Margarita Cupcakes

Challenge Recipe #1: The Margarita Cupcake. When I first started asking for suggestions, someone suggested this idea, and I thought it sounded the most intriguing. That was partially because the instant I read the suggestion, I had an instant picture in my head. With the help of a friend, I saw a green speckled white cupcake with light frosting and a candied lime slice on top. And of course, tequila. Somewhere. Because what’s a margarita without tequila?

My goal was to create the recipe, with a basic recipe as a base. I found a white cupcake recipe on joyofbaking.com that sounded promising – it involved folded beaten egg whites to boost the fluffiness and airiness of the cupcakes. Sounded good! Away I went. Continue reading

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The Challenge

It seems to me that people frequently find blogging success when they have some kind of challenge. Julie and Julia is perfect example: she challenged herself to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes in a year, and because she was living up to her own standards, she successfully maintained her goal.

My blogging comes and goes, but my interest in food and in particular, baking, has been growing exponentially over the past year. I’ve always enjoyed baking and cooking. In cooking I am fully able to improvise – just throw things into a pot, sans recipe, and come out with something scrumptious. In baking, for the most part, I stick to recipes. I do this because 1. It’s wise – baking really is a science, and you need to follow the chemistry accurately to end up with the best results (see: Alton Brown) and 2. I’m not sure how one would go about improvising a baking recipe. Sure, I’ll tweak with spices – an extra dash of vanilla, here, added cinnamon there. But I’m stuck to the recipe.

At my core, I am an avid learner (probably half the reason I decided to become a teacher; I can’t escape education). I want to know what makes baking tick. I want to be able to throw things in my stand mixer willy-nilly and know with confidence that something beautiful and golden and fluffy will come out the other side. I watch those people on the cooking shows and they just know the ratios and what makes cake and cookies work. I have an extra challenge, living at high altitude in lovely Denver, so I need that confidence even more.

So I’m forgoing the recipe. Well, sort of. My goal is to at least once per week create a new cupcake/cake/cookie/brownie/misc. baked good recipe. I will start off by using base recipes (white cake, yellow cake, sugar cookie) to get used to the feel of the recipe, but the recipes will all involve much more than that. Here’s the proposed starting list:

  • Week 1: Margarita Cupcakes
  • Week 2: Xocolatl Cupcakes (or cookies)
  • Week 3: Red Wine Cookies
  • Ideas for the following weeks: Champagne cookies/Cupcakes, Key Lime Cupcakes, Mandarin Orange Cupcakes, Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, Mojito Cupcakes

Yes, there is a lot of alcoholic things on that list. 🙂 And yes, I need more cookie and brownie ideas. Suggestions? Desires?

Week #1 starts tonight. I will post at the end of the week. Here we go!

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Apricot Sorbet

A strange fact about me is that growing up, I really didn’t like much fruit. Sure, I could deal with apples and bananas, and thoroughly enjoyed strawberries and grapefruits with lots of added sugar, but that was it. I particularly hated peaches and all other fuzzy fruits. The texture was weird and the juice was obnoxious. This coming from a child who always loved broccoli. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Then when I was 17, I traveled to Italy with a school group and was served a dessert I had no choice in ordering. Also, I had no clue what it was. It just appeared in front of me, no explanation. So, I ate. And I liked it. There was some kind of baked or grilled fruit in it. Come to find later it was apricot. 9 years later I found myself in Dürnstein, Austria, home of the apricot. Every shop was selling apricots – apricot jam, apricot soap, apricot schnapps. And all of it tasted fantastic.

(Marille is German for apricot. I think it such a prettier name.)

Suffice to say, I had found one fuzzy fruit I like. I still really dislike peaches. The flavor is OK, but I’ve tried peaches in so many forms, and mostly, I just hate them. Sad, I know. In any case, apricots were everywhere in my grocery store two weeks ago, so I decided to make sorbet.

This was unbelievably simple.

Take about 2 lbs of ripe, squishy apricots, give or take. Slice in half, remove pit, and slice into smaller pieces. Put into a medium saucepan with 1 cup water, and heat over medium heat until soft and cooked through, stirring occasionally. This will likely take around 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in 1 cup sugar. Cool to room temperature.

Once it has cooled down, put into a blender and puree until smooth. If you like chunky sorbet, blend on a lower setting for not as long. This is up to you. If you’re going for smoother (which I was), pour through a mesh sieve after pureed, pushing gently through with a spoon. (I used a wooden one.) You do not have to do this, but ultimately, I think the texture was superior. Stir in vanilla extract to taste (about a tsp is good). Cover and chill thoroughly in the fridge. Overnight is preferred.

When chilled, put into your ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s instruction for your model. It took less than 10 minutes in my Kitchenaid Mixer Ice Cream Maker attachment, but probably could have gone a tad longer. Immediately put into freezer for at least 2 hours.

With many sorbets, you can leave out the sugar. I would discourage doing that with this one, because apricots have a strong flavor. As it was, it tasted purely like apricots – everything simply enhanced the apricot flavor. It is unbelievably refreshing. I strongly recommend it! Get thee an ice cream maker! It’s so worth it! Not convincing enough? They say that keeper your freezer very full makes it more efficient, because it takes less effort to freeze everything in it – less circulating air. Make ice cream! 🙂

Thanks to Annie’s Eats for the brilliant idea!

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Time for Sorbet

My gift to myself in May for all the interviews I did and all the rejections I endured (although it finally all worked out – I got hired!) was a ice cream maker attachment for my beloved Kitchen-aid stand mixer. Finally, on Memorial Day, I had a chance to use it.

One thing to keep in mind about making ice cream is it actually takes a long time. Actually cooking and preparing takes very little time, but the constant chilling and freezing takes quite a while.

A friend of mine dabbles quite a bit in home-brewing, and a while ago he made some banana wine, and has a whole bunch left over. He wanted to try to use it in sorbet. He suggested strawberries, since they go well with bananas, and the combo of raspberries with that also sounded good to me. So I combined a bunch of different recipes I found online to create this: Strawberry-Raspberry Banana Wine Sorbet with mint. Quite the mouthful, I know. But I have to say that it turned out wonderfully! Everyone was impressed.

Step one: Almost all ice creams and sorbets require some form of simple syrup, and really, it’s important to know how to make and really easy to make. It also goes into drinks like mojitos. Bring 3/4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 3/4 cup sugar, and lower heat (or you can remove it from heat completely). Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Transfer to a medium bowl and chill for at least 2 hours. If it’s too warm when added to the ice cream maker, it will warm the frozen bowl too much for the sorbet to chill effectively, and you’ll likely end up with pretty liquidy sorbet.

While it’s chilling, put a package of strawberries and a package of raspberries in a blender. I actually put the raspberries in the food processor first, so there was a liquid component without having to add a liquid. I then blended them together in a blender. I added a handful of mint, which ended up in tiny green bits and really made the sorbet so amazing. The mint adds a refreshing taste. Chill this mixture until the simple syrup is cold, and then mix them together. After mixed, I added a cup of the banana wine. In the future, I may mix the wine with the simple syrup to burn off some of the alcohol. Alcohol lowers the freezing temperature, meaning things are a little bit liquidy at the end. It turned out fine after freezing, though, so not a huge change is needed.

When it’s ready – and only then – remove the ice cream maker bowl from the freezer (for the stand mixer attachment), attach to mixer, and start on Stir speed. Pour the mix into the bowl, and mix until at desired consistency.

When finished, pour into a container. I was recommended to put it into a longer, flatter container (I imagine it freezes more quickly that way). Freeze for at least 4 hours, though overnight is ideal!

I immediately fed this to my roommate, who said that although she was expecting it to be good, she wasn’t expecting my first try to be THAT good. So, seriously, something about this combo – especially the mint – really makes it come to life in your mouth. It just screams summer. And since in Denver we’ve been having a crazy heat streak, it’s totally appropriate right now!

Enjoy!

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Things I desire

Ok. So, yeah, it’s been quite a while since I posted. The real reason is because the end of the winter makes me lose all motivation, because I’m so ready for spring, and yet it’s still cold and miserable. Finally, it’s nearly May, the weather has improved (although has become dramatically more rainy), and I’m taking back control of my life. Ha.

I’m now transferring between lovely baked goods that are oh-so-good and yet oh-so-bad for you, and healthy meals. I’m going to make Salmon Cakes tonight, as well as The Pioneer Woman’s Monkey Bread. I’m excited!

For now, though, I’m just posting something I want: Everything on this site! Bake It Pretty has adorable things that bring out the domestic diva in myself. Seriously, How cute is this!!
Oh, so cute.

More to come.

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Black and White Red Velvet Cookies

The dreaded staff meeting. Due to the nature of my job, staff meetings with the entire staff occur only once every few months. And this one was a biggie. My boss was passing the torch to a new boss, and none of the staff but the three of us knew about it. So, my old boss’s idea to ease the blow was to…bake cookies. Thankfully, right up my alley. Since my boss decided to make snickerdoodles, I knew I couldn’t just make any cookie. I remembered seeing some red velvet black and white cookie recipe on Joy the Baker. I also remembered that I first tried a black and white cookie at a deli when I lived in NYC and it was terrible. I wanted a redo – a chance to relive that awful black and white cookie experience. And the red velvet seemed like a nice touch.

So, I gathered all of the ingredients.

You know, the usual suspects: sugar, flour, cocoa, vanilla extract, eggs, butter salt. Also: Buttermilk, corn syrup, chocolate chips (the recipe actually calls for baking chocolate), powdered sugar and red food coloring.(FYI: the recipe below is doubled from the original.)

In a medium bowl, mix together 2.5 cups flour, 2 tbs cocoa powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking soda. The recipe calls for “sifting” them together, but despite my recent kitchen expansion, I don’t have a sifter. So, I used a whisk to fluff the ingredients a little bit. From my understanding, sifting mixes and adds air.

In a mixer, blend 1 cup 2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature, with 1.5 cups granulated sugar until fluffy. This took about 2-3 minutes.

Oo. Blurry action shot.

Beat in two eggs, then add 2 tsp vanilla and 1-2 tbsp red food coloring, depending on the color you’re aiming for the and type of food coloring you’re using. I had the gel kind, and one tablespoon of that was plenty.

Look at that gorgeous red color. Fear not – it will NOT be this red once you add the flour mixture. Add the flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with adding 1 cup of buttermilk. Then watch your roommate training the kittens to sit.

Believe it or not, it works! At least, it works if you have a treat in your hand. They will dutifully sit if they see a treat in your hand. 🙂

Anyway, after that break, it’s time to transfer the cookie dough to the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Black and white cookies are traditionally large. I was making them to put in little bigs to give to teachers, so I made them small. But you can scoop 1/4 cup of dough onto the cookie sheets if you desire big honkin’ cookies. I used spoonfuls. You then want to smooth them down with a knife. Not until flat, but enough.

Pop them into a pre-eated 350 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes. Take them out and let them cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to finish.

In the meantime, make the icings (these were not doubled).

In a small to medium bowl, mix 2 cups powdered sugar with 1 tsp light corn syrup, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons hot water. I’ve also made this icing without corn syrup, in case you don’t have that laying around, though I think it was helpful for the chocolate icing. The recipe calls for a whisk, but I find it much easier to use a fork. Less obnoxious clumping.

To make the chocolate icing, melt 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used chocolate chips) with 3 tbsp butter in the microwave for 1 minutes or so. Take it out and stir to finish all the melting, then add 1 tbsp light corn syrup. Mix until smooth.

Once the cookies have cooled, ice half of each cookie with the vanilla glaze, and have with the chocolate. Put into the fridge to set the icing. Share and enjoy! They were a bit hit.

Red Velvet Black and White Cookies (from Joy the Baker via Rachael Ray)

makes 10 large cookies
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
5 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
For Vanilla Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
1 Teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons hot water
For Chocolate Glaze
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease and flour the pan well so the cookies don’t stick. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Using a mixer, mix 5 tbsp of butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, food coloring and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk until smooth.
Place 1/4-cup scoops of batter 2 inches apart of the prepared baking sheet, spread the batter out with a butter knife, so they’re not completely flat but spread out a bit. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.
In a bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon of corn syrup and 2 tablespoons hot water, until smooth. That’s your vanilla glaze.
In a separate bowl, melt the butter and the chocolate in a microwave for about 1 minute. Add the corn syrup and stir until smooth. When cookies are cool, spread each glaze of half of each cookie, and put into the refrigerator to cool.

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Best. Cookies. Ever. (And easiest!)

If you do not like peanut butter, do not proceed – UNLESS you know someone who would appreciate some delicious, scrumptious damn-near-perfect and miraculous gluten-free peanut butter cookies. That take almost no time to make. Longer in the oven than in the hands. Seriously.

So here’s the line-up:

peanut butter cookie ingredients

Peanut butter (duh), eggs, 2 kinds of sugar and baking soda. That’s all! 4 ingredients!

Take a cup of peanut butter:

A cup of Peanut Butter

And mix with 1 cup of sugar (1/2 cup of each kind, brown and white) till blended.

Mixing Peanut Butter Cookies

This took less than 2 minutes with a stand mixer. Longer, I’m sure, by hand. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my new baby? Baby red stand mixer? Aw. So cute. *ahem* Anyway…add one egg and 1 tsp baking soda, and mix till gooey and well blended. It will all start sticking to the mixer blade, that’s how you know.

Remove the blade, resist the urge to lick it (or not…). Roll little balls and place onto a greased cookie sheet (I used parchment paper for the second round, and they came out just fine), press down with a fork for the traditional peanut butter cookie appearance (see below) and place into a 350 degree preheated oven for 10 minutes.

(Ignore the weird smile on my face. I don’t know what’s up with that.)

Pull out of the oven, and let cool. And lo and behold, I was able to cool my cookies properly with my brand spanking-new cooling racks:

I drool over kitchen tools, can you tell?

These cookies are simple, easy and gluten-free, and yet I got more compliments on them than I’ve gotten from most my other recipes. People demanded the recipe, people raved, people started parades down my street…ok, maybe not that last part. 🙂

Yanked from Joy the Baker.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (makes 2 dozen, approximately)

1 cup chunky or smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with butter. In a mixer combine peanut butter and sugars until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add egg and baking soda and mix for another 2 minutes. Roll into walnut sized balls and create a criss-cross pattern with a fork. If you’d like, add a few chocolate pieces to the top of the cookies. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on a baking sheet for two minutes.

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