Friday, September 13, 2013

White Chocolate Cranberry S'mores Cracker Candy.

Sometimes, during those long days when I hit a life rut, I think about writing a cookbook... because that's a thing people do and it helps me focus on what I love. 

And browning butter. 

And making stacks of graham cracker candy.

I think it would be full of imperfect bundt cakes... because I don't have the patience to sift powdered sugar.

I would stuff peanut butter cups inside cupcakes... because even a plain vanilla cupcake is capable of being something extraordinary.

It would probably be called Stacks on a Cake Stand... because that's my style. It's who I am. Own it!

And be real: there would be an entire chapter on brown butter. 

We learn who we are by doing the things we love. 

Baking teaches me that magic happens when you least expect it... usually right before you give up. Molasses and sugar become brown sugar, butter finally browns, and butter and sugar become smooth vanilla frosting. It teaches me to follow that thought that wonders if there's such a thing as a white chocolate cranberry s'more... or if you can ever really have too many cake stands. 

It teaches me that comparison truly takes the joy out of the things you love. Be you! 

Running teaches me to keep moving forward, one step at a time... and it teaches me that I'm capable of anything. I can beat my last mile time. I can run at 6 MPH without falling flat on my face. I can shut down that voice that tells me to slow down or give up. I'm stronger than I think and the good things I want in my life are worth fighting for.

Too deep? Let's talk brown sugar and graham crackers. 

One of my favorites things to bake is cracker candy. The possibilities are endless! A bubbling, caramel-toffee glaze of butter and brown sugar poured over a layer of salty-sweet crackers is the perfect blank canvas for any flavor, holiday, or season. 

Just look at all the combinations I've made so far...

Saltines + chocolate + crushed almonds     =      chocolate almond cracker candy 
(Every Christmas I bake at least two batches... it's my most requested holiday treat!)

Graham crackers + marshmallows + M&M candies      =      Christmas s'mores candy

Buttery Club crackers + chocolate + peanut butter chips + sea salt     =     salt river bars

Graham crackers + marshmallows + Hersheys chocolate     =     graham cracker s'mores candy
(my most popular and most pinned recipe!)

Cinnamon graham crackers + pumpkin spice marshmallows + white chocolate + toasted pecans     =     pumpkin spice s'mores cracker candy
(I love this combination... and it's the first thing I baked in my new apartment last fall!)

Today's combination is inspired by fall... and one of my favorite seasonal flavors (besides pumpkin!): white chocolate cranberry. Maybe I'm just ready for Christmas and cranberry bliss bars. Either way, let's make white chocolate cranberry s'mores a thing. 

This is what I imagine fall looks like.

Graham crackers covered in that sugary-rich toffee glaze and sprinkled with puffy marshmallows, white chocolate chips, tart dried cranberries, and toasted pecans.

So addicting, as rich as fudge, full of fall flavor, and as easy as melting butter, sugar, and sprinkling everything ever over graham crackers. 

This is fall baking. In and out... and out the door to find pumpkin spice lattes.  

 White Chocolate Cranberry S'mores Cracker Candy

Printable Recipe 

12 sheets of graham crackers
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups mini marshmallows
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang over the ends, and spray foil with cooking spray. Line graham crackers up on the foil so that the sides are touching.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and mixture comes just to a boil (about 4-6 minutes). Remove from heat and pour evenly over crackers. Bake 5 to 6 minutes, or until bubbly.

Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle mini marshmallows, white chocolate chips, pecans, and dried cranberries over the crackers. 

Return pan to oven for another 2-3 minutes, or until marshmallows begin to soften and puff up. 

Cool completely. Lift from pan using foil edges; cut into bars and enjoy!

Source: Inspired by my graham cracker s'mores candy

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cookie Butter Buttercream.

I spend all summer trying to figure out what to do with myself. Do I bake pies? Do I bake in Mason jars? Do I make ice cream? How do you even make ice cream? That just seems like a lot of work when I live so close to a Coldstone Creamery. Can I just get away with grilling slices of banana bread? 

I love summer, the bucketlists and carefree, sun-filled months, but when it comes to baking, I just don't feel the inspiration. I want long days by the pool with a book and a tropical drink and late nights with kettlecorn, s'mores, and Once Upon a Time. Just let me live.
Fall is when I find my inspiration. 

From pumpkins and the colors of changing leaves to the cooler weather, candy corn, and that crisp, fall magic in the air that makes you feel alive and like celebrating everything and nothing at all. Even my autumn-inspired Pinterest board has me wishing I could just call in to work and spend the morning in my tiny apartment kitchen with a whisk, some brown butter, and not a care in the world, baking all things pumpkin spice, cinnamon, salted caramel, and gingerbread.    

These cupcakes were inspired by one of the best cupcakes I've ever baked: my pumpkin spice cupcakes for two. Two perfect pumpkin cupcakes topped with the tiniest batch ever of cinnamon spice buttercream. 

The only problem? Obviously. They only made two!

This is what a problem looks like solved.

Twelve of the most irresistable, cakey, perfectly-moist pumpkin spice cupcakes, loaded with that rich, spicy fall flavor from cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. These cupcakes the softest and so moist... like the texture you would get from using a boxed spice cake mix, only better. For years to come, these will be my go-to pumpkin cupcakes. I'm already dreaming of cream cheese frostings, chocolate glazes, a sprinkle of candy corn... and thick, creamy cheesecake centers.    

Okay. So you caught me. I tried to distract you with all that sugar-talk. There's only eleven cupcakes in that picture. I don't want to talk about it. 

Or the half-jar of cookie butter I ate for dinner last week.

Let's talk frosting.

The frosting for these pumpkin cakes was inspired by the rich, gingerbread-y cookie butter truffles I baked into my chocolate chunk brown butter brownies and the peanut butter buttercream from my vanilla bean peanut butter cup cupcakes. Biscoff is like peanut butter. Could we substitute it for the peanut butter and turn it into a sort-of gingerbread buttercream for pumpkin things? 

The answer is yes.     

Yes and now.

This is the stuff spoons were made for.

These cupcakes (eaten chilled and shamelessly in the middle of the night after a stressful workday) were one truly irresistable start to fall. The combination of pumpkin spice cake, sugary cookie butter frosting (think gingerbread + snickerdoodles + cinnamon graham crackers), topped with salty-sweet crushed chocolate-covered toffee pieces was the most perfect match of fall flavors.

Combined with a pumpkin spice latte and a lazy afternoon? 

These cupcakes were everything ever. 

P.S. Unfrosted... they could totally just be pumpkin spice muffins. Cake for breakfast. Do your thing! 


Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cookie Butter Buttercream 

Printable Recipe

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs

Cookie Butter Buttercream Frosting 
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup Biscoff (or Trader Joes creamy Cookie Butter)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1-3 tablespoons cream (or milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Crushed Heath toffee bits for sprinkling on top, optional

Prep. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Set aside.

Whisk. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside. 

Mix. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and oil. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture in two additions, mixing until just incorporated. 

Scoop & bake. Using a cookie scoop, fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake tests clean. Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for 10 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. 

To make the frosting, cream together the butter and cookie butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Add vanilla and one tablespoon of cream at a time; beat until light, fluffy, and desired consistency. 

Frost it! Pipe frosting onto completely cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with crushed toffee, serve & enjoy!

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Source: Cupcakes barely adapted from Annie's Eats and Biscoff frosting recipe from Baked Bree

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract: Day One.

The #1 easiest way to feel like a rockstar in the kitchen this week?

Make homemade vanilla extract!

September is here and its bringing shorter days, cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, candy corn, and a summer finale to Pretty Little Liars that I'm just not ready to talk about. Fall is here! It means a week in Hawaii, a Color Run, a month-long work training away from home that I am not looking forward to, experimenting with pies, and as much pumpkin-baking as I can stand. And I'm already daydreaming of my Christmas baking list: endless peanut butter blossoms, gingerbread cakes, cut-out sugar cookies, and all things cranberry-white chocolate and peppermint mocha.

All this baking means two things for me:

1. Just keep running for real (I started C25K Week 6 this week!)

2. I'm going to be needing a whole lot of vanilla extract.

Why are we making our own vanilla? Because those little vials are costly! I must buy them at least once or twice a month.... and I definitely had four vanillas in my Christmas stocking last year. And maybe a bag of chocolate chips. Totally normal.

Things you need to know:

Vanilla extract looks like this math: five minutes + a Mason jar + cheap vodka + vanilla beans + shake that thing. It's like baking, but not. Not only are you on top of your game, making your own baking extracts, but you're using vanilla beans (fancy!) and measuring out vodka in measuring cups (so classy).

Now is the time.

Christmas: less than 4 months. 

Homemade vanilla extract: 2-3 months. 

It's a weekend project and we're doing it!

... and it all starts with Mason jars. Be about it!

Two bonuses to making your own extract: these make the perfect holiday gifts (I started a couple jars to give out as gifts this season) and if, you're still not convinced, leftover vodka for spiking that end-of-summer cocktail and/or dealing with the big A reveal on Pretty Little Liars. I can't even.

Let's talk vanilla beans.

I baked with vanilla beans this summer for the first time with these peanut butter cup vanilla bean cupcakes. Those specks! It's love. Or maybe it was just the peanut butter buttercream.

I buy all my vanilla beans from Beanilla through Amazon. For just about every part of the world it seems, there is some kind of vanilla bean. Mexican, Tahitian, Indian, . For my vanilla cupcakes, and this extract, I used Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans... which Beanilla described as "rich, dark, and creamy with an overwhelming sweet, buttery aroma."

Sweet, buttery aroma? So in.

Two tips (and a sneak peek!):

Tip #1: Use cheap vodka! The quality of alcohol does not effect the quality or taste of the finished vanilla. You could even experiment with bourbon or rum!

Tip #2: For every cup of vodka, you'll need at least 3 vanilla beans.

And the sneak peek?

There are pumpkin spice cupcakes headed your way soon!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Printable Recipe 

A Mason jar (or other tightly-sealing glass jar)
Vanilla beans (3 beans per 1 cup of vodka)

Using a knife, split each vanilla bean in half, leaving about a 1/2-inch at each end intact.

Place split vanilla beans in glass jar and completely cover with vodka. Remember: for every cup of vodka, you'll need at least three vanilla beans.

Tightly seal your jar and shake vigorously. Place in a cool, dark place for at least two months. Shake occasionally.

As you use your vanilla extract, simply refresh it by adding a new vanilla bean and vodka.

Source: Beanilla