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Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19: THE BEST Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing


I can't believe that in all the years I've been doing this month of treats, I've never shared this award-winning recipe with you. (Seriously. I entered these into the department-wide Cupcake Wars contest we had at my former workplace and I won.)

It is, without question, my favorite pumpkin-based recipe. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's my favorite cupcake recipe. (Not cake, mind you, but cupcake.) Wow. That's heavy, especially considering my general feelings about pumpkin.
Anyway, I apologize for holding out on you for so long. You've been missing out and didn't even realize how much.

But that ends now.

This recipe comes from A Taste of Home and I found it eons ago in one of my Taste of Home Halloween issues. Conveniently, it's also available online

I mainly follow the recipe as written, though I made one tweak with the spices (see Note within recipe regarding the ginger) and I brought some of the baking tips I've picked up over the years to my process. Namely, the use of room temperature ingredients. If your butter needs to be at room temperature, then, unless otherwise stated, it's safe to assume your eggs and buttermilk should also be at room temperature. Plus, if a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, it's not optional. It's important to the success of the recipe. If you're interested in why, here's an in-depth explanation of how room temperature ingredients can be make or break. 

For this particular cupcake, the original recipe called for "softened" butter and "softened" cream cheese, so I applied that principle (of softening to room temperature) to the eggs and buttermilk. All I did is set my butter, eggs, buttermilk, and cream cheese on the counter an hour before I needed them. Easy peasy. (I set them out and then went to the gym, in fact.) Usually I like to cube my butter, too, because I find it softens up even more quickly that way. I didn't this time because I wasn't in a hurry.
Coming to room temperature!
Before I left for the gym, I also took the time to place my cupcake liners in my pan and mix up my dry ingredients so I'd have fewer outstanding steps when I returned. 
Fancy liners; these are Wilton brand (from Target)
Dry stuff, prior to whisking
Once I returned from the gym, the cupcake batter came together quickly, and I scooped it into my cupcake pan to bake. After they finished cooking, they cooled on the counter and I prepared my frosting with the butter and cream cheese that had been sitting out for a few hours. 

You have options when it comes to the frosting step. You could use a frosting knife and just pile it on there if you like. You can also pipe on your frosting using a piping tip and a pastry bag (or a makeshift pastry bag like I did-- take a heavy duty freezer bag, snip one corner, push your piping tip through the small opening, then add your icing to the bag.) You can do tiny dollops or a large swirl. It's really up to you. 
It's easiest to fill the bag if it's resting in a tall glass. Don't forget to put tip on before adding icing!
Make-shift piping bag using a freezer bag

I piped on my frosting using a Wilton open tip (I believe it was 1A) and started on the outer edge and swirled inward. Then I did that a second time to get a taller mound of frosting. Next time, I'd use a different tip--maybe something with a star to add extra detail, but also something with a larger opening because I had to exert a fair amount of pressure to get that icing out of the bag . (The longer I worked, the easier it was to squeeze out because it softened up in my hands as I squeezed the bag.)

After that, I decorated some of my cupcakes. I used a combination of colored sugar sprinkles, small pumpkin candies, and larger mellowcreme pumpkins (the things sometimes sold with candy corns). Others I left plain. I wanted an array of options.

Then I packaged up half the total batch with the intention of sharing them at my gym and Starbucks. (Because everyone needs a mid-afternoon treat!) I delivered to the gym right away (they were excited to receive them & the director took my picture for their facebook page. LOL. Being famous for my baked goods is something I can live with!), and plan to bring the others with me later today when I hit Starbs.

Also? I sampled one. I had to. It. Was. Scrumptious! Moist and spicy inside with a luscious creamy topping (warm cinnamon and tangy cream cheese are a match made in heaven!)  
Swirly icing

Get a load of that moist crumb!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

for the cupcakes

3/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 can (15 ounces) canned pumpkin
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2-1/3 cups (290g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
(Note: the original recipe calls for a 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger. Much in the same way I don't prefer nutmeg, I also don't love ground ginger. So I left it out and increased my pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon by 1/4 teaspoons each. If you do like ginger, use 1/2 teaspoon and decrease 1/4 teaspoon each of the pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon)
  
* * * * * * * *

for the frosting:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin with paper cupcake liners. Set aside. 

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside. 

3. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Be sure to scrape sides and bottom. 
4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. 
5. Add canned pumpkin and mix until combined. (Don't be alarmed if your mixture looks a little curdled. That's normal and the batter will come together after you add the dry ingredients in the next step.) 

See how it looks a little curdled? That's normal. Don't worry!
6. Switching the mixer on and off, alternate between adding dry ingredients (about a heaping half cup at a time) and buttermilk (about 1/4 cup at a time). Mix after each addition. Scrape sides occasionally to make sure everything is incorporated and there are no sugar globs hiding in your batter. 



7. Once batter is combined, fill cupcake liners 2/3-3/4 full. I used my large OXO scoop and it was a full scoop of batter. 

8. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of cupcakes comes out clean OR until the center of the cupcake bounces back when pressed lightly. (Mine took 27 minutes.) Be sure to rotate pans at least once during cooking.

9. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

10. Make icing by beating butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. 


11. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. 


12. Add cinnamon and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. **Frost cupcakes only when they're entirely cool. If you do it too soon, the icing with melt and you do NOT want that!**

13. Store leftovers (if there are any!) in the fridge.

Now that you can see what you've been missing all these years, you won't want to wait another minute to discover for yourself just how deserving of the Cupcake Wars win these babies are. They truly are THE BEST. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18: Cinnamon Pear Streusel Muffins



I've been going on a lot about apples. 

But--shocker!--apples aren't the only fall fruit out there. There's another tasty option that, I think, doesn't get nearly enough attention: PEARS.

Let's talk pears a sec. What's your fave kind? Mine is Bosc. They're ugly and brown on the outside, but I love how nice and crisp they are inside. Mmm. I also enjoy those cute seckel pears. Another crisp variety, no less. That crunch is important to me. And while I like sweet things, I prefer pear varieties that are not super duper sweet or overly juicy when ripe. 
Speaking of sweet things, there's a ton of apple desserts out there, but not as many pear ones. It didn't even occur to me that anything was lacking until I happened upon a recipe for a pear-based muffin and was all, "Oh yeah! What a smashing idea! Why aren't there more pear options?"

My older daughter was on a muffin kick at the beginning of the school year, so I'd started making mini-muffins for her to take for snacks or grab at breakfast. In fact, I'd originally planned to do these as mini muffins, too, but I asked her if she wanted mini or full-sized and she opted for the full ones. You could do either, but if you go mini-muffins, your bake time will change. (Most of my mini varieties bake at 375 for about 12 minutes, but you need to watch them.)  

I followed the base recipe mostly as written, but made an adjustment to the actual bake time and temperature based on muffin tricks I've picked up along the way (namely, blast them for the first 5 minutes at a high heat - 425 degrees-  then, leaving the oven closed, lower the heat to 375 for the remaining cook time. This technique helps give that muffin-y dome shape on top because it puffs up before baking through.) I've had great success with that method pretty consistently, so it seemed like a good way to go. 

Secondly, I added a streusel topping for extra pizzazz. I made the mistake of testing out a new streusel recipe I found online (because I was too lazy to walk ten feet to grab one of my favorite cooking resources--my Sally's Baking Addiction cookbook--and because I hadn't yet discovered the delight and ease of the crumb topping from these pies!) and I was punished for it.) The recipe I used was a dud so I'm not listing it here. But don't worry--when I share below so you can make them yourself, I'll include the recipe I should have used. 

Once more, you get to learn from my mistakes.

Anyway, let's talk results. How were these muffins, you ask?

Taste:

When you bite into these--and I tasted them at two different stages: hot outta the oven, and cooled to room temperature--the warmth of the cinnamon spice is what struck me most. I was surprised, and a little bummed, to discover the flavor isn't significantly pear-forward. Rather, the pears hang out in the background and seem to serve more as a moisture-enhancement. That said, I still enjoyed the flavor and definitely preferred them when they'd cooled a bit. In fact, they seemed to get better after a couple days on the counter.

My girls were also fans and remarked that the flavor reminded them of my baked donut recipe. Which makes sense because that batter uses many of the same dry ingredients as these muffins.
As for the streusel/crumb topping, my instinct to add it was a good one. I'd definitely urge you to put a topping on there. Because streusel!!! However, as I indicated before, I wasn't a fan of the streusel recipe I tried. The ratio of flour to sugar and butter was way off (too much flour, not enough sweet buttery deliciousness.) But, again, don't worry--I'm giving you the recipe for GOOD streusel instead of the sad recipe I tried, so you're covered!

Texture:

They are moist from the pear with a tight crumb. They stayed moist (at room temperature) throughout the week.

Appearance:

I'm kind of bummed because the fool-proof dome-top muffin cooking technique didn't work on these the way it has worked on every single other muffin I've ever made. One or two of my muffins got the domed top the way they should have, but the others only got partial domes and then sort of  spread toward each other on the pan like they wanted to have a friendly muffin group hug. Oh, and the streusel stayed mostly where I'd spooned it on top, so the sections of the tops that went out for the hug did so sans topping.

Here you can see how there are parts of the muffins without topping- 
that's where they spread outward. 
Also, you want your streusel to be chunkier. Mine was too powdery from too much flour.


As to the spreading, any number of factors can cause something like this to happen: over-mixing, using expired leavening agents, an overly-wet batter, giving it the stink-eye. So I don't know the exact root of my issue, but I do want to partially blame that crappy streusel. (Come to think of it, maybe the spreading sections weren't trying to hug at all. Maybe they were trying to run away to get more butter and sugar to fix up that streusel. Hmm. I may be on to something here.)

Anyway, here's the recipe you should use:

Cinnamon- Pear Muffins with Streusel Topping

(Muffin recipe adapted from Country Cleaver blog; streusel recipe I should've used from Sally's Baking Addiction Cookbook, p.14)

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

For Muffins
1 3/4 cup (220g) all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 Bartlett pear, finely diced

For Streusel
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons/ half a stick) butter, cold

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by greasing each well or lining with paper liners. Set aside.

2. Make streusel topping. In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry blender, 2 butter knives, or your fingers until coarse crumbs form. Set aside.
Before - raw ingredients

After - Coarse crumbs

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. 

4. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. 

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir gently with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Some lumps are ok. Do not over mix. (Over mixing causes tough muffins.)

6. Fold in the pears just until combined. Again, do not over mix.
Here you can see the pretty pears in the batter.
 
7. Use a large OXO scoop to fill each muffin well to the top. (It's ok to fill them this high because the high initial temperature will puff them up.) Spoon streusel topping on top of batter.

8. Bake at 425 for 5 minutes. Then, leaving the muffins in the oven, lower the temperature to 375 and continue baking for another 18-23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Mine took 23 minutes.) Let cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

 The full muffin on the right got a nice dome. 
The cut one on the right spread more, as you can see from the portion extending out toward the bottom of the shot.

As a rule, muffins are best enjoyed the day you make them, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Like I said, these kept well on the counter for those days.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17: A Trio of October-y Beverages

Today I've got a three-fer. Drinks galore!

Whenever I try to feature holiday-inspired beverages for my family, the results always seem to fall flat. Like, when I made this and even this, I was usually the only one drinking it. It took me a couple years, but I finally got wise to the fact that sometimes simple is the best course of action. And by "simple" I mean pouring a bottled beverage into a glass and plunking candy in there with it. Like so.

So I stuck with that winning formula and created this non-alcoholic treat for my kiddos. I'm calling it "spider brew."

I found these cute glass bottles (including the cap and straw!) at Target for only $1 each. I popped a couple ice cubes and some gummy body parts (I used eyeballs and fingers) in the bottle and then topped it off with orange Gatorade (because that's what I had on hand. Green or white would have looked pretty cool in there, too.) 
The supplies: cool bottles, gummy body parts, Gatorade

A cloudy close-up of the eyeball (left) and finger (that reddish situation at bottom right)
I wasn't in the mood for Gatorade, but I did have a hankering for something warm and apple-y (shocker, I know.) That's when I remembered I had something on hand that fit the bill.

At the beginning of August, my supermarket featured apple-flavored products (before apple there was coconut; presently it's--you guessed it!--pumpkin. After pumpkin, if memory serves, they'll roll out the peppermint in anticipation of the holidays.) I got to sample some of the salted caramel apple juice one day whilst shopping and, though it sounded questionable to me, it was surprisingly delightful. So I bought a bottle to save for the colder weather, for some chilly night when I'd want a sweet, warm cider-y drink. Unfortunately, the weather has been somewhat confused lately, so I've had to wait and wait and wait for a chilly night, but it finally arrived last night. Hurrah!

All I did was heat 6 ounces of the juice in the microwave. While it heated, I rolled the rim of my glass into some liquid caramel (the kind you put on a sundae) and then in some cinnamon-sugar. (Sorry for using a plate that, while pretty, is awful for showing anything on it. If you squint, you can probably just about make it out.) 

Once I finished the rim, I poured the apple juice into the mug and topped it with Cabot whipped cream (the best whipped cream in a can! it's SO CREAMY and delicious!!!), then drizzled on a bit more caramel and a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar. Voila! My favorite sips were the ones with the whipped cream stirred in. 

This would also taste really nice with a splash of Buttershots in there, if you're in the mood for a boozier option.
The supplies: Salted Caramel Apple Juice, caramel sundae syrup, whipped cream
Dipping the mug into the "rim" - winner of the "Worst How-To Photo Ever!" award
Fancy beverage in the mug that I use for nearly every drink I share on this blog
Finally, if you're in the mood for straight-up booze, I have an adult beverage option called a Bailey's Vampire Kiss. I found it on Pinterest and decided to try it. I did mine as a single-serve shot, so I made one lazy-person modification. Instead of taking the time to get out my blender to puree 1 cup of raspberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar (which I knew I wouldn't use), I added a glob (1 tsp) of preserves in there - I figured it was similar enough, at least in appearance. If you're making these for a crowd, though, I'd encourage you to take that extra step with the real puree. *Be aware that if you sub in gelatinous preserves, they will hang out at the bottom of the shot glass rather than mix in with the shot as you drink.* So decide before starting if you want them in there for appearance or taste and appearance. 

Here's how to make this one: 
The supplies: Baileys, Vodka (I used vanilla), preserves (or homemade puree), chocolate syrup
1. Prepare your rim (or rims, depending on how many you're making). Simply dip your shot glass rim into liquid chocolate sauce. (I used a better plate on this one so you can actually see how I dipped the rim.)
Just a dab'll do ya
Dip the rim
So pretty- and what a difference proper contrast makes!
2. Prepare your "blood" puree. Use a blender to puree a cup of raspberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. 

3. Prepare your booze. In a shaker with ice, shake up 1ounce of Baileys with 1/2 ounce of vodka for each shot you're making.

4. Build your shot. 1 teaspoon of raspberry puree on the bottom, followed by 1.5 ounces of the booze mix. 
Raspberry "blood"
Booze on top with chocolatey rim starting to drip
5. Suck it down!
There you have it! Three easy peasy beverage options the whole family can enjoy.
 
Happy drinking, all!