Of Marriage and Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles

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I can’t believe how neglectful I’ve been of this blog.  It’s not that I haven’t been baking; I have (though not as much), I just can’t seem to get myself to you know, take pictures and write stuff.  

Gluten-free snickerdoodles

You know, because it’s sooooooo hard to photograph something this delicious. Actually, it is. I keep eating what I bake before I can photograph it.

Well, a bad situation is bound to get worse because (drumroll please)…I’M GETTING MARRIED!  Yup, Ms. Always-a-Bridesmaid-and-Never-a-Bride (seriously, I think I was a bridesmaid 3,764 times) is finally getting hitched.  The Boy popped the question in Colorado, my fav-o-rite place on earth (weird, I know), and after I got done hyperventilating and jumping fifty feet backward from him, I said yes.  And since a black rabbit squirrel crossed our path right before he did it, our marriage will be a long and fruitful one.  

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Of course, with a wedding on the horizon, I decided the day he proposed that it was time to get serious about wiring my jaw shut and losing that 15 to 20 pounds that’s snuck up on me over the last few years.  I’ve engaged in nearly super-human efforts to lose the weight, including dramatically cutting back my calories, carbs, and sugars, and have gotten…nowhere so far.  Negative nowhere.  I am convinced I could subsist entirely on black coffee and ennui and I’d gain weight.  

So, after one last hurrah this weekend (Crave, I’m looking at you), starting Monday I’m going to put myself into ketosis.  For those of you not familiar with ketosis, it basically means I’m going to get my daily carb intake simply by breathing, so I won’t be able to eat any of my delicious baked goods for a while.  I’m going to give it a shot for a few weeks and if I’m still getting nowhere, I’ll know it’s time to give up on diet and exercise and simply cut off a limb.  I’m pretty sure The Boy will still love me with a peg leg.  

But never fear!  My extreme laziness in updating this here blog means I have a backlog of tried and tested recipes to share–some gluten-free, some not, and even some that are paleo. 

One such backlogged recipe is the de-glutenified snickerdoodles pictured above.  Our B&B in Colorado had homemade cookies set out every night, which of course The Boy, who must eat gluten-free, couldn’t eat.  After I gleefully shoved three of them in my face the first night while he looked on wistfully, I decided it was time to stop torturing him by eating gluten in front of him (and maybe time to stop eating three cookies at once) and jumped on the 100% gluten-free bandwagon myself.  The result was neither of us got to enjoy the snickerdoodles set out the second night, spurring me into finding a way to make a good, gluten-free snickerdoodle when we got home.  

My first attempt was just…not good.  I got a cookbook filled with recipes that are not only gluten-free, they are also dairy-free, egg-free, and, apparently, joy free.  I don’t want to besmirch the cookbook’s good name, because there are other, good recipes in there, but the flax meal-and-applesauce-based snickerdoodles (yuck) are not one of those good recipes.  

So I decided to go back to my buttery basics and try de-glutening the snickerdoodle recipe my beloved grandma gave me.  Much to my delight, the copy of the recipe that I have was even written by her!  

Grandma's Snickerdoodles

Because of the ease of using flour blends (a must for the busy baker), I chose to go with a really good flour blend I’ve been using, Gluten Free Mama’s Almond Flour Blend, punched up with some brown rice flour and sorghum flour for protein.  I can make no guarantees on how these will come out with a different flour blend, so I’d highly recommend sticking with the flours I used (including the specific blend).  Snickerdoodles appear to be a bit finnicky, but Gramma’s revised recipe worked like a charm.  

Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles 

For the dough: 

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups organic evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups Gluten Free Mama’s Almond Blend Flour
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup sorghum flour 
  • 1 tsp xantham gum
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt 

For the coating:

  • 1/4 cup organic evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg 

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and cane juice together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, beating well until blended.  In another, medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients into a homogenous mixture.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well.  Refrigerate dough for at least an hour or until firm. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together coating ingredients in a small bowl.  Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and then roll each ball in the coating.  Place dough balls on parchment-paper lined cookie sheet an inch apart.  Flatten balls slightly with your fingertips.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops begin to crack.  

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Finally…a cookie both The Boy and I can shove gleefully in our faces! 

“Perfectly” Gluten-Free Homemade Oreo-Style Cookies

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Being a perfectionistic sucks.  I’m pretty sure a large portion of my neuroses can be blamed on my perfectionism.  For example, my inability to accept that I will never look like a model.  (Turns out, there’s not many 5’5″, Portuguese-Irish-Danish models out there.) 

Being a perfectionistic and a gluten-free baker sucks even harder than my everyday neuroses.  You see, gluten-free baking is a seemingly never-ending quagmire of disappointment.  I’m actually surprised at the level of success I’ve had, which I would estimate at about 80%.  But I say that as I have a disaster of a cake cooling in the fridge, and gluten-free bread?  Yep, it’s still my white whale.  Or, as others might call it, my door stops.   

The good news is, there are some recipes that translate to Gluten-Free Land insanely easily, so easily that I’m pretty sure no one could screw them up (not even me!).  One of those recipes is the homemade Oreo-style cookies I first blogged about in 2011.  It’s as simple as a 1:1 sub of likely any gluten-free flour mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill) for the original recipe’s all-purpose flour, a teaspoon of xantham gum if you feel like it (but it works without it as well, which is good since I forget to add xanthum gum about two thirds of the time), and voila!  Crack cookies that even GF folks can enjoy.

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I first de-gluten-ified this recipe back in December, and anticipating making a blog about Christmas cookies, gave them some holiday pizazz by adding peppermint extract to the filling.  Unfortunately, I lollygagged for so long on posting the recipe that the holidays are now long over.  But if you do want to give them a kick, give the peppermint a shot.  They were quite a big hit at the holiday party I took them to! 

Gluten-Free Oreo-Style Cookies

Ingredients

For the cookies:

  • 1 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill GF All Purpose Baking Flour (other GF mixes will probably work just as well; these are very forgiving cookies!) 
  • 1 tsp xantham gum (optional–if you have it, use it, if you forget it, don’t lose any sleep) 
  • 1/2 heaping cup unsweetened cocoa (the darker, the better)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (I use 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup Splenda)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature butter (can carefully microwave for 20-30 seconds if need be)
  • 1 large egg

 

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature butter (can carefully microwave for 20-30 seconds if need be)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 3-4 teaspoons peppermint extract (the peppermint is really toned down in the finished product, so don’t be afraid to use a lot)
  • One tiny drop gel food dye for a hint of color, if desired

 

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Mix together the GF flour mix, xantham gum, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar by hand or with a stand mixer at the lowest setting.  Add the butter; with paddle of stand mixer, mix until dough is a consistent, crumbly consistency.  Add the egg and continue mixing until the dough comes together in a mass.

Form small, rounded teaspoons of dough into balls by hand.  (They really need to be small unless you want giant cookies!)  Place the rounded balls on the cookie sheets, approximately two inches apart.  Flatten each ball ever-so-slightly with your finger tips after placing them on the cookie sheets.  Bake for 9 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back after 4 minutes.  Immediately remove the cookies from the sheets and allow them to cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, put the butter and the shortening in the mixing bowl of the stand mixer.  At low speed, blend together, then gradually beat in the powdered sugar approximately 1/2 cup at a time, sifted.  Add the extract and the food dye (if desired) and mix until well-blended.  Beat on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

Once the cookies have cooled and the filling is finished, make cookie pairs until all of the cookies are paired up.  Roll roughly teaspoon-sized balls of filling by hand, placing a filling ball in the center of each cookie pair. When all of the filling is portioned out (you very likely will end up with enough to go back and add filling to some cookies), lightly press each cookie pair together, evenly spreading the filling in the process.  

And voila!  You’ve just successfully made a gluten-free cookie.  Deceptively easy, no? 

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Stuff Yourself: Gluten-Free Cornbread Sage Stuffing

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Gluten-free diets turn holiday meals into quite the challenge.  It seems like there is wheat flour in nearly everything on the menu, including, sadly, the stuffing.  So either you can have a plate full of dry turkey, or you have to get creative and make the holiday classics go gluten-free.

When Thanksgiving rolled around this year, I couldn’t stand the thought of watching the boy eat turkey and nothing else while the rest of us mowed down on overflowing plates of gluten-y joy.  I think his heart was particularly breaking at the thought of no stuffing, and who’s heart wouldn’t?  Stuffing is probably the most magical item on the Thanksgiving menu.

So months in advance I started theorizing over how to make stuffing go gluten-free.  My first thought was to hoard heels of the ridiculously expensive gluten-free bread the boy buys until I had amassed enough to make stuffing, but I quickly realized that plan was going to take about 5.7 years.  So I hit upon a new idea: make gluten-free cornbread and turn that into stuffing!

Well, folks, I can tell you that that idea was a huge success.  In fact, the stuffing is so tasty that I never managed to get any good pictures of the finished product, I think because we were so busy stuffing it in our faces (pun completely intended) that I never managed to break out the camera before it was gone.  But at least the “in progress” picture gives you an idea of its deliciousness:

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One important note about this stuffing: having made it twice now, I can say that it is pretty ingredient-dependent.  It comes out better with particular versions of cornmeal and gluten-free flour than it does with others.  For example, I’ve made it with fine cornmeal, and I’ve made it with medium grit cornmeal, and the texture was definitely better with the medium grit cornmeal than it was with the fine cornmeal.  And of course, when it comes to using pre-made gluten-free flour mixes, each mix out there is different, and all gluten-free flours behave differently.  So I highly recommend using the exact ingredients I list below; it will probably come out well with others, but I make no guarantees!

Something this delicious had to be shared, and with Christmas right around the corner, now is the time to give this recipe a shot! Whether shoved in a turkey or baked in a baking dish, this stuffing is sure to delight, and best of all, you can serve it to all your gluten-y friends and family and they likely won’t even know the difference.  So don’t say no to stuffing just because of a pesky little wheat allergy; try this recipe instead!

Gluten-Free Cornbread Sage Stuffing

GF Sage Cornbread (can be made up to 2 days in advance, or be used fresh)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (preferably glass) into the oven to heat while you make the batter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl if you do not have a stand mixer), mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and milk until well-blended.  Slowly add the honey while blending.  Let mixture rest while you mix together the dry ingredients.

In another, medium mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients, including the sage.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients while blending until dry ingredients are just incorporated.

Remove the pan from the oven and add the pats of butter, tilting the pan so that the butter melts quickly and spreads evenly.  Pour the melted butter into the batter and blend until incorporated.  Spread the butter that remains in the pan evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan with a pastry brush.

Quickly pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cornbread is golden-brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Stuffing

  • 1 lb ground pork sausage 
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2-3 applies, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup crushed walnuts
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp rubbed dried sage
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2-3 cups chicken broth
  • GF Sage Cornbread, cut into small cubes

In a large frying pan over medium heat, brown the the sausage.  When the sausage is nearly done browning, add the onion and continue to cook until onion softens and begins to turn clear, about 5 minutes.  Add celery and continue cooking until celery begins to soften.  Add garlic and rosemary and cook for 1-2 minutes more, just until garlic becomes fragrant and begins to soften.

Remove mixture from heat.  In a large bowl, gently toss sausage mixture (including the drippings) together with the cornbread cubes, apples, walnuts, parsley, sage, and poultry seasoning until the mixture is homogenous.  Pour melted butter and chicken broth over stuffing mixture and gently toss until mixture is moistened.

Place stuffing in large baking dish (I had to use one 9×13 dish, and one 9×9 dish).  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, or until crisp and slightly browned.

Can’t Bake This

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So.  It has been a very, very long time since I have updated.  There are many reasons for this: work, lack of creative genius, extreme laziness (just to name a few).  But perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the silence has been our significant lifestyle changes since June.

See, the boy had to go gluten-free.  Strike one.  Then we started doing P90X, which ate up 90% of my very limited non-working time.  Strike two.  Then, when P90X didn’t magically make my desk butt disappear, I went paleo.  Strike three.

For those who don’t know, gluten-free baking is a challenge (I’ll get into that in other posts).  And paleo–a diet focused on meats and vegetables to the sacrifice of grains and sugars–isn’t exactly conducive to baking.  But thanks to work getting a little less insane recently, I’ve been able to start experimenting more and have had a number of successes.

When I started this blog, I would have never thought I’d be baking things like today’s recipe, Pumpkin Paleo Muffins. Coconut oil instead of butter? Balderdash! But actually, they are absolutely delicious.  And they make for a great, guilt-free breakfast.  Instead of regular flour, they use almond flour, making them paleo-friendly and gluten-free.  Win-win.

With the fat man rolling his holly, jolly butt through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade the other day, the holidays are officially here, and I will be making (and sharing) things that are wholly inappropriate for a paleo diet (though pretty much everything I make now is gluten-free, so if you want new gluten-free recipes, stay tuned!).  And I’ve got plenty in the archives that never made it here over the last few months, thanks to hurk.  But in the mean time, put down the turkey leg, wipe the gravy off your face, and try some Paleo Pumpkin Muffins on for size.  I promise you won’t regret it.

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Paleo Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup raw honey or agave nectar
  • 2 tsp almond butter
  • 1/2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 to 1 carrot, finely grated
  • 1 tbsp sliced almonds

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl, blending well.

In a separate, medium-sized bowl, mix together the pumpkin and eggs until smooth.  Slowly add the honey or agave to the pumpkin-egg mixture while stirring (I used agave nectar for the lower glycemic index, but many believe honey is the better option; either will work).  Melt the almond butter in a small bowl in the microwave (should only take 30 seconds to a minute–watch carefully to avoid scorching), then add slowly to the wet ingredients while stirring.  Then melt the coconut oil in a small bowl in the microwave (again, should only take 30 seconds to a minute–watch carefully to avoid scorching), then add slowly to the wet ingredients while stirring.

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Add the blended wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Fold in the grated carrot (it adds texture and moisture, and really, who doesn’t love carrots in baked goods??). Pour batter evenly into the lined muffin tins.  Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  The sliced almonds can either be added during the last five minutes of baking or at the end of baking.  Enjoy with a cup of coffee–I do!

Recipe adapted from Paleo Plan.

Summer in a Cupcake

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I don’t know if it’s like this in other parts of the country (or in other countries—hello to my non-American readers!), but in the Pacific Northwest, summer likes to get going in fits and starts.  This year, it started being summery in May, then turned back to winter, then became summer again in early June, and then got gross again.

Sigh.

Well, starting today, it looks like we’re back on an upswing (though a very muggy and hot one, thanks to all the late spring rains).  So I finally feel inspired to write about my “summer in a cupcake” cupcake made a couple weeks ago.

What is “summer in a cupcake,” you might ask?  Well, for me, it’s this:

Cake: white cake with strawberries, a hint of almond, and a hint of lemon zest.  Frosting: buttercream, with muscat port and apricot preserves.
My inspiration for this cupcake began with a trip to David Hill Winery for a winetasting outing on Memorial Day weekend with a very dear friend of mine to celebrate his birthday.  The flowers were blooming, the wine was flowing, and I discovered David Hill’s muscat port.

Now, this muscat port is divine in its own right.  But my first thought when I tried it was “I wonder if I could make frosting with this?”  I asked the man pouring if anyone ever had, and his response—“Oh, yeah”—told me I couldn’t leave without the bottle.

So enter a trip to the grocery store the next weekend, where I found these beautiful gems:

A plan began to formulate.  The muscat port would pair well with fruit in its own right…so why not pair it with fruit in a fruit-based cupcake?  When I stumbled past a jar of no-sugar-added apricot preserves, my plan was set.

The Boy and I had friends over dinner and a little Game of Thrones action the day I made the cupcakes, which we had for dessert.  Let’s just say they went over quite well.

So, while it may sound like a lot is “going on” in these cupcakes, don’t be afraid to give them a whirl!  If you don’t have something akin to the muscat port, you can always leave it out entirely (you’ll probably need less powdered sugar that way), or you could use something else like champagne, or maybe even rosé–anything that would go well with fruit.  Half the fun with cupcakes is experimenting, so go crazy!  And enjoy a little “summer in a cupcake.” :)

Strawberry Cupcakes with Lemon Zest 

Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I used half sugar, half Splenda)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used nonfat)
  • ¾ tsp almond extract
  • 1 ½ cups fresh strawberries, diced small
  • Zest of ½ medium lemon

Using the paddle on a stand mixer (or a handheld mixer and a large bowl), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, at approximately medium speed.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture one third at a time, alternating with the milk, mixing well after each addition.  Add the almond extract and lemon zest to the batter, mixing well.

Remove the batter from the stand mixer.  Using a spatula, fold the diced strawberries in gently.  (You want to make sure to dice the strawberries fairly small—otherwise, they will not cook right and will make your cupcake an undercooked, gooey mess!)

Fill lined cupcake tins three-quarters full.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.  Cool cupcakes in the pan.

Muscat Port Buttercream Frosting with Apricot Preserves

This frosting recipe is a riff on the Raspberry Champagne Buttercream Frosting recipe posted a while back, except instead of champagne, it uses muscat port (a nice muscat would work as well), and instead of raspberry preserves, it uses apricot preserves.  For me, this created a “looser” frosting that needed a little refrigeration before piping onto the cupcakes—I don’t like to use too much sugar to stiffen because then the frosting is too sweet.  Also, I highly recommend using sugar-free preserves—this frosting is plenty sweet on its own! 

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3-6 tbsp muscat port
  • 4 ½ to 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-6 tbsp apricot preserves

Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, beat the shortening and butter together until well combined; the mixture should be satiny smooth.  Add 3 tbsp of the muscat port.  Add 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar approximately one cup at a time, beating after each addition until smooth.  Add the apricot preserves to taste, and more powdered sugar and muscat port if necessary to reach the desired consistency/taste.  (I ended up using about 6 tbsp of muscat port, 5 tbsp preserves, and 5 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.)  Now you’re ready to frost and enjoy your “summer in a cupcake” cupcakes!

 

Sunday Night Sinsations: Sea Salt Brownies with Salted Caramel Drizzle

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Sometimes all I can think is MUST.  HAVE.  CHOCOLATE.  I know there’s plenty of you out there who know what I’m talking about.  It’s a purely primal, carnal need that cannot be satiated absent an intravenous injection of the good stuff.

Well, last Sunday that primal need hit particularly hard after several hours spent deep cleaning the carpets (what can I say, I lead an exciting life).  What could I make that a) wouldn’t take forever, and b) would quench my blood lust for chocolate?

One word: brownies.  Better yet, three words: sea salt brownies.  Oooh, ooooh, better yet! seven words: sea salt brownies with salted caramel drizzle.

The batter for these gems has more of a fudge-like consistency, and the finished product is wonderfully dense and fudgey.  If cakey brownies are your thing, this probably isn’t the recipe for you.  But if super chocolatey, caramely (are any of these words actually words??) brownies are what you desire, then give this recipe a whirl.  Bonus: it’s super quick and easy (you can always skip the caramel and make them even quicker and easier), so you can readily make them on a Sunday evening…and have something delightful to come home to on Monday night.

Sea Salt Brownies with Salted Caramel Drizzle

  •  12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter [can use 6 tbsp salted, 6 tbsp unsalted if desired]
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped [can use part of a dark chocolate bar if that’s all you have around]
  • 1/4 heaping cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar [can use up to 1 cup Splenda, rest sugar if desired]
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsps vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8″ square glass baking dish with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with cooking spray.

Melt the butter and semisweet chocolate in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the butter and chocolate have melted, remove from heat and add the cocoa, sugar [and Splenda, if using], eggs, vanilla, and flour, mixing until smooth.  The batter will have a fudgey consistency at this point.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading batter evenly.  Sprinkle the sea salt evenly over the brownies (I used large grain sea salt, so crushed it with my fingers a bit as doing this).  Use a butter knife to swirl the sea salt into the batter.

Bake the brownies in the preheated oven for around 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the brownies cool at room temperature in the pan for about an hour, then refrigerate (if needed, I did not need to) just until they are firm, around another hour more.

These brownies are delightful on their own, but if you want a really sinfully delicious treat, drizzle them with salted caramel, the recipe for which can be found here.  (The extra caramel can be saved in the fridge for snacking on at a later date!)  If you’re like me and really love sea salt, feel free to sprinkle a few grains on top of the caramel.

-Adapted from The Curvy Carrot

50 Pound Cupcakes

Against my better judgment, I recently joined Pinterest, teh intarwebz latest Extreme Time Waster.  Between finding and pinning all things fancy footwear and frilly frocks to my boards, I have been accumulating a wide array of recipes, including one for a cupcake so delicious it inspired my coworker to inform me that if I were to bake cupcakes full time, she would gain 50 pounds.

Now THAT’S an endorsement.

The culprit of my coworker’s brush with diabetes is a dark chocolate cupcake filled with salted caramel and topped with salted caramel buttercream frosting…the perfect combination of salty and sweet.

The slightly ridiculous step I took in making this cupcake was subbing out one third of the sugar in the cupcake batter for Splenda.  The boy is diabetic, and I am permanently on a diet, so sugar isn’t exactly a good thing for either of us.  Fun Fact #1: you can sub out up to two thirds of the sugar called for in recipes for cakes, cookies, and sweet breads for Splenda and still have a delicious final product.  Fun Fact #2: you can’t sub out any of the sugar in caramel or buttercream frosting, because you will end up with something not even vaguely resembling caramel or buttercream frosting.

Fortunately, I have enough common sense to know Fun Fact #2, so full sugar was used in both the caramel and the frosting.  But apparently I don’t have enough common sense to realize that the caramel and buttercream sort of defeat the purpose of using Splenda in the cake.

At any rate, this cupcake is a winner with a capital win.  The scariest part is of course making the caramel from scratch, but I have been informed that this recipe uses the “easy” version (sugar and water).  Just be patient, and watch it closely once the temperature finally passes 300 degrees so you end up with delicious caramel rather than a burned, scorched mess.  And when frosting the cupcakes, be generous–the frosting is delicious, and there’s plenty of it to go around!

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Filling and Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 heaping cup cocoa powder (the darker, the better)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (can sub out up to 2/3 for Splenda if wanted)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup warm water
Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and water to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the paddle, mix together the wet ingredients on low speed until smooth and combined.
Meanwhile, while the wet ingredients are blending, mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the blended ingredients approximately one cup at a time, continuing to mix at low speed until combined.
Spoon the batter into lined muffin tins, filling each liner approximately two thirds full.  Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.  Transfer the tins to wire racks and let cool for 10 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from tins and allow cupcakes to cool completely on the racks.

Once the cupcakes are cooled and the caramel is prepared (see below), core the center of each cupcake, disposing of the cores (in your mouth, perhaps?).  The cupcakes are now ready to be filled with the salted caramel filling.

Salted Caramel Filling

  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (no Splenda!!)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Place the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan and stir to combine, heating over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally until the syrup is clear, or it starts to slightly boil, whichever is sooner.  At this point, clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and stop stirring.

Cook the mixture until it comes to a boil (you can wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush if desired).  Allow the mixture to boil, stirring gently occasionally, until the mixture is caramelized and just reaches 360 degrees F.  Remove from heat and slowly pour in the cream (mixture will steam, hiss, and spit, so be careful!), stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth after each addition.  Stir in the sea salt so that it is dispersed evenly throughout the caramel.

Allow caramel to cool for 15 minutes.  If it begins to harden, you can reheat it gently until it is pourable.  Spoon caramel into the cored center of each cupcake, then repeat after filling each cupcake (caramel will sink, you may have to repeat up to three times). Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the filling in each cake.  The leftover caramel will be used in the frosting and to decorate the cupcakes (see below).

Salted Caramel Buttercream Frosting

[You can make the buttercream frosting, sans the caramel, before making the caramel filling, or you can make it during the 15 minute rest on the caramel.  I personally prefer to make it before making the caramel to ensure the caramel does not have to sit too long while making the frosting.]

  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 stick unsalted butter [yes, for real, this is one recipe where you DO want unsalted butter!]
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 – 4 cups powdered sugar
  • Around 1/2 cup leftover caramel sauce from above (can use more to taste)

Beat the butters and salt together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, on approximately medium speed.  Reduce the speed to low; add the vanilla, and then add the powdered sugar approximately one cup at a time, mixing until thoroughly combined.

Add the caramel and beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes until the frosting is light and airy.  Taste the frosting and adjust the powdered sugar, sea salt, and caramel as needed.  You can also add more powdered sugar to make the frosting stiffer after the caramel is mixed in, if needed, or you can refrigerate the frosting for 15-20 minutes if it looks like it needs to set a bit.

The frosting is now ready to use.  Grab a pastry bag and a big tip, and have at it!  I like to pipe a dollop of frosting into the cored center to bring up the height of the middle of the cake (the caramel having invariably sunk again), and then frost the cupcake.  You can use a teaspoon to drizzle the leftover caramel over the frosted cupcakes for that “fancy cupcake flair,” if desired.

Cupcakes are now ready to enjoy.  They are best eaten the day they are made, but will keep for an extra day or two if stored in an air-tight container.  But beware–they might make you gain 50 pounds!

-Adapted from 20 Something Cupcakes.

It’s Oatmeal, no, It’s Bread, no, It’s OATMEAL BREAD!

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I have a confession to make: I have forsaken my blog.

Now, this really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  I think I had a whopping one post last month (for shame!).  Blame it on work, blame it on a total lack of inspiration, or blame it on my persistent laziness whenever I actually had two seconds to breathe–whatever you want to blame it on, it doesn’t change the fact that things have gotten boring around here.

There has been one thing I’ve been dying to do: experiment with gluten-free recipes.  Wha-wha-what?!? you may be saying, since I swore off gluten-free from day one.  Funny enough, we may be one month away from having to go to a gluten-free household for health reasons, hence my sudden urge to severely frustrate myself trying to convert all my recipes.  But until the final verdict comes in, I have a month to give all of our favorites one more gluten-y hurrah.

A natural candidate for the Final March of Gluten-y Goodness is my Oatmeal Bread.  I mean, let’s make it now before I’m stuck paying $800 a pound for certified gluten-free oats. Oh, there’s also the fact that it is DELICIOUS.  Seriously, it’s all I can do to keep The Boy from consuming it by the fistful the second it comes out of the oven.

The family lore has it that the recipe comes to the family from sometime in the mid- to late-1800s from a cookbook put out by the local church in Iowa or Wisconsin or Minnesota or whateverotherrandomstateinthatmiddlepartofthecountrythatisallablurtome that our family was in at that time.  Who knows if the family lore is correct or not…the family lore also has it that our ancestors were horse traders, but all I’ve managed to find is a guy who ran away from home to avoid fighting in the Civil War, leaving his wife behind to have all her horses stolen (coincidentally, by horse traders…who were not my relatives).  Family lore has a way of getting it wrong.

But one thing that isn’t wrong is that whatever the origin of the recipe, it makes for an amazing loaf of hearty, slightly sweet, beautifully-textured-yet-melt-in-your-mouth bread.  A pair of loaves, really.  The secret (as with any good loaf of bread) is in the yeast.  Make sure it’s not past its shelf life; make sure the water is only lukewarm, not hot; make sure to feed the yeast some sugar; and make sure to let the yeast do its bidness juuuuuuuuuuuust until it looks like it’s about to spill over the lip of the coffee cup (think foam on a pint of beer), like at right.

Also, even though I am in general having a torrid affair with my KitchenAid stand mixer, I make this stuff completely by hand–yes, I even knead it by hand.  Though I have never tried using the stand mixer, I have a sneaking suspicion it would make it too perfect, and take away from the hearty texture.  Plus kneading it by hand means I can work on my Obama arms (ladies, you know what I’m talking about).

I used to think this would be one of the recipes I’d take to the grave with me, but especially now that we may be going gluten-free, I think it’s time to share the original with the masses.  Enjoy it warm with a little melted butter, toasted with some jam or honey, or completely naked–there’s really no way to go wrong!

Oatmeal Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups oats (use quick cooking if you want a smoother bread, regular or steel cut if you want more texture)
  • 2 tbsp butter (I use salted)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 2 packs rapid rise yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • lukewarm water, enough to fill 1/2 of a regular coffee cup (yep, this is really the measurement!)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 1/2 cups sifted flour

Directions

In a large mixing bowl (preferably one the size of the Grand Canyon–seriously, the one I use is hugemongous), mix together the oats, butter, salt, and boiling water.  Let the mixture sit until cool.

Once the mixture is cooled, mix the yeast and 2 tsp sugar with the half coffee cup of lukewarm water.  Allow the yeast to do its thing (that’s a technical term) until the mixture froths up over the cup lip like beer (this happens quickly–wait until the oat mixture is cooled to prepare the yeast!).  Pour the yeast mixture and the brown sugar into the oat mixture, along with the 1/4 cup of water.  Mix well but gently with a wooden spoon.  Allow mixture to rest for 10 minutes.

Then, work 4 1/2 cup of the sifted flour into the dough with a wooden spoon.  Turn the dough out on a floured board or counter, working in the remaining 1 cup of flour.  The dough will still be a bit sticky; resist the urge to add more flour, as doing so will make the bread tough.  Form the dough into a bowl and put it back in the mixing bowl, covering with a tea towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, approximately 1 hour.  (I like to preheat my oven to the lowest temperature and then turn it off, using the warm oven to proof the bread.)

After the first rise, turn the dough back out on a floured board or counter, working in just a tiny bit more flour (basically just enough to remove some of the stickiness and make the dough easier to work with).  Roll out two equal portions, forming loaves so that the seams are on the bottom.  Place the loaves into two well-buttered loaf pans (glass is preferable).  Spank the loaves a couple times to get the air bubbles out.  Let the loaves rise in the pans in a warm, draft-free spot for another half hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If desired, make a cut in the top of the loaves with a sharp knife and sprinkle the loaves with additional oats (this is just for pretties and is completely optional).  Bake the loaves for 1 hour.  The loaves will be dark and will sound hollow when thumped on if they are done.  Remove the loaves from the oven and immediately rub down the tops with salted butter (if you’re classy you could use melted butter and a pastry brush, but if you roll like I do, simply grab a stick of butter out of the fridge and have at it). Allow the loaves to cool in the pans for about an hour before cutting.  

Enjoy!

Hot Cross Yummy Buns

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When I first started this blog, I honestly thought no one would read it except maybe The Bestie.  What I didn’t expect was all the cross-traffic from other foodie bloggers.  I have been pleasantly surprised with my still small but ever-growing audience, and have been delighted to find so many other food lovers baking and cooking delicious things, taking beautiful pictures of those things, and then writing fantastic stories about their cooking adventures.  I think if it weren’t for the interaction with other bloggers, this thing would have died months ago.

A fantastic thing about interacting with other bloggers is getting to try new recipes.  One of those recipes that I recently tried came from a blog called While He Was Out.  If you’re looking for a great foodie blog with frequently updated content and amazing pictures of all things yummy, then this is the blog for you!

One of my first times poking around over there I found a recipe great for someone like me with basically no time for anything but working and sleeping: Mini Artisan Bread Rolls.  Typically bread is a multiple-hour endeavor, completely out of the question after a twelve hour day at the office.  But the dough for these little delights is made ahead of time and kept in the fridge, ready for your use whenever you want, for up to two weeks.  How great is that?  And you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the ingredients, since they’re simply yeast, water, kosher salt, and flour.

I’m no recipe poacher, so I’ll send you over to While He Was Out for the low-down.  I will say that for those of you like me who need to convert from celsius to Fahrenheit, yes, it really is a 445 degree oven–if you do like I did the first time around and try baking them at a lower temperature, the crust will never get hard and crusty, and you’ll wear your jaw out trying to chew them.  Also, though parchment paper I’m sure would be lovely, if you’re cheap and lazy like me and never seem to have it around the house ($5 for a roll?  Really?!?), simply spray non-stick cooking spray into an unlined muffin pan and bake them  that way.  But be sure not to add too much dough before the pre-bake rise–no more than half filled–or you’ll end up with a globular mass that no one wants to eat.  (Not that I know from personal experience, or anything.)

Those slight nuances aside, these are easy-peasy, super yummy, and a great addition to a weekday dinner after a long day at work. Give them a whirl, and while you’re at it, drop on in to While He Was Out for some other great recipes!

SupercalafragaPINK!

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I looooooo-ooooove the color pink.  I love it even more than trashy TV, and I love some good trashy TV. (No, that is not an oxymoron.)  Not too long ago while while watching the home of trashy TV, TLC, I discovered a new trashy program to love: “My Crazy Obsession.”  Basically, it’s a show that exploits people with bizarre “obsessions” in order to turn a cheap buck, all while making you feel like less of a weirdo for your own crazy collection of collectible plates or wooden spoons or old dictionaries.  I mean what?  Who would ever collect old dictionaries?!

Aherm.

So anyhoo, one episode of “My Crazy Obsession” followed a woman who literally is obsessed with the color pink.  Everything she wears is pink, everything in her house is pink, her dog is pink, she even rides around in a pink car.  Some people call it an obsession, I just call it good fashion sense that I can’t partake because of that whole “being a professional” thing.  At any rate, it inspired me to make an all-pink cupcake.  

Oh my gawd, you’re probably sayingshe made another !$!#$%$% cupcake.  Yes, but this cupcake tops all the others I’ve made flavor-wise.  I took most of them into work, and apparently they were so good that they inspired one coworker to tell me that if I decided to run away from the professional world and start my own cup cakery, I’d have a loyal following.  Now that’s high praise.  And the cupcake is completely pink!  You can’t go wrong there.

So here it is: my best cupcake to date, an almond cupcake filled with raspberry preserves and frosted with raspberry champagne buttercream frosting.  Excuse me, a pink almond cupcake filled with raspberry preserves and frosted with raspberry champagne buttercream frosting.  The pink is optional.  Well, not for me.  Pink is a necessity for me.

Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry Preserve Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sour cream (I use reduced fat), at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound or two sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup roasted, unsalted almonds, ground (a little more than 2/3 cup whole almonds)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Several drops red food coloring (optional)

Mix together 1 cup of the sour cream and the butter using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer at low to medium-low speed.  Make sure the butter and sour cream are at room temperature, or the butter will clump up when mixed with the sour cream.  After the butter and sour cream are blended, switch to the whisk attachment and whisk at medium-low to medium speed for 2 or 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, pulse the whole almonds in a food processor until they are well ground.  Measure 2/3 cup of the ground almonds for the cupcakes (or, if you’re like me and you love almond flavor, you can use a little more than 2/3 cup ground).  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.  Stir in the sugar and ground almonds.

After the sour cream and butter is well mixed and whisked, switch back to the paddle attachment and add approximately 1/3 of the dry ingredients at a time to the creamed sour cream and butter mixture, mixing well after each addition.  In another bowl, mix together the eggs, the remaining 3/4 cup of sour cream, and the almond and vanilla extract.  (If you want pink cupcakes, add the red food dye to the egg mixture–you’ll need quite a bit for a nice, light pink.)  Add the egg mixture to the batter one third at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Insert liners into two 12-cupcake tins.  Fill each liner three-quarters full.  Bake the cupcakes for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan.

When the cupcakes have cooled, core the center of each cupcake with either a cupcake corer or a teaspoon.  Fill each cored center with raspberry preserves.  (I prefer preserves to jam or jelly because they are thicker, have a more complicated flavor profile, and less sugar…it’s easy to overdue the sugar in a cupcake!)  Now you’re ready for frosting!

Raspberry Champagne Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3-5 tbsp champagne
  • 4 1/2 – 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp raspberry preserves

Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, beat the shortening and butter together until well combined; the mixture should be satiny smooth.  Add 3 tbsp of the champagne.  Add 4 1/2 cups of the powdered sugar approximately one cup at a time, beating after each addition until smooth.  Add the raspberry preserves to taste, and more powdered sugar and champagne if necessary to reach the desired consistency/taste.  (I ended up using about 5 tbsp of champagne and 5 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.)  Slap your favorite decorating tip onto an icing bag, frost away, and prepare to enjoy the most delicious cupcake ever!

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