It’s a Cupcake Graveyard.

I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday. Anyone who knows me, wouldn’t have a hard time figuring that out – I love dressing up and I love candy. But I also love Halloween-themed desserts. For me, they are the most fun to make. I’ve already started this year, with my first batch of sweet Halloween fun, in the form of Graveyard Cupcakes.

Rest in delicious peace.

Rest in delicious peace.

I used a chocolate cake for the cupcakes themselves, and made my soon-to-be-famous cookies and cream buttercream (a girl can dream.) I piped large uneven dollops of the icing on top of the cupcakes, making the perfect base for a cookie grave.

Soon.

Soon.

Then, I wrote on the cookie tombstones, and put them into place on the tops of the cupcakes.

Death by Chocolate?

Death by Chocolate?

The result was a Halloween treat to die for.

————————————————————————————————

Jeanine’s Soon-To-Be-Famous Cookies and Cream Buttercream.

What you’ll need:

8 oz butter

5 oz shortening

1 lb 4oz confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tblsp water

8 crushed oreos (or faux-reos)

What you’ll do:

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and shortening. Add the sugar, vanilla, water, and crushed cookies. Beat until smooth, light, and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

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Heart-shaped Chocolate-dipped Sugar (sort of) Cookies with Sprinkles.

 

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I love making Valentine’s Day desserts, which is funny, since I really don’t love Valentine’s Day. But I do love making things that are pink, or red, or heart-shaped – or better yet – all of the above! I had this sugar cookie recipe made with Monk Fruit in the Raw that I was dying to try, and this heart-shaped cookie cutter that I had yet to use, so I decided on heart-shaped sugar (sort of) cookies for this year’s V-Day Small Indulgence of choice.

the main ingredient.

the main ingredient.

I followed the recipe pretty much down to the teaspoon, except that I added one thing – red food coloring. I wanted my cookies to be pink and swirly – and I figured a small amount of red food coloring would do just that. I wound up with dough that looked a little like a human heart. I figured that meant I must be on the right track.

the tell-tale heart dough.

the tell-tale heart dough.

I chilled it for a few hours, then rolled it out and cut it into heart-shapes. The result was swirly pink hearts, just as I had hoped!

pretty in pink swirls.

pretty in pink swirls.

I let them cool, and then thought that although they were cute as they were, they needed something more. So I melted down some milk chocolate, and dipped them. Oh, and added some festive sprinkles, while they were still wet.

dipped and sprinkled.

dipped and sprinkled.

I chilled them for a bit, then packed them up, and shared them with my fiance, my parents, my friends, and my co-workers. I guess I really don’t mind Valentine’s Day that much after all – it gives me the chance to spread the love, by doing what I love.

all you need is love.

all you need is love.

I suppose it’s true what they say: love actually…is all around…and in cookies.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Recipe: Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies.

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That’s a long name right there.

The recipe I started with was simply called “Nutella Cake.” But what I ended up with was so much more. It was snowing, and I really wanted to bake something, but I wasn’t about to go back out to get any missing ingredients. I found a recipe for Nutella Cake in my binder. It looked like something someone probably gave me, but it was very vague and it seemed to be missing some key details, like how to mix the ingredients together (did it matter in what order?) and what temperature to bake the thing at (when in doubt, go with 350). It also called for Nutella (obviously) which I thought I had, but it turns out all I had was this:

salted caramel hazelnut spread (not Nutella)

salted caramel hazelnut spread (not Nutella)

Although this was clearly not Nutella, I deemed it a suitable replacement, and marched onward with the cake. Upon further investigation, I realized that the recipe called for butter – a lot of it. I, alas, had only a little. Refusing to leave my house in the snow, I improvised, replacing most of the butter with shortening. The batter seemed awfully thick, more like brownies than cake, but I didn’t let that dissuade me from baking it. When it was done baking, it definitely looked more like brownies.

not nutella, not cake.

not nutella, not cake.

It smelled pretty good, and appeared to have baked properly, so I went with it, and waited for it to cool. When it finally cooled, I sliced into it, and sure it enough, it was definitely more brownie-like.

definitely brownies.

definitely brownies.

The next step was to eat one. And then another one. And then another one. They were THAT good. Two people even said they were the best brownies they ever had (wow!). Even though they were neither Nutella nor Cake like the original recipe claimed, the Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies were definitely a major success, and will be made again. Maybe I’ll even make them for my own wedding this Spring….and now you can make them too!

wedding worthy.

wedding worthy.

Salted Caramel Hazelnut Cake Brownies.

What you’ll need:

1 box of chocolate cake mix

1 egg

4 oz of shortening

———–

1 8 oz package of cream cheese (softened)

2 oz butter (half a stick)

2 oz shortening

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 cup Jif salted caramel hazelnut spread

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, egg and shortening. The batter will be thick. Grease a 9×13 pan, and spread the batter across the bottom (using your hands makes it easier). Set aside. In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and shortening until smooth. Mix in the sugar and salted caramel hazelnut spread until there are no lumps. Pour mixture evenly on top of the cake mixture in the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Let cool completely, cut and serve.

Peppermint Bark: A Holiday Treat with Bite.

bark 3

I love peppermint bark.

I look forward to eating it every Christmas. I am not sure why I haven’t ever tried making it myself before now, especially knowing just how much I love it. Maybe I thought it wouldn’t hold up against all the other barks I’ve eaten over the years, and my baking ego would henceforth be crushed. Whatever the reason, I decided it was a dumb one, and I went ahead and made it this year.

A whole pan of peppermint.

A whole pan of peppermint.

I greased an 8×8 pan, and then covered it with wax paper. I melted up some semi-sweet milk chocolate, crushed a bunch of candy canes, and then topped it with melted white chocolate (and more crushed candy canes). Then I let it refrigerate until it set. Next, I broke it up into random-sized pieces, and served.

bark with bite.

bark with bite.

It was as delicious as any bark I’ve had before it. The problem now is that I have so much of it. Resistance is futile.

90 Years of Cake.

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This past weekend, I attended a birthday party for my Aunt, who is turning 90 (how awesome is that???). I was tasked with baking her a cake. As you know, I love baking cakes, so I was thrilled to get a chance to do it. At the same time, I was a little nervous. Here was a woman who in her prime was an amazing baker herself (she’s the one that gave me all the baking pans, including the infamous Lamb Pan), and she has had 89 other cakes to compare this one to. I had two pieces of knowledge that could give me an edge over at least some of the previous cakes – I knew she loved chocolate, and that her favorite color was purple. So, I went with that, and here’s what happened.

90th cake

Because the cake was for a party, it was kind of big (a half sheet cake). We had to clear out the entire bottom row of our fridge to make a space for it!

that's one big cake.

that’s one big cake.

I did have a lot of fun making all the flowers though. First, I mixed the icing until I came up with the perfect shade of purple.

and it was all...purple.

and it was all…purple.

Then, I started piping flowers. As I went along, I mixed in some plain white, so they wound up being varying shades.

shady.

shady.

My aunt loved it. I really don’t know how it stood against the 89 other cakes, but really, that doesn’t matter. She loved this one, and she was happy on that day. And that’s really what life’s all about, whether you’re 90, or 38. 🙂

Recipe: Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake.

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July 30th was National Cheesecake Day. I happened to be off from work, and I was browsing the internet, like ya do, and I came across this bit of wonderful news. I wanted to bake something I hadn’t made in a while, and a cheesecake was one such thing. It was clearly a sign from the universe that I had to make a cheesecake that very day.

I wasn’t sure which kind I wanted to make. My first thought was peanut butter or maybe almond butter….but then I started thinking my fiance really likes coffee and coffee-flavored stuff…and I have all these leftover faux-reos from the Cookies and Cream Cupcakes I just made…so I found a pretty simple recipe for a coffee cheesecake, made a few of my own tweaks and additions, and the Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake with Coffee Whipped Cream and Dark Chocolate Drizzle was born. Pretty long name for a cheesecake, but it earned it.

longest. name. ever.

longest. name. ever.

My fiance loved it, and so did my co-workers (it was too good not to share!). So now, I’ll share the recipe with you, so you can share it with your family and friends. It’s the circle of life (or cheesecake).

Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake.

What you’ll need for the crust:

16 Oreos or faux-reos

2 tblsp butter

What you’ll do for the crust:

Preheat oven to 350. Combine the cookies and butter in a food processor until finely crumbled. Press on the bottom and up the sides of a 9 in disposable pie pan, like so:

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the crust of it.

Bake for 10 minutes Let cool completely. Leave the oven on at 350 for the cheesecake.

What you’ll need for the cheesecake:

2  8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup of sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup of very strong freshly brewed coffee at room temperature (I used Gevalia Crème Brulee  flavored)

What you’ll do for the cheesecake:

In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until well mixed. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, and add them, along with the coffee to the cream cheese and sugar. Mix until smooth (this should be less than a minute). Pour into cooled crust and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until set. You can tell it’s set by lightly touching the center and it not sticking to your finger. It should look something like this:

all set.

all set.

Let it cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

What you’ll need for the coffee whipped cream:

1 cup chilled heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

1 tblsp very strong coffee at room temperature (I used the same coffee as in the cheesecake)

What you’ll do for the coffee whipped cream:

In a chilled bowl (cream whips best when the bowl is cold), whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar and the coffee, and continue to whip until stiff peaks are formed. Using a star tip, pipe a shell border of  whipped cream around the edge of the chilled cheesecake, and a single rosette in the center, like so:

pipe it good.

pipe it good.

Finally, in a small saucepan, combine 2 ounces of GOOD dark chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate) and a tablespoon of butter over low heat, stirring continuously until completely melted. Pour chocolate into a plastic decorating bag BEFORE cutting the tip off. Hold the bag directly over the chilled cheesecake, then snip the tip, and drizzle the chocolate back and forth until you’ve reached drizzling nirvana.

enlightenment.

enlightenment.

Chill it again for about 30 minutes, then cut, serve, and devour….err…I mean, enjoy. 🙂

gone in 60 seconds.

gone in 60 seconds.

The Cupcakes of Summer.

I love summer. I always have. It’s my favorite season. Knowing this, I’m not sure why I remain in the Northeast, where there’s that season-that-shall-not-be-named, full of snow, ice and misery. I believe my love of summer stems from my love of being outdoors. So for the majority of summer, I’m out there more than in here. Thus the reason I have posted anything in over a month.

biker chic.

biker chic.

I have, however been doing a lot of baking recently. so I figured the time has come to share it with the universe. Last week, I made two different kinds of cupcakes for a post-wedding celebration. The first of the two was Cookies and Cream. I made up the batter and mixed in crushed fake oreos (faux-reos).

batter up.

batter up.

Next, I baked them (obviously).

coolin'.

coolin’.

Then, I decorated them with cookies and cream frosting, and half a faux-reo on top.

topped off.

topped off.

The other type of cupcake was Chocolate with Cream Cheese Frosting.

I baked those as well (duh). They rose rather nicely.

on the rise.

on the rise.

Next, I topped them with a large dollop of cream cheese frosting.

like snow capped cupcake mountains.

like snow capped cupcake mountains.

Finally, I sprinkled them with shaved chocolate.

after shave.

after shave.

I took super close up shots of them both, because I’m obsessed with super close up shots of food.

cookies and cream super close up.

cookies and cream super close up.

and…

Chocolate and Cream Cheese super close up.

chocolate and cream cheese super close up.

It was fun making these. It made me want to make more cupcakes again. So I think I just might. But first, an oreo coffee cheesecake for National Cheesecake Day. It’s cooling RIGHT NOW!  Stay tuned for more details…. 🙂

 

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheerios Treats.

cheerio treats2

So the other day, a co-worker of mine said something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be awesome to make Rice Krispies Treats with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheerios instead of Rice Krispies?” I responded with a resounding “YES!!” and then remembered I had a bag of marshmallows at home just waiting to be used. “I’ll make these tonight!” I declared. So when I got home, I made a beeline for the kitchen and started prepping ingredients. My fiance came home mid-prep, and wanted to go out for a run. So I left the butter in the saucepan (since it had to be melted anyway) and out we went. Upon our return, he noticed the chunk of butter in the pan on the stove, and gave me his classic raised eyebrow “what on earth are you doing now?” look. He was in for a very pleasant surprise.

I started with a box of Chocolate Cheerios and a box of Peanut Butter Cheerios (both of which are delicious on their own, but even better when combined). I mixed them with the marshmallow and melted butter and spread them out into the pan, let them cool, and brought them into work the next day. They were a raging success, and will be made again, I guarantee it.

Cheerios are the new Rice Krispies.

Cheerios are the new Rice Krispies.

We cut them into squares, and found them to be denser then the traditional Rice Krispies version, but the chocolate, peanut butter, and marshmallow combo was magically delicious, fo’ sho’.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter and Marshmallow, oh my.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter and Marshmallow, oh my.

The recipe is very simple. You just sub in Cheerios. But here’s the actual measurements I used, in case you want to give this quick and easy perfect-for-any-party treat a try on the fly.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheerios Treats.

What you’ll need:

1 bag (10oz) large marshmallows

1/4 cup butter

4 cups Chocolate Cheerios

4 cups Peanut Butter Cheerios

What you’ll do:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Over low heat, add the bag of marshmallows, and mix until smooth. In a large mixing bowl, combine the Cheerios. Pour the marshmallow mix over top, and stir until all the Cheerios are completely coated. Grease a 13×9 baking pan, and spread the mix into the pan. Let cool. Cut into squares. Eat!

The Great White Chocolate Debate.

white chocolate

Over the weekend, I took part in WHYY’s 5th Annual Chocolate Tasting. I love WHYY, and have since I was a wee lass, so I’m happy to do anything that promotes them and helps raise money to keep them doing what they’re doing. It’s good stuff, and good people. 

Anyway, this year, I made over 400 Oreo and cream cheese truffles to support the event. I use the term “I made” loosely, as my boyfriend stayed up until almost 1 AM on Valentine’s Day to help me get them all dipped in chocolate and ready to go. He’s a very dedicated and hard-working assistant, not to mention a fast learner. So yeah, I had help.

There were to be two varieties: plain Oreo with milk chocolate coating, and mint Oreo with white chocolate coating. They looked like so:

a team effort.

a team effort.

 

So needless to say, before we let them leave the house, we had to taste them. Being a white-chocolate lover since I received my very first Easter basket, I went for the white, whereas my BF went straight for the milk chocolate, claiming he’s not a fan of white chocolate. That got me thinking – white chocolate really is not for everyone. You never hear someone say “Yeah, white chocolate is just ok.” It’s either “Mmmm!! I LOVE white chocolate!” or “Eww! I HATE white chocolate!” usually accompanied by “It’s not even REAL Chocolate!” Yes, that’s true – white chocolate is basically chocolate with the chocolate removed, which therefore logically speaking would make it not chocolate.

white not-chocolates?

white not-chocolates?

I have a theory though. If we were to globally wage a campaign to change the name of white chocolate to something else – removing the “chocolate” from the name in the same fashion it’s been removed from the confection itself – i think more people would accept it and enjoy it. No, it does not taste like chocolate – and by giving it a name that would lead folks to believe it does can be deceiving, and frankly, turn people off before they even give it a real chance. I think a new name would solve this problem, and give white chocolate the love it rightfully deserves. Of course, I have no idea what that name should be…White Not-chocolate? But that still has “chocolate” in the name itself and also just sounds too negative. White Candy? That’s a little generic and no one will have a clue as to what they’re about to eat. White Cocoa Butter? That’s a little better…but the “cocoa” could still cause confusion. White Sugar Butter? That actually sounds kinda gross. I don’t know….any suggestions? 

Cheers to Wine Cake.

wine cake4

I have this friend who I’ve got this little tradition with. For the past two years, at the beginning of the year ,we’ve each gotten the same book – one of those “365 Days of Something or Other” type books, and we’ve each independently read the passage for each day, and then texted each other with our thoughts. It’s a fun little way to stay connected, and we decided to continue it this year. The book of choice for 2014 is called “One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better” by Erin McHugh. The book doesn’t actually start on January 1 like the others did, so we just flipped to the first, and started there anyway. Why am I telling you this? Well, about a week ago, one of the daily passages involved a cake. A “Wine Cake,” to be exact. And it even included the recipe. It sounded easy and tasty, so I thought I’d try making it and see for myself.

After making the decision and prepping the kitchen, I realized I was missing one of the ingredients – a box of instant vanilla pudding. I only had chocolate, and a lot of it for some reason. It was snowing, and I wasn’t about to leave my house for one box of pudding….so, you guessed it, I threw in the chocolate instead.

improv baking takes the cake.

improv baking takes the cake.

It looked good – really good. But then another obstacle was thrown in my path – there was no recipe for appropriate frosting included with this cake. I thought that some kind of wine-based buttercream might work out well, so I did what any good baker would do — googled “white wine frosting.” I got nothing. Well, I got SOME things, but nothing that really seemed to be what I envisioned. So, I did the next thing any good baker would do — made up my own White Wine Buttercream recipe.

a little wine with your frosting.

a little wine with your frosting.

I frosted the cake, and decided it needed just a little something – some pizzazz or “flair”, if you will. So I made it sparkle (with sugar crystals).

look at me, i'm sparkling.

look at me, i’m sparkling.

I put it aside, while my boyfriend and I made pizza (again), and after we ate as much pizza as all the kids at an 8-year-old’s birthday party combined, we decided it was cake time. It was so moist – and although you got a soft hint of white wine, it was by no means overpowering. And the chocolate pudding – yeah, that made all the difference (in a good way). So, since I found the recipe in my reading, I’ll share my modified recipe for Wine Cake now with you, and even throw in my made-up frosting recipe. Cheers to that. 🙂

White Wine Cake.

What you’ll need:

1 package yellow cake mix

1 package instant chocolate pudding

1 tsp nutmeg

4 eggs

3 tbsp butter (softened)

½ cup canola oil

1 cup white cooking wine

¼ cup hot water

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake mix, pudding, and nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, and add them to the dry ingredients. Add the butter, oil, wine, and and water, and mix by hand or with a mixer until well blended.  Grease two 8” round pans, and divide the batter evenly among the pans. Bake for 25-30, or until the top springs back and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

 

White Wine Buttercream.

What you’ll need:

8 oz butter

4 oz shortening

1lb 4 oz  confectioner’s sugar

¼ cup white cooking wine

1 tsp nutmeg

What you’ll do:

Cream together the butter and shortening. Add the confectioner’s sugar, wine and nutmeg, and mix until smooth and consistent.