Monday, November 22, 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes

A perfect weekend is...
Dinner and drinks with one of your favorite people, at your favorite restaurant and
then out for your favorite drink: Clapless Belle. Yum.

Shopping with your favorite shopping partner and actually finding some cute things at your favorite stores, followed by lunch at your favorite Indian restaurant.

 Completing your favorite household task: cleaning and organizing your closet.

Baking your favorite cupcake recipe and decorating them like little monkeys.

Putting on a bib for one of your favorite marathons and lining up at the start line.

Finishing a marathon with some of your favorite running partners
(and indulging in your favorite local brew afterwards).

Eating at your favorite restaurant AGAIN with some of your fellow marathoners
 and recounting the race with pizza and more beer.

Finishing the weekend with a cup of fro-yo with your favorite toppings: granola and coconut.

In my mind... a weekend doesn't get any better than this past weekend.

Vanilla Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from one I found somewhere online.
One recipe makes 27-31 cupcakes

I'm not a huge cupcake fan. But how can you not be a sucker for a moist, buttery cupcake? Which is how I found myself on a mission to find the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe... after tasting a delicious one at a bakery in Chicago.

To be honest, I hate the cupcakes at Nashville's local bakeries. Too dry, too big, too much frosting, too many whacked out flavors.

This is the kind of cupcake I like... plain and simple.

To decorate as monkeys for the Harpeth Hill Flying Monkey Marathon that I ran this weekend, I used chocolate frosting, nutter butter peanut butter snack cookies, a vanilla wafer with the top quarter cut off with a serated knife, and icing (white, black, and red). They look a lot like bears, but hopefully most people realized they were monkeys!

This cupcake recipe is awesome. My favorite, for sure.

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar and add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until light in color and fluffy in texture. Gradually whisk in the oil, buttermilk, and extract and combine well.

Add your flour, baking powder, and salt and slowly stir to combine (add a little bit of the flour at a time to make the stirring easier).

Transfer to muffin pans that have been lined with paper muffin cups. Fill the cups up about 2/3 of the way up. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until springy in the center. Cool completely before frosting.

Especially Dark Chocolate Frosting

(from the back of the Special Dark Hershey's cocoa box)

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup Special Dark Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk (might need more)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to a spreading consistency. Add small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups of frosting.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies, Healthi-fied.

Back in July, I went to NYC to visit a friend. It had been about 8 years since I had last been there and in a few short days, I quickly fell in love with the city.

The thing that had always kinda bugged me about NYC previously was the overstimulation. Everywhere you look there are people, cars, bikes, shops, pigeons, hot dog stands. It's so alive and in the past I unfairly held that against it. Back then, I didn't know how to quieten the outside world within my own head, so I would find myself drowning in the everything else-ness that NYC was.

But, 8 years later, I'm a much different person. I can easily silence the noise around me and enjoy things at my own pace, instead of allowing the bustling city to force its hustle upon me.

It was incredible. Central Park! The Ballet! The Bus rides! The Subway rides! The East River Greenway for running! The Brooklyn Bridge! Brooklyn! The Whitney (my first real Edward Hopper painting experience!!!)! The tree-lined streets! The people! The Clearance FLOOR (oh my god an entire floor!!)  at Anthropologie! I have a serious, serious crush on NYC right now. Granted, in general... I'm pretty city-crazy right now. NYC isn't my only city crush.. I'm still reeling from a San Francisco courtship earlier this year and just last weekend Chicago spun me around like a top. So, I'm definitely not a one-city loving woman.

My favorite times in NYC were spent just wandering around. Seeing the storefronts and the homes. Changing course at the drop of a hat, to avoid a no-walk crossing sign. Sitting on numerous park benches in Central Park, and various other parks, to watch the people buzzing by.

When I left to come home, I felt a sense of jealousy. How fair is it that some people get to live and work in that city??? I was merely a visitor, living out of a too small suitcase. Damn you New Yorkers and your fabulous city!

Oh well, the good news is that it's an easy city to get to for visiting (easier than San Francisco, that's for sure) and until then, I can try to be inspired by things that I experienced there. Like vegan baked goods!

For lunch one day I ate at Angelica Kitchen. I had a delicious salad, but what really stuck with me was some of their baked goods! I can't really remember what all that was ordered, but it was all really tasty. I do remember the homemade vegan fig newton!! Yum!!! And there was also some sort of deliciously homey tasting oatmeal cookie and a maple tofu whip!

These peanut butter cookies came out of an attempt to try and find a way to make a simple, healthy, vegan sweet snack. And... they didn't turn out perfect (not quite up to Angelica's standards), but they were damn tasty and I had no problem eating them. A base to build upon and perfect, if you will.

Healthy-ish Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from a flourless peanut butter cookie recipe like this one.

Again, this isn't going to be an actual recipe (because I havent perfected it yet), but more of an instruction of what I did.

I started with a flourless peanut butter cookie recipe and instead of egg, I used flax meal with a little bit of water. And instead of sugar, I used date pieces. Originally, I wanted to puree my dates into a paste and incorporate into the dough to sweeten it, but I had the date pieces that were hard and cut up. You know what I'm talking about?? Anyway, they wouldn't pulverize in the food processor, so I just threw them in whole. Thinking of them kind of like a chocolate chip, except a stud of sweetness in the salty peanut butter.

I completely forgot to add any kind of leavener. So, next time, I'll definitely add some baking powder or soda or both.

Overall, these tasted like baked, kinda sweet, intensely flavored peanut butter. A bit crumbly, but satisfying in a weird way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hostess Cupcakes

I know you know what I'm talking about... even though it's something that you love and are passionate about... sometimes it falls by the wayside. You can't predict it and sometimes you can't fix it. I go through this with all my hobbies. It's the ebb and flow of life, I suppose.

And with this blog, I feel like I've lost my writing mojo. I've always loved to write. I've always written terrible short stories and poems. I've got notebook after notebook filled with characters, plots, pieces of dialogues and intros. But for the last year or so, it's been a struggle for me to even bang out a simple, entertaining blog post about some damn cupcakes.

What is wrong with me???

The one thing I do know about writing is.. the worst thing you can do is stop altogether. I've always read and learned that one must power through the block and even if you get pages and pages of worthless drivel... eventually... you'll find the otherside.

So, this is my attempt. I'm just going to ease back in and see what happens.

Such is my writer's block that I made these cupcakes back in JULY. That's right folks. Back when it was still flaming outside, back when I was in the midst of my 30 day vegan/macrobiotic/just eat fruits and vegetables diet. That was a long time ago.

I've become good friends with some running partners. And these cupcakes were made for one of those friends. It was his birthday, he was having a party at his new house and instead of being the lovable party-goer that brings booze (like I normally am), I was the lovable party-goer that had shunned alcohol for the month, so I brought the next best thing... cupcakes (because, let's be honest.. I can say no to a cupcake wayyy easier than I can say no to booze).

It was a fun night. My favorite kind of night, actually... I didn't really know if I'd know anyone at the party besides my friend who was the man of honor for the shindig... so it forced me out of my comfort zone a bit. And as those nights usually turn out.. it was a total blast. I met new people, I got to meet my friend's girlfriend and see their awesome new house.

It was a great time. And these were the cupcakes that I made. I know nothing about what my friend likes in baked goods. So, I figured a crowd pleaser would be chocolate cupcakes. And to make them a little more festive. I mimicked that of a hostess cupcake... with a thin layer of icing, with a white squiggle and a gooey white center.

Per my diet that month, I didn't taste these cupcakes, but... I was told that one of the kids that was there was asked what her favorite part of the party was... and she replied... the cupcakes! A good sign, no? (Nevermind the fact that of course at a party full of grown-ups, the cupcakes are going to be the star for the kid!).
Hostess Cupcakes

I did a bunch of different things for this recipe. First off, I made Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for Baby Grands Cupcakes that I found in her delicious and amazing cookbook, Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Which, I incidentally won on Hilary's awesome website, Nosh With Me awhile back and am just now getting around to thanking her on the blog! (I'm an awful blogger, I swear).

After the cupcakes were baked, I scooped out part of the center of the cupcake and filled with a mixture of marshmallow fluff that had been diluted with a little bit of water so that it was runny (next time, I dont think I'll dilute it). I put the marshmallow mixture into a ziploc bag and piped it into the center of each cupcake. After that, I covered all the cupcakes with a layer of chocolate ganache. And put squiggles on the top to mimic the snack cakes with pre-bought white cookie icing in a tube.

I thought they turned on beautiful! But, they also turned out very, very messy. The marshmallow center kinda of oozed into the whole cupcake and instead of being a filling it made it into a gooey center (no complaints on the flavor!). So next time, I would pipe the fluff straight into the center (maybe even make it a little stiffer by mixing it with some confectioners sugar!).

Easily adaptable to your favorite recipes for the components. Definitely a fun way party cupcake!

Chocolate Cupcakes
Marshmallow Fluff
Chocolate Ganache
White Icing

Follow assembly instructions above!