Wednesday, October 27

Show - {Pumpkin Cupcakes}

I'm not particularly creative when it comes to Halloween costumes.

To be completely honest, I am so bad at it that I don't even deserve the privilege of using the word "particularly" in that last sentence.

True fact.

I hardly remember any of my past costumes, which is probably due to the fact that the eve of October 31st is often bitterly cold and rainy in Michigan. Let me tell you something: it's disappointing to put on your totally awesome costume only to have it hidden beneath a sweater/jacket combo in addition to awkward-looking gloves, socks, and boots. How can I be expected to remember what I actually "was" if I looked like a marshmallow every year anyway?

I use that space in my brain for more important things.

Like cake recipes.

...And other equally important things.

...Which may or may not exist.

But I digress.

Even though I may not have been terribly interested in my costumes, I was definitely interested in Mom's Halloween plans. She made sure that our house was completely decked out and threw amazing parties each year without fail. Giant spiders were draped over our roof and enormous ghosts were stretched from gable to gable; all put in place by D under Mom's direction. A graveyard full of cleverly-inscribed tombstones sprung up in our front yard in the first year, then spread into the side yard as the years progressed. Drifting through the markers was a low, hazy mist provided by a number of modified fog machines, whisping ominously around the careful feet of our visitors.

I almost preferred being at home to trick-or-treating back then, just because I loved to sit on the porch and see everyone react to her work. Their widened eyes, dropped jaws and quickened paces made me proud of my mom; but seeing her reaction made me feel even better.

But her decorations didn't stop at the doors. Our entire house oozed Halloween from the floor to ceiling; the former covered in a dry ice induced fog and the latter populated largely by bats. Our kitchen counter was covered in platters piled high with creatively-named, delicious foods. Dragon Scales, Ogre Ears, Troll Toes, and Poor Sloppy Joe Sandwiches were among the offerings; each unappetizing by name but still completely welcome as relief from each one of the night's numerous sugar overdoses. Her menu was revised and edited year after year, perfected and stream-lined as she grew more and more comfortable with the tradition.

She was always worried that she was embarrassing my brother and I with the theatrics, but she never did. My mom put on an incredible show each year and continues to do so even now despite a slight shift in interests. She's always been good at finding something she loves and pouring tons of passion into it.

It's something I'll always admire.

Pumpkin Cupcakes via My Baking Addiction
Makes about 20 cupcakes
Printable Recipe

1 3/4 c (248g) flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbls (85g) butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c (300g) sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c (235ml) canned pure pumpkin
1/3 c (78ml) water

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Line 2 cupcake tins and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until well-combined. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin, vanilla and water until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until completely combined. Divide the batter amongst the cupcake tins, filling each about 3/4 of the way full. Bake 15-20 minutes until the cupcakes spring back when pressed. Let cool in pan for five minutes then transfer to cooling racks and let set until room temperature.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/2 c butter, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
Powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter until well combined. Add the vanilla. Add powdered sugar in 1/2 c additions until you achieve the desired consistency.

Witch Hats
These were inspired by one of the treats my awesome mom made every year for Halloween. My only change is to use a chocolate coin (P's wonderful suggestion) instead of chocolate-dipped shortbread just for the sake of a smaller size.

Chocolate kisses
Chocolate coins
Red royal icing

Pipe a thick line of icing around the bottom of a chocolate kiss. Press firmly onto the center of a chocolate coin so the icing spreads around the kiss to hold it in place. Pipe on a bow and allow to dry until completely set.

Friday, October 22

Change - {Apple Pie}

Straining to hold loosened flip flops to my frigid souls, the chilled toes beneath me are working overtime to combat the effects of the weather. Peachy tones have long-since camouflaged themselves in white, left unable to escape the daggers of the bitter wind over my skin.

It's hard not to wear sandals on a day like today.

It certainly looked like summer outside my windows this morning.

I feel myself shrinking inward to retain heat. I check the zipper about my neck to ensure its complete closure, then retract the over-worked fingers into my sleeves. My legs protest the length of my stride, favoring a shuffle over a glide, and my pace is slowed. The unfortunate side effect of walking in cold weather is that trips always take longer. Or maybe it just seems that way...

I have firm resolutions about seasons. Spring's kind of chilly, but I like it because things are warming up and coming back to life. I thrive in summer, but if you've been reading this blog for awhile, you probably knew that. But Fall isn't a time of year that I'm particularly fond of (don't even get me started on winter). It's cold. The days are shorter. I have to put away my skirts. I love the idea of an Indian Summer, but the classified days are so fleeting and few in number that I've learned to hate them as nothing more than a tease. Fall's palette of leaves are, admittedly, gorgeous; but their brilliant colors can only be painted beneath the strokes of feet and gentle winds for so long before they dry, crinkle and brown.

Beautiful art tossed in the compost heap.

Such a shame.

How is it that people learn to appreciate this season? It's the time of year that we all dreaded in our youth, isn't it? We'd return to school and the summer warmth would leave us just as quickly as our backpacks and lockers filled with papers and books.

Nature died along with all the fun.

Maybe I'm exaggerating.

I dunno.

I hate to post drawn-out complaints here, but I also don't have as many positive sentiments toward this season as so many others do. Still, I felt the need to reference fall. I guess this is just my way of doing it.

Anyway, I suppose fall isn't all bad. At least there are apples.

I like apples.

And apple pie makes the house smell awesome, so at least I can curl up with a blanket and just enjoy that.

As fleeting as that may be.

Apple Pie
Fruit pies don't really require exact recipes, in my opinion. Just a little of this, a little of that, you know? It's all wrapped in pie crust anyway, so whatever you do is bound to be delicious!
Printable Recipe

1/4 c sugar, more or less to taste
2 Tbls flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Apples; peeled, cored and sliced (I used Empires and Northern Spies. Use more than you think you'll need; they'll cook down!)
2 Tbls butter
Pie pastry, enough for a double-crust pie (recipe below)
Coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

Roll out one pie crust round and place it in your pie pan. Dock the bottom and sides and place in the freezer while you make the filling.

Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Toss in apples. Pour into prepared crust and dot with butter.

Roll out the second crust and place over the pie. Seal and flute the edges, then cut a few slits in it to release steam. Brush with milk and sprinkle the sugar over the top. Bake for 20 minutes then decrease the oven temperature to 375F (190C) and bake 30-35 minutes until well-browned and crispy.

Pie Crust via Fannie Farmer
Makes enough for 1 double-crust 9" pie.

2 c (250 g) flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 c (78 g) shortening, chilled
1/3 c (78 g) butter, frozen
4 Tbls cold water (may need more or less)

Mix flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add chilled shortening and place in freezer. On a chilled plate, grate butter with a cheese grater using the larger holes. Add to shortening and press mixture gently with fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water over the dough, tablespoon by tablespoon, and mix with a fork just until combined. Compress into a ball (try not to knead too much!) and flatten into two equal-sized disks. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours (or up to a week).

Wednesday, October 13

Shades - {Apple Butter Macarons}

I have a pair of really, really, really cheap silver-rimmed, mirrored aviators.

I wear this pair of really, really, really cheap silver-rimmed, mirrored aviators almost everyday.

Hey - stop looking at me like that.

I know they have a bit of stigma associated with them. I know that they seem kind of off-putting. I know that talking to me while I'm wearing them makes it difficult to focus on what I'm saying.

I also know that my particular pair is pretty much worthless when it comes to functioning as they should. I mean, I squint when I wear them and I can't look down or they'll fall off my face. They're webbed with scratches and dotted with pits, and I've kicked the lenses out on more than one occasion.

Yes. I said kicked.

It's a long story.

But despite all this, I continue to wear them. I'm pretty sure they were "in-style" at one point - maybe - so for awhile they made me seem "hip" and "cool" - I think. I'm not as much of a vagabond as you might expect someone who wears them to be, but I like to think that they "work" and suit me in some way. Which is not to say that they match my so-called "style," or my attitude for that matter, but they still seem like an appropriate fit.

Am I overusing the quotes today?

Anyway, long story short, I still like them, regardless of the fact that current trends might dictate otherwise (thank goodness that these, at least, appear to be "out").

I've noticed lately that, when it comes down to it, I really lack a sense of style. My favorite shirt is a plain, black v-neck, and I have four more - differing only on color - hanging in the order of the spectrum on the rack in my closet. I have other shirts, of course, but I feel juvenile wearing the ones with once-funny sayings across the chest and over-dressed when I wear button-ups to class. Oftentimes I find myself getting dressed over and over again in the morning, desperately trying to match one article of clothing to another. But the result, after three potential outfits, is a bed covered in rumpled clothing and me dressed in jeans and... A v-neck.

I don't own trendy jackets or shawls, so I wear one of three hoodies to class or my faux-leather jacket at night. Sometimes I get lucky and they kinda match - maybe - and other times I look like I'm just trying to be warm. Perhaps a little frumpy, but warm all the same. Which, honestly, isn't so bad, right? I mean, isn't comfort greater than matching? To an extent, anyway? No worries - I'm not going to start rocking a Snuggie to class, but seriously: is it so bad that I don't mind my non-fashionable hoodies?

I can't decide if all of this is due to expense or if I just don't care. Obviously, I want to look presentable (even "good," if it's possible), but I don't see that happening at the cost of a $39.99 shirt + a $49.95 jacket over a $49.99 skirt and 2 for $24.99 leggings. Spending an equal amount on good chocolate, vanilla beans, butter or - hell - even flour just seems so much more useful and rewarding...

Is that weird?

Anyway, as I walk to class in my plain hoodie and plain clothes, my really, really, really cheap silver-rimmed, mirrored aviators are the only point of interest to my entirely plain ensemble. Maybe I don't look completely trendy, but for those who do: you're so very welcome for the mirrors.

P.S. Thanks, H, for being a hand model. You rock!

P.P. S. I swear that the Twilight-ness of these photos was completely unintentional. Please forgive me.

Apple Macarons
The apple buttercream filling in these is absolutely amazing.
Printable Recipe

Shells very slightly modified from Cannelle et Vanille

180 g almond flour
240 g powdered sugar
140 g egg whites, aged
2 g fine sea salt
80 g sugar

Separate the egg whites at least 24 hours to making this recipe, leaving them covered in the fridge. This helps remove moisture and increase acidity which will help create a fuller and more stable meringue.

Preheat the oven to 300F and cut 2-3 pieces of parchment paper to fit on baking sheets. Prepare a piping bag with a small round tip (a 10 works well) and set aside.

Combine the powdered sugar, almond flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whip the egg whites until frothy, then begin slowly sprinkling in the sugar and whip to stiff peaks, or until the meringue doesn't slide in the bowl when tipped.

Sift the dry ingredients into the egg whites and fold until well combined and shiny. You want the mixture to spread slightly, but not be too runny.

Pour the macaronage into the prepared piping bag and pipe the macarons in small rounds onto the parchment. Bake them for about 8 minutes, rotate the sheetpan and bake for another 8 minutes or until the tops *just* slide over the feet.

Apple Butter
You could definitely use store bought apple butter for this, but we had a lot of apples laying around after a trip to the orchard and I wanted to use them up. The benefit of making it at home is that it makes your house smell wonderful.

1 lb 9 oz apples (I used a mix of Mutsu and Empire. I don't know that they're the best for this application, but it's what I had and I think it worked well)
2 c water
1/2c sugar
1 tbls lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbls honey
1 stick cinnamon
10 allspice berries
4 cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Peel and dice the apples.

Place the prepared apples and remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and let simmer until very soft, about 2 hours. Be sure to mix every once in awhile, increasing the frequency with which you do so the longer the apples cook. Once very soft and caramelized, remove from heat and allow to cool briefly before picking out whole spices and pouring into a blender or food processor to puree. Store in the fridge.

Apple Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Please click here for a step-by-step guide to making Swiss Meringue Buttercream and troubleshooting tips!

3/4 c sugar
3 egg whites
9 Tbls buter, softened
3/4 tsp vanilla
Apple butter

In a double boiler, cook the egg whites and sugar, whisking constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and whip (with a stand mixer or an hand-held one) until room temp, about ten minutes. Lower speed and begin adding the butter, piece by piece, waiting until each cube is incorporated before adding the next. After all butter is added, return mixer to high speed and beat until the buttercream comes together. Add the apple butter to taste and use to fill the macarons.

Thursday, October 7

Sip - {Pecan Praline Cake}

After carefully checking it for lingering traces of peanut butter, I plunge the blunt-end of a butter knife into my tall thermos. A simple twirl creates a brief and sophisticated tie-dye, eventually settling into a comfortable brown with a glossy finish. As I stare blankly into the stilled thermos, I am reminded of a time when I truly appreciated black coffee. A time when I would scoff at the thought of cream and considered sugar a distasteful addition to the palette. Back then I liked my coffee to be a pure, deep, dark river of liquid caffeine; portioned between no fewer than two pots over the course of the day. I would overfill unsuspecting filters as I prepped my brew and flood the kitchen with the aroma and the grounds, both spilling from the counter and into the cracks of our ancient hard-wood floors.

I considered the bitterness a treat.

I liked the bite.

I grew quickly immune to the effects of the caffeine, ritually downing the remnants of the final pot before brushing my teeth.

There were no issues with this near zero-calorie indulgence.

But things have changed.

I've come to realize that it's no longer the coffee that I love, but the silky cream and the warm sugar instead. And as I load up my mug with these additions, I feel almost guilty for having once considered myself a "coffee lover." The milky contents of the thermos hardly resemble the ones of its past, and the same goes for the taste.

The frequency in which I drink the stuff has decreased, too. My two + pot a day habit has dwindled to a mere thermos-full in a week, entirely reflective of my sudden sensitivity to caffeine. So when the thirst for warmth comes in the early hours of the morning, I often ignore the urge to make a pot of "coffee." I've taken to sipping spiced chai, a drink I was recently introduced to by P, in it's place; relishing the sweet creaminess and thankful for its low caffeine content. I find it a suitable substitute - hitting all the right notes - with which to start (and oftentimes end) my day.

Still, those familiar coffee-like rings still manage to find their way onto my homework. Simple reminders of quiet mornings passed with a "fancy" drink in hand and accounting homework before me.

But, unfortunately for me, the chai never lasts as long as the homework.

And when the chai is gone... Well, that, my friends, is when I start seeking out other distractions.

Pecan Praline Cake from Mrs. Charles
This cake is fabulous with coffee, tea or milk. I think you'll find that all of the textures are an amazing combination! Makes 1 (9-inch) 2-layer cake.
Printable Recipe

Pecan Praline

1/2 c (100 g) sugar
1/4 c (60 ml) water
1/2 c (120 ml) pecans, chopped

Prepare baking sheet (with edges, preferably) by lining it with aluminum foil and greasing it lightly. Set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Cook (without stirring) until golden. Remove from heat and quickly stir in pecans. Rapidly spread mixture onto prepared pan. Cool completely. Break into small pieces and store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Vanilla Cake

3 1/2 c (495 g) cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c (235 g) butter, softened
1 3/4 c (345 g) sugar
1/4 c (35 g) light brown sugar
6 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
1 c (240 ml) milk

Preheat oven to 350F (177C) and grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with greased parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Place the butter in a large bowl and beat until lightened. Add the sugars and beat at medium speed 5 minutes or until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.

Add flour mixture and 1 cup milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating at low speed after each addition.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

1/4 c (35 g) light brown sugar
10 tbls (140 g) butter, softened and divided
1/3 c (80 ml) heavy whipping cream
8 oz (225) cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c (275 g) powdered sugar

Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons (55 g) butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Place remaining 6 tablespoons (85 g) butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.

Brown Sugar Fudge Filling
This stuff tastes great but sets up pretty quickly. Because of this, it is imperative that you wait until you are ready to frost the cake to make it. Also, be sure that your cakes are ready/cooled when you start, and have one resting on your cake plate so you can pour the finished fudge on top.

1 1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c evaporated milk
1/4 c butter

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 238F (115C). Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl, and beat 3 minutes or until thickened and easy to spread. Quickly spread filling over cake layer on plate. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; chill 15 minutes or until set.


After the fudge has cooled, spread a thin layer of Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting over filling. Top with second cake layer and crumb coat the cake. Frost as desired and chill 20 minutes to set frosting, then cover and chill 4 hours or overnight. Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature before serving. Garnish with the praline.