Friday, April 13, 2012

Vanilla Chai Shortbread Cookies

There is nothing like a good cup of tea.

Since the benefits of tea are pretty remarkable, I have experimented with it in some unorthodox methods - in a bath, in soap, as a mask on my face, even incorporated it into some recipes. Unfortunately, I don't look any younger, my laugh lines are still intact, and it didn't save me money on my car insurance. I'll just stick to what I know and pray it's doing something other than requiring me to use a whitening toothpaste daily.

To appease my neglected cookie jar, I made her some treats. Because Chai is my most favorite tea blend of all, I made some Vanilla Chai Shortbread cookies. These are major and the flavor is incredible.

My cookie jar is speaking to me again and my stomach is one happy organ. It's a win-win all around. Except for my thighs. Yeah. Not so much for them.

But you can't please everyone.


2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cardamom
4-6 Tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom together; set aside.

In another bowl, combine butter and sugar together and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until smooth. Add vanilla. Add in flour mixture slowly, blending until fully incorporated. You'll want the dough to come to a ball form.

Using an ice cream scoop with a retractable mechanism, drop onto cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Transfer to racks to cool.

For glaze:

Combine sugar and spices into a small bowl. Slowly add one tablespoon of water to mixture and stir. You may need to add more or less water than specified to yield the proper consistency. You're looking for an almost runny texture.

Line the counter with foil under racks. Using back of spoon, drizzle over warm cookies. Allow to set.

Yields: About 3 dozen.

Happy Baking!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cracker Jack Cupcakes

Baseball season is back! 

We love the sport collectively as a family, but it's my husband's pride and joy of all sports, which is quite funny considering he's from England. He looks forward to opening day for months. In fact, he and a bunch of his cronies headed to Cleveland last week for their opening day. He couldn't wait for the season to hit here.

Unfortunately, my daughter continues to break his heart where the sport is concerned. He is a diehard Atlanta Braves fan, she is a Colorado Rockies fan. Why? Because the team wears purple. What can I say? We're girls. We do that. Thankfully, he's extremely patient and forgiving. 

I decided to celebrate our city's opening day with some cupcakes. I don't know what it is with me and cupcakes lately. I haven't abandoned my love of cookies, it's just that cupcakes have been calling to me more so than usual. Mind you, I do think I need to make a batch soon. I don't know if it's me or all the sugar I've been ingesting lately, but just the other day, I SWEAR I saw my cookie jar flip me the finger.

But that, my friends, is a WHOLE other ballgame. 


Peanut Butter Cupcakes:
2½ cups flour
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1¼ cups buttermilk

Salted Caramel**:
1 cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt

Salted Caramel Frosting:
1 cup salted caramel
4 cups powdered sugar
½ cup butter

1 bag caramel corn
½ cup chopped peanuts, unsalted
Salted caramel

**This recipe yields 2 cups. The frosting recipe I have above is for 12 cupcakes. You can either double the frosting recipe or store remaining caramel in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for the next use. This is really tasty over vanilla ice cream!

To make salted caramel:

In a small saucepan, add sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes. It will turn fast, so do not leave the stove!

Remove from heat and slowly add heavy cream and vanilla - the cream WILL bubble like mad, so be careful. Stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Add butter and stir until melted.   

To make cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two 12-cup muffin trays with cupcake liners.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter, peanut butter, and brown sugar together until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until light and fluffy. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, alternating with buttermilk, beating together until incorporated. Scrape bowl down.

Fill liners about two-thirds of the way. Bake for 14-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean, checking as soon as 13 minutes. Do not overbake. Mine were done in 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and transfer onto rack. Allow to completely cool.

To make frosting:

Using an electric mixer, add butter and beat until light in color and fluffy. Add salted caramel and powdered sugar slowly and mix until fluffy and completely incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until stiff in form, but still spreadable.

Pipe or spread cupcakes with frosting and top with caramel corn and chopped peanuts. Drizzle with salted caramel.

Yields: 24 cupcakes.

Happy Baking!

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coconut Cream Bars

Happy Easter!

Aside from the usual suspects, for me, nothing screams Easter quite like coconut. It's really the only time of year I will consume my weight in the nutty fruit. That is if you don't count Bounty, Almond Joy, or Mounds Bars. I can eat those everyday.

Unfortunately, as I was taking the last process photos of these lush bars, the memory card decided it needed to format itself - and delete all the photos on it as well. Are you kidding me? I was absolutely raging, but then I took a moment to chill. There are worse things happening in this world than losing photos, not to mention the sacrifice the Lord took for us and the reason we celebrate Easter in the first place. Yeah. Perspective.

So, I decided to take the high road, put my big girl panties on, and share the only photo I have. Hopefully it will speak a thousand words, which is funny because that's about how many delicious calories are in them. 

Indulge my little chicken. Be blessed.

Coconut Cream Bars
Recipe adapted and slightly modified from Martha Stewart Living, May 2004

2½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
3½ cups shortbread cookies, finely ground
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
4½ cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Whipped Cream Topping:
1½ cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread coconut in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool completely. Leave oven on.

Process cookies and ½ cup coconut in a food processor until finely ground and mixture begins to clump together, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to a 9x13-inch rimmed baking sheet; press into an even layer on bottom. Bake until golden and firm to the touch, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack.

Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a large saucepan. Whisk in milk and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a boil, 5 to 6 minutes. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add butter, whisking until combined. Stir in 1½ cups coconut.

Spoon the custard onto cooled crust; smooth top with an offset spatula. Press plastic wrap directly onto custard surface, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Beat cream and powdered sugar in a bowl until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Cut custard-filled crust into bars. Transfer to a platter. Spoon whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Pipe. Sprinkle bars with remaining ½ cup coconut or finely ground shortbread cookie. 

Yields: 24 Coconut Cream Bars.

Happy Baking!

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tipsy Irish Cupcakes

I'm a complete teetotaller.

Actually, I lied. I'm not completely. I am known to have an occasional mixer or alcopop if I'm out for a girls night, hen night, or wedding.

Problem is, I nurse it all night that the alcohol pretty much evaporates before I hit the bottom of the glass. Other than that, I'm a total tea girl. Iced, hot, or chai. In fact, you buy me a venti nonfat Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks and I am all yours.

However, if cupcakes were alcohol, there wouldn't be time for a cup of tea.

I would be drunk. ALL. THE. TIME.

Mark my words.

Recipe adapted and slightly modified from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup Guinness Stout Beer - or any stout beer will do
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
cup buttermilk - original recipe calls for the use sour cream. I just prefer buttermilk.

Whiskey Ganache Filling:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate - I used semi-sweet chocolate chips
cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter, room temperature
3 teaspoons Irish whiskey

Irish Cream Buttercream Frosting:
4½ cups confections sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
6-8 tablespoons Irish Cream Liqueur - like Bailey's

Cocoa powder for dusting - optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners. 

Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt to blend. Beat in eggs and buttermilk. Add stout-chocolate mixture to mixture and beat just to combine.

Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way.

Bake for 17-19 minutes or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Mine took 18 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Add chocolate (or chips if using), to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it comes to a good simmer and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.

Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped into cupcakes.

Using the back of a large decorating tip or apple corer, cut the centers out of cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for about's of the way. Put ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.


Whip the butter in the bowl with a hand or stand mixer for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add powdered sugar in ½ cup increments, alternating with the Bailey's by 2 Tablespoons each time. Mix until everything has been completely incorporated. 

Pipe or spread onto cupcakes. 

Yields: 24 cupcakes

Happy Baking!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Neapolitan Crispy Rice Treats

...Just because it's Wednesday. Enjoy.

Instructions adapted and modified from Taste of Home

Chocolate Layer:
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
2 Tablespoons milk
4 cups Cocoa Krispies (as in Cocoa Krispies)
4 cups crispy rice cereal - I used Rice Krispies
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder (ONLY add cocoa powder if you can't find Cocoa Krispies!)

Vanilla Layer:
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups mini marshmallows
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups crispy rice cereal

Strawberry Layer:
3 Tablespoons butter
2 cups strawberry flavored marshmallows - I used Jet Puffed Strawberry Mallows**
2 Tablespoons milk
4 cups cups crispy rice cereal

**If you can't find strawberry flavored marshmallows, add ¼ cup strawberry jam and a drop or two of red food coloring as marshmallows are melting to give it the pink color needed to complete the Neapolitan look. Do try to get a jam without bits in it.

Line a 9×5 inch metal loaf pan with parchment paper or non-stick foil. I just buttered the heck out of my pan, but I do recommend foil or parchment paper for easier removal.

Melt butter and marshmallows in a large saucepan; stir until melted and smooth. This process will be used for each layer.

For chocolate layer, add cocoa cereal (or if using the crispy rice cereal and cocoa powder, mix together first, then add) into marshmallow mixture. Stir to coat. Empty into loaf pan and press down well.

Rinse out pan and repeat melting procedure with vanilla layer – add vanilla extract once marshmallows have melted, then cereal. Stir to coat. Empty onto chocolate layer and press down as neatly as possible.

Repeat melting procedure with strawberry layer. Add jam and food coloring (if using) to marshmallow mixture, then cereal, Stir to coat. Layer on top of vanilla portion. Press flat. At this point, your bars should be at the very top of the loaf pan.

Let sit for at least 1 hour. Lift from pan and use a serrated knife to cut into slices for best results. 

Happy Baking!

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Shoofly Cupcakes

I have been seriously craving food from home for the past week or so. I get like this even more so when my brother posts his lunch choices on Facebook. He's such a brat and does this quite often. 

He posted that he was going to the orchard for some fruit and Shoofly Pie. SHOOFLY PIE? Ah, man! Super jealous. There is nothing like it. The awesome pie itself is native to the Pennsylvania Dutch. It has a unique flavor and demands to be partnered with an ice cold glass of milk. My most favorite version of this delight is the wet-bottomed Shoofly Pie. 

If you haven't had it before or have a hankering for something different, you should definitely try it. It's not for everyone, but when one has grown up with it from a young age, it becomes imbedded into the veins and is very hard to remove.

I decided to make a cupcake version since they're fast, super easy, and will curb the niggling I have. For now anyway.

It won't be completely appeased until I give my brother a super big wedgie and make him scream, "UNCLE!" for being such an troublemaker.

Being a big sister definitely has its advantages. Good times.

Recipe adapted from Amish Country Cookbook
4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups brown sugar, packed - I used 1 cup light and 1 cup dark
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, cold and cubed
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups boiling water
1 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Prepare two 12-cup muffin tins with papers.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Set aside 1 cup for topping.

Add baking soda to remaining crumb mixture. Stir in water and molasses. 

Fill cups about two-thirds of the way. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. I baked mine for exactly 20 minutes as I like it to be denser. You may need more time.

Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool. 

Yields: 24 cupcakes. 

Happy Baking!

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Alfajores...Sort of

I have a confession.

These aren't proper Alfajores. The sort that South Americans pride themselves upon. I know, I know, but let me tell you about my journey with these annoying little buggers before you judge.

When I visited Peru many, many moons ago, street food was a very popular marketplace. Alfajores were sold on many a corner. They are the perfect sweet treat after a savory bite. I was dying to try the tamales, but my Aunt told me that I shouldn't eat any of the food sold on the street due to contamination that my "fragile American body" wasn't able to handle.

Seriously? Please. She clearly hadn't eaten Aunt Susie's Chicken Pot Pie lately. That dish is enough to make anyone develop a stomach of steel. Little did she know, I would ask to go to the market, post office, anywhere I could get away so I could buy and try the delights the city had to offer. On my way back home, I had my first Alfajor. 

Ah, Alfajores. Did you hear the harps? These are wonderful. A shortbread-like sandwich cookie filled with decadent dulce du leche, jam, and/or coconut.

I completely forgot about them until several months ago. I was flipping through a travel magazine and low and behold, they there were.

To make a long story short, I made these FOUR TIMES using three different recipes, including the one in the magazine. And failed. I just could not figure out where I kept going wrong. I just chalked it up to the fact that these were never going to happen for me. However, if you know me, that's just not okay in my books. When it comes to baking, I always win.

I decided to give it one last go and use a very basic cookie recipe I have that would pair up very nicely with my favorite varitey of the Alfajor - dulce de leche and coconut. Why didn't I think of this before? I'm so glad I didn't lose complete faith and was so not disappointed with the outcome.

Like I said, I always win.



½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice or lemon
2½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1 jar homemade or store bought Dulce de Leche.

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Confectioner's sugar to dust

Preheat oven to 350º.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in milk, vanilla, and lemon juice.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually blend into the creamed mixture.

Drop tablespoons of the 2 inches apart on prepared sheet. I used a large retractable ice cream scoop.

Bake until edges begin to brown; checking at 8 minutes. Due to size, mine took about 11 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool completely. Don't worry if you get any wonky cookies. The dulce de leche and coconut will cover any imperfections.

Spread a generous amount of dulce de leche onto underside of cookie.

Sandwich with another cookie, and run some more dulce over the gap. Roll in coconut.

Store in airtight container. Best eaten within a day or two.

Yields: About 12 Alfajores.

Happy Baking!

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