Misspellings, with a side of rum

Aha!  It's Sunday night and I baked Saturday.  I have no excuse not to blog about this! :) Just in time for all of your holiday feasts hopefully, too.

Last night we went over to our friends Beth and Justins' house to celebrate Justin's birthday.  Beth and I spent the whole day shopping for ingredients and decorations.  We had baked brie, goat cheese with honey and green apples on crackers, egg rolls, spinach and artichoke dip...so much food!  But naturally no birthday is complete without a big ol' hunk of cake with (literally) your name on it.  Last week I emailed Beth with a cake idea that I've had my eye on for a while, from Smitten Kitchen (natch), and she was nice enough to let me give it a go on her hubby's birthday!

The cake is an epresso chiffon cake, brushed with an espresso-rum syrup between the layers, and then frosted with a chocolate buttercream.  Ohh yeaaaah.  Sounds delicious, right?  Well tell a bunch of party goers that there's rum involved with the cake and it turns into "So wait...there's rum in the cake?  Or in the frosting...?  Or wait...where's the rum...?"  Which was hilarious, since the rum's actually a very small part of this cake.  It made me think of this:


The cake actually turned out fantastic, even though I had to trash my first set of eggs whites from a tiny bit of yolk (once the yolks in there, don't even bother trying to beat your egg whites.  It just doesn't work).  I also LOVED making the chocolate buttercream.  Who knew that you could make frosting in the food processor?!  Genius!  It was so easy.  I made it without the chocolate at first, scooped out enough for the writing, and then added the melted chocolate to the rest.  It tasted absolutely delicious!  Like brownies, or fudge, or something else intensely chocolatey and delicious.

So I make the frosting, frost the cake,  pipe on "Happy Birthday Justin!" with a couple stars, and then pipe on some small dots to the bottom of the cake.  A couple things happen here.  I was very nervous about tearing the cake, and didn't have time to freeze the layers to make it easier, so I thickly piped on the frosting around the edges, swirled it in the middle, and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula.  Holy cow.  SO much easier than scooping on a big mound in the middle and spreading from there!!  I will do this every time from now on!! 

Then I piped on the birthday message.  Yikes.  So maybe I had a drink while baking...then maybe I had a glass of wine while frosting (Hey! It's a PARTY!)...so maybe I forgot the "D" in "birthday."  Woops!  :) We all got a big laugh out of it, and I shoved it in there anyway.

on to the recipe!

Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes an 8- or 9-inch triple-layer cake

  • 1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as soybean, canola or vegetable blend
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons freshly brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Huntsman recommends freshly-brewed over hydrating espresso powder, which she feels can be too bitter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment or waxed paper, but do not grease.

In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixer bowl with an electric mixture, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raising the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining half cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form; do not whip until stiff or the cake will shirk excessively upon cooling.

Add the espresso-egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just enough to combine. Add one-fourth of the beaten egg whites and fold them in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remainder of the whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes each, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.

To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the Espresso Syrup (below). Spread about 1 1/3 cups of the Instant Fudge Frosting (below) evenly over the top of the layer. Repeat with the next layer, more syrup and more frosting. Finally, top with the third layer. Soak it with the remaining syrup and frost the tops and sides with the remaining frosting.

Espresso Syrup
Makes one cup
1/3 cup hot, freshly brewed espresso
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s
In a bowl, stir together the espresso and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and let cool to room temperature.
Don’t want to use rum? (I know someone will ask.) I’d swap it with water, perhaps flavored with some vanilla extract. Worried about the caffeine? Use decaf espresso.

Instant Fudge Frosting
Adapted, barely, from a Sky High recipe
Now, this is, to be honest, a fancy name for a quick buttercream but it’s got two things going for it that are worth mentioning: One, the frosting isn’t flavored with cocoa (too mild) or even good semisweet chocolate, but unsweetened chocolate. Brilliant, I tell you. I find most quick buttercreams way too sweet, and although this one still is quite sugary, the super-bitter chocolate goes a long way to mitigating it. The second thing worth mentioning is this: Did you know you can make quick buttercreams in the food processor? I had no idea, I hadn’t even considered it before. But there I was whirling everything together in ten seconds flat and I will make it no other way from now on.

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

Okay, my notes now. 
  • We used extra virgin olive oil, because I goofed and forgot to bring vegetable oil.  Didn't make a difference at all, so if you need to use it, no big deal (it's probably not ideal, though). 
  • Don't have an espresso machine?  I'll bet you've got a Starbucks!  Venti cup about half full.  Just microwave it before you make the syrup, so it's hot enough to dissolve the sugar. 
  • From what I could see when I made the cakes, I had enough batter to make three thin-ish  cakes, or two regular-sized cakes.  I just made two.  Everybody loves a little less clean up!
  • For the frosting: I used whole milk, not half-and-half, and it was RICH.  Rich as in "Oh em geez I need some milk with this cake, stat," rich.  I think half-and-half might have given us all heart attacks. 
    • Also, as mentioned above, I didn't add the chocolate right away, since I wanted some white frosting to write with.  I scooped some plain buttercream into my piping bag, then added the melted chocolate to the rest.

As you can see, no one hated it!  :) All in all, I'd say this recipe is definitely a keeper.  Was it a little complicated to make?  Sure.  I'd rate it "Intermediate" from the separating eggs, folding in egg whites, and because it's a delicate cake (harder to frost).  If you've got the time and patience, though, it's definitely worth the hard work!

Happy Holidays, and enjoy!!

Pamp-keen Pie!

So if you don't get the title of this post, let me explain...then we'll get on to the goodness!

I won a trip to Barcelona, Spain two years ago through work (people who had the highest sales goals got to go, that kind of thing). Many of you who know me know that Spain is my favorite place in the world, and I have some great friends there, Cristina and Lalis and their family. So of course I worked it out with them to meet up one day while there and have lunch. During lunch it was a crowd of me, my friend Anne (also American), my two Spanish friends, one of their boyfriends, and a German exchange student. So to sum up the languages being spoken at our table: English, Spanish, Catalan, and German. We were quite the international crowd.

During this lunch, we somehow got to talking about funny-sounding words in different languages, and all of the Spaniards at the table agreed that "Pumpkin" was the strangest word they had ever heard. So for the rest of lunch they kept saying "Pamp-keen!" with their Spanish accents and laughing like crazy. Ever since, I have never been able to say "Pumpkin" like a normal person, this way is just so much better :). As for crazy sounding Spanish words? I've always been a fan of "Habichuelas," or green beans, pronounced "ah-bee-CHWAY-lahs." Also, "albondigas" always struck me as kind of funny too (meatballs-"al-BOHN-dee-gahs").

ANYWAY! Enough rambling-I know what you're here for. You're here to unlock the secrets to a perfect pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving? That was just a test run. Now you've got some practice under your belt and you're ready to pull out the big guns! Well this pumpkin pie is the big daddy of all pumpkin pies (if I do say so myself). The fresh ginger and bourbon in it totally send it over the edge! So I now want you to listen very carefully:

  • go to your freezer
  • politely break it off with your Sara Lee pumpkin pie...that means YOU, Mom! (you're growing apart, your culinary skills have improved, and you need something else that will challenge you as a budding bakery goddess...or god...you get my drift)
  • now throw it away, and follow this recipe...

Pumpkin Pie

Courtesy of Brock Kuhlman, of Hill's Kitchen in Washington, DC

par-baked 9” pie crust

1 T all-purpose flour
1 t cinnamon, ground
1 t salt
¼ t nutmeg, ground
2 c fresh or canned pumpkin puree, unsweetened
1 1/3 c heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3 c sugar
1 T vanilla extract
2 t finely grated peeled ginger

*for those of you who love bourbon: reduce the heavy cream to 1 cup.  Add 1/3 cup of bourbon to the filling, along with 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  You should love bourbon.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a mixer, whip the pumpkin, eggs, cream, sugars, vanilla, and grated ginger until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and blend just until combined.  Fill the parbaked shell and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the middle of the custard jiggles but doesn't slosh.

Cool at least three hours before cutting.  This pie really improves after sitting overnight- the spice flavors really smooth out and become luscious. 

Butter/Shortening Pie Crust*

single crust
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
¼ t salt
5 T cold unsalted butter
3 T cold shortening
4-5 T cold water

double crust
2 c all-purpose flour
½ t salt
7 T cold unsalted butter
4 T cold shortening
5-6 T cold water

Measure out the water for the crust and then chill in the freezer.

Measure out the flour and salt into a cold bowl and whisk until well mixed.

Coat the stick of butter in the flour, and then using a bench knife or chef's knife, cut length ways into four long pieces.  Coat in flour.  Cut the long pieces into ¼” cubes (1” pieces for a food processor) and coat in flour.  Using a pastry cutter, press the tines straight down through the fat and flour mixture repeatedly until the largest pieces of fat are the size of large peas and the smallest are the size of lentils.  Don't over do it- range of fat pieces makes for a flaky pastry.  Rechill if your kitchen is warm.  (if using a food processor, pulse a few times until the fat is cut into a range of sizes as indicated above.  Do not run the processor continuously- only pulse. Transfer to a cold bowl.)

Be stingy with the water.  Add a tablespoon at a time, tossing the dough between each addition, not mixing or smearing.  Work the dough as little as possible.  Add just enough water that there is no more dry flour at the bottom of the bowl- you want all the flour to be incorporated until there are only little cobble like bits hanging together.  Add the last bit of water in drips, or flicks.  To test, pat together a tennis ball size piece of dough- if it falls apart or has big, floury cracks, you need to add a few more drops of water.  Too much dough makes a tough dough, so be judicious at this point.  If you get your dough too wet, throw it away and start over.  It can't be recovered.

For a single crust, form into a ball.  For a double crust, divide into two balls, one slightly larger than the other (the bottom crust will need to be bigger to fit the pan).  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour. 

*Working with pastry is a bit of an art, but one that can be mastered if you remember two things.  The dough has to have enough water to be cohesive, but too much water (which paradoxically makes the dough easier to work with) will make it tough.  Second, the fat always has to be cold.  Always.  Warm fat will never make a good crust.  If it seems too warm, stop and chill it a few minutes in the freezer.

Blind Baking/ Par-Baking a Pie Shell

Roll out the pastry and fill a 9” pie tin, crimping the edge.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes.  Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork to keep it from bubbling up, and then line the pie shell with parchement paper or aluminum foil.  Fill the pie with pie weights or kidney beans and bake as follows:

For a par-baked crust (for pumpkin pie), bake the bean/weight filled crust for 15-20 minutes at 450 F, or until the edges look blonde and slightly blistered.

For a blind baked crust (for a fresh fruit tart), bake the bean/weight filled crust as above, but then remove the weights/beans, turn the oven down to 375 F, and then bake it for ten minutes or so until the crust edges and bottom are golden brown. 

First off, let's be honest here.  I've slacked on the blog.  I used to write it on my lunch hours at work, but now I've taken to not taking lunch hours.  If you work in front of a computer screen like me, you know you don't want to even SEE a keyboard after work!  I know, excuses excuses.  So why I am I giving you this now?  Truthfully, I wrote this LAST year around this time...but I lost my recipes!  They were in a packet that got thrown away.  I just got around to asking Brock for the packet, and he was nice enough to send it to me.  Why is it a big deal that he was nice enough to send it to me?  Because he lives in THAILAND now.  Yah.  The man is awesome.  You should check out his blog here.

Me waiting around on this draft for a year and still posting also tells you something...this pie is GOOD!  Like really good.  And Brock's right, add the bourbon.  Between the bourbon and the fresh ginger and the regular pumpkin pie deliciousness, it's heavenly.  I'm thinking I might make this for Christmas in San Diego.  I'm thinking you should too, wherever you are.

Happy Holidays!  :) I promise to try and write more!  And remember...

Summer Slacking...

What can I say?  I am a slacker.  The heat has rendered me a kitchen-hater.  We made dinner the other night on the stove for the first time in months....MONTHS I TELL YOU!  And you know what I did?  I grumbled.  It's true.  I'm a grumbler now.

I have made two things since my last post, and I apparently found them so lack-luster that I couldn't bring myself to share.  One of them?  Ice cream!  Frozen yogurt to be precise.  It was good-Cherry Almond Coconut Froyo-but I actually ended up liking the non-frozen product a lot better than frozen.  I don't know if it's because it froze to a rock-like consistency, or if I just wasn't that crazy about it.  Either way, I'd suggest just making it for yourself and not freezing it.  You know what it tastes like?  Yoplait Cherry yogurt.  But possibly a little bit better.  Plus, you could go the healthy-crunchy-green-route and say that you're making your own flavored yogurt.  Way to go you!  Here's a pic of the pre-freezer ice cream (it was also excellent in this stage...maybe my freezer is just too cold?):

I fully admit to eating enough of this that I felt slightly nauseous.  You know why?  Coconut milk.  Holy cow.  I could practically chug the stuff.  I want to use it in anything!!

So yes.  Froyo was good, but once in it's rock-solid frozen state, I didn't touch the stuff.  On to the other thing I made since the last post...

Mmhmm.  I can't even lie.  Every year on December 24th, I bite the bullet, roll  my eyes, and make yellow cake from a box for my husband's birthday.  Then I top it off with "milk chocolate" frosting from a plastic tub.  He. Loves. It.  My silly picky-pants husband loves cake from a box.  It's his favorite.  He has no interest in homemade cakes, no matter how delicious or visually appealing, but he'll down 4 of these cupcakes in one sitting like they're the greatest thing on earth.  Go figure!  So a couple weeks ago Jeff was having a bad week, and while we were at the grocery store he gave me the puppy dog eyes and asked, "Do you think you could make me some cupcakes?  Y'know...like...from a box?  Yellow, with chocolate frosting?"

:) Little booger.  So of course I did.  And then I admittedly had a couple myself.  I hate to admit how good they are!  I hate how it takes no more than an hour to make them from start to finish!  I hate that there's no skill required, and yet this is somehow what my husband finds most appealing!  It's like buying a $500 dress just to hear your husband say, "Eh, it's okay.  What about that dress you got from Target last week?"

Aaanyway.  As the heat is starting to die down, I'm feeling the urge to bake more.  There are cookie recipes I want to try!  Cakes!  Pies!  Ice creams!  So hopefully you'll hear from me soon...if not?  Keep an eye on that DC forecast.  As soon as it dips back down into the low 80's, I'll be making regular appearances again.  Later gators!

Sing it Martha!

Hello out there!  Yes...I still exist.  I know, I know, where have I been?!  Here's the deal...

You know that heat wave you've heard about on the news?  Perhaps you experienced it yourself?  Well to say DC experienced it is quite the understatement.  In fact, if we're being real here, I'd say DC was punched in the face by that heat wave!  It wasn't just a day or two...it was a MONTH!  Record highs, records for the most consecutive days over 90 degrees, blah-de-blah-blah.  You get it, right?  No?  Perhaps you need Martha and the girls to tell you...

Okay, so now that that's clear for you, let's move on. 

Last post I teased you with the prospect of wedding cake in your future.  Hmmm...yeah I don't have that for you.  I used a few recipes that turned out to be just so-so.  That...and did I mention the heat?  Let me tell you what results when you leave your butter on the kitchen counter to "soften" overnight?  Mhmm.  Melted butter ALL OVER YOUR COUNTER.  And the cereal boxes.  And the pot holder.  And down the side of the cabinets.  Awesome.  I should have taken this as a bad sign and stopped there.  But noooo...I'm a glutton for punishment!  So I switched on the a/c window unit in our dining room (let me clarify...a room NEXT to our kitchen) and charged ahead.


The oven heated our kitchen to epic proportions.  The swiss buttercream melted down the sides of the cake.  The cake was a tad on the dry side, and yet somehow completely fragile, and really enjoyed falling apart to the touch.  It still came together, and we still ate it (okay...we're cheesy...we fed each other the first bite).  We threw the rest of it away, though.  Just not good.

BUT!  There is a light at the end of this dreary little summer tunnel!

Ohhh yeaaaahKitchenAid ice cream maker attachment for my birthday?  Don't mind if I do!  :) Gosh that husband of mine is a nice guy!  So what's in your future, as a reader of this blog?  How about blueberry cheesecake ice cream?  Cherry almond coconut fro-yo?  Caramel chocolate chip ice cream?  Oh yeah babe.  And the best part?  My sweet little kitchen gets a break from the heat (well...from the oven's heat, at least!).  Keep your eyes peeled!

Twisty Bobcat Kinda Pretzel

Hello readers!  What's on today's menu?  I made pretzels last week for my dear, wonderful, picky-pants husband.  I constantly get this question at work when I bring in baked goods: "What about your husband?!  Didn't you want to save some of this for him?!" like I'm starving the poor boy, and smacking his hands away.

Oh contraire!

Just the opposite actually.  I have to beg him to try things!  He usually just greets my baked goods with a polite, "No, thank you."  I'm serious!  Know what he wants for his birthday every year?  Yellow cake and chocolate frosting, from a box and a plastic tub, respectively.  How's that for crazy?!

So I'm constantly on the prowl for a good recipe that just might interest him...and I found one!  Jeffrey LOVES soft pretzels.  I ran the idea by him a while ago, and he was really interested; he actually followed up once to see when I was going to make them!  If he sees a stand at the baseball game, or the mall, he'll usually get one.  So I decided to surprise him when he had to work late one night last week, and have him come home to a late night snack of delicious, salty, doughy, goodness.

While I was making them (somewhat terrified at first...me+dough=not good things in the past), I kept thinking of this scene from "Two Weeks Notice" with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant (hence the title of this post.  Sorry, Sandra gets a little cut off by the layout of the page).  It's really only the first 2:15 of this clip, but the whole movie is so great.  Classic rom-com.


So anyway, I've only really got two pics for you today.  Hopefully they'll leave you satisfied and wanting to make some pretzels of your own!  I really liked the end result, but I would probably get a little more creative and season them with other things besides just salt if I make them again.  This is the picky-pants part, naturally.  :) Jeff just prefers plain salted, which were still delicious.  These would be equally excellent with some rosemary and garlic, maybe some cinnamon and sugar?  The possibilities are endless!  They were surprisingly easy to make (remember?  I'm dough deficient), just a little time consuming.  I started mine late, at about 7:30PM, and they were done by 10PM.

And look how pretty they turned out!
They were wonderful, doughy, chewy, delicious!  Add a good spicy mustard, or maybe a little queso, and ohmigod heaven!  Plus, my kitchen smelled amazing!  Oh...and that husband of mine seemed to like them too.  Especially when he told me he had SIX (SIX!!!!) the next day when he brought them to work. Ha!  Let's call that a victory.

from Smitten Kitchen/Martha Stewart

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray (I just used parchment paper...I'm a sucker for minimal clean-up...btw, my comments will be in bold down here)

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions this means if your kitchen is like mine, and 1000*F and humid? extra 1/2 cup is needed); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic (extremely important to wrap the dough!  Otherwise it will dry out, and won't roll out easily).

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

So there you go! These are an excellent addition to my recipe box, and I'm excited to make them again with some different flavor combinations!

Just before I go, though, I would like to give a big shout-out to my AWESOME cousin Kim!  I came home yesterday to find this waiting for me in my mailbox:

How great is that?! 

Okay, enjoy your week everyone!  Coming up next, I'll be featuring a redo of our wedding cake for our 1 year anniversary this weekend.  Keep your eyes peeled!

Detour: Special Pasta

As you are aware, I occasionally (okay...once) like to feature a non-baked good on here because it's just so darn good I want to share it with the world!  If you've known me or my husband for more than a month or two, then you've heard about our "Special Pasta."  Just sitting here actually writing out "Special Pasta" makes me laugh, because it's so funny that we call it that.  We made it last night, though, and in light of our 1 year anniversary (of marriage) coming up in a little over a week, I thought it would be great to share it with all of you.  Let's start with a story...

Most of you know that I met my husband when we were in high school.  I was 14 and he was 17, and much to the chagrin of our parents (helloooo drama!) we fell for each other HARD.  I was a preppy kid in Gap jeans and cardigan sweaters, he was a metal head with spiky hair and scary chains.  We were both in marching band, and he was probably the most charming individual I had ever met.  The years that followed were filled with love notes, late night phone calls (BEFORE cell phones! We used calling cards! Ha!), and flower-filled lockers when he came home from college for a weekend.

Okay, okay, enough with the mush.  Where did the pasta come from?!

One year for Valentine's Day I went to OU to celebrate with him.  He decided that we were going to take over his crazy little apartment (everything was brick! The floor, the walls...seriously...EVERYTHING) and have a romantic dinner.  We went back and forth on what to make, and finally he settled on a Rachael Ray recipe for "Bacon and Egg Coal Miner's Pasta (aka Rigatoni alla Carbonara)."  We. loved. it.  We also changed the bejeesus out of it for two reasons:

1. Pancetta-Have you ever been to Athens, OH?  Great place for a Halloween Party, bad place to find out-of-the-norm foods.  When we inquired if the deli had pancetta at the local Kroger, we were asked, "Paynchetta? Is that sum kahnd of cheeese?" Mmmhmm.  We smiled, thanked her for her help, and got a package of center cut bacon.

2. Quantity-Being the true blue Americans that we are, we added the whole package of bacon, pretty much doubled the cheese, and upped the ante on the crushed red pepper. Mmmm...

So because "Bacon and Egg Coal Miner's Pasta: Rigatoni alla Carbonara" is kind of a mouthful, we just started calling it "That special pasta from Valentine's Day," which was eventually shortened to "Special Pasta."  Over the years we've made it for so many people, even our friends know what "Special Pasta" is!  So after countless requests for the recipe, I'm sharing it with you.  I sincerely hope you enjoy what has become our signature dish!

Special Pasta
adapted from Rachael Ray's Bacon and Egg Coal Miner's Pasta

  • 1 pkg center cut bacon (less fatty)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced (yes...5.  Don't skimp. Bacon+garlic=heaven)
  • 1 lb rigatoni (any pasta will do, I actually really enjoy this with Farfalle as well)
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese (buy the block of cheese and grate it yourself. SO much tastier! Cheese was not meant to come from a can, people)
  • 1 handful of flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 C white wine (chicken stock only in a pinch, the wine is WAY better)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Fill large pot with water to boil for pasta
Have your loving husband slice the bacon into small strips (naturally, you can do this on your own, but this is one of those recipes that really works best with two people).  Heat a large pan with high sides on medium-high heat, add bacon.  Be sure to drain bacon fat from the pan with a large spoon as much as you can.  If you leave it, it will be greasy, and not-so-tasty.  Once the bacon starts to look halfway cooked, add pasta to your boiling water.  It's better to be a little late adding the pasta, than early.  When you add the pasta in the end, it should be very hot.

While husband is cooking the bacon, chop the parsley, grate the cheese, and stir together in a bowl with the egg yolks and black pepper.  Add a large spoonful of the boiling pasta water to the egg/cheese mixture and stir rapidly to temper the eggs.  Add water until it's creamy and easy to stir with a fork, but not too runny (this is usually about 3 spoonfuls for us...but it will depend on your spoon!).  Set aside.

When bacon is just starting to look crisp, add garlic and crushed red pepper and stir rapidly, (careful not to burn it!!!) until garlic is just softened.  Add white wine to the pan, and deglaze.  Be sure to scrape the pan to loosen tasty bits that may have been sticking.  When wine is reduced by half, turn off the heat. 

When pasta has finished cooking, drain in a colander (DO NOT RINSE-you want the pasta to stay starchy so the cheese mixture adheres to it), and transfer hot pasta into pan with bacon.  Toss to combine.  Finish by adding egg/cheese mixture and toss well until pasta is coated.

Serve in your favorite bowl, plate, or as we're fond of: the blate (bowl...plate...blate...get it? This one is from Williams Sonoma.  Thanks, Mom!).  Finish with a little grated parmesan, and devour.  This recipe can also be doubled, and devoured as leftovers.

I've got gadgets and gizmos aplenty!

Hmmm...starting off a post with a Little Mermaid quote?  Looks like a recipe for awesome-ness to me!

I have been wanting to make these Blueberry Crumb Bars for over a month now, and it was just time!  Why did I wait a month?  Well, first I moved.  Then it got HOT.  We're rocking the a/c window units here in the new digs, so the idea of heating up the oven (and, therefore, my kitchen) was less than appealing to say the least.  It finally cooled down this week, after many days (weeks?) of 90+ degree days, so I decided today was the day!

I haven't tried them yet, since they're cooling as I write this, but I can tell you without a doubt that my house smells heavenly!!  There's nothing like blueberry, lemon, and butter to make your house smell all sorts of good!  These bars look so delicious, and they were beyond easy to make!  I was actually thinking while making them, "Gosh, these are so easy, I'm not sure I'll really have much to write about!"  Then I looked at what was in front of me and realized, "Wow...I'm using some things here that might not really be something that could be found in everyone's kitchen," so I had the idea to show you some of my kitchen gadgets, gizmos, and essentials.  Plus, I figure, in the days of Twitter, Facebook, and People magazine, everyone likes to be nosy nowadays!  So here we go (Not interested?  Just want the goods? Recipe's at the bottom!)...

1. Pastry Cutter- This is my newest kitchen gadget from Hill's Kitchen.  This can be used to make biscuits, pie crust, shortbread, etc.  I've been wanting one for a while (I'm dying to try my hand at homemade biscuits!) because even though all recipes that call for a pastry cutter say "or use two forks or knives to cut in butter..." I have had zero luck with that method.  This, however, was easy as pie (Oooh! Yesss. Haha, I crack myself up!).


2. Microplane & Citrus Reamer- Do me a favor: GO BUY THESE.  Oh, I'm sorry?  You say you have a "juicer" that works just fine?  You lie.  That little piece of wood will get every last bit of delicious juice from a lemon, orange, whatever.  I've never seen anything that works better (except maybe those crazy juicer contraptions at Jamba Juice).  And the microplane?  It's just money.  Works great for zesting lemons, and also grates parmesan cheese faster than the huge box grater that is now collecting dust on my shelf (makes less of a mess too!).
3. Kitchen Timer- Essential!  My mother tells me she doesn't bake because she always gets distracted and burns things.  Ever heard of the phrase, "Like mother like daughter?"  Yep.  I've burnt a thing or two in my day.  So I love my kitchen timer magnet.  Why?  It's loud enough to hear in my living room at the other end of the apartment, it is extremely obnoxious (a high pitched "beep-a-da-beep!"), and won't turn off until I press the button.  This is just common sense people!
4. Ikea flour and sugar jars- Know what I hate?  I hate those big bags of flour that never seem to open right, so they inevitably tear, and your counter tops get more flour than your baked goods!  Drives me bananas!  These jars were $5 each!  It's a no brainer.  If you're going to go buy some, keep in mind that they should be wide enough at the top to accomodate your measuring cups (this is important! For some reason the cutest ones have skinny little necks at the top.  Who does that?!).  These also have a seal under the lid, which I like.

5. Jewelry Dish- Confession time: I'm a sucker for those pottery painting places in strip malls.  Yep.  The ones with the little ceramic turtles and "I love you!" picture frames.  I'm always looking for an excuse to go in!  Well if you're looking for an excuse to paint some cheap unfinished pottery, here you go!  This dish is shaped like a flower, is painted by moi, and holds my rings while I bake, cook, and do dishes.  As a side note: how cute are my garlic jar and Ohio barn?!  Gotta love a little home state pride!
Okay.  So did you come here for a recipe or something?  My bad.  Let's move on to that for you!  Today's recipe is yet another gem from Smitten Kitchen, who got it from AllRecipes.com. 
from SmittenKitchen.com, adapted from Allrecipes.com

Yield: I cut these into 36 smallish rectangles
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. (This took an extra 10 to 15 minutes in my oven.) Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Honestly?  These were too easy!  They are so delicious too (they've cooled overnight, and as I'm finishing this post my coworkers are devouring them)!  I think if I were to change anything, I might add some toasted pecans to the crumbles on top next time.  It would be the perfect addition!  Also, the lemon in this is so essential.  The blueberry flavor really pops because of it!  While I wouldn't recommend cutting it out, you could probably use a small orange if you didn't have a lemon lying around, and it would be equally delicious.  Okay, so seriously...go make these!!!

Excuses, Excuses...

Aaand I'm back!  As the title notes, I am full of all sorts of excuses and baloney today...so bear with me.  First off, let's start with today's recipe.  My Mom made a carrot cake for Dad's birthday, and it looked so pretty I thought I'd just have to make some cupcakes of my own, complete with creamy delicious frosting, and maybe I'd get ambitious and pipe on some pretty little carrots too!  Ha.  Then we moved.  I've been telling friends that our new place could be a contender for "Hoarders" as of late.  Boxes piled up, just crap....eeeeeverywhere.  So carrot cake got put off for a little bit.  Then I got stressed.  And I was like "Okay, we're moving everything aside and I'm making some darn cupcakes!"  So I invited my friend Beth over, and bought all of my ingredients.

Then we got to talking... :) hehe....

So 8PM rolls around and I'm like, "Oh!  Cupcakes! Haha, woops!"  So I made them.  And wow.  Delicious!! Just sooo good.  Moist, light, perfect.  Since it was getting late, I drove Beth home while the cakes cooled.  Then I got back and it was, oh, 10PM.  And I hadn't cleaned up.  And then I had a cupcake.  They were literally so good at that point that not only did I not feel like MAKING frosting, but I didn't want to mess with the awesome flavor they were already packing.  So I passed. No creamy frosting, no piped on carrots, just cake (hey, stop it!  I can hear you judging me through my computer screen!).  :) They still went like hotcakes the next day at work.  Probably because people were thinking, "Ooh, muffins!  Healthy!" as us Americans are wont to do.  Hey, if an absence of frosting makes you feel better, my lips are sealed!

So this is where I usually show you a picture of a pretty little cupcake.


Excuses again.  So I'll provide a different picture instead...

That's my office building.  Some of you know I work for a certain government agency, and guess what?  No cameras inside.  No cell phones inside.  No cell phones with cameras or computers with cameras....you get the picture.  So I got nothin!  Luckily, that talented Mama of mine DID catch a photo of Dad's birthday cake (carrot cake is his fave), so I have this for you!

Gorgeous right?!  She doesn't know it...but I'm going to steal that cake plate someday.  Or at least find one that cute!  And those are crushed pecans on the sides.  Delicious, AND pretty!  Okay, so on to the recipe already!  This one hails from allrecipes.com (an awesome go-to for just about anything!).

Carrot Cake
from AllRecipes.com

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts**
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
  • 1 cup raisins**
**Call me a purist, but I omitted the walnuts and raisins.  Just not my cup of tea.  It was perfectly fine without.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Grease and flour an 8x12 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well.
In a medium bowl, combine shredded carrots, coconut, walnuts, pineapple and raisins.

Using a large wooden spoon or a very heavy whisk, add carrot mixture to batter and fold in well.

Pour into prepared 8x12 inch pan, and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour. Check with toothpick.

Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting
From AllRecipes.com

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

**Nat note: I also learned from the awesome teacher at Hill's Kitchen here in DC that if you want your frosting to harden a bit (kinda like the grocery store sort) you can add a tablespoon or two of milk to your frosting, and adjust the amount of powdered sugar as needed.

So I hope you all enjoy!  Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there this weekend, including all three of my wonderful Moms!

And last but not least, Happy Birthday to my gorgeous Mom (then and now!) tomorrow!  Love you!!

Best. Pie. EVER.

There's just not a whole lot to say about this pie.  I saw it on (I know, I know, I tend to obsess when I find something good) Smitten Kitchen and thought, "Ooh that looks yummy.  It will be perfect for the cookout with Beth and Justin!"  Just all non-chalant like that.  Not that I didn't think it would be good...I just didn't think it would be "Oh my god I could eat this whole pie by MYSELF" good.  Yeah.  For serious.

So back to the story! We had our friends Beth and Justin and their little cutie Henry over for a barbeque.  We just made some steaks, a green bean potato salad, and some grilled veggies.  It was so nice to spend time with our friends, and the weather here in DC has been just gorgeous!  I wanted to have something cold for dessert, but didn't want to give up on a big "bang" of flavor, so I searched Smitten Kitchen's arsenal of pie recipes, and came across the recipe for Chocolate Pudding Pie. 

The first obstacle I ran into was that I had a packet of pie recipes with an EXCELLENT pie crust recipe, but I lost it!  I was so forlorn.  How would I make pie?!  Well, I decided that Deb could never do me wrong, so I used the all-butter pie crust recipe she had on the site.  OH my gosh.  I'll never go back.  So buttery, flaky, delicious.  The pudding?  I'm not sure I'll ever make it out of the box again.  And the very lightly sweetened whipped cream on top?  The perfect compliment to the rich, thick pudding.  I'm telling you.  Make this.  How good was it, you ask?  I had a piece.  I tried to pawn the rest off on Justin and Beth, but they wouldn't take it.  They left.  I had another piece.  I put it in the fridge.  I came back to it the next day.  I had another piece.  Midway through that last piece I shouted "NO MORE!! I need to throw this #@*% pie AWAY!" as I felt it's chocolatey buttery goodness settling in on my hips.  It pained me, but I knew it was for my own good.

Worry not, friends.  I have a feeling this pie will be making an appearance again soon!  We're moving in the next couple weeks to a new, and much bigger apartment.  I'm thinking there's a housewarming barbeque in our future...and I'm thinking this chocolate pudding pie will be our guest of honor!

Now on to the recipe (straight from Smitten Kitchen)!

Adapted from Gourmet

One of my favorite things about this — besides the whole CHOCOLATE and PUDDING and PIE thing — is the way that despite its all-id, kid-like nature, this pie is surprisingly unsweet and not heavy. There’s barely a half cup of sugar in the whole she-bang and the lack of excessive richness (it’s a milk and cornstarch pudding, not a weighty egg yolk and cream custard) makes for something you can easily crave on a hot summer day, although you’ve already been warned that that craving may strike without warning.

One half-recipe of All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough, wrapped and chilled for at least 30 minutes

Pudding filling:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream
Bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)
Prepare pie dough: Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork, then chill shell 30 minutes. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375°F with a baking sheet on middle rack. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights*.
Bake on baking sheet until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil, then bake shell on baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.
Make pudding filling: Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk [tips alert!] in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming), until cold, at least two hours.

Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings, if you’re feeling fancy.

Do ahead: Pie dough can be made and chilled up to two days. Pie, without whipped cream, can be chilled up to one day before serving. Whipped cream is best added at the last minute, however, I did find that ours held up surprisingly well for a day (so far), if you feel like winging it.

* Detour! This is where I admit that I for reasons both lengthy and boring, I really loathe working with pie weights and use a different technique to blind bake pie and pastry shells. Instead, I freeze my rolled-out shells for 20 to 30 minutes until solid, press a piece of buttered foil, buttered side down, very tightly against the frozen shell and blind bake it according to regular directions. When it is time to remove the weights, I carefully pull back the foil, and press any part of the crust that has bubbled up gently back with the back of a spoon and continue baking the shell. Try it!

Natalie note: I used a bag of uncooked kidney beans as my pie weights.  Works every time!!
Seriously guys.  Make this pie.  But don't blame me when you sit on your couch rubbing your belly and cursing it's chocolatey goodness.  It can't help that it's got Mary Poppins Syndrome!  You know...it's practically perfect in every way? Har har har!  Okay, and there's your daily dose of cheesey jokes.  Enjoy!!

Smitten with Smitten Kitchen!

The last time you logged on here, I made some delicious St. Patty's Day cupcakes.  In making that cake, I rediscovered my favorite blog Smitten Kitchen, and I've been a woman obsessed.  There's this handy little button called "Surprise Me!" on the left side of the side, and MAN!  I could spend all day clicking that link and just daydreaming about all of the possibilities.  Cakes, pies, side dishes, main courses, appetizers, EVERYTHING!  Girlfriend has mad skills, and an amazing sense of humor on top of that.  If you haven't been to http://smittenkitchen.com/, you're missing out!

So to begin, the obsession with this recipe started with a picture.  Sometimes I'll see a recipe or see a photo and I'll have this "Oh-my-god-if-I-don't-make-this-I-may-die" moment, and before I know it I'm making a grocery list.  The first photo on this blog post made me have such a moment, and voila!  Cupcakes. 

This cake was not meant to be a cupcake, and after making them, I can see why.  This cake is so light and delicate, one of mine actually collapsed under the weight of the frosting!  I can completely see this working better as a cake.  Especially if you were to keep it light on the frosting--it packs a serious punch!  It was so strong I actually decided to nix the glaze for the cupcakes.  I think I would definitely make it like Deb did on the blog with a full cake, but I'm happy with my decision to leave it out for the cupcakes.  Why am I happy?  Because where my coworkers usually blow through 2 (or sometimes 3!) cupcakes at a time at work, and the other day's PB&C cupcakes actually didn't go very fast at all, and we had some leftovers.  This NEVER happens people.  It was just weird!  So while I wouldn't say it was a raving success, it definitely wasn't a failure either (they were still delish, people!).  I would totally use this peanut butter frosting on anything and everything else.  Seriously. Bookmark it.  Use it.  Love it.

Now on to the recipe, because the next one I give you is a doozy!

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
from Smitten Kitchen (copied from the site)

Adapted, only barely, from Sky High: Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes
This cake is INTENSE. Serve it in the thinnest slices possible, and keep a glass of milk handy.

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16 (the book says, I say a heck of a lot more)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola, soybean or vegetable blend
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanut brittle (I skipped this)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. (Deb note: These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this, trust me.)

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. (Deb note 1: Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Deb note 2: Once the cake is fully frosting, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.)

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving. Decorate the top with chopped peanut brittle.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups
10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)
1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm

Car Bomb Cupcakes

Good morning my devoted readers! :) Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!  Are you wearing green?  Are you downtown wherever you are drinking pint upon pint of green beer and singing along to whatever Dropkick Murphy's song they've got blasting?! Well, probably not, since you're reading this (and if you are? well that's just weird).  If you're like me, you're probably at work WISHING you were doing all those things...but alas, you're stuck in your cube (or maybe you're big time and have an office!).  I have the cure, folks, for the St. Patty's Day office blues...Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Buttercream Frosting.  In the words of the wise Emeril Lagasse? "Oh yeah, babe."

I was on Facebook yesterday when I saw that one of my friends was making "Car Bomb Cupcakes" and I remembered that I had the recipe too!  I'm fully admitting to being a copy cat here, although our versions are slightly different.  Seriously, though, getting inspiration from a girl named Maggie O'Toole on St. Patrick's Day?  Luck of the Irish and whatnot, if you ask me!  :) So thanks, Maggie for reminding me of this gem!

The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, another one of the many blogs that I love!  The original recipe includes an Irish whiskey chocolate ganache in the middle, but I chose to leave that out (just too rich for my taste!).  Maggie made hers with the ganache, and did a cream cheese frosting instead...and you should see hers!  They look gorgeous!  I went for just a spread of frosting on mine, as the taste of Bailey's in it is pretty potent, so I didn't want the cupcakes to be overwhelmed by the frosting.  As I'm writing this, there is ONE cupcake left in the box of 22 that I brought in...and it's not even noon yet! all of the cupcakes are GONE!!  Needless to say, these went over VERY well here!  On to the recipe (straight from the blog--all commentary is hers, which is pretty great)!

Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes
While the Guinness in the cake gets mostly baked out, the Baileys is fresh and potent, so if you’re making this for people who don’t drink — ahem, nobody I know, but I hear such people exist — you’ll probably want to swap it with milk.
The Baileys frosting recipe makes a smallish amount of frosting — enough to just cover the cupcakes. Because they were so rich and this frosting so sweet, I felt it only needed a little. Double it if you want more of a towering effect.
Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes
For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling (Updated to double it, based on many commenters suggestions — thanks!)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting (see Recipe Notes)
3 to 4 cups confections sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)
Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.
Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.
Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.
Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.
[This is a fantastic trick I picked up while working on the cupcakes article for Martha Stewart Living; the test kitchen chefs had found that when they added the sugar slowly, quick buttercream frostings got less grainy, and tended to require less sugar to thicken them up.]
When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.
Ice and decorate the cupcakes. [I used a star tip and made little "poofs" everywhere and sprinkled it with various colors of sanding sugar to keep it looking festive for New Years. I bet shaved dark and white chocolates would look gorgeous as well.]
Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

Natalie again!  So-some issues that I had with the cake:
-When I melted the butter and Guinness and cocoa powder, it kind of separated and didn't look very smooth.  I whisked it until I decided that all of my effort wasn't making one bit of a difference, and put it in the mixer bowl with the eggs and sour cream.  It all came together just fine, but it did make me nervous.
-As usual, my oven cranked the heat, so they were done in about 13 min.  Please people.  I beg of you.  Don't overcook your chocolate cupcakes.  Just consider it illegal.  Camp out in front of your archaic stove like I do, and stare in at them.  It's worth it...trust me!

Final product, voilá!    And yes...that's a cupcake wrapper in the background.  :) Jeff and I split one last night.  Dee-lish!  I also had to include a pic of Maggie's, because they were so pretty!  Enjoy, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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