my opinion, the buttermilk plays the real star in this recipe.  Though there is only one cup of buttermilk, it adds such a nice tangy flavor to a cupcake that could otherwise be too sweet.  And with the sweet cream cheese frosting (my favorite cream cheese frosting EVER by the way), you’ll appreciate this tangy cupcake.

My, Kyle’s, and my coworkers’ sincere thanks go out to Jamie of Jamie’s Green Kitchen for choosing this fabulous recipe!!

Vegan Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
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As soon as I found out that my new boss eats vegan, I got a knot in the pit of my stomach.  This, of course, was after the first time I brought in baked goods to my new office.  Great.  I realize that when baking for a group, there are always going to be people who won’t or can’t eat what I bake and that I can’t always please everyone.  But I’d like to try.  So when my boss’ birthday was approaching last week, I set out to make her a vegan vanilla cupcake.  It wasn’t an easy task and I must have looked through 15+ recipes (mostly vegan) before I finally settled on the one I wanted to use in the first place: a non-vegan recipe. I knew the challenge of this whole vegan baking thing was going to be the ingredients I used in place of dairy so it didn’t really matter if the recipe was labeled vegan or not.

And through the magic world that is Whole Foods, I found everything I needed: vegan butter, an egg substitute, and soy milk which of course is sold other places as well.  I had a couple of concerns using these new ingredients, some of which I didn’t even know existed before I started reading vegan baking recipes.  How in the world would a powdered egg substitute work? And, can I make buttermilk with soy milk?  And to answer quickly, wonderfully and yes!  All in all, the vegan butter (vegetable oil-based) reduced the oiliness that some butter-based cupcakes turn out like, the egg substitute yielded a fluffy cupcake, and adding 1 1/2 tbsp of white vinegar to 1 1/4 cups of vanilla soy milk makes a great buttermilk.

My coworkers (including the birthday girl of course) couldn’t have been happier with these cupcakes!  The base recipe itself is a fabulous one and one that I look forward to making again.  I completely adore anything vanilla bean and this recipe does not disappoint.  The flavor of these cupcakes improved as they sat and the stash I left home for Kyle was down 3 before I got home from work that day.  When I asked him how he liked them he responded, “Why, what’s in them?” The clear verdict from Kyle and my coworkers was that you could not at all tell that the cupcakes were made with non-traditional baking ingredients.  Success!!

PS – the chocolate buttercream recipe (also vegan) can be found here.

Fuji Apple Spice Cake
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As a new reader of Bon Appétit, I must confess my love.  There wasn’t any particular reason why I had never picked up a copy before July but I’m so glad I did!  I’m not and haven’t really ever been a subscriber to any magazine (other than old-school Seventeen and Cosmo as well as the New England-based magazine that has the same name as my favorite baseball team that continues to send me bi-monthly issues even though I canceled my subscription over a year ago…not that I’m complaining or anything…) but Bon Appétit has changed my mind.  I’ve made and enjoyed a few recipes from the past couple of issues but this one is hands down the best yet. And ironically, it comes from Dorie Greenspan, one of my favorite baking gurus  (although it isn’t found in Baking: From My Home to Yours).  This apple cake was chocked full of all the spices associated with fall baking and seriously knocked the socks off of me and all of my co-workers.  It was perfectly moist and provided you use firm apples (like Fuji or Gala as the recipe suggests) they will retain their shape during baking. And don’t even get me started on the frosting. Best.creamcheesefrosting.EVER.  The only changes I made to the recipe was to omit the nuts in order to swap in cinnamon chips (which kind of got lost in the final product and thus wouldn’t use again here) and make it a Bundt cake rather than a layer cake; my changes are below and the original recipe is linked as well.

Needless to say, I’m now a subscriber.

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Love apples like I do? Check out a few more of my favorite recipes…

Apple Crostata

Apple Crisp

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