Scrumptious cupcakes for a special occasion

browniecupcake

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: brownies are my favorite dessert. When I’m craving chocolate, I usually whip up a batch of brownies. When I’m feeling creative, I start with a base brownie recipe and improvise with the flavor. But brownies never seemed quite right for a special occasion — until I discovered Curtis Stone’s Brownie Cupcakes.

From the chocolate-loaded brownie cupcake to the decadent, creamy cream cheese frosting, these are perfection. The cupcake has a bit of give to it when you bite in and the frosting is wonderfully smooth. It’s the most delightfully messy cupcake I have ever made and eaten. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

My birthday is tomorrow. Each year, when I think about what to make, these cross my mind. I have only made these twice, but each time they left me wanting more — which is why I make them strictly for special occasions. Whether the festivities are for a birthday or other type of event, these cupcakes definitely merit being part of the celebration.

Ingredients
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cacao), chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup light corn syrup

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60 percent cacao), chopped

8 small, fresh strawberries

To make the cupcakes: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 8 standard cupcake molds with cupcake liners.

Stir the chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat until the chocolate and butter melt and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the syrup and salt. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl for 2 minutes or until the mixture is thick and light. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Add the flour and baking powder and stir just until blended, then stir in the walnuts.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared cupcake molds filling the paper liners completely. (Filling the liners completely is key — otherwise the cupcakes will collapse and will be less fudgy.)

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes puff and crack on top and a skewer inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out with fudgy crumbs attached.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

To frost the cupcakes: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and smooth. Beat in the syrup. Place the chocolate in another bowl and place the bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts. Add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture and beat until blended and fluffy, stopping the machine and scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure that the mixture is well-blended. Spread the frosting generously over the cooled cupcakes. Garnish each one with a fresh strawberry and serve.

Just add chocolate for a more decadent muffin

doublechocolatemuffins1

I was craving chocolate last week. When I started thinking about what I should bake, those giant chocolate muffins from Costco came to mind. Except I didn’t want a muffin the size of my hand. I wanted little noshes I could keep on hand for a little while. Because “The Joy of Cooking” has my go-to muffin recipe, I thought I’d see what I could find in the way of chocolate muffins.

Baked goods with melted chocolate can be difficult to make at high altitude. In my experience in the year I’ve been here, I’ve found such treats are one of the most susceptible to collapsing during the baking process. I’ve had the outside cook and crisp before the inside fully cooks. I’ve also had the centers cave in. It has been a learning process. doublechocolatemuffins2

I couldn’t have asked for these to turn out any better than they did. The batter had a slightly stiff quality to it, which ultimately seemed to help them turn out well. I’ve also learned to spray the paper muffin cups with cooking spray so the muffins won’t stick to them. These are a decadent muffin that can either be a rich breakfast or a dessert for later in the day. Next time I’m craving chocolate muffins, this will be my go-to. No more searching for a better recipe.

Ingredients
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (use 1/2 teaspoon if at high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup chocolate chips

Melt chocolate and let cool.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl. Set aside.

Combine buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.

Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually add and beat in brown sugar until lightened in color and texture, 4 to 5 minutes. Add egg and beat until mixed. Beat in the chocolate just until blended. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Stir in chocolate chips. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in 1 or 2 of the muffins comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely on a rack.

Banana oatmeal muffins great for breakfast to go

Bananaoatchocomuffins

This week’s recipe comes from Pinterest. I was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip muffins and found these banana chocolate chip baked oatmeal singles.

There is no flour used in these muffins. Instead, the main components of the mixture are oats, bananas, milk and eggs. The muffins don’t end up light and fluffy; they end up with a bit more of a dense, eggy texture. The flavor is well-rounded and the ingredients make this recipe healthier than other options may be.

These muffins are nice to have on hand during a busy week — you can make them ahead of time and have them grab-and-go ready for weekday breakfasts or snacks. I used mini chocolate chips when I made them because I prefer the smaller bits of chocolate in smaller muffins.

One step that I have found is particularly important to take at high altitude is to spray the paper cupcake holders with cooking spray. For some reason, baked goods tend to get a good grip on the paper otherwise, leaving the person eating them to have to peel away a good layer of the muffin. Who wants to do that with something so delicious?

Ingredients
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (1 1/2 if you’re at high altitude)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 egg
1 1/4 cup skim or soy milk
3/4 cup mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly mist 18 cups in a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine the oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, egg, mashed banana, milk and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until blended together. Mix in chocolate chips.

Spoon the oatmeal mixture evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake uncovered for 18 to 22 minutes or until oatmeal is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Brownies for any occasion

Germanchocolatebrownies1

Of all the desserts in the world, brownies are my favorite. They always have been, and probably always will be. While I have a couple go-to recipes, this is one I return to when I want to get a little fancy.

These German chocolate brownies look more complicated than they actually are. I got the recipe out of Good Housekeeping’s Favorite Recipes: Brownies! book, which I found years ago during one of my regular trips to Seattle. It was in a clearance pile on the basement floor of the the Barnes & Noble at the corner of Pine Street and Seventh Avenue. As someone who loves brownies, I couldn’t pass up the $4.99 price tag for a book that contained dozens of recipes for my favorite dessert. To this day, it’s one of my favorite cookbooks.

If you like chocolate, coconut and pecans, you’ll enjoy these brownies. When properly cooked, the brownie layer is fudgy, so it sticks to your teeth the slightest bit when you bite into one. The coconut layer browns during baking and adds a burst of flavor to the top. Together, the two make for a decadent treat that I’ve made time and time again.

When I first made these at high altitude, they didn’t turn out right. The brownie layer overcooked at the edges as I attempted to get the center to fully cook. The next time I made them, I added one-fourth cup cocoa powder, which turned out to be the perfect stabilizer. The brownies turned out just right. Thursday will mark one year since I moved to high altitude, and I’m happy to say I think I’m finally getting the hang of baking up here.

BrownieGermanchocolatebrownies2
1/2 cup butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet baking chocolate
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
(If you’re at high altitude, add 1/4 cup cocoa powder)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.

To prepare the brownie, heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in the brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; stir until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

ToppingGermanchocolatebrownies3
3 large egg whites
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

To prepare the topping, beat egg whites with a wire whisk in a medium bowl until foamy. Stir in coconut, pecans, brown sugar, milk, vanilla and almond extracts and salt until well combined. Spread topping over batter.

Bake until toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge comes out almost clean and topping turns golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

When cool, cut lengthwise into six strips, then cut each strip crosswise into six pieces.

Get ready for holiday baking

pbblossoms

Thanksgiving is over and I’m already thinking about what to bake for the Christmas Eve cookie platter. For the past few years, I’ve been the designated baker for the annual holiday get-together at my grandma’s house. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mom’s side of the family gathers at my grandma’s house and exchanges gifts. There are typically about 30 people, so each person draws a name and buys something for that person. It keeps it manageable. Everyone gets a gift and no one feels bad for not getting something for everyone.

Each year I’ve spent weeks testing new recipes I’m considering before deciding what will make the tray. I like to change what I make each year, with the exception of sugar cookies. Over the years, thin mints, ginger snaps, window cookies, cranberry layer cookies, coal cookies, cinnamon swirls and others have found a place next to staples such as sugar cookies and peanut butter blossoms.

I’ve had several people ask me for my recipe for peanut butter blossoms. I use the recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook because it has the best flavor and holds together better than other recipes I’ve tried. The key is not to cook them too long. Take the cookies out when they’re puffy and lightly browned so they’re flexible enough to accommodate the kisses without crumbling. Let them sit long enough for the kisses to soften and the cookies to cool. It’s worth the wait.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my go-to Christmas cookie recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter or shortening
54 milk chocolate kisses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine butter (or shortening) and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

Place the 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll balls in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.

Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.