A Southern Grace: May 2012

May 27, 2012



What you see before you are the very first whoopie pies* to come out of my kitchen. What's more, they're the first whoopie pies that've ever passed between my lips. Why have I avoided whoopie pies all my life, you ask? I have no idea.

*I've just realized that a simple space and some punctuation will turn whoopie pies into whoo! pie pies!. That makes me chuckle.

Here's what I can tell you about my first whoopie pie experience:

*Whoopie pies can be classified as neither pies nor cookies, in my book. They're more like cake than anything else, and not just because there's frosting involved.
*Given my tendency to mix and match, these treats are a dream. Chocolate cookies and chocolate frosting? No problem. Strawberry cookies with vanilla frosting? Delightfully easy. Dulce de leche between coconut cookies? Be still, my heart.
*Don't let these sit on the parchment paper too long to cool or you'll make a mess trying to remove them. If it seems like they're sticking, I found that sliding a small off-set spatula underneath worked very well.
*You may have to store them in the fridge if they become too tacky at room temperature, but it doesn't affect them negatively at all.

Now go make some whoopie...pies. Whoopie pies. Hug a soldier and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

Chocolate Whoopie Pies
(makes about 15 sandwiches)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Strawberry swiss meringue buttercream, chocolate buttercream, or whatever frosting makes you smile the most

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Beat in the vanilla extract. In a small measuring cup, mix the buttermilk and water. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.
Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. With moistened fingers or with the back of a spoon, smooth the tops of the cookies. Bake for about 9 - 10 minutes or until the tops of the cookies spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To assemble, take one cookie and spread a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the flat side of the cookie. Top with another cookie.

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May 21, 2012

for the pyromaniac in us all


Even if, like me, you claim to dislike messing around with fire, you have to admit that it's pretty fun in controlled situations. I don't really consider alcohol and an open flame to fall into that category (it seems to me like a good way to lose eyebrow hairs), but I still had a blast making these cupcakes.

They're inspired by the classic pineapple upside-down cake, with an exciting blazing twist. What we have is an almond cake (made with actual ground almonds!) filled with DELICIOUS flambeed pineapple innards and topped with a lightly-flavored almond buttercream. The texture of the cupcakes was surprisingly delicate considering the presence of the ground almonds in the batter and the fact that the cakes get saturated with amaretto when they come out of the oven.

All in all, these go down as one of my favorite batches of cupcakes to date, and that's almost entirely to do with the filling. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll find other places in which to use it and frankly, I wouldn't be above making it and eating it with a little bit of ice cream on the side.

Pineapple Inside-Out Cupcakes
(makes 12 cupcakes)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unblanched almonds, finely ground in a food processor
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup amaretto (almond flavored liqueur)
1 cup heavy cream

8 slices pineapple
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup amaretto
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2-3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line muffin tins with papers and lightly spray.
Whisk together flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in extracts. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and mixing until just combined.
Divide batter among prepared cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks; immediately poke holes all over tops of cupcakes with a toothpick. Pour amaretto evenly on top; let cool completely before removing from tins.
To make the filling, first stack the pineapple slices and cut into quarters, then into a small dice. Heat sugar in a large skillet over medium-high, stirring, until sugar melts and turns golden brown. Add pineapple; toss. Carefully pour in amaretto; immediately tilt skillet slight to ignite alcohol. (If using an electric stove, use a long match to ignite alcohol.) When flames subside and caramel melts, carefully stir in cream, orange juice, and vanilla-bean seeds. Reduce heat to medium; boil, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely before using or storing.
To make the frosting, beat the butter with an electric mixer for a few minutes. Add the extract and milk and briefly blend. Add the powdered sugar gradually until the frosting is thick enough to spread easily. If the frosting is too dry, add additional milk until the desired consistency is reached.
To fill the cupcakes, carve out a cone-shaped hole (and immediately eat the cone)(after schmearing it with filling and/or frosting, of course) and carefully spoon the pineapple innards into the hole. Apply frosting generously to cupcakes, sprinkle with toasted almonds, and devour.

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May 14, 2012

[record scratch] crea-mix.


Last Mother's Day, I unveiled my mamster's pie of choice--chocolate cream. Because she hasn't told me otherwise, I assume it still reigns supreme, much like she does in the Battle of Women Who Gave Birth to Me.

I've tried a few more recipes over the past year, and I think I've found an even more decadent, fool-proof, and delicious version. The differences are minor--this one has cornstarch and uses less sugar and liquids with a lower fat content--but for some reason, it's just more decadent. One drawback--you have to strain the gelatinous goo before filling your pie shell. Meh, it's a small price to pay when you think about the 29 years and counting? 9 months or so of havoc you wreaked on your dear mum's body.

Happy (Day After) Mother's Day!

Creamy Chocolate Cream Pie with Cream
1 1/3 cups chocolate wafer or cookie crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar

2-1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided use
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
3 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
To make the crust, stir together crumbs, butter, and sugar and press on bottom and up side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until crisp, about 15 minutes, and cool on a rack.

To make the filling, heat the milk, cream, and 1/3 cup of sugar until a thin skin forms on top. Meanwhile, viciously whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and egg yolks. Add in the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Temper in the very hot milk mixture, whisking well. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly with a spatula for 1 minute (filling will be thick). Add the chocolates and let them melt into the mixture for a moment before blending it all together. Force the filling through a strainer into a bowl, then whisk in the butter and vanilla. Pour the filling into crust, cover the surface of the filling with wax paper and cool completely, about 4 hours.

To make the topping, beat cream with sugar in a bowl using an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks, then spoon on top of pie.

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May 7, 2012

everything's coming up...lavender


I'll be honest--the idea of eating flowers is a bit weird to me. Now, I don't mean broccoli or cauliflower or capers. I'm talking about those heavy-smelling, colorful, meaningful-gesture-type flowers.

I've never eaten squash blossoms or anything rose-flavored. Jasmine isn't my cup of tea and I've never even seen daisies that were meant to be consumed. Everything changed when I received some lavender buds with which to play and promptly decided to combine them with lemon for a particularly refreshing and floral batch of spring-appropriate cupcakes.

How did they turn out? The cupcakes are fluffy and bright with citrus, and the curd provides a powerful note of lemon that's necessary to compete with the lavender in the frosting--it's potent stuff! All in all, there's a nice balance between the two dominating flavors, and the light frosting was the right choice to pair with the curd-laden cupcakes.

Go on--embrace spring while it's still around and before the whole heat of summer barges in!

Lovely Lemon Lavender Cupcakes
(based on these by Martha)
(makes 12 cupcakes)

1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 3 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature

Lemon Curd:
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, cold
1 teaspoon freshly-grated lemon zest

1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds

First, make the lemon curd:
In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, cream, and butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking constantly, 5 to 7 minutes, or until mixture just reaches a boil. Strain the curd into a bowl and stir in the zest. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

To make the cupcakes, first preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together flour and salt. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl every few minutes. Add citrus zests. Reduce speed to medium, and add vanilla. Add eggs, three at a time, beating until until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in four batches, beating until completely incorporated after each.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full; tap pans on countertop once to distribute batter. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by whipping the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in the lavender buds. Alternatively, you can heat the cream, add the lavender buds, chill the mixture for a few hours, strain out the buds, then whip the lavender-infused cream. Either way works wonderfully, it just depends on whether or not you mind the presence of the lavender buds.

Carve out a cone-shaped bit from the top of each cupcake. Squirt or spoon in some of your lemon curd. Top the curd-loaded cupcakes with the frosting and eat!

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