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Friday, April 27, 2012

Caramel Frappuccino Cupcakes

I apologize for my disappearance lately...there have been tons of things happening in my life lately, and this entire month has been one huge blur!  I've been busy studying for school, baking cupcakes, going to San Diego, going to Las Vegas, but most importantly...


Woohoo!  I'll spare you the details of the proposal, but will say that it was absolutely perfect and I couldn't be happier.  Tony and I have been living together for over 3 years now, and are very confident that this is the right time and right move for us and our relationship.  Hopefully I'll be able to add wedding planning onto my "to-do" list without significantly affecting the schedule of this blog...maybe I'll even fill you all in on a few details here and there, as we go through the process.

For now, lets get back to the REAL reason why you're reading this post:  Caramel Frappuccino Cupcakes!

These cupcakes are so great I can't say enough good things about them.  The cupcake starts with a moist chocolate-coffee cake base, filled with caramel sauce and topped with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream and a caramel drizzle.  The caramel drizzle on top is such an easy way to decorate a cupcake, yet gives such an amazing, attractive appearance.  It makes me want to dive right in...literally.

Before I even start talking about the taste of these cupcakes, I must mention how good they smell!  Maybe it's crazy to mention this but while baking these cupcakes, they gave the room an incredible scent.  Even my boyfriend fiancĂ© commented on their appealing aroma when he arrived home from work.

In addition to the smell, the flavor of these cupcakes is unbelievable.  They are so indulgent and satisfying without being too sugary sweet.  The cupcake is chocolate-y, but not too rich, with a flavor similar to devil's food cake.  The Swiss meringue frosting is sweet, but not dense and sugary like a typical buttercream  Topped off with the addition of caramel, it's the perfect balance of flavors. 

These cupcakes are one of my favorites so far on the blog, so I think it's definitely worth the time to make these again!  Feel free to take a shortcut and use store-bought caramel sauce if the homemade caramel step is deterring you.  I don't think it will make a significant difference to the end result and will still be satisfyingly good.  Also, keep in mind that the batter is much more liquidy than typical cupcake batters so don't be alarmed; once baked, the cupcakes will be solid.

Caramel Frappuccino Cupcakes
Print this recipe
Yield:  18-20 cupcakes
Recipe inspired by and adapted from Sweet Tooth, caramel sauce and frosting adapted from Annie's Eats

For the cupcakes:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed, hot coffee
1 tsp espresso powder*

For the caramel:
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

*Espresso powder can be found at some specialty food stores; I highly recommend King Arthur brand espresso powder.

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line cupcake pan with liners.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Brew the coffee and dissolve the espresso powder in the coffee. 

In the bowl of an electric mixture, beat buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla together on medium speed until well combined. 

With the mixer on slow speed, gradually add the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.
Remove mixing bowl from mixer, add the coffee and hand-stir until combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Fill cupcake liners a little more than halfway, and bake for 14-16 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.

For the caramel sauce:
Combine the butter and brown sugar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar begins to foam a bit.  It will look and smell like it's on the verge of burning.  Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream.  Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out).  Let cool.  (This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

For the frosting:
Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. 

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8-10 minutes. 

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 Tbsp at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  At this point the frosting may begin to look soupy or curdled, but don't panic; continue to beat on medium-high speed until it becomes thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more.  Stir in the vanilla extract and mix just until incorporated.  (Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.  Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.)

To assemble:
Fill plastic squeeze bottle (or piping bag) with caramel sauce.  Poke tip into center of cupcake and squeeze until caramel fills the center and caramel oozes out of the top.  Repeat with remaining cupcakes. 

Fill piping bag fitted with a decorative tip with frosting.  Decorate cupcakes as desired.  Drizzle tops of each cupcake with remaining caramel sauce.  Cupcakes may be kept at room temperature if consuming the same day, otherwise, store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Spring rolls have always been on my list of things I need to learn how to make.  They're crisp, refreshing, and incredibly healthy for you.  I just love the idea of shrimp and vegetables rolled up into a tiny little burrito-shaped package.  After sitting in the back of my mind for months, I finally decided to get to it and make some homemade spring rolls.  Of course, I immediately turned to Bon Appetit for a reliable recipe.  On Bon Appetit's website, I was able to find a promising spring roll recipe, titled Shrimp Rice-Paper Rolls with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce.  It included a wide variety of vegetables that I enjoy, such as shiitake mushrooms, cucumber, and carrot, so I was hopeful that it would provide the crisp, refreshing taste that I was seeking. 

The directions for this recipe seemed very simple and clear, with the most time-consuming step being the preparation of all the different vegetables.  Some, such as the cucumbers and carrots, had to be cut into small matchstick pieces.  The shiitake mushrooms also had to be cooked in a saute pan.  The lettuce had to be chopped into shreds, and the maifun noodles and rice paper had to soak to become soft and pliable.  These steps took some time, but once everything was prepped and my spring roll work station was set up, I was ready to go. 

The rolling of the spring rolls was a fairly straight-forward process, other than the fact that I did not have circular rice paper sheets to work with.  They were, instead, wedges (like a circle cut into fourths).  I think this shape of rice paper would have worked better if I were making a hand-roll style spring roll...but I was determined to make the cute little burrito-like rolls that I had my heart set on, so I struggled with each rice paper wedge until I succeeded.  Needless to say, by the end of my spring roll-ing, I was beyond frustrated with the difficult task I had put myself through, and some of the less-than-perfect, some ripped, falling apart, spring rolls sitting on my tray in front of me.  If you make these, please, save yourself the frustration and get round rice paper sheets! 

Luckily, I did manage to make a few that were photogenic enough for a photo!  And even if they weren't all as pretty as I would have hoped, they were still enjoyable to eat.  The crispness of the lettuce, mint, basil and cilantro added such a refreshing flavor to this dish.  It paired well with the vegetables and shrimp, and the dipping sauce was the perfect accompaniment.  Don't be afraid based on my struggles with this recipe...I PROMISE, if you're smarter than me and use the correct rice paper, this should be a breeze and will be totally worth it! I've definitely learned my lesson.  :)

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Print this recipe
Yield:  about 36 rolls
Recipe from Bon Appetit

For the dipping sauce:
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp fermented fish sauce (nam pla)
1 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced jalapeno chili with seeds

For the spring rolls:
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced
4 ounces dried thin Chinese rice sticks (maifun)
12 8"-9" round rice-paper sheets

1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup small fresh basil leaves
1 cup finely shredded iceberg lettuce or green cabbage
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 cup matchstick-size strips seeded English hothouse cucumber
1 cup matchstick-size strips peeled carrot
8 slices cooked peeled deveined medium shrimp, cut lengthwise in half

For the dipping sauce:
Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves.  Let stand at least 30 minutes.  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover; chill.

For the spring rolls:
Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add mushrooms and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Cool.

Place rice sticks in a large bowl; add enough hot water to cover.  Let stand until softened, about 30 minutes.  Drain.  Cut into 6-inch lengths; set aside.  Fill same bowl with warm water.  Add 1 rice-paper sheet and turn until beginning to soften, about 30 seconds (sheet will still be stiff in a few spots).  Remove from water; drain on kitchen towel.  Repeat with 5 more rice-paper sheets, arranging in single layer.

Divide half of mint, cilantro, and basil among softened rice-paper sheets, arranging in line across lower third of each sheet and leaving 1-inch border on each end.  Top with half of rice sticks, shaping into compact log.  Top with half of lettuce, sprouts, cucumber, carrot, shrimp, and mushrooms.  Fold bottom of each rice sheet over filling, then fold in ends and roll into tight cylinder.  Place rolls, seam side down, onto a serving platter.  Repeat soaking with remaning rice-paper sheets, then top with remaining filling to form 6 more rolls.  Can be made 6 hours ahead.  Cover with damp paper towel and plastic wrap; chill.

Cut each roll diagonally into thirds.  Arrange on platter and serve with sauce.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy Friday!  Finally, I'm able to share with you the second cupcake recipe from our spring cupcake sale:  Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting.  In case you missed it, be sure to check out our first flavor too:  Carrot Cupcakes
The readers that have been following my blog for a while might notice that this is the second lemon cupcake recipe I'm posting on here, but let me assure you; they are both very different lemon cupcake recipes.  The first lemon cupcake recipe I posted, Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream, is very light and delicate.  The lemon flavor is noticeable, but much more subtle, and has a much silkier type of frosting.  Topped off with a candied lemon peel garnish, these cupcakes look very gourmet.

This new lemon cupcake recipe, however, is made for the true lemon lover.  The lemon flavor is much more dominant in this recipe, with more lemon included in the cake recipe and a lemon curd filling.  To top it off, the addition of lemon-cream cheese frosting is the perfect complement to such a rich, tart cake.  The flavors really work well together, and make this treat a much more indulgent choice than the previous lemon cupcake.

FYI:  If you're intimidated by making lemon curd on your own, or perhaps you don't feel like doing that extra step, you could always use store-bought lemon curd.  If so, I highly recommend Trader Joe's lemon curd (pictured above).

Both cupcakes are equally good, so don't ask me which one is better!  All I can say is, if you're looking for something delicate and light, go with the Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  But, if you're looking for a lemon cupcake that is bursting with that tart lemon flavor, then go with these!  Either way, you won't be disappointed with these recipes.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Print this recipe
Yield:  24 cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

For the cupcakes:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 Tbsp lemon extract
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lemon juice
Zest of two lemons

For the lemon curd:
Zest of 4 lemons
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

For the lemon cream cheese frosting:
1 stick (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese
1 Tbsp lemon extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

For the cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare two cupcake pans with paper liners.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the lemon extract and beat an additional minute.  On low speed, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Add the lemon juice and zest and mix on low speed just until incorporated (do not overbeat!). 

Divide the batter between cupcake liners.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean.  Let cool completely.

For the lemon curd:
In a heavy medium saucepan, stir together the lemon zest, juice and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks.  Whisk the lemon mixture into the eggs to temper them.  Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly until it thickens, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, and let cool completely.

For the frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the lemon extract and beat for an additional minute.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the sifted powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached; beat until fully incoporated and smooth.

For the assembly:
Cut a hole into each cupcake with the large end of a melon baller or the back end of a large pastry tip.  Fill each cavity with a small scoop of lemon curd.  Fill a decorating bag (or Ziploc bag with bottom corner trimmed off) with the cream cheese frosting and pipe onto each cupcake.  Decorate as desired.

  • The boxes seen in the photos were purchased from BRPBoxShop.  Their boxes are good quality, they have the fairest prices...and did I mention, FREE ground shipping?!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Carrot Cupcakes

Happy Easter!  I hope you are all enjoying this nice weekend, regardless of whether you celebrate Easter, Passover, or maybe nothing at all.  Even if you don't consider today a "holiday," it's been a perfect weekend here, with beautiful sunny spring weather.  That alone is enough reason to celebrate, don't you think?

As promised, I'm here today to give you an update on our most recent cupcake sale (held at work to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society--see original sale with more fundraiser details here).  Since today is Easter, we held our sale on Friday and made it a spring-themed cupcake sale. We decided to go with two spring flavors:  Carrot cupcakes and lemon.  Today, I'll focus specifically on the carrot cupcakes. 

This carrot cupcake recipe is from Annie's Eats.  No surprise there; I get a majority of my cupcake recipes and inspiration from Annie's website.  Not only are her food photos absolutely gorgeous, but pretty much all of her recipes end up being a success.  I highly recommend being a follower of her blog...it's definitely one of my top 3.  

When my mom used to make carrot cake for us growing up, she always used fresh carrots and had a electric shredder to efficiently shred the carrots for the recipe.  I, on the other hand, am not so "rich" in kitchen appliances and gadgets, so I purchased packaged shredded carrots from Trader Joes.  These work perfectly fine, but I ended up roughly chopping the shredded carrots with a knife to make even smaller pieces.  If you don't have a shredder and decide to use packaged shredded carrots, I highly recommend doing the same.

I absolutely loved the way the carrot cupcakes turned out.  They were the perfect spring cupcake for our sale.  The cake was incredibly moist and had a delicious blend of spices.  My supervisor and I both enjoyed one during a break and luckily, these were going for a good cause because if they were just for me, I probably could have eaten A LOT more.  Of course, the cream cheese frosting was one of the biggest contributors to the flavor of this cupcake.  I love cream cheese frosting, and this frosting was great because it allowed the cream cheese flavor to shine through.  It wasn't over-sweetened with too much powered sugar, like some bakery varieties tend to be.  Also, since we were selling these cupcakes, we made sure to choose a recipe with no nuts to avoid the exclusion of those with nut allergies.  However, I think these would taste great with chopped walnuts.  I'll probably make these again in the future with this addition.

Now, I bet you're wondering how I made the butterflies on top of the cupcakes.  Well, to sum it up briefly, the antennae and wings (outline first, then color) were piped onto wax paper.  Before dry, I used a toothpick to blend the outline and color together, and then sprinkled with white non-pareils.  They can then be assembled on top of each cupcake, with chocolate chips placed underneath the wings to prop them up at an angle, and then use more melted chocolate melts to pipe the body in between the arranged wings.  

To get a much better instructions and step-by-step photos for how to make these butterflies, please visit Annie's tutorial here.

I'm happy to say that this spring cupcake sale ended up being another success.  We sold all of our cupcakes and raised a lot of money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).  Be sure to keep an eye out for the second cupcake recipe from our spring cupcake sale.  I'll be sharing it soon!

Carrot Cupcakes
Yield:  about 2 dozen cupcakes
Recipe slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

For the cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb (6-7 medium) fresh carrots, peeled and shredded (or 16 oz. pre-packaged shredded carrots)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups canola, safflower or vegetable oil

For the frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese (not softened)
7 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp clear vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt; whisk together and set aside.  Shred carrots, if needed; then add carrots to the bowl with the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a stand mixer, beat the sugars and eggs at high speed until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds.  With the machine still running, carefully add the oil in a steady stream, reducing speed if necessary.  Continue to beat until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 more seconds.  Stir in the carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.

Scoop batter evenly into prepared cupcake liners.  Bake for about 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the frosting:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes and decorated as desired.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cornmeal Pancakes

It's April...already?!?  First, let me apologize for the long break between posts; life has just been non-stop busy lately.  Between my relationship, school, work...I haven't had much free time to relax, let alone update this blog!  Last week I submitted my application for my school's nursing program, so I'm crossing my fingers, hoping I get in.  The frustrating part is that the school won't make a final decision until JUNE, so that's 3 months of waiting anxiously for a response.  In the meantime, I've also been pretty preoccupied with my current semester.  This week I've been studying like crazy for my mid-term exam, which I finally took on Wednesday.  That means no more studying, more time relaxing/posting, and...it's now my spring break!

I'm really looking forward to having absolutely no plans this weekend.  I feel like it's been quite a while since I've had a real break, so I'm eager to enjoy my free time.  One special thing I like about weekends are quiet, relaxing mornings.  I enjoy sleeping in and doing things at my own leisurely pace.  I also look forward to enjoying a nice, home-cooked breakfast; something I can't always enjoy when I'm in a hurry to leave the house in the morning. 

Although I usually try to include some type of protein in every meal, every once in a while, I give in to my natural cravings and go for my favorite:  carbs!  And what better breakfast carb is there than pancakes?  These cornmeal pancakes are extremely delicious and comforting.  Although most pancakes tend to get soggy, the addition of cornmeal in this pancake recipe provides nice texture and flavor.  I thought these pancakes were absolutely delicious and I now prefer them over traditional pancakes.  Paired with a slight drizzle of pure maple syrup, this is the perfect weekend breakfast.  I'm looking forward to enjoying these again tomorrow morning!

*Also, be sure to check back tomorrow morning for my next post--we held another cupcake sale at my work yesterday, so I'll be sharing the details along with the recipe for one of the two cupcake flavors!  You won't want to miss it!

Cornmeal Pancakes
Print this recipe
Yield:  4 servings
Recipe from Simple Bites

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Whisk together flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, butter and egg.

Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined (mixture will be lumpy).

Heat a griddle or large cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Grease lightly with butter.

Spoon batter onto griddle 1/3 cup at a time.  Cook until edges are set, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Flip, and cook until golden brown, about 2 more minutes.  Repeat with remaining batter, adding more butter to griddle and keeping prepared pancakes warm on a baking sheet in the oven.

Serve immediately with your preferred choice of syrup.