Tag: dessert

Chocolate Peanut Butter (Birthday!) Cake

It got so busy around here, I lost my head. Frankly, I’m still not sure that I’ve been able to get the damn thing back on straight. The good news is that amidst all the crazy, I managed to find time to have a little get-together to celebrate my birthday a few weeks back. As a gift to myself, I made dinner and cake for my grad school cohort. They are a fantastic group and all pitched in to buy me this gift:


So much gorgeous yarn!

As part of my hella-broke lifestyle, I have only been buying yarn on the cheap for about two years now, which means basic discounted wool that is always purchased for a very specific purpose. All of these super-soft, beautiful skeins are things that I would not allow myself to buy at the moment. But now I have the luxury of getting to try them all out. It’s badass. And after spending nearly four months without picking up my knitting, this is just the kind of thing that I needed to get me inspired again. Thanks, friends!

As part of my birthday get-together, I made my own cake. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional birthday wisdom which says that someone should make (or buy) a cake for you. I have no place in my life for conventional wisdom. Why wouldn’t I seize the opportunity to make myself the World’s Most Decadent Cake on a day that demands decadent cakes, especially if, you know, I really like to make cakes? Aidan suggested that it makes it seem as though other people (like him) could not make a cake that was good enough for my tastes. For the record, I would like to say that this is absolutely not true. I have never met a cake I didn’t like. I do not discriminate against cakes of box-mix or bakery origin. I believe that all cakes are meant to be enjoyed. And if you bring me a cake and I already have one made? Then we will rejoice together in the sheer deliciousness of our double-cake bounty.

That said, this recipe is getting filed away under “EPIC.” Dense chocolate cake + peanut butter cream cheese frosting + chocolate peanut butter ganache = divine. Aidan described it first as evil because “it’s so good you just keep eating it until it makes you sick” and then later as chocolate cake sandwiched between layers of peanut butter chocolate fudge. I call it the best birthday gift I have ever given myself.

chocolate peanut butter cake

It is admittedly a little homely, what with it’s gloppy chocolate glaze. But this cake does not need the pretense of decorations or fance. This cake is a scrappy boxer waiting to deliver a knock out blow. This cake is contending for a starring role in The Cake in the House.

Janeane Garofalo – The Cake in the House
Jokes Joke of the Day Funny Jokes

I followed the recipe as is, with the small exception of making a double layer, rather than triple layer, cake. The cake batter is actually a one-bowl recipe that does not call for the use of an electric mixer. Relying on a whisk alone can make the actual mixing of the batter a bit hairy. You can think of it more optimistically as a fantastic upper arm workout. Or whip out the mixer. Whatever. Deb at Smitten Kitchen recommended freezing the cake layers for easier construction and frosting of the cake. I wrapped my cake layers in plastic wrap, put them in freezer bags, and let them freeze overnight before putting the cake together. It came together in a breeze. Per her recommendations, I also froze the frosted cake for about an hour before making and pouring on the peanut butter chocolate glaze. The cake was still a little cold when we cut into a few hours later, but that certainly didn’t affect its deliciousness.

So, in conclusion, I emphatically encourage you to make this cake. And then promptly invite me over.

cake slice

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple -Layer Cakes)

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of 3 8″ round cake pans (I used 2 9″ pans instead). Cut circles of parchment paper to lay on the bottom of each pan. Butter the parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk until blended. Gradually beat in the water. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks and remove the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely.
  4. To make assembling and frosting the cake easier, freeze the cake layers for at least 30 minutes.

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 10 oz cream cheese
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
  • 5 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 c creamy peanut butter
  1. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar a cup at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the peanut butter and beat until well blended.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze:

  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c half-and-half
  1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Nutella Cupcakes

While it looked for awhile like we wouldn’t be able to settle on a new camera, we ultimately picked up this Canon PowerShot on sale at Target for around $100. Since then, Aidan and I have both been playing around with it, getting used to all of its features and how small it is compared to our previous camera. This, of course, has resulted in a lot of new beauty shots of the cats.


(Cat pictures taken by Aidan.)


As Aidan pointed out, the baseline in terms of quality with digital cameras has improved in major ways since the last time we bought a camera (4 or 5 years ago), and its nice to be able to buy something so basic and relatively inexpensive and feel like you’ve made  a solid purchase. It’s a reminder that something like food blogging doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. You can get far with an inexpensive point-and-shoot, a free blogging platform, everyday ingredients, and a small kitchen stocked with some basic utensils/pans. Keep it on the cheap and you won’t even have to worry about any of those pesky ads–especially since so many of them involve Weight Watchers or claims to magically decrease belly fat. Leave my belly fat alone. It is soft and good for cuddling.

I found this Nutella Cupcake recipe last weekend on World Nutella Day. I’m frankly, not the biggest fan of Nutella. It’s good, but eating Nutella always makes me acutely aware of the fact that I am not eating peanut butter, which is where my allegiance lies. (This is precisely why I have a bag full of peanuts in my cupboard waiting to be turned into this chocolate-peanut spread.) However, we have a jar of Nutella in the back of one of our cupboards that neither of us has touched for awhile. So I figured, what better way to use some of it up than to try out this recipe?

Nutella Cupcakes

These are just your basic yellow cupcake with a dollop of Nutella swirled into the top of the cupcake, resulting in a cupcake that comes out of the oven already frosted and ready to be eaten. Simplicity is the big appeal of this recipe: basic ingredients and minimal hands-on time yield truly tasty and satisfying cupcakes.

Nutella Cupcake 2

They were a little bit dryer than I would of liked, but I also think I probably should have pulled them out of the oven a few minutes earlier. Still, these were fantastic and this is recipe is definitely a keeper for those times when you need a quick dessert–especially one that will appeal to kids and adults equally.

I hope you’re enjoying what’s left of the weekend!

Nutella Cupcakes (Adapted from Baking Bites)

  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Around 1/3 cup of Nutella (the amount you use really depends on how much Nutella you plop on top of the cupcakes)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Add in the vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 2 or 3 batches, beating after each addition until all the flour has been incorporated.
  4. Line a muffin tin with 12 baking cups. Divide the batter evenly among the baking cups. Top each batter-filled cup with about 1 1/2 tsp Nutella. (I just used a generously rounded teaspoon.) Using a toothpick or knife, swirl the Nutella into the batter, being sure to pull some of the cake batter over the Nutella.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack.

Lemon: Cake and Bars

snowy street

So this winter thing is still happening. I find that around this time of the year, winter just starts to feel ridiculous and a little cruel–there’s been plenty of cold and snow fun to last us for a long time, and yet (at least if you live in any kind of Northern climate) you are forced to deal with the fact that there’s still a lot of winter to go. So much so that things like “spring break” just take on a tone of mocking because you know damn well that it’s still going to be freezing and snowy and there will likely be no “spring” to speak of at all.

But there are bright spots. For instance, the Wegman’s I shop at has had a tantalizing citrus display positioned at the front of the produce department for the past month or so, which is where I picked up the Meyer lemons I used for these recipes. Meyer lemons seem to be a big deal around food blogs, what with their sweeter taste and deeper yellow color. Plus, the fact that you can maintain a Meyer lemon tree in your house is infinitely charming. But now I’m just not sure that Meyer lemons and I were meant to be great friends. It turns out that some people want lemon flavor without all the cheek-sucking tartness, and these people seem to really appreciate the Meyer lemon. I, on the other hand, found myself unsatisfied by the lack of cheek-sucking tartness and briefly considered making some lemon curd just so that I could duck into the refrigerator and eat a spoonful at random. So I am not one of those lemony-sweet people. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I can completely write Meyer lemons off until I’ve tried making a Shaker lemon pie.

meyer lemon cake

All of my feelings about lemons aside, both of these were really good recipes. The Meyer Lemon Cake is easy to throw together and would especially be a big hit for those aren’t on a quest for maximum tartness. The cake batter itself is flavored primarily with lemon extract and a bit of lemon zest, which results in a subtle and more delicate lemon flavor, although you still get more intense lemon-ocity (a term coined by one of my professors) at the top of the cake where the glaze seeps into the crumb. If you make this, you should definitely heed to recipe’s warning to use a light-metal loaf pan as the cake does, indeed, get very brown very quickly.

lemon bars

While the cake was honestly, truly good, it did not quite provide me with serious lemon-ness I desired and so I turned to Ina Garten’s lemon bars recipe as my answer. I actually ended up using two Meyer lemons for this recipe and one standard lemon that happened to be laying around in the fruit bowl. I’m not sure how the mixing of the two impacted the flavor since this is the first time I made this recipe, but I do know that I definitely ended up with something closer to tart lemon flavor I wanted. This is a great recipe that is incredibly easy to make. It takes a little longer to make than you might expect since the shortbread crust requires chilling, pre-baking, and then some cooling before you add the lemon filling and do the final bake. But none of the steps are intensive and your hands-on time is minimal, so these are easy to make while you’re in the midst of doing other things. The original recipe yielded a 9×13 pan of bars, but I cut the recipe in half. My only recommendation would be that you make these a day ahead of time–after 24 hours, the taste and texture of the filling improve and the shortbread crust seems to settle a bit so that it isn’t *quite* so crumbly. I believe we’ve got some department potlucks coming up, and I think I might have to make a pan of these again to bring along. Definitely make this recipe.

In other random news, Aidan and I are likely going to buy a new camera today. We’re not getting anything fancy, but hopefully replacing our (repeatedly dropped) five-year-old camera will yield some nicer pictures. Here’s hoping!

Meyer Lemon Cake (Originally from Saveur magazine, found via Food Gal)

Be sure to use a light metal loaf pan for this recipe, or the cake will over-brown.

  • 8 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 2 tbsp dry plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 c sugar, plus 2 tbsp for glaze
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 tbsp lemon extract
  • zest and juice from 2 Meyer lemons
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×4″ loaf pan with butter and then dust with the bread crumbs. Tap the sides and top of the pan to get rid of any excess bread crumbs.
  2. In a food processor, process the almonds until you have a fine meal and then set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. With an electric mixer, cream together the melted butter and 1 1/3 c sugar until light. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until just incorporated. Add half of the flour mixture, then the milk, and then the remaining flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each addition. Add the lemon extract.
  5. Using a spatula, fold in the almonds and lemon zest. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 65 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Let the cake cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile, mix together the 2 tbsp sugar and lemon juice to create the cake glaze. Use a tooth pick to poke some small holes in the top of the cake to help the glaze seep in. Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze onto the top of the cake until you’ve used all of the glaze. Allow the cake to cool in the pan until the glaze has set, then remove the cake from the pan, and allow it to cool completely on the wire rack. When it’s cool, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and let it sit for 24 hours before slicing.

Lemon Bars (adapted from Ina Garten)

The original recipe yields a 9×13 pan of bars. The recipe here reflects the changes I made when I cut the recipe in half in order to make an 8×8 pan. I also cut down a bit on the amount of sugar in the filling.

For the crust:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 c flour
  • Pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 c flour
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball, and then gently press the dough into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of an 8×8″ pan. You may need to flour your fingers to keep the dough from sticking. Allow the crust to chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let the crust cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the crust is cooling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set. Allow the bars to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. For best results, make these bars one day ahead of time.

Fat Acceptance and Carrot Cake

Allow me a serious moment. I promise to reward you with cake.

I began 2010 in a really dark place, struggling with a pretty serious depression that I eventually started to refer to as “my sadness.” My sadness was full of insomnia-producing anxiety, deep guilt, and an absolute deflation of my self-confidence. My sadness was a life-sucking vampire, and not the sexy kind.. I feel lucky to have recognized that I was depressed and to have also recognized that my sadness was not the result of there being something fundamentally wrong with me. I struggled for the first half of the year through a long process of trial and error to figure out what kinds of things I could do to help myself feel even a little better. Not everything worked, but a lot of things did and the final breakthrough came when I allowed myself to step away from the world a bit and dedicate the summer to rebuilding myself. It was good. I owe a lot of where I’ve come over the past year to my support system—to good friends, family, and especially to Aidan.

Things like yoga and writing and establishing routines were all helpful, but light really started shining through the cracks when I stumbled across fat acceptance blogs and Health at Every Size advocates. These writers spoke (and continue to speak) to truths that I think I have known but not allowed myself to live for a long time:

  • That fat shaming runs rampant through Western culture and creates a deep fear that disciplines our bodies.
  • That diet culture (including all of those “lifestyle changes” that essentially act like diets in disguise) give rise to all kinds of disordered eating and fraught relationships with food.
  • That we are increasingly narrowing our vision of the acceptable body rather than appreciating body diversity.
  • That diets only ever work in the short term and maintaining weight loss from dieting is statistically improbable.
  • That we have come to mistakenly conflate health with weight. This conflation is particularly damaging when we get discouraged from doing things that can improve our health (like exercising regularly) because we don’t see the weight-loss results we desire.
  • That continual dieting does more harm than good to our physical and emotional health.
  • That what Kate Harding refers to as The Fantasy of Being Thin often leads us to put our lives on hold, expecting that things will magically come together and we can become the person we’ve always wanted to be if we can just manage to reach our “ideal” weight.
  • That medical terms like obesity and medical scales like the BMI further fat shaming and naturalize the narrowing of acceptable bodies rather than encouraging health.
  • That there are a whole host of medical studies that have proven that diets do not work, that weight is not a measure of health, and that dieting is harmful to health, but these reports are rarely circulated in the mass media outlets where stories about dieting, weight loss, and the so-called “obesity crisis” sell better.
  • That our bodies don’t need to be whipped into shape, but rather that we need to learn to listen to our bodies and the natural cues they give us so that we can feel as good as possible, and that feeling good will always be a better barometer of health than a number on a scale.

When I finally stopped worrying about my weight and severed myself from The Fantasy of Being Thin, I felt free. And most importantly, I learned just how much energy I had been pouring into worrying about my body–energy that I was able to dedicate to my work and toward creative pursuits like baking and blogging that have brought me a lot of joy and that give me something to feel confident about rather than ashamed. All of this is not to say that fat acceptance of HAES are easy roads with no bumps or that deciding to accept my body as it is was something that happened over night. It is a process that takes work. But it is a process that is definitely worth it. And while I think it is important to feel good about myself and would hope that you feel good about you too, I also know that the body politics that fat acceptance embraces intersect in important ways with other social justice movements. That is, unlike dieting, fat acceptance and HAES is not a solipsistic enterprise but rather has the potential, if we only work to seize it, to contribute to the fight against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism . . . and the list goes on.

I’m writing this now because of a campaign called the 2011 ReVolution. Marilyn Wann and a number of other wonderful people have set up a fantastic blog space that now houses a whole host of resources about fat acceptance and HAES, encouraging people to spread the word on social networking sites throughout the month of January. The goal is not only to raise awareness about FA and HAES, but to also try to counteract so much of the diet and weight-loss blather that pours out around New Year’s resolutions. I’m contributing my voice to the 2011 ReVolution cause because I believe deeply in resisting diet culture, in celebrating body diversity, and in transferring the energy we waste disciplining our bodies into more vital social justice work. So I just want to encourage you to check out some of the resources available at the above link and to throw out questions–I’d love to talk about this more! I’ve also listed some of the FA blogs I regularly read on my Favorites page. Check them out.

And now to cake. I made this carrot cake for a program dinner because I was tired and stressed and needed a sure thing. Carrot cake tends to be one of those things where people over-do it with add-ins like raisins and nuts and too many spices. It also suffers because it’s the kind of thing that people try to turn into a healthy, guilt-free dessert. The truth is that it is best when it’s simple, and most satisfying when we allow it to be what it really is: a humble slice of mid-twentieth century American life. If you have a food processor, shredding the carrots takes no time at all. And when you pull it out of the oven, you can slather it with some cream cheese frosting, throw some chopped pecans on top for a little pizazz, and make the people in your life happy. Very happy.

carrot cake

Best-Ever Carrot Cake (From Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 75th Anniversary Ed.)

  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 c finely shredded carrots
  • 3/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/2 recipe of Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (below)
  • 1/4 c chopped pecans (optional)
  1. Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans or a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the beaten eggs, carrots and oil. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stil until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If making a layer cake, allow the cakes to cool for ten minutes before removing from the pans. Allow cake to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
  5. When the cake is cool, frost and sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 c pure maple syrup
  • 2 c powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter and maple syrup until smooth and then slowly add powdered sugar. If necessary, refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.

Dark Chocolate Mint Chip Brownies

We had friends stop by and stay the night on their way home from spending Thanksgiving in New York City, so I did the two things you do when you have company coming: clean the toilet and make brownies. Actually, that’s a lie since it was really Aidan who cleaned the toilet, but I’m sure I did other kinds of cleaning. The point is that regardless of what Oprah and Miss Manners have to say about playing hostess, I say you should try to get things reasonably clean, throw a little somethin’ in the oven, and call it a day. The rest will sort itself out.

While I was wandering through Target this morning on the lookout for a new air mattress (only the finest of sleeping accommodations will do here at Chez Arnsley), I swung by the newly arranged aisles of Christmas candies and baking supplies to see if they had the Toll House Limited Edition Dark Chocolate and Mint chips that I read about recently. They did. In fact, they only had one bag so of course I had to buy it.

Really, the plan for these brownies has been in the works since I found out these dark chocolate and mint chips even existed. I basically followed the recipe for King Arthur Flour’s Best Fudge Brownies Ever (the recipe that comes on the back of the KA all-purpose flour bag), except that I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in the place of the dutch-processed cocoa and substituted the dark chocolate and mint chips for regular chocolate chips. Thus the dark chocolate mint chip brownies were born and proved to be as amazing as I had imagined.

I made a different brownie recipe earlier this year that I enjoyed a lot, but this recipe is definitely my new favorite. Like the other recipe I made, this is an easy, one-bowl deal. But this recipe yields something a lot like a brownie from a box mix, what with it’s shiny top crust and it’s rich chocolate-y texture that falls somewhere between a super dense fudge brownie and a more cake-like brownie. Really, it’s all the best of boxed brownies without the greasiness or the fall-apart crumble factor.

Plus, the combination of dark chocolate and mint? Insanely good.

Dark Chocolate Mint Chip Brownies

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I just now noticed that the recipe calls for a tablespoon of vanilla. I only had a teaspoon on hand, but I think the brownies turned out well anyway.)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 bag Toll House dark chocolate and mint chips
  1. Using the microwave, melt the butter in a large mixing bowl. I did this by putting the bowl in the microwave for about 45 seconds, stirring the butter, and then repeating the process until the butter is completely melted. When the butter is melted, stir in the sugar. Put the sugar mixture back in the microwave for another minute and then stir the mixture again. According to the people at King Arthur, this process helps you get a nice, shiny top on your brownies.
  2. Add cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla and stir until well combined.
  3. Add eggs and beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Add flour and chips and stir until well combined.
  4. Spread batter evenly into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake brownies in a 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the edges of the brownies and allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.

My Thanksgiving Contribution

For the second year in a row, two of our friends are hosting a potluck-style Thanksgiving celebration for we grad students in our program who are staying in town for break. Last year, I brought four pies as my contribution. And because I am full of surprises and excitement, I decided to do a repeat performance this year. My first step was to whip up two double pie crusts–enough for four single crust pies. As always, I used the all-butter pie crust found on Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is great, easy to throw together, and I’ve had fantastic results with it in the past. But lately, my crusts have been turning out not great. There is definitely some user-error occurring. Probably not the kind of thing that other people necessarily notice, but enough to hurt my soul. All of my pies are still uncut, but I’m interested to see how the crusts turn out this time. I think one of my winter break projects may be figuring out what’s been going wrong and trying to perfect my crust-making skills.

Anyway, first up was a crumb-topped apple pie.

apple pie

Then a pecan pie, which I made for the first time last Thanksgiving and for the second time yesterday.

pecan pie

And because pumpkin pie is traditional, I figure that I need to make at least two for a group of around 12-15 people. So I’ve got your standard, no-fuss pumpkin pie from the back of the Libby’s can . . .

pumpkin pie

. . . and for a little variety, a candied pecan-topped pumpkin pie.

candied pecan pumpkin pie

It looks a little homely, but this was a big hit last year and Aidan has already decided that this will be his one piece of Thanksgiving pie. Now all that’s left to do is (literally) whip up some whipped cream. I’m looking forward to some good food, definitely looking forward to some good beer (to take the edge off my end-of-the-semester anxieties), and already scheming ways to get out of the touch football game I hear is planned for this afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving!

Apple Crumb Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • Single pie crust
  • 6-7 cups of apples, peeled and sliced (I used about 6 Ginger Gold apples)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Toss sliced apples together with sugar, 3 tbsp flour, cinnamon and nutmeg until coated. Spread apple mixture evenly in pie shell.
  3. Mix 1/2 cup flour and brown sugar together. Use a pastry blender to cut in butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture on top of the apples.
  4. Cover edges of the pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more until bubbly.

Pecan Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1 c corn syrup
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1/3 butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 c shelled pecans
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Stir together eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and vanilla until well-combined. Stir in pecans. Spread pecan mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of the pie with tin foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and then bake for 20-25 minutes longer until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Pumpkin Pie (an unintentional mash up of the Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe and the pumpkin pie recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk
  1. Line pie plate with single crust and crimp edges.
  2. Whisk together pumpkin and eggs until well-combined. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Slowly add evaporated milk to pumpkin mixture. Pour pumpkin mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 minutes more until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Candied Pecan Pumpkin Pie (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)

  • 1 single pie crust.
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  1. Line pie plate with single pie crust and crimp edges.
  2. Stir together eggs, pumpkin, and milk until well-combined. Stir in sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Pour pumpkin mixture into pie shell.
  3. Cover edges of pie with tin foil. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil. Stir together brown sugar, pecans, and butter. Sprinkle mixture over top of pie. Bake for 20-25 minutes more until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

There is a student group in my program that I’m not involved with who hosted a department potluck last night that I had decided awhile ago I probably wouldn’t attend. That is, until one very persuasive friend started throwing around words like “free beer” and “chili relleno casserole.” So I went, and greatly enjoyed the beer, the food, and the good conversation. It was a fun night.

After I decided to go to this shindig, my first move was to go to Smitten Kitchen to figure out what I was going to bring. I find myself doing this a lot when I’m looking for recipes–first I check SK, then the King Arthur Flour website, and then my own cookbooks. If I can’t find anything there, then I take a deep breath and start sifting through recipes on Epicurious. I’m sure you feel greatly enriched now that you know my recipe finding process. The bottom line is that I really love Smitten Kitchen. It’s a great food blog that not only has a ton of great recipes, but also has a whole host of solid cooking and baking tips that have helped my own work in the kitchen immensely. Anyway, my own contribution to the potluck ended up being pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting–a recipe that I, of course, found on SK.

pumpkin cupcake

I have neither the patience nor the equipment to pipe roses onto the top of my cupcakes as they were beautifully shown on SK, so mine are more humbly “decorated” with some chopped, toasted pecans. I followed the recipe exactly as its posted on SK, except that I halved the frosting recipe since I knew I wasn’t going to pull off any impressive frosting design feats. Half of the recipe ended up being perfect for frosting the 18 cupcakes that I got from this recipe.

These were really good. I mean, REALLY good. They are light and moist in texture, not overly spiced, and they don’t have an overwhelming pumpkin taste. And they were well received by children and adults alike. At least two people who aren’t big fans of pumpkin (Aidan included) ate more than one, and one friend said, “this cupcake is the best part of my night.” What more can you ask for?

A final word of praise: In the comments on the original SK post, a number of people were disappointed that the cream cheese frosting didn’t have a distinct maple flavor. And it’s true–the maple syrup in the frosting just can’t compete with the stronger flavor of the cream cheese. Really, I think it’s a good thing because I’m not sure these cupcakes would have benefited from a strongly flavored frosting. But the most important thing to note about this frosting recipe is that it yields a superior cream cheese frosting. Because of the addition of the maple syrup, the recipe calls for a lot less powdered sugar than you typically see in cream cheese frosting recipes. The result is a frosting that is satisfyingly sweet without have the kind of over-sugared bite you can get when you have to add a lot of powdered sugar, and it is also much lighter than your typical cream cheese frosting. It’s the kind of frosting you can eat straight from the bowl (which I may or may not be doing right now) without feeling like your teeth are going to fall out of your head. I’m bookmarking this as my go-to cream cheese frosting, and frankly, I think you should too.

Brownies Done Right

Immediately after I finished yesterday’s post, I resolved to make brownies. What I wanted were regular, fudgy brownies that would compensate for the lack of deliciosuness that was the brownie pudding. I briefly considered the fudge brownie recipe on the back of my King Arthur flour bag (also available here), but it calls for Dutch process cocoa and chocolate chips, neither of which I had. Also, after reading about the difference between Dutch process cocoa and natural cocoa (which is what I have in my cupboard), I felt a little wary of recipes that only called for Dutch processed. I feel like there are situations in which they could be easily subbed for one another, despite what the article I linked above claims, and people have made the King Arthur recipe with natural cocoa without any problems. But it was the kind of day where I needed a sure brownie thing.

Step One
Butter, cocoa, sugar and salt, ready for some melting action

Enter the recipe for the best cocoa brownies, originally published (or so I’m told) in Alice Mendrich’s book Bittersweet, and featured (where I first encountered it) on Smitten Kitchen. This recipe was the perfect because it specifically calls for either Dutch process or natural cocao and required nothing more than what was already in my kitchen. I whipped these up pretty quickly while Aidan was watching a baseball game, and they had baked and almost entirely cooled by the time the game ended.

Post Melting
... out of the microwave and ready for the eggs ...

I followed the recipe exactly as its written on SK, except that I decided to opt out of any nuts and I melted the butter in with the cocoa, sugar and salt using the microwave. I just cut the butter up into individual tablespoons and stirred it together as best I could with the other dry ingredients. Then I popped it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, pulled it out, stirred it and then repeated the whole process until the butter was completely melted and I had a soft, grainy, well-combined mixture on my hands. From there, I just followed the instructions as written.

oven ready
Shiny brownie batter

All in all, these brownies are a definite WIN. They are seriously chocolately and seriously delicious. Deb from SK wrote that these brownies would appeal to fans of box mix brownies because they share a similar texture, which Aidan and I can both testify to. But, as Aidan said last night, they are a lot richer than your basic Duncan Hines mix. They are about as far from a cake-like brownie as a brownie can be, but they aren’t gooey at all. In fact, they almost have a kind of creamy fudge-like texture to them. Also, for the first time in my life, I finally understand what people mean when they talk about coveting the chewy outer edge of brownies. Because the edges of these brownies are, indeed, delightfully chewy–miles away from the crispy, over-baked edge of brownies that always has me reaching for a piece from the center of the pan.

Warning: brownies in photo are darker (and richer) than they appear

I put a lot of pressure on Aidan when I make him try the things I make. I have to force myself to look away while he’s eating because otherwise I will watch his face waiting for a reaction, which is high on his list of “Really Annoying Things Anna Does.” Last night, as we were sampling these together, I asked him if he thought they were good enough to make again and again. To which he replied, “Yeah . . . but I don’t think you should give up the pursuit of the perfect brownie yet.” Which made me stubbornly think, if I feel like never making another brownie recipe again that is exactly what I’ll do and you will like it. But I’m apparently already over being obstinate, because as I was looking at the aforementioned King Arthur recipe, I thought to myself, I seriously need to try these. And so I will heed Aidan’s advice and not give up the search for the best brownie just yet. But until a worthy challenger steps up, this recipe will continue to wear the crown.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

This year, I started work towards a PhD in a relatively small program that has (by my rough estimate) somewhere between 25 and 30 graduate students at a time. Regardless of where you go, I have to imagine that the first year of any PhD is some tough business because it involves a lot of new pressures and expectations, a heavy workload, and often an entirely new place and entirely new people to grow accustomed to. This year was even harder than I think it had to be for me for reasons that I’ll probably get into more in a later post, but one of the things that I feel most fortunate for throughout it all is having come into the program with a group of three other students who I all genuinely like and really get along with. The time-consuming nature of graduate work, especially combined with a rather small pool of graduate students, means that you end up spending a lot of time with a handful of people which often has the potential to be a very good or a very bad thing. For me, being around Justin, Missy, and Nicole has been a very, very good thing and we’ve a good time having group dinners, birthday celebrations, and even a Thanksgiving potluck. Any group of people I can enjoy good food and beer with is a group of people for me.

Anyway, the members of the CCR Cohort ’09 got together this past Friday at Nicole’s for a dinner celebrating her new house and the fact that her parents and in-laws had flown in.  I have more than established my role as the resident cohort baker (which wasn’t hard since I’m really the only who bakes) so Nicole asked me to bring dessert, which I frankly would have done even if she hadn’t asked. Nicole and I share a love of all things chocolate, so even though I briefly considered making some lemon bars I ultimately decided to try this black bottom cupcake recipe. (Yes, it’s another recipe from Smitten Kitchen which is because I enjoy her blog so much that it’s often one of my first go to’s when I’m looking for a recipe. Her reviews and her recipe modifications have yet to fail me.)

Adding chocolate pieces to the cream cheese mixture.
The cream cheese and chocolate pieces gettin' together

These cupcakes are basically a devil’s food cupcake with dollops of a kind of chocolate chip cheesecake batter dropped in the middle. It’s a combination that ranks relatively high on the list of “Best Ideas Humans Have Ever Had.” These are easy to make and process goes relatively quickly. If you’re like me and forget to buy more cupcake liners, the only tedious step of the process involves buttering the individual cups of the muffin tins. Never again, I say to myself. Never again.

Chocolate cake batter in the muffin tin
Lonely, unadorned chocolate cake batter . . .

I knew there were going to be somewhere around 10 people at dinner, and I appreciate them all so much that I felt they deserved to have more than one if they wanted so I doubled the recipe and made two dozen cupcakes. At one point in the evening, someone mentioned the idea of eating them the next morning for breakfast so making extras was clearly a good idea.

Cupcakes ready for the oven
Chocolate cake batter fortified by the sweet loving embrace of cream cheese.

I ended up filling each of the muffin cups up with about 1/4 c of cake batter and then dropped a nice rounded spoonful of the cream cheese mixture into the middle. One of my muffin pans was slightly more shallow than the other, and the cupcake in this pan spilled over the edges of the muffin cups and were a little . . . well, homely. After they were done baking, I tried to remove them from the pan before they were completely cool which caused one of them to fall apart. So I was forced to eat it while it was still warm. It was good, but not great. Thus I began to panic about whether or not people would enjoy them and preemptively began feeling ashamed at baking something sub-par for Nicole’s parents and in-laws who I had never met before.

Cupcakes done and cooling on the rack
If you listen closely, you can hear this batch of cupcakes gloating about how much more attractive they are than the other pan.

Luckily, after debating about whether I should start the cupcakes at midnight on Thursday or make them on Friday afternoon, I opted for making these on Thursday night. I feel like it’s polite to recommend that you make these a day in advance, but I think of it more as an imperative. Eating them out of the oven doesn’t do them justice. After sitting for almost a day, these became more moist and the tops of the cupcakes which came out of the oven with a chewy, almost crunchy texture softened up in a big way. The chocolate flavor of the cake also intensified with a bit of time, which I’ve recently learned is often the case with chocolate cakes. Ultimately, when I bit into these at Nicole’s, I was overcome with relief because they were just so damn good.

I lived up to my reputation as baker extradinaire in front of the parents. And there were still enough to bring some home to Aidan. Another win for Team Anna.