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Best Birthday Cupcakes with Fudge Filling

16 Oct

First, I have to apologize for my lack of posts last week. But I have GREAT news to share… I started a new job last week! It’s my first job since our relocation and I’m super excited about this opportunity.

I promise these cupcakes will more than make up for my absence! :)

Our neighbor recently celebrated a birthday and I wanted to make something special.  The birthday “boy” requested his favorite treat: Duncan Hines Yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

Since I don’t do boxed mixes (especially not for special occasions), I went on the hunt for the perfect replacement. These cupcakes truly are the best birthday cupcakes ever! I filled the cupcakes to make them extra special.

The instant fudge frosting is a winner too. It’s not too sweet because of the unsweetened chocolate and is easily whipped up in a food processor.

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Monster Cookies for two very special care packages

20 Sep

We all have special people in our lives and want to show them our love in special ways. If you’re reading this blog, you probably like to make food for those you love. For me, I wanted to show my two younger brothers just how much I care about them while they are away from home serving our country.

When deciding which cookie to bake for my military brothers, naturally I leaned toward the classic chocolate chip. But after some research, I found that Monster cookies are a better choice because: 1) they are sturdier for shipping and 2) you can easily swap out the chocolate chips for M&M’s, which don’t melt as much in the hot weather overseas.

Also, my brothers were little monsters when they were growing up (Oh, do I have stories) so it seemed fitting, but we don’t have to share that with them… okay? Okay.

Monster cookies—everything cookies or kitchen-sink cookies, as some of you may know them—remind me of childhood. I remember making them with my mom and always throwing in lots of extra M&M’s… in the batter, sure, but mostly in my mouth. :)

I hope the Monster cookies will remind my brothers of home and let them know how proud I am of their service and bravery. Plus it’s my one brother’s birthday soon, so I wanted to surprise him with a homemade treat.

What’s great about this cookie dough is you can mix-in whatever you like and create separate batches with different mix-ins. You could try nuts, various types of chocolate chips, or other candies. Be creative, but be sure to half the mix-ins or else it will be all treats and no cookie (yes, that is a bad thing in this case!).

I made two separate batches: one for the birthday boy overseas with a ½ cup regular M&M’s and ½ cup peanut M&M’s (no chocolate chips due to the warm climate) and another for the brother in the States with a ½ cup regular M&M’s and ½ cup chocolate chips.

I doubled the recipe making about 140 cookies or almost 11 baker’s dozen. That’s a LOT of cookies.

140 cookies = one large container plus several small baggies for each care package + PLENTY of leftovers to snack on for the week and freeze for future cravings, which I wasn’t complaining about…

Obviously!!! ;)

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Blueberry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

31 Aug

Being newlyweds has its perks. The biggest one for Mike and I is seeing each other more than a weekend or two a month and not having to drive the dreaded few hours to do so.

Another perk is using all the fun, new kitchen gadgets and serveware we received as gifts. I recently took inventory and realized there were a bunch of things we haven’t broken in yet.

This recipe came from my desire to put two of those items to use: a ring mold (bundt pan) and a cake stand. Plus blueberries are abundant at the local farmers market now. I’d call that a win-win situation.

This cake is good… I mean really good: spongy and moist in texture – think melt in your mouth, no crumbs on the plate; rich in flavor, reminiscent of a sugar cookie; with bursts of juicy blueberries both in the cake and on top; and decadent cream cheese frosting.

The cake and the frosting have just the right amount of sweetness. In fact, this might be my go-to cream cheese frosting recipe from now on. It was that good.

Blueberry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted slightly from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Makes 12-16 Servings

Ingredients

The set-up: Original recipe (*My Adjustments with notes to follow)

For the cake:

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup sour cream (*light sour cream)
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (washed and dried), plus extra to decorate (*2 1/3 cups blueberries)
  • Confectioners’ sugar to decorate

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 4 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (*4 cups)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • One 8 ounce package cream cheese, cold (*light cream cheese)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (*vanilla bean paste)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch ring mold* and dust with flour. Tip: Use the leftover grease from the butter wrappers. *See below note about the size of ring mold.

Put the butter and sugar in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk). Cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Beat in the vanilla extract, flour, and baking powder until the flour is just incorporated. Add the sour cream and mix well until all ingredients are combined and the mixture is light and fluffy. Do not overmix.

Gently stir in the blueberries by hand until evenly dispersed.

Pour the batter into the prepared ring mold and smooth over with a palette knife making sure all sides are even (I used the back of the spatula).

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched or skewer comes out clean  (I baked for 45 mins.).

Let the cake cool slightly in the mold before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely (I ran a knife around the edges to make removing easier).

When the cake has cooled completely, put it on a serving plate. Cover the top and sides with the cream cheese frosting and decorate with blueberries. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

For the cream cheese frosting:

  1. Beat the confectioners’ sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-low speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed (about 3-4 minutes; it will still be powdery).
  2. Add the cream cheese and vanilla extract/vanilla bean paste. Beat until completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it and do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny. Leave at room temp until time to frost the cake.

Lofty Bites’ Notes

Ring mold size: Since I used a 9.3 inch ring mold (smaller than the recipe called for), I didn’t want the cake to overflow so I filled the mold ¾ full and made 8 cupcakes with the remaining batter. The cake puffed up nicely and if there was any more batter it would have overflowed.

Extra Batter Cupcakes: I waited until the cake came out of oven before putting in the cupcakes. I baked the cupcakes for 18 mins. at 325°F, until the tops were golden brown. Cool the same way as the cake.

New meaning of light & fluffy: I usually beat butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes and consider that “light and fluffy.” Trust me – those extra few minutes really make a visible difference in the consistency of the batter. Lesson learned: Be patient and wait those 5 minutes!

Variations: You could make the cake with or without the frosting (but why would you!). Add ½ to 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel to make lemon cream cheese frosting. I added an extra 1/3 cup of berries and you could probably add even more.

Secret weapon: I love using vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla extract. It gives a more intense flavor to any baked good, and there’s something so authentic about seeing the dark flecks in the finished dessert. I get my vanilla bean paste at Williams-Sonoma, but you could probably find it at any specialty food shop.

Heart of Darkness Brownies

23 Aug

It seemed fitting to kick off this blog with a recipe from the first cookbook my husband ever gave me – Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

His inscription in the book (I can’t wait to see all the great things you whip up!) inspired me to immediately try out a recipe for risotto rice pudding. While it tasted amazing, the texture and overall appearance of the final product left much to be desired. I haven’t tried another recipe from the book since… maybe due to an underlying feeling that the recipes were a bit out of my league.

Well, no more excuses. These desserts are too mouth-watering not to give it another go. This time around I attempted the sinful Heart of Darkness Brownies.

Per usual, I adjusted the recipe to make the treats slightly less hurtful to the waistline. I reduced the amount of butter, sugar, and candy bits, used some whole wheat pastry flour, and replaced the heavy cream with light cream.

The brownies were so rich and satisfying that I didn’t even notice the “healthful” adjustments. These bad boys are the real deal; the epitome of Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.

The deep chocolately aroma of the batter and baked brownies smelled truly heavenly. My husband and his friend were so grateful for the treats that they washed all the dishes. Now that’s a good brownie!

Heart of Darkness Brownies

Adapted from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor

Makes 24 brownie cups (my batch yielded 30 cups)

Ingredients

The set-up: Original recipe (*My Adjustments)
 
  • 1½ cups or 3 sticks unsalted butter (*2 ½ sticks)
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2¼ cups granulated sugar (*2 cups sugar)
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour (*1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped almonds or pecans, toasted – see directions below
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 5 full-size (2.07 ounces each) Snickers candy bars, cut into small chunks (*10 fun-size Snickers Almond bars)
  • 3 cups mini marshmallows for topping

For the Caramel Drizzle Sauce:

  • 6 ounces or about 25 caramel candies (*15 caramel creams)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (*4 tablespoons light cream)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt (1/16 teaspoon)

Directions

*If you are toasting the nuts: On an ungreased baking sheet, toast the nuts at 350°F for about 6 minutes or until lightly browned. To prevent burning, move the nuts around a few times while baking. Remove nuts from oven and lay out flat on paper towel or plate to cool.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 12-cup muffin tins.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate. Stir frequently until smooth. When the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is well combined, remove from heat.
  3. Transfer melted chocolate to a large mixing bowl. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, lightly beaten eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir until well mixed.
  4. Add sifted flour and salt to the chocolate mixture. Stir just until all ingredients are combined.
  5. Stir in toasted nuts, chocolate chips, and candy bar pieces. Batter will be thick and gooey (and smell amazing!).
  6. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling half to ¾ full. Bake for about 18-20 minutes until brownies have a slightly cracked top.
  7. Remove from oven and press marshmallows into the top of each brownie (about ¼ cup each or a small handful). Bake again for about 2-4 minutes until marshmallows are slightly browned.
  8. Let the brownies cool in the tin on top of a wire rack for about 5 minutes or until tin is cool enough to handle. Remove the brownies from the tin using a knife around the edges, careful not to puncture the brownies (which may cause the brownie to crumble). Cool completely on a wire rack or parchment paper.
  9. Drizzle caramel sauce onto brownies – see directions below.
  10. Cool at room temp (not in the fridge). Store in covered container for up to 3 days.

Caramel Drizzle Sauce

Tip: Wait until all the brownies are cooling on the wire rack 
before making the caramel sauce. Otherwise the sauce may get 
too thick if it sits long.
  1. Lightly coat a microwave-safe bowl with non-fat cooking spray.
  2. Add caramels, cream, vanilla extract and salt. Mix.
  3. Microwave on high for about 1 minute, uncovered. Stir caramel mixture.
  4. Microwave again for 30 seconds. Stir until caramel is smooth. (Repeat until desired consistency is reached.)
  5. Drizzle caramel sauce over brownies.

Lofty Bites’ Notes

Thoughts on my “healthful” adjustments: When making these brownies again, I would use the full amount of butter (3 sticks) to prevent crumbling. I think the amount of sugar can be reduced even further to 1½ or 1¾ cups and the amount of chocolate chips could be cut back without sacrificing taste. The combination of flours worked well, but whole wheat pastry flour could be used for the entire 1½ cups if desired.

Toasting the nuts is optional, but it definitely brings a more intense, nutty flavor to the brownie. I recommend it since the process is quick and well worth the effort. Obviously you could swap in your favorite type of nuts and the same goes for the candy bar.

I used caramel creams for the caramel sauce because the store ran out of regular caramel candies. The sauce was still yummy, but I would recommend regular caramel candies or even making caramel sauce from scratch. If you are in a pinch, store-bought caramel sauce would also do the trick.

My final and most important note of all – DO NOT … I repeat … DO NOT use dark coated muffin tins. Use ones that are light silver with a good nonstick coating. I used three different tins: a dark coated tin (pictured left), a light silver nonstick tin from Crate & Barrel (pictured right), and a nonstick Calphalon tin. The latter two tins worked best.

As you can see, the dark coated tin resulted in a crumbly mess (albeit a delicious crumbly mess).

Yup. There was a flub on my first blog recipe. But that’s what I’m here for – to prevent this from happening to you! Plus, I promised to share my mishaps with you and a promise is a promise.

Let me leave you with another promise: I promise that if you have a serious sweet tooth like me, you’ll be hooked after just one bite of this fudgy, nutty, caramel brownie goodness.

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