Turning 25 + Deb’s Yellow Birthday Cake

Happy New Year! It’s only been a week so far, and some things already hit the ground running. Back when I was a kid, I hated my birthday because it was so close to New Year’s. I still kind of hate that but I’m growing to love it because I get to start fresh at the same time everyone else does. Looking at it like that makes it seem less special but it is to me.

Looking back, my 24th year was pretty eventful. I started out 2014 at probably one of my lowest points. Sad but true. Everyone in my house was unemployed and miserable. The holidays that year was one of the worst, aided by the fact that Christmas didn’t even feel like Christmas. It just sucked. When my birthday rolled around, I hoped for a change in all of our lives. Despite whatever was going on, I was determined to keep it positive.

2014 birthday throwback! Remember this?

2014 birthday throwback! Remember this?

Fast forward to March. We’re still all kinda miserable and unemployed. Through my efforts on the internet, I was able to apply to some jobs for my mom. She was desperate for a career change, and I did my best to help her out. She loves kids and used to babysit when my sister and I were younger. She wanted to get back into that so I did what I could. Through one of those caretaking websites, I applied for her to one post that caught my eye from day 1. The poster replied back to me, which I honestly wasn’t expecting. Once I cleared up I was the one who applied for my mom, she insisted on meeting the both of us. Taken aback, my mom and I went and the rest is history. My mom now takes care of the cutest and smartest little baby girl. They welcomed my mom into their family, just as we did to them. My mom, the baby, and her family are all happy. That alone put me at ease, despite the fact I was still unemployed and unsure of my future.

For me, things didn’t start changing until maybe June or July. I got an email from my former professor, to whom I reached out because I was desperate for a job. Graduating into a recession is the worst thing ever because no one wants to hire a graduate. In that email was an application to a startup non-profit organization, called CO*OP, that focused on helping graduates find their footing in the industry. This sounded like what I needed so I applied. This was the best decision I had made in the entire year. It was the biggest blessing for me because it was exactly what I desperately needed. Not only did I learn a bunch of new skills, I got a group of friends (including a few special ones) that I never thought I’d have, and sort of had a new job. The founder of the program hired me this past December, so exciting things are happening!

Look who's on the front page of the website!

Look who’s on the front page of the website!

Thanks to CO*OP, I changed so much as a person. I figured out why I am the way that I am, and how to amplify my greatest skills. I became more outgoing and a little more confident in myself and the things I do. Still a work in progress! My new friends became my support system and they helped bring out the best in me; for that alone I’m grateful. I can’t wait to see what happens in my life this year but I’m hoping for some surprises, some love (ahem!), and stability.

Now, let’s talk birthday celebrations. I celebrated my 25th birthday this past Friday. As usual, I baked my own cake but before I get to that, let me tell you how I celebrated.

25th Birthday 1

My sister took me out to dinner at Cafeteria, a cool restaurant here in the city. I’d never been, so I was excited. I’m not one to go out to dinner for birthdays, mostly because that’s not something my family did frequently. I was dying to go out so my sister did me the honors.

Dinner was fantastic! For appetizers, we had mac and cheese spring rolls. As an entree, I had my usual cheeseburger with fries. I get that basically everywhere I go but this was the first time I had one medium rare; it was delish. My sister had a roasted chicken sandwich. I also had a “liquid passion” cocktail, which was a champagne cocktail with passion fruit. For dessert, we had deep fried Oreos that came with a mini milkshake and a scoop of mint chip ice cream with crumbled Oreos in the middle. Everything was amazing and my sister and I were beyond full.

From L to R: mac and cheese spring rolls, liquid passion cocktail, cheeseburger with fries, and deep fried Oreos

From L to R: mac and cheese spring rolls, liquid passion cocktail, cheeseburger with fries, and deep fried Oreos

We also had a mini adventure because every year, I dress up really nice for my birthday. I got myself a pair of heels to go with my pretty dress this year. The problem is that I don’t usually wear heels so my feet were killing me before we even made it to the restaurant! I had to go to the pharmacy and pick up a pair of those fast flats. After dinner, we walked to the nearest Marshall’s where I bought a pair of real flats. Let me just say, the judgmental looks I got from my little leopard print sock like flats were unreal but super entertaining.

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When we got back home, it was time for cake. Now, this year, I opted to make my cake the day before to save myself some of the hassle the day of. This was mostly a good idea except I ended up with kind of a huge cake fail. The cake itself worked beautifully. I made Deb’s recipe for yellow birthday cake, which is becoming a favorite now. However, due to poor planning, I never figured out how I wanted it flavored in terms of frosting, so I decided to give Swiss meringue buttercream a shot. This is where I messed up, big time.

I gave the buttercream a go the day before as well. When I was making it, I knew something was wrong but trucked on anyway. My meringue wasn’t as fluffy as it should’ve been so the texture was off. Using the instructions to troubleshoot the buttercream, I added more butter. It looked right, so I stopped there and put it in the fridge for the next day. To assemble the cake, I forgot to let the buttercream come to room temp. Another huge mistake right here, as my rushing messed up the buttercream completely. I tried adding more butter to fix it but it ruined the texture of the frosting and made things worse. I wasn’t about to whip up a new batch, as my butter supply is dangerously low, so I rolled with it anyway. Not my best or proudest cake but I couldn’t have a birthday without my cake.

25th Birthday 5

Despite the buttercream coming out way less than perfect, the cake itself was amazing. It was so soft and tender. Deb likens the recipe to her favorite Duncan Hines box mix and she’s definitely right about that. It totally brought back those feelings from when my dad used to bake us cake mixes. That alone was enough to complete my birthday. Even though the texture was off, the taste was still there, so my birthday cake was still somewhat of a winner.

I hope that the couple missteps I’ve had this past week aren’t any indication of how my year is looking. I didn’t quite start on the right foot (which I’ll talk about another time), but I handled it in an adult way. I guess this means I really am an adult? Either way, I hope this year is as successful and eventful as the last half of my 24th.

25th Birthday 8

Deb’s Yellow Birthday Cake – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 2 8″ round cake, plus 3-4 cupcakes

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (530 grams) cake flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup, 1/2 pound or 225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk (475 ml), well-shaken

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and line two 8″ round cake pans with parchment, buttering the parchment as well. While you’re at it, line a couple of cupcake wells with cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In another large bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one. At a low speed, add the buttermilk. The mix will look curdled but it’s right; keep going.
  3. Add the flour mixture in three batches, making sure each batch is incorporated into the batter before adding the next one. Divide the batter among the cake pans, filling them about halfway. Use the remaining batter to make a couple cupcakes. Rap the cake pans on the table a couple times to get rid of air bubbles. Bake the cakes for 35-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  4. Cool the cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing the cakes out of the pans and onto the rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips: 

  • The cake recipe is originally for two 9″ rounds. I only have two 8″ rounds, which is why there’s extra batter for cupcakes.
  • I forgot the ‘rap the pan’ part, which is why you can see the giant air bubbles. Not too pleasing to look at but still delicious. 
  • The buttercream recipe is obviously missing. I won’t post it till I get it right!
  • If you’re making the cake a day ahead, wait until it is completely cool before wrapping in several layers of plastic wrap. You can refrigerate it or keep it room temp after that. For a firmer cake that’s easier to level and work with, I suggest refrigerating.

 

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello again! Bet you didn’t think you’d see another post from me this week! As promised, I began ramping up my cookie production this year and will possibly post twice as much this month. It’s a little nerve-wracking but I am up for the challenge!

When planning this month’s #CookieCraziness (isn’t my hashtag for this year’s cookies awesome?), one of the top cookies was a peanut butter one. I LOVE peanut butter, so this was a no brainer. However, plain peanut butter cookies can be boring and monotonous. I’m not into that with my cookies, so chocolate chips were the obvious solution.

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Peanut butter cookies aren’t necessarily a Christmas-y cookie. Like, when I think Christmas cookies, peanut butter ones are the furthest from my mind. Everyone else thinks of chocolate and peppermint everything. I usually go with sugar or gingerbread, which I’ll get to sometime later. I don’t know but I feel like peanut butter doesn’t even have an appropriate season. All the more reason why it belongs (in cookie form) with the holidays.

The main ingredient in these beauties is the peanut butter; the star of the show! Consider using chunky peanut butter in these cookies for added texture and to add on to the PB taste. I’m not about that chunky PB life, though; I love natural and smooth peanut butter. I get the huge jars at Whole Foods all the time because I make granola for my Greek yogurt regularly. Obviously, I need to have tons of the stuff on hand at all times because when I’m not making granola, there are PB&Js to be made (with grape jelly exclusively).

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies_2

According to the recipe, there’s supposed to be a double hit (or triple if you opt for chunky) of PB; the second by way of peanut butter chips. I once bought a couple bags of those from the one time they had them at Trader Joe’s. They were so good, I can’t even recall what I made with them. I had chocolate chips leftover from making these, so I used twice as many chocolate chips in this batch.

Now, let me just praise the actual cookie dough for one second. A DREAM to work with. Came together beautifully and handled like a dream. I’ve never seen such clean scoops of cookie dough come out of my mixing bowl. Barely any scraps and no sticking! Speaking of sticking, I used my new silicone mats for my half sheet pans. I had to get a pair because my parchment paper never fits. Can I just tell you how much I love them? I love them. Absolutely adore them. Cookies slid off no problem, they’re easy to clean, and look cute too. SO glad I got them!

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The cookies were INSANE. I found myself eating all of the scraps and several cookies before they even made the plate; they’re THAT good. Very peanut buttery, with the chocolate chips as backup. Think of PB and chocolate as partners in crime, or good cop/bad cop except they’re both the good cops. They just go together! The cookies themselves are soft but sturdy, with a little crunch from the granulated sugar they’re coated in before baking. You can even still see the traditional fork marks from the slight smush they need before going into the oven. They were as dreamy as their own cookie dough. When the cookie dough works, you just know the cookie will too!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to consider peanut butter cookies as a holiday cookie. They may not scream Christmas but folks will be screaming with joy upon eating them this season. Either way, I think these non-conventional holiday cookies belong on your cookie roster.

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#CookieCraziness posts:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies – barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 36 cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Granulated sugar for rolling/sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment (or those nifty silicone liners). Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, place a good amount (maybe a 1/4 cup; separate from the amount needed to make the cookies) of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies later.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is smooth. Add the egg and mix until fully combined. Finally, add the milk and vanilla.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and stir until completely combined. With a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Using a cookie scoop, a tablespoon, or two teaspoons, drop the dough into the bowl with the granulated sugar. Completely coat the dough ball and transfer to the prepped baking sheet. With a fork, gently press the dough down but do not flatten completely. You can press the cookie with the fork twice, each in a different direction, to get the signature pattern.
  4. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown around the edges. The cookies may look under done but they are. Let them cool on the pan for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips

  • I preferred baking them 12 minutes for a sturdier cookie that was still soft and slightly chewy. For a lighter cookie, aim for the lower amount of time. 
  • If you don’t feel like pressing with a fork, any smooth (or not smooth) surface can work. For example, a spoon, shot glass, offset spatula, etc. Just don’t go crazy pressing them down with anything!
  • I got 36 cookies with a #50 disher/scoop. Amounts of cookies vary depending on the size of the scoop/disher/spoon. The bigger the disher/spoon/scoop, the fewer the cookies. 
  • To make these extra festive, consider rolling them in colored sugar!

Apple Galette

Thanksgiving kind of snuck up on me this year. I’ve been anticipating it since early October but I’m still shocked it’s actually next week! I’m even more shocked because I have nothing planned yet, which is SO not me. By now, my mom and I usually already have our game plan down, with only last minute things on the grocery list. We don’t even have a turkey yet! What makes it worse is that I’m already getting ready for Christmas, which totally goes against the traditionalist in me that doesn’t skip over holidays. I don’t know, but the holidays so far have thrown me for a loop.

Besides the fact I have nothing planned, I at least have a quick and awesome dessert option for you semi-traditionalists. This isn’t your traditional apple pie, but is delicious in its own right.

Apple Tart 1

Part of what attracted me to making a galette, aside from it being an apple dessert, is its simplicity. If you can make pie crust, you can make this galette. Even if you can’t make pie crust, you can still make this galette. No fancy equipment is needed to make this, which is awesome, and is super quick to put together.

The other thing that attracted me to this galette? The fact that it’s free form. I don’t yet own a pie dish (gasp!). It’s true, I don’t have one. I’ve mentioned it before but we’re just not pie people. No matter how hard I try to get my folks to appreciate pie, it just won’t happen. I guess that’s just one of those American things that’ll never stick at the table at my house. Sad because pie is awesome but there’s not much I can do there. The only thing I own relatively close to a pie pan is a tart pan. The issue there is that it’s pretty big, which is hard to use when most pies and tarts are usually 9 inches in diameter. This is where the galette saves the day. After making the crust, you just roll it out as far as you can, place it on a lined baking sheet, pile the apples on top and fold up the edges. That’s it! No matter how ugly you think it looks, it will come out beautiful and rustic looking. I love it when desserts aren’t intentionally pretty; makes the homemade factor look even more appealing.

Apple Tart 4

Speaking of the crust, it’s super easy to make. No food processor required at all. Sure, it’s handy but you can easily make this crust without it. To cut in the butter, you can either use a dough cutter, a pair of forks, or your hands. I opted for my hands but any of the above works fine. I also subbed half the flour with whole wheat for some nuttiness and pseudo healthiness.

Now, let’s talk about the apples for a minute. For this galette, your apples need to be thinly sliced. You don’t need fancy equipment to make this happen but if you want all slices to be even, break out your mandoline (or handoline, like we did last week) for slicing. I freehanded the slicing this time, because I don’t think evenness is necessary here. You can also artistically lay the slices onto the crust to make it look even fancier, but I just piled them in.

Apple Tart 3

The result is this lovely and rustic dessert that didn’t take too much time or effort to make. The crust is nutty and crunchy against the soft and tart apples. A dessert this simple is perfect for your Thanksgiving table. Not much thought or effort goes into it, and it looks super pretty and like you spent a ton of time on it. No one has to know it was that easy 😉

Apple Tart 2

Apple Galette – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Dough: 

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

Filling:

  • 2 pounds apples (I used Granny Smith), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
  • Cores and peels from sliced apples

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, add flour, sugar, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend in a mixer, using a dough cutter, with forks, or your hands until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter and mix until biggest pieces look like large peas.
  2. Drizzle in the water, stir, then drizzle in more until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers, until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit out for a couple of minutes, until the dough is malleable but still cold. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush.
  4. Place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Heat oven to 400°F. Toss sliced apples with 4 tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon.
  5. Place the apples on dough, either rustically or in a ring 2 inches from edge; continuing inward until you reach the center. Fold over the dough edges back onto itself, at about one inch intervals until the galette is ‘closed.’
  6. Brush melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge.
  7. Bake in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown, about 45 minutes, making sure to rotate galette every 15 minutes.
  8. For the glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth or sieve.
  9. Remove tart from oven, and slide off parchment onto cooling rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes before glazing, slicing, and serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I originally sprinkled the sugar (as per the original recipe) onto the apples, but will toss them in sugar in the future. I found it wasn’t sweet enough but if you like your galettes on the tart side, stick to sprinkling. 
  • The galette is best served slightly warm. Even better with ice cream and a side of whipped cream. Just sayin’.

 

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Chocolate Ganache Filling

For the first time ever, I went to a Halloween party. Well, to be fair, it was more of a “get together” than a party. There’s a difference. My CO*OP family and I got together at our founder’s house for snacks, games, and super intense discussions on rousing topics.

As the self proclaimed class baker, I knew I wanted to bring something awesome. Two of my CO*OP friends requested chocolate cupcakes with black frosting. I’m all about pleasing people, even if it meant coloring some buttercream black (not that visually appealing but whatever). Regular chocolate cupcakes seemed so passé, so I went a slightly different route.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 3

If you know me, you know that I LOVE putting booze in things. Sometimes, I put it where it doesn’t belong. I can’t help it! Liquor is every baker’s secret weapon, whether they admit to it or not. There’s just something about putting liquor in stuff that makes things awesome. It might be the liquor itself or the devious feeling I get from secretly putting it in things. Tomato, potato; same thing.

These cupcakes are extra boozy and special because it has not one, but two different liquor components. The cupcakes themselves are made with Guinness. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “beer in cupcakes?! NO WAY.” YES WAY! Guinness and chocolate are actually secret BFFs. There’s something about the dark richness of stout that pairs so well with chocolate. Not only that but the beer also helps the cupcakes stay super moist. Double bonus!

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 1

The second introduction to booze in this recipe is through the ganache filling. At first, I thought adding a filling was a little extra but the more chocolate, the better! It’s just an ordinary chocolate ganache but with a couple teaspoons of whiskey. Here’s the part where I tell you I wish I had put more whiskey in this. I wish I had put more whiskey in the ganache. Do yourself a favor and add more liquor in there because what doesn’t kill you, ends up making you a little tipsy.

I swear my goal was not to get my friends drunk. Well, maybe considering I also brought rummy bears with me. Not really because the cupcakes couldn’t do it. Even so, they were fantastic. This was my first time dealing with beer, so I was skeptical but then surprised with the results. The cakes were super rich and chocolatey, with a slight taste of hoppyness (I guess?) from the beer. That was the only indicator that there was any beer in the cupcakes, unless I told you beforehand or you’re some type of beer wizard that just KNOWS when you taste things. The stout helped keep the cupcakes moist and make the chocolate taste more like chocolate. I guess it works a little like how coffee enhances the chocolate flavor. Then the ganache. Not too sweet with that hint of whiskey. It almost tasted like caramel. I don’t know what kind of sorcery the whiskey did in there, but I was all about it.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 2

Let’s talk about the frosting for a minute. This isn’t your typical buttercream. I have been hearing on the internets about this awesome method for frosting that required less butter and sugar, but still had the buttercream taste. Intrigued, I decided to go for it. Initially, these cupcakes were supposed to have even more booze in the frosting, per Deb’s original recipe. Like I said above, I wasn’t about to get my friends drunk off cupcakes, so I refrained from adding more.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 4

My sister’s a hand model

Either way, the recipe is just as easy as regular buttercream. Basically, you make a roux out of flour and milk on the stove, until it’s thick like cake batter. Yes, there’s flour in here. I know, I was like “whaaaaa” when I saw it  but trust; it works. Let that cool completely before proceeding to the next step, which is creaming softened butter and some sugar. Just one cup of butter with a cup and a quarter of regular granulated sugar. WAIT. Granulated sugar? I was skeptical about this too, considering you can feel the sugar even after creaming the crap out it. After joining the cold roux and the creamed butter, magic happens because it turns into a light and fluffy dream. It’s lighter than traditional buttercream but still has the taste. You can’t feel the sugar granules at all. Like MAGIC.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes 5

I must say, for a bunch of firsts in one batch of cupcakes, they came out extremely well and very much on theme. They so looked the part for Halloween. If anything, this success is just making me wonder what else I can put booze in. I guess I’m just going to have to figure that out with some trial and error 😉

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Chocolate Ganache Filling – barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 22-24 cupcakes

  • 1 cup stout, such as Guinness
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1-4 teaspoons Irish whiskey, or any whiskey (the more the merrier!)

Directions:

  1. For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners.
  2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.
  4. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way.
  5. Bake the cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 17-22 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.
  6. For the ganache: Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. Add the butter and whiskey and stir until combined.
  7. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped. Alternatively, you can spoon the filling into the cupcakes. Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter, an apple corer, or a paring knife with skilled hands, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way.  Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top. Or use a teaspoon to spoon the filling into the cupcakes. You can put a “lid” on the filling, by adding the tops of the cut centers back on the filled cupcakes but that’s optional.

Cooked Whipped Frosting – adapted from Can You Stay For Dinner?

Makes enough to generously frost all 24 cupcakes, and have leftovers

  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (not powdered sugar)

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour and milk over medium heat. Keep whisking and cooking until the mixture has thickened and resembles cake batter; about 7 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let mixture cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until light, pale, and fluffy. This can take anywhere from three to 10 minutes, depending on how long you can go. You basically want the sugar and butter to be really incorporated. Don’t be afraid to beat it more!
  3. Add the completely cooled flour mixture to the creamed butter, and beat until completely incorporated, making sure to periodically scrape the bowl. Add food coloring, if using.
  4. Place the frosting in a piping bag and frost cooled cupcakes. Enjoy!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in the cupcakes for three reasons; it was the only Dutch processed cocoa in the supermarket, it’s my favorite, and it tastes good.
  • I don’t have a small circle cutter, so I used a paring knife to cut out the circles freehanded. Use what you have!
  • I also skipped the piping bag for the ganache, and opted for a teaspoon to fill the cupcakes. 

Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Every baker has their own arsenal of classic recipes. They all have their preferred versions of almost anything, but not many discuss how long it took them to get to that choice of a recipe. I’m still very much a beginner baker, and as I try to build my own arsenal, there’s tons of trial and error in choosing recipes, testing, and tasting.

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I’ve been searching for the perfect yellow cake recipe for a couple of years now. It’s complicated because the recipe stratosphere is crowded with hundreds of variations of the same thing. There’s no way to test them all, and there’s no way to tell which one’s the best. As I go through many of these recipes, I ask myself what it is I’m looking for exactly. Criteria is important because how else will you know if a certain recipe is “it?” For me, it has to do with what I grew up with.

As a kid, I grew up with Dominican cakes; which consist of two yellow cake layers, a middle layer of some sort of filling, all covered in meringue frosting (similar to 7 minute frosting). My entire cake life revolved around this style of cake, and still kind of does. There’s only one bakery that does these cakes the “right” way (according to my mom, and everyone else we’ve introduced those cakes to),  but I have yet to find a recipe that resembles their yellow cake.

SO MANY

SO MANY

While that still haunts me from time to time, I set out on looking for a different kind of cake that still reminded me of my childhood. I’ve mentioned here before how my dad was the resident baker in my house way back in the day. I inherited his hand mixer, which we got at a garage sale, and consequently killed it last year (RIP green Presto mixer; you lived a long and productive life). He used it to make boxed cake mix for us every now and then. I watched him in the kitchen (obviously) when he made it because mixing powder with some eggs, oil, and milk into a real cake was mind blowing. It actually still is, more because I know how to make them from scratch now. He used to make them in a 9×13″ pan, which produced a golden brown pillow sized cake. I remember fighting with my sister over the who got the corner pieces, and arguing with my dad that cakes taste best warm so he’d let us eat it straight out of the oven.

Besides the awesome memories, I remember how the cake tasted. It was box mix, so it tasted exactly the same each and every time. It still tastes the same today, but I haven’t had box mix in forever. It tasted like perfection; like how all cakes should taste. There’s no other way to describe it. When I’m not trying to resemble those Dominican cakes, this is my standard. What cake recipe can resemble a box mix, without the box mix, and taste like what I remembered from when I was a kid?

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I had planned on making cupcakes a couple weeks ago for my class. I’m not back in school but am part of a program that requires a month of class. So, me and 11 other awesome grads hang out every night and learn about digital marketing, and other business skills we need to know. Since before classes started, I knew I wanted to use them as my guinea pigs for testing recipes. Sounds bad saying it like that, but I mean no harm! Anyway, I wanted to take some cupcakes in for two reasons; I hadn’t made any cupcakes in forever and because who doesn’t love cupcakes?! I thought about what flavor combinations I could use and came up with the classic yellow cake and chocolate frosting. I know most people grew up with this kind of cake for their birthdays. None of us are those people but the combo is such a classic, I wanted to go for it anyway.

Trust me when I tell you that this cake tastes like my childhood. It was ridiculously amazing. I’m still perplexed as to how I can bake a cake from scratch that tastes so similar to box mix! The cakes came out super soft and fluffy, with a hint of a golden brown hue from the oven. It was like a melt in your mouth kind of experience. Then coupled with chocolate frosting, it was just great. The frosting had a slight tang from the cream cheese and sour cream but still packed a chocolatey punch; thanks to the cocoa powder and semisweet chocolate in there. It also wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet, which happens with most frostings. I loved them, my folks loved them, and my class loved them too!

While this isn’t the recipe that resembles the cakes from birthdays past, it does take me back to being in the kitchen with my dad as I watched him transform a cake mix into a real cake. That right there is reason enough to put this one in my arsenal.

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Classic Yellow Cupcakes – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 30 cupcakes

  • 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (sifted before measuring!)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cupcake liners into your cupcake/muffin tins.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Incorporate the vanilla, and add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  3. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled and gross; do not be deterred!). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  4. Spoon batter into lined cups, 3/4 of the way up, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pan to finish cooling on the racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes enough to frost those 30 cupcakes (4 cups)

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6oz softened cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 9oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 3/4 cups sour cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Over a double boiler, carefully melt the chocolate. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add the sugar/cocoa mix, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  4. Pour in the melted chocolate until incorporated. Finally, beat in the sour cream and vanilla until combined.
  5. Frost cupcakes!

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Always, always, ALWAYS, sift your cake flour before measuring. Sift, and gently spoon into your measuring cups. Sift once more after measuring for added security. I know, it seems like a ton of work but trust me, it’s worth it!
  • The recipe calls for large eggs (as all recipes do; it’s the standard in baking) but I got away with using three jumbo eggs (my folks don’t believe in eggs that are smaller). Use what you have, just be mindful of the amount of moisture you’re adding vs. what’s needed. 
  • The frosting is pretty good but I feel like the sour cream can almost be optional. 
  • Deb lied to me in telling me this recipe made 22 to 24 cupcakes. I expected that many but ended up with 30. I usually have the opposite of that problem but just a heads up (not that 30 cupcakes is a bad thing; I’m happy I got more it’s just that I wasn’t ready to have my kitchen overtaken by cupcakes!)
  • To ensure the same amount of batter goes into every cupcake, use an ice cream scoop/disher to distribute the batter. 

Kitchen Experiments: Bagels

Bagels have been on my list for the longest; probably since I started baking bread. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to them. I guess it was probably because everything about bagels seemed so daunting. I also thought a stand mixer was required for these kinds of things. While they may make the process easier, they are by no means a requirement. Back when I put these on my list, they stayed there because of how much work goes into them. I am never afraid of more work, especially when it’s in the kitchen because it’s always a labor of love to me. But the fact that these bagels take two whole days to make was the main reason I put them off for so long. I quickly found out that there wasn’t much of a challenge and that maybe two days isn’t necessary. Either way, I finally got to cross them off my list (twice!)

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First things first, you need a sponge. This is the starter for the bagels, which is a combo of 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 4 cups of bread flour, and 2 1/2 cups of room temperature water. Stir the ingredients together until homogenous and kinda looks like pancake batter. Cover and let rise at room temp for two hours. The first time I made these (yes, I made them twice), I started the sponge and went out to see a movie. I am totally serious, too. The movie was fantastic, as was my sponge when I got home. Technically, you’re supposed to let it rise for two hours but mine did fine with more than that. Honestly, I thought I was gonna come home and find my house overtaken by the sponge! It really was fine, and I got to work soon after.

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Now, it’s dough time. Nothing out of the ordinary here; more yeast (1/2 teaspoon), bread flour (3 3/4 cups), salt (2 2/4 teaspoons) and sugar (1 tablespoon). Fairly simple. Heads up though; make sure your flour is bread flour. I think that because mine was some “better for bread” flour, that may have had something to do with the finishing texture. Nothing terrible, just may not have been what I was looking for.

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After forming a somewhat cohesive dough ball, it’s time for the most labor intensive part of the entire recipe: the kneading. This is where a stand mixer would really come in handy because this blob needs to be kneaded for quite some time. 10 whole minutes by hand (if you’re brave). Knead the blob until it’s firm but still smooth, pliable and not sticky. If a tad dry, add small amounts of water to rehydrate the dough. Too sticky? Add a bit more flour and knead until desired texture. Rule of thumb: when making doughs, you know you’re pretty much done kneading when it’s no longer sticky. The trick is to keep kneading it to that point without adding a ton of flour. Challenging, but the more you do it, the more you’ll know by feel when you need more flour versus more kneading.

After kneading, break out your scale and your bench scraper because it’s portioning time! According to Deb and the recipe, standard bagels are 4.5oz., so that’s what I did. I got a dozen but please reference the recipe for different sizes/weights. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. Take advantage of this break, as kneading that dough was no easy feat! Also, line some baking pans with parchment for later.

To form the dough balls into bagels, I picked up one of the rested dough balls and began making an indent in the middle, and kind of wiggling my thumb into the ball to begin making the hole. After the dough was pierced through the indent, I widened it while turning the dough to make sure it stayed pretty uniform. After forming them all, I placed them on a lined baking sheet, covered them with plastic wrap and let them rest again for another 20 minutes. I cleaned up during the wait; baking’s messy!

This is where things get interesting. After the 20 minutes is up, fill a bowl with some cool/room temp water. Not cold and not hot; cool. Carefully take one of the rested bagels and plop it in the water. It should float within seconds. Got a sinker? Carefully dry off the tester, return it to the pan, cover and let rest an additional 10-20 minutes and re-test until it floats. That’s how you know it’s ready for the next step: an overnight rise in the fridge (aka retarding). The first time I made these, I did the overnight rise and my bagels came out good. The second time, I skipped the overnight rise and let them rise for about four hours. I did not note much of a difference. Is the overnight rest necessary? Probably. Does it mean you won’t have delicious bagels if you shorten the time? No. If you have the time (and fridge space), go for the overnight. If not, four hours works just fine. Carefully dry the tester bagel and return to the pan. Pop them in the fridge to rest overnight (or four hours).

Now that the bagels have spent time in the fridge, it’s time to bake. Turn your oven on up to 11 (ahem, 500F), and prep a large, wide pot with some water. Bring the pot to a boil with a tablespoon of baking soda. Before baking, bagels bathe in this boiling hot solution. Why? To form that signature bagel crust. You know the one; where the bagel is all crisp on the outside but chewy and soft on the inside. I heard this is the reason why bagels only get toasted on one side (the inside part, if you were wondering). Giant pretzels go through the same process, but that’s another post. Once boiling, place as many bagels as will fit in the pot (mine fit 3) and let them sit in there for two minutes before turning them over and letting them sit in a minute longer. Remove those moist pre-bagels and place them back on the lined baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal. This helps them not stick to the paper once wet.

Once you’ve bathed all your pre-bagels, pop them in that scorching oven for five minutes. After that, rotate the pans (180 degrees and switch the top and bottom pans) and bake at 450F for five minutes or more. After the five minutes, check them because mine took much longer than that. I think I baked mine for 10-15 more minutes before they got all golden brown; keep an eye on them. After they get all nice and brown, cool them on the sheet on racks until cool enough to handle.

That’s basically it! Not so bad, if I do say so myself. And I’m talking about the process and the bagels! They came out delicious. Although they weren’t what I was used to (AHEM, prepackaged stuff), they were pretty darn good. I’m telling you, I made them twice in two weeks! The crispy crust was definitely there (thanks baking soda bath!) and they were fluffy, and chewy in the middle like they’re supposed to be. Like a typical New Yorker, I had mine with a schmear of good old fashioned cream cheese (no lox though; maybe in the future).  I have to say though, this was quite the challenge. But not challenging enough that I won’t want to tackle them again, perhaps with a different flavor and recipe. Whatever I decide to do, you’ll know.

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Bagels – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

(Holy crap, I am NOT typing all that out again. Please visit the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen to re-read the recipe in recipe format. Also, check out her tips and variations of these bagels!)

Granola Bars

Granola bars, to me, are the perfect snack. Granted, I wouldn’t eat them alone as a snack but they go so well with a piece of fruit or alongside a sandwich for a quick lunch. When I started college, I made sure I always had something on me and granola bars were my go-to. I had my first energy cereal bar from the school store one day in class. I’ll never forget that because it was a bit of an experience. I sound like a crazy person even saying that I had an ~experience~ with a granola bar but entertain me for a minute. I never had one of those before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I even remember the flavor; chocolate brownie. For comparison’s sake, I imagined that it was supposed to taste like a brownie so that’s what I used to figure out if it was tasty or not. I loved it. It had all my favorite things; chocolate, oats, and sugar so what’s not to love? I went back to my school store several times after that to try the rest of the flavors. I even looked up their website to see what else they had to offer and went on the hunt for all the flavors at different stores.

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Now, I don’t think I’ve met a bar I didn’t like because I think I’ve tried all of the different brands and kinds of bars out there. Every single one that I’d come across, I’d look for them in stores and try them. Honestly, I still do that. I love trying different things like that, just to see what all the hype is about. Anything from cereal bars, meal replacement bars, and even protein bars have gone across my lips. The best part about trying all these bars, aside from the variety, was their portability. I needed to have one in my bag at all times in order to stop any impending hunger signs on the spot, even after graduation.

These days, I still carry some sort of bar in my bag; along with a giant bottle of water and maybe even an apple. I even buy my favorites in mass quantities so I have something to snack on while at work. However, since my folks are away and my stash is quickly depleting, I decided to make my own.

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Now, these were a long time coming. Even before I bought my last box of bars, I had been thinking about making my own. The only thing stopping me was that I couldn’t decide what to put in them! See, granola bars are a grab bag of stuff. Besides the required oats and nuts, it’s basically a free for all. I took what I had in my cupboard and went to town. These aren’t inherently healthy but I like to think that because they’re homemade, it cancels out. I tried my best to keep it sorta healthy but that factor is up to the eater to decide. I put all my favorites in here; oats (which are a given and required), raisins, cinnamon, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and nuts. I kind of cheated with the nuts because all I had were some nut clusters, which I chopped up and threw into the mix. Then I switched the butter for some melted coconut oil; one of the trendy fats that are really good for your body on the inside and outside. I also used agave; a sweeter and less viscous alternative to honey. And just for funsies, I used half brown and half white sugar.

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I wasn’t expecting these bars to be this delicious, in all honesty. Reminiscent of these things but baked and better! Mine got nice and toasty in the oven, which added some crunch and a touch of extra nuttiness. Swapping the butter for the coconut oil was genius too because there was just a slight coconut-y taste; it made me wish I had shredded coconut to add to it! The raisins added some much needed fruitiness and chew, while the nuts added another element of crunch, and the chocolate chips just added chocolate. After trying the first bite, I couldn’t stop thinking about other flavors and mix ins I could shake up this recipe with! They are seriously one of the best homemade bars I’ve had (and made), and I can’t wait to take them everywhere with me.

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Granola Bars – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour made from 1/3 cup finely ground rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups combines of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup natural, smooth and unsalted peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
  • Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, melted oil, liquid sweeteners, and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly moistened and crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
  • Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, use a serrated knife,  bench knife, or really sharp chef’s knife to cut the bars into squares or bars. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Word to the wise, the bars get stiff in the fridge and may be hard to eat. If you have time, let them sit out for 10 minutes or so before eating.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Happy Independence Day! Well, not yet but I do like to get ahead of myself sometimes. I know for a fact that there will be cookouts, parties, potlucks, and all other kinds of celebrations going on this weekend. It’s fabulous that people gather to celebrate a common thing, surrounded by patriotism and a ton of food. There’s nothing more American than burgers and hot dogs, potato salad, and pie!

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I think that in my entire lifetime, I’ve only been to one or two 4th of July cookouts. We live in the city, which is not exactly optimal for a barbecue. The few times we did end up going to one (if I remember correctly), we went to a family member’s house in Jersey. It has been a ferociously long time since we went to one of those, and I kinda miss it.

Granted, at a Dominican family’s 4th party, there’s a lot of variations to the kinds of foods served. Yeah, there are burgers and hot dogs, but there are also other kinds of grilled meat, at least three different kinds of rice dishes, potato salad (like the one I had for Christmas and Thanksgiving), and probably cake. I might be missing some items but that’s basically the gist of it. Noticeably absent from this list is the pie. As a culture, we don’t really do pie. I kind of touched on that in my Thanksgiving post, but it’s not something we have or make. Dominicans are cake people; which is why pound cakes are super popular at these things.

In an attempt to at least feel like I’m going to a barbecue, I made these bars. It’s kinda like pie but portable, easier, less messy, and possibly more delicious. While we as a culture don’t really do pie, I try to. I’ve had the trifecta of pie before: apple, cherry, and blueberry; my favorite being the cherry. I may be Dominican by blood but I was born on American soil (somewhere in DR, my uncle is inexplicably angry at this statement haha), and I like partaking in some American traditions. I’m not gonna necessarily go all out this Friday, but at least I’ll have something sort of “on topic” to eat.

These bars are so easy to make, you don’t even need a mixer! It’s basically a mix and dump kind of situation. The most labor intensive part of this recipe is the crust. Actually, it’s the only part of the recipe that requires a process. To try to make things a little simpler, I decided to freeze and grate the butter in. I briefly touched on this in my last post but basically, this is kind of a shortcut to cutting in butter with a fork or pastry cutter. I don’t have one of those and find that forks or using my hands can make the butter too warm and clumpy. So, I froze my sticks of butter for a couple hours and used a box grater to grate it in. Yes, the grating part is a little messy, as the butter starts softening up but I still find it easier than using forks to mash up butter cubes. If you hate cleaning up box graters, this shortcut isn’t for you! After grating, you can just stir it in the dry ingredients to coat and that’s it! The mix looks crumbly, just like if you cut in the butter the usual way.

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I have to say, even if I wasn’t going to a party this weekend; these bars are perfect for the occasion. The crust is buttery and crumbly, with a little freshness from the lemon zest. The blueberries are naturally sweet, and a little tart from the addition of the lemon juice. Besides them being super easy and super delicious, they’re also portable. So if you are partying this weekend and need a one handed dessert, this is it!

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Blueberry Crumb Bars – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) frozen, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 pints (4 cups) fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Grate the frozen butter, using the large hole shredder, into the bowl. Add the beaten egg, and mix with a rubber spatula until coated and incorporated. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of the dough into the prepared pan.
  3. In another large bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • This recipe is easily adaptable to whatever fruit you may have on hand; cherries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc. 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies are my #1 favorite cookie. I’m talking about homemade cookies, because if this were the store bought category, Oreos will forever remain #1. Overall, they’re both tied. To me, oatmeal raisin cookies are superior to chocolate chip or sugar. There’s just no way any other cookie is better. I know there are thousands of people who disagree but I will fight to the death for oatmeal raisin cookies. I think the best thing I’ve heard from an oatmeal raisin cookie hater is that they suck because the raisins are and taste like deception; they apparently could’ve been chocolate chips.

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Oatmeal raisin cookies: deceptively delicious

I honestly don’t understand the hate or why they’re compared to chocolate chip cookies. They’re both awesome in their own right but oatmeal raisin cookies are just better. I mean, think about it. An oatmeal raisin cookie could be excused for breakfast. How many people can say they have chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? None. You say you had an oatmeal raisin cookie and people will only half-heartedly disapprove.

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Like, just look at an oatmeal raisin cookie. There’s tons of oats in there, which are whole grains with tons of fiber to help keep you full for a while (ahem, if you eat enough of them). Then there’s the raisins; not only delicious but could also count as a fruit serving (or at least part of one). And the cinnamon in there? Helps speed up your metabolism (don’t quote me on that). Look, I’m not saying that it’s a complete breakfast but they definitely have the potential to be.

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Besides the main ingredients, an underlying characteristic of an oatmeal raisin cookie is its soft and chewy texture. Do not come to me with crunchy oatmeal cookies. I’d probably still eat it but I wouldn’t enjoy it too much. Oatmeal cookies of any kind should be soft, tender, and chewy. The oats have a lot to do with this, but I think it’s all the awesome brown sugar and the tiny bit of flour in there. The key to these cookies’ thick and chewiness is actually a trip to the fridge. Deb (the genius behind this recipe) says that chilling the dough for a bit before baking helps the cookies keep their composure during baking; allowing them to stay tall, thick, and chewy. This is important because it helps firm up the butter in the cookie, meaning they won’t spread out like crazy on the cookie sheet.

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I think my opinion is obviously biased but these cookies are several kinds of awesome. They were nice and thick, with the slightest crunch on the crust. Underneath that layer is the chewy haven that can only be found in oatmeal raisin cookies. The raisins add to that chew, lending their deep and fruity flavor. The hint of cinnamon rounds out the chew with a smidgen of warmth and then BAM, you just had the best oatmeal raisin cookie you’ve ever baked. So good, you’ll want another. SO GOOD, you’ll want to eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go ahead, I won’t judge. They’re almost a complete breakfast anyway.

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 23 cookies, 1 3/8″ in diameter

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup raisins

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar for about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and the egg, mixing until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined. Stir in the oats and then the raisins.
  2. Chill the dough for at least 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough onto the prepped sheets and place at least two inches apart. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cooking times vary depending on how cold the dough is. Let cookies cool on the sheets for a couple of minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I added whole wheat flour and more cinnamon than the recipe called for. Feel free to reduce the cinnamon and use all AP flour
  • I like tossing the raisins in a bit of the flour before mixing them in, so that they won’t sink. Not sure if that happens in cookies but I do it anyway (really good to do for cakes and such for raisins and other heavy stir ins)
  • Deb has cookie dough freezing instructions in her original post, check that out if you’re interested
  • She also likes adding chocolate chips (gasp!) and nuts to her oatmeal raisin cookies. Add at your own discretion 

Light and Airy Pound Cake

I’m having the worst case of baker’s block. I’ve been feeling a little uninspired lately about everything kitchen related, and it’s catching up to me. I usually have my weekly baking excursions planned at least a month in advanced but I haven’t done that since March. I don’t know, I guess I’m going through a bit of a rut. So, what do you do when not even a fridge full of butter is enticing enough to compel you to make something? You bake a cake, of course.

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Pound cake is super easy. It’s literally a pound of butter, plus a pound of sugar, flour, and eggs. Simplicity at its finest. But this pound cake is different. I must admit, I made this recipe before (waaaaay before this blog was even a concept) and chose it because I thought it was “light” ingredient wise. You know, like light in terms of  “not fattening.” Boy, was I wrong! Nothing that involves two sticks of butter is “light.”

It did the thing

It did the thing

I quickly realized the error of my ways of thinking, and why this recipe was even titled “light.” This cake gets its lightness from whipped egg whites. Usually, pound cakes don’t require this step but it totally makes a difference. The ones that don’t probably end up more like a brick of cake; no offense to those recipes! Gentle folding of the whites into the already mixed ingredients helps keep the air in, and allows it to puff up into this light and buttery loaf. Another reason why I gravitated towards this recipe was the booze. There’s a tablespoon of hooch in this recipe! I’m no stranger to adding alcohol into my desserts; I actually try to throw it in whatever I’m baking as often as possible. I don’t know why but it just goes so well into baked goods. I promise you this cake won’t taste like alcohol but the flavor is there (somewhere).

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Originally, the recipe calls for lemon zest but I used orange zest instead. I reckon lime zest would be awesome, too. Perhaps with some coconut rum? Now I’m just imagining things! The pound cake was definitely light and airy. It’s super soft and fluffy, with the slightest hint of orange. The crust adds a bit of warmth and a necessary texture change that reminds you that this isn’t an angel food cake. I’m betting the alcohol lends to the browning of the cake, as it turns the loveliest shade of brown when baking and crumbles at the bite.

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The cake disappeared within minutes, both times, which obviously means this was a hit. I still don’t know what’s gonna come out of my kitchen next week, but I guess that feeling of uncertainty is okay. I know I’ll figure something out. If all else fails, just bake a cake!

Lighter, airy Pound Cake – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes one loaf cake

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Generous pinch of salt (about 1/8 – 1/4 tsp)
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, (divided: 1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon Brandy, or other liquor of your choice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a loaf pan, and set aside. Sift the flour onto waxed paper and then spoon it gently back into the sifter, adding the baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Sift the mixture twice more, each time spooning it lightly into the sifter.
  2. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, two tablespoons at a time. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining six tablespoons of sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored and then add the rum and zest.
  4. Gradually fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture. Fold in the beaten egg whites just until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick pierced in the center comes up clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan on a rack, then turn the cake out and cool completely on the rack.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use the butter wrappers to butter the loaf pan; slightly messy but a good way to use the butter left on the wrapper
  • Really, sift the flour three times. Trust me (and Deb!) on this one
  • If you try the lime zest/coconut rum version, please let me know how it turned out! I have to try that 😉