Owl Cupcakes

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  I love the time of year with the fall foliage and I love to decorate for Halloween.  I also have a ton of fun throwing parties and dressing up.  We do a lot of family-oriented things around the holiday as well.  We’ll go to pumpkin patches and we’ll all dress up.  One year we did a Wizard of Oz theme, which turned out really cute.  It’s just a fun time of year for all of us.

Halloween is a pretty big deal in my small town, too.  They close off Main Street and have a huge parade in the afternoon, ending it with some trick-or-treating with the participating stores around the Plaza.  There are so many cool homemade costumes and you can really see the creativity that goes into them.

This is the first year Matt’s in school for the holiday, so we thought it would be fun to make cupcakes for his class.  Today, in between some indoor soccer games (it’s rainy out), Matt and I made these cute owl cupcakes.  He’s such a help in the kitchen…when he wants to be…and I also think it’s good to get him involved in cooking and baking.  It’s an excellent learning opportunity for both of us…….OK, I won’t deny the fact that I’m trying to shape him into being a good boyfriend or husband for someone.  ;o)

These cupcakes are pretty easy to do because it’s just a box mix, canned frosting and some other pre-made ingredients for decoration.

Owl Cupcakes

Owl Cupcakes

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 box of your favorite cake mix (yellow, white, or chocolate)
1 bag of M&Ms
1 package of Oreos
1 can of chocolate frosting

Follow the instructions on the box to make cupcakes.  Seems easy enough, right?  It’s nice to have a helper in the kitchen.  Here’s mine:

                                     

 While those are baking, have your little helper sort out the M&Ms for the cupcakes.  I put out some bowls and had Matt sort out the colors.  It just makes it easier when it’s time to assemble them.  This is a great learning experience for colors, dexterity, matching and patience.  Really, I don’t have any teaching credentials, so teachers, feel free to add any other things kids might learn through doing this task.

The next part is for grown-ups.  Taking a sharp knife, split the Oreos in half so that one side has the cream and other other is just the chocolate cookie.  You can try to split it without the knife, but sometimes you end up with cream on both sides.

Once the cupcakes are cooled, frost them with the chocolate frosting.  Place 2 Oreos side by side in the center of the cupcake just as the picture shows.  Put an orange M&M vertically in the cupcake for the beak…again, just like the picture.  Place a small amount of frosting on the “M” side of an M&M for the eyes.  Position the M&M (frosting side down) on the cream part of the Oreo…big surprise, like the picture shows.  Repeat with the same color for the other eye.  Next, take your knife and make points at the top of the eyes for the owl’s ears.  Voila!  You’ve got an owl cupcake.  See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Happy Halloween!

Chocolate Porter Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Frosting

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ~Ana Nin

 This week’s recipe is very special to me.  It’s a tribute to someone who’s very close to me–someone who offers so much to those who need to find their place in this crazy world, are in need of a shoulder to lean on, or are in need of someone to make their cheeks hurt from smiling so much.  :o)  This person is one of the most influential and kind-hearted people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know and will always have a special place in my heart.  As my way of saying “thank you for being you and for all you’ve done for me,” I’m submitting Chocolate Porter Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Frosting for this week’s post.

 I chose these particular cupcakes because it incorporates some components that have some significance to us: coffee, dark chocolate, and Oregon’s own Black Butte Porter.  Separately, the core ingredients are great, but together, they are the perfect combination.  For extra credit, I tried my hand at creating dark chocolate candy to top it off.  I hadn’t made any confectioneries before, so I got some tips from Sweet Stuff, my favorite local baking supply store.

 I’m giving y’all fair warning: you may need to have some restraint with these ones or you might end up needing to loosen your belt a bit; there’s nothing healthy about ‘em.  Well, other than the dark chocolate, of course! ;o)

Chocolate Porter Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Frosting

For the Cupcakes:

1 cup Black Butte Porter (you could use another, but this one’s a safe bet)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake cups with liners.

Bring 1 cup porter and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.  Add porter-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine.  Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using a rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.  Add espresso and stir till even incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared liners. I use my giant cookie scoop (a.k.a. an ice cream scoop) for ease and even measurements.  Bake cupcakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 15-17 minutes.  The cake is dense and needs a bit more time than your traditional cake mix.

Recipe adapted from CraftBeer

 

Frosting:

1 1/2 T. instant coffee granules
1 1/2 T. hot water
1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) butter, softened
3 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 T. whole or 2% milk (skim milk might make it too watery)

Combine water, coffee granules, and vanilla extract in a small bowl; stir to dissolve coffee.  Set aside.

Beat butter in bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating for a few seconds between each addition.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes.  Add the coffee mixture and milk; beat on low speed to combine.  Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Frosts 18 cupcakes.

Recipe adapted from The Kitchen is my Playground

 

Chocolate Candies

 

1 bag Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips (or other high quality chocolate)

Instant espresso (optional)

The quantities are up to you, but I used about a whole bag of chocolate and a teaspoon of instant espresso and still had extra…darn!

In a double boiler melt chocolate along with the espresso.  The espresso just brings out the chocolate flavor, so you don’t have to add it if you don’t have any on hand.  You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave, but if your microwave heats unevenly, you might burn it.

 Carefully spoon into desired candy molds* making sure not to over-fill.  Drop the filled mold several times on the counter to bring up any air bubbles.  Place in the fridge for about 20-30 mins to set.  Once they’re hard, pop the chocolate out and wrap them in foil wrappers or leave as is.

 *Make sure your molds are clean and free of any moisture–especially after just washing them.  Water will dampen the party and cause the chocolate seize.  For more helpful chocolate tips, check out this website.

 Enjoy!

Baking Projects Over the Years

I really should’ve started this blog years ago.  Here are some of the pictures of other baking projects I’ve done over the years.  Hopefully I can find the recipes I used for them and link them to the title.

 Hostess Cupcakes

My take on the classic Hostess cupcake.  Waaay better than the store-bought kind.

Hostess Cupcakes

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Chocolate Guinness cupcakes with chocolate ganache and Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting.

Irish Carbomb Cupcakes

Matt’s 2nd Birthday Cake (Kipper the dog)

Red velvet face with chocolate ears.  He loved this cake!

Kipper the Dog

Matt’s 3rd Birthday Cake

Chocolate construction site cake with candy rocks and Oreo dirt.

Construction Site Cake

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

You’ve gotta love Wikipedia.  There’s literally a page for everything you can imagine including this week’s baking project: Snickerdoodles.  Wikipedia claims that Snickerdoodles probably originated in Germany and that the name’s a “corruption” of the German word Schneckennudeln, which translates to “snail noodles.”  Really?  Snail noodles?  Honestly, I don’t really see that as a corruption if that’s really the case, but anyway….today I’m working on Pumpkin Snail Noodles Snickerdoodles.

I chose this recipe for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s fall and pumpkin is back in style and most importantly 2) this past week has been particularly hard on my husband.  He loves Snickerdoodles and pumpkin, so this one’s for him.

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

For the cookies:

3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the coating:

½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
Dash of allspice

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy–2-3 minutes.  Add the pumpkin puree and blend in until incorporated.  Mix in the egg and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and mix by hand using a wooden spoon as to not over-mix.  Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Combine the sugar and spices for the coating in a bowl and mix to blend.  Scoop the dough (about 2½ tablespoons) and roll into a ball.  I used a cookie scoop so all the cookies are the same size and it’s easier.  Coat the dough ball in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining dough to fill the sheets, spacing the dough balls 2-3 inches apart.  Using a drinking glass, gently flatten each ball.  If you want puffier cookies, don’t flatten as much.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until just set and baked through.  Let cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy!

Adapted from Annie’s Eats.

Cinnamon Spiced Walnuts

When I was younger, a sure-fire way to ruin brownies was to add walnuts.  I really didn’t like them.  Lately, I really like them paired with different cheeses and in salads.  I guess I’m growing up.  Haha.

With autumn in the air, I thought it appropriate to make some spiced walnuts for snacking in an attempt to eat healthier.  These ones are lightly sweetened with some autumnal spices.

Cinnamon Spiced Walnuts

2 c. walnut halves
1 egg white, lightly beaten (I used 1/4 c. egg white substitute)
3 T. sugar
3 T. dark brown sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, add walnuts and egg white making sure the walnuts are well-coated.  Add remaining ingredients, again making sure the walnuts are well-coated.  Dump the walnuts and spread them evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Place in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and carefully slide the parchment paper (with the walnuts still on it) onto the counter to cool.  [Keeping them on the baking sheet may cause them to burn.]  Cool completely and then break them apart.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Enjoy!

Rising to the occasion: Baking Soda & Baking Powder

What did the bartender say when oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur, sodium, and phosphorous walked into his bar?

OH SNaP!

You don’t want your baked goods to fall as flat as that chemistry joke, do you? [OK, I'll admit I laughed and if you're like me, maybe you did, too.] In any case, the chemicals (yes, I said chemicals) in your baked goods need to be fresh in order to get the full benefit out of them. In this instance, we’re talking about some common leavening agents used to make all kinds of goodies: baking soda and baking powder.

I used to just check the expiration date on my baking soda and baking powder, but maybe that’s not all that accurate. So I decided to check out the best ways to test for freshness and came upon some good tips that I wanted to share.


To test baking soda:

Place 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a bowl with 1 tablespoon white vinegar. If it bubbles and fizzes, it’s still fresh.


To test baking powder:

Place 1 tablespoon water in a bowl and add 1/4 teaspoon baking powder. If it bubbles and fizzes, it’s still fresh.

–Testing tips courtesy of Mr. Food