Peanut butter is the icing on the cake

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One of my coworkers had a birthday last week, which means I did some baking. This coworker requested chocolate cupcakes, so I knew I’d turn to the Joy of Cooking for the cupcake recipe. But the frosting was where I wanted to have some fun.

My mom always made buttercream frosting for cupcakes, but I’ve always found most frosting to be too sweet for my taste. I remembered this coworker being fond of peanut butter, so I looked around for a recipe online for peanut butter frosting and came across this one.

The original recipe called for creamy peanut butter, but I only ever buy crunchy, so I used that. The frosting held up well and complemented the cupcakes nicely. It’s definitely a nice alternative to the more common options.

Ingredients
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

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Cheesecake cupcakes are a decadent treat

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I owe you a recipe. I didn’t post Sunday because I didn’t have anything I felt was suitable for Valentine’s Day. But when my team had its monthly potluck today—the theme was “foods we love”—it was the perfect excuse to bake something. I made my Strawberry Bavarian Pie because it’s one of my favorite things, but also realized that I’d missed a team member’s birthday, and he had specified that cheesecake is his favorite dessert.

I’ve had a hit-and-miss experience with cheesecake. I’ve only made it two or three times. The first time, I overbaked it and it cracked. The second time I was nervous about overbaking it, so I underbaked it. It was frustrating on both accounts. This time around, since I didn’t want to wait for a full cheesecake to bake, I decided to look up cupcake recipes and saw this one. It was really easy to put together, and they were, by far, the best cheesecakes I’ve ever made. They were single-serving-size perfection.

So, if you’re still looking for a recipe for your Valentines, whip up a batch of these. They’re a winner. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Crust
1 cup graham wafer crumbs
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a small bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press a heaping tablespoon of crumbs onto the bottoms of the 12 muffin cups. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Filling
2 8-ounce packages of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on low speed until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract, lemon zest, and sour cream and beat until incorporated. Remove the crusts from the refrigerator and evenly divide the filling among the 12 muffin cups.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes or until firm but the centers of the cheesecakes still wobble a little. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let cool and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (a few hours or even overnight).

Birthday cupcakes for the office

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I keep a list of my cowokers’ birthdays and favorite desserts in the top drawer of my desk. It gives me an excuse to bake, and sometimes their listed favorites are something I’ve never made before—like the plum cake my boss requested last year—so it presents a challenge. I love the challenges.

One of my coworkers had a birthday a week ago and said cupcakes were his favorite dessert. I generally avoid making cakes and cupcakes due to the amount of decorating they require, so I wanted to find something that was easy enough to put together on a weeknight after work. Another challenge I was presented with was coming up with frosting that would hold through to the afternoon without becoming runny or dried out if it sat on a table all day. That requirement instantly threw out 7-minute frosting—my favorite. I thought about the birthday cupcakes my mom made for my brother and me when we were little and started to look through my cookbooks for a good yellow cake recipe with chocolate frosting—which was always my brother’s favorite. I found my winning recipe in the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook, a book my brother got me for Christmas a few years ago. As you know by now, I love Cook’s Illustrated. They do such a solid job of explaining why certain recipes and techniques work. There’s always a lot that can be learned from them.

This recipe for Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting was terrific. These aren’t your light, airy, made-from-a-box cupcakes. These are more dense and more flavorful. Because I was worried about lighter frostings, I didn’t whip the ganache as the recipe directed. I left it cool and spread a layer of it onto the cupcakes, so there was no concern of it sliding off or becoming too soft at room temperature. It was a great combination, and this will definitely be my go-to recipe for a really good yellow cake. I topped them off with blue sprinkles, both because birthday cupcakes should always have sprinkles and because my coworker is a fan of the Seahawks, who will hopefully win today’s Super Bowl. Am I a football fan? Not really. But I’ve got to root for the home team, right?

Yellowganachecupcakes020115Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit stand mixer with paddle and beat flour mixture, butter, sour cream, egg, egg yolks, and vanilla together on medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl, then mix by hand using rubber spatula until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Using ice cream scoop or larger spoon, divide batter evenly among prepared muffins cups. Bake cupcakes until tops are pale gold and toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, 20-24 minutes. Life each cupcake from tin and transfer to wire rack. Let cupcakes cool completely, about 45 minutes, before frosting.

Frosting
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Place chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour boiling cream over chocolate, and let sit, covered, for five minutes. Whisk mixture until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool and slightly firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cooled chocolate mixture on medium speed until fluffy and mousse-like and soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Spread 2-3 tablespoons of frosting over each cooled cupcake and serve.

Shortbread wreaths pleasing to the eye and the taste buds

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Bon Appetit had a gorgeous cover for their holiday edition. What at first appeared to be a wreath was actually a shortbread cookie beautifully decorated with freeze-dried flowers. The concept seemed pretty simple and, since I usually have shortbread on my platter, I thought it could be a more sophisticated offering for the adults in the group.

Staying with the mantra of always using what I have on hand, I used all regular flour instead of rice flour, as the original recipe called for. I also had no idea where to find freeze-dried flowers—I check the tea and produce aisles and came up short—so I made it easy and chopped up some dried cherries and apricots. Since I don’t like lavender, I used about a half teaspoon of rose water instead. It worked well.

I made one batch and used smaller cookie cutters, so it made nearly four dozen cookies, but they were the perfect size. I was pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous and tasty these ended up being, and my coworkers loved them, too. I can’t wait to see how they’re received on Christmas eve.

Glaze
3 large egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar in a medium bowl until a thick paste forms with no dry spots. Ideally, glaze should sit at least 12 hours for sugar to fully hydrate, but it can be used as soon as cookies have cooled. Or, you can cover and chill up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

Shortbread
2 1/2 + 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
Freeze-dried and/or dried fruits, dried edible flowers, fresh and/or dried herbs (for decorating)
*Raw egg is not recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, children under 4, and people with weakened immune systems.

Whisk flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, sugar, and rose water in a medium bowl until very pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in dry ingredients on low until fully combined. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured parchment to 1/8-inch thick. Using large cutter, cut out 16 rounds, rerolling scraps. Using small cutter, punch out centers. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until edges are golden, 12–14 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Working quickly, dip tops of cookies into glaze, letting excess drip off. Transfer to wire rack and decorate.

Cranberry-cherry bars a creation of my own

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My first Christmas baking test run of the year was a success, so I’ve decided to share it now instead of waiting until next year. For quite a while, after trying one of the cherry oat bars at Starbucks, I had been toying with the idea of doing something similar. I wanted to do a kind of cranberry bar, but didn’t see any recipes. I let the idea retreat to the back of my mind and, last week, it came forth again and I was ready to give it a shot.

I knew I wanted a simple, sweet shortbread base, so I really just had the filling to contend with. I decided to approach it similar to a pie filling, and I knew I wanted to use rose water in it to mellow out the tartness.

The bars ended up being tart, but not in an overwhelming way. The crust and topping balanced the flavorful filling, which was firm enough to stay together if you want to eat it without a plate.

Cranberrycherrybars2-121414Ingredients
1 29-ounce can of tart cherries
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup arrowroot starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon rose water
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups old-fashioned oats

Pour the cherries, including the juice, into a saucepan with the cranberries. Cook over medium heat, covered, until cranberries have popped and flavors begin to combine, about 20 minutes. Add sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Add arrowroot starch and stir until combined. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Once mixture begins to thicken, add rose water and salt. Stir. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, salt, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut in 3/4 cups butter and mix with fingers, until mixture resembles pea-size bits. Evenly press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13×9-inch pan. Sprinkle crust with water. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine butter, flour, salt, and oats.

Once crust is ready, pour cranberry-cherry mixture and spread it evenly over the shortbread base. sprinkle oat mixture over the top and bake for another 15 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely before serving.