baking

If you follow Elegant Musings on Facebook, you probably saw these cupcakes on Wednesday, when I posted them. Wednesday was Sailor Husband’s birthday, which meant that cake of some sort was a must! I had a few questions about the recipe for these, so I thought I’d do a post today on the topic…

One of his favorite cakes is rum cake (that and pineapple upside-down cake), and this is the second year I’ve made these using this recipe. Last year I made a full cake, but cupcakes seemed like a better (and more cute!) option this year. I adjusted the recipes cooking time to about 26 minutes for the average-sized cupcakes. This recipe is dead simple and is one that just uses a boxed cake mix with additional mix-ins. The only warning is that it makes a lot of batter; last year when I used the regular cake pans I had extra! This year I was prepared and just used my mini cake tins to bake the excess and stick them in the freezer for later.

The cupcakes were glazed according to the recipe, but I also added a basic buttercream dollop atop. I don’t know about you, but I love buttercream (though it doesn’t love me back. *sigh*), and nothing screams birthday quite like that rich icing. I made a half recipe and added blue coloring (I usually use paste or gel colors, but couldn’t find mine when I was making the icing, so I resorted to the cheapie liquid stuff) to imitate “water”. Why? Did you see the shark toppers*? I was browsing Bake It Pretty late last year and spotted these. SH happened to be looking over my shoulder and requested them for his birthday. hehe! For the dollops, I used this icing tip and also added some sanding sugar (all from Bake It Pretty).

My birthday is in less than a month and I’m trying to decide if I even want to make a cake (or cupcakes!) for myself. For some reason I’ve been craving a chocolate cake, which is usually not my favorite. Or maybe I’ll revert to my childhood and make a vanilla cake with rainbow sprinkles inside? (Amy posted about homemade boxed cake last year, and I’ve been itching to try it!) What is your favorite flavor of cake?

*Unfortunately these shark toppers seem to no longer be available!

April 15, 2011 · 34 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , ,

In an effort to diversify my breakfast options (I tend to be a tad bit lazy about breakfast; cold cereal is what I usually default to), I’ve been hunting down muffin recipes lately. Something I can easily pull out when I’m still bleary-eyed and throw on a plate with some fruit or yogurt for a meal.

I had some bananas getting riper and riper by the day on the counter, so I started hunting for some good muffin recipes to use them up before they spoiled. I found this recipe for banana-oatmeal muffins (while knee-deep in a Google search, naturally). While I wasn’t looking for something gluten-free (and yes, I gather from the comments that saying oatmeal is “gluten-free” is controversial. I’m just going by what I’ve read, since GF really isn’t an issue for us, so I’m no expert.), the attraction was that I miraculously had all the ingredients (running low on flour/butter and no applesauce in the fridge meant my options for banana bread-type recipes were limited).

The resulting muffins were surprisingly good–I wasn’t sure what to expect from a wheat-free muffin. I “made” my own oat flour per the recipe author’s suggestion to chop oats finely in a food processor. Probably the only thing I didn’t like is that they’re not really sweet. But then again I have an insatiable sweet tooth, so my level of sugar-tolerance is probably insanely high. lol. Still, I think with a pile of fresh strawberries (last weekend we spotted some pickers in the local strawberry fields–which means Florida strawberry season is about to start!), they’ll make a yummy (and healthy… yes) first meal of the day.

What’s your favorite sort of muffin for breakfast?

now if only I had a dishes robot after these baking escapades…

March 4, 2011 · 30 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , ,

What is life without a little excitement? A little racing against the clock and defying even your expectations about how much you can cram into one evening? Picture me, a couple nights ago, fervently hoping I could get my last-minute caramels done and in the pan before I tumbled into bed for the night. I usually don’t wait until late in the evening to make candy (especially since it tends to be so darn messy!), but this was the only time it’d work for my schedule and still give the caramels enough time to set before slicing them up. Let’s just say that boiling sugar and a half-asleep Casey is an interesting combination. Thankfully it didn’t result in disaster, either to myself or my kitchen. lol. However, the caramels themselves did not turn out as expected… I’m not sure if this was operator-error or just fate, but they had to be scrapped at the last moment, which was disappointing…

The boxes have been assembled and the tags finished. I decided to drop the peppermint meringues I wanted to make; those were my “if I have time/energy/inclination” goodies to make, so I’m not in the least bit dissapointed. Because frankly, the boxes are stuffed to the brim:

  • iced sugar cookies (using this cookie and this icing recipes)
  • cherry-chocolate cookies (so, so yummy and got two thumbs up from Sailor Husband! recipe here. I swapped out the cranberries for cherries.)
  • black and white cookies (recipe here.)

I think that should keep all the recipients happy and occupied for a bit, no? As usual, I probably made too many cookies, but at least this year I don’t think we’ll have cookies in the freezer until the summer… lol. I think my favorite were the sugar cookies–I just really enjoy icing and decorating them. Although my decorating is certainly not super fancy, it’s fun and I got to add sugar glitter to everything this year!

One thing that became woefully apparent with this year’s goody-making is that I lack several essential tools in my kitchen. If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d entirely overhaul what we added to our wedding gift registry several years ago… There are a lot of things I’ve found that I really would have used more than others. Gadgets like a cookie scoop–or several in various sizes. Scooping cookies the old fashioned way with two spoons makes for exciting results after they spread and bake. The black and white cookies ended up slightly mismatched and varying sizes, despite my valiant attempts to scoop out “standardized” bits of dough. I also need a candy thermometer. The first year I made candy (tasty marshmallows), I figured I could get away with just using the old ball method. However, considering I’ve continued to make candy–and not just at Christmastime–I think a thermometer would be a wise investment. Plus they don’t take up a lot of space! (My usual reason for not getting whatever kitchen gadget is currently tugging at my pocketbook.) Finally, more mixing bowls. The heavy, earthenware sort that don’t skitter across the counter top easily. I like the metal bowls that I got from my grandmother when she downsized–they are great for things that need to be chilled quickly or working as a double boiler–but they are lightweight. Which presents accident-prone me with some problems! lol.

So tell me: what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Particularly for dessert and cookie making?

December 17, 2010 · 45 lovely thoughts
posted in holidays,in the kitchen · tags: , ,

If you followed along with my holiday madness last year, you know that I adore Christmas and this time of year. It also means that I get to go a bit wild (or more so than usual) in the kitchen, as I delight in making long lists of goodies to bake for the purpose of giving to friends and family as gifts. After I got married, I started a tradition of cookies and at least one candy-type item in the mix. This year it’s about four types of cookies and a new-to-me candy that I’m super excited to make. But more about those next week… This week I’ve been baking and preparing to decorate cookies. I’m having to start about a week before I normally do (yes, I know some people start even before now, but I tend to wait a bit!), but that’s because my holiday schedule is such that I won’t have time later.

The first cookies I made were traditional sugar cookies. I always try to do these since I have such fond memories of making them with my mom and sister each year. I remember not only how tasty they were, but how much fun I had decorating them–despite things getting a little wild with the sugar glitter and red hot candies sometimes! I think that is partly why I still like making them (aside from just loving a good sugar cookie): I get to decorate them. While I haven’t done that yet (it’s on the schedule for this weekend), I have been gathering up supplies like gel paste food coloring (which gives a deeper, richer color to icing than the commonly found liquid coloring), delicate sugar glitters and white pearl candies (both from my favorite bake shop: Bake it Pretty). I stuck with a smaller assortment of cookie cutters this year, keeping with the simple shapes that I remembered being the most fun to decorate last year. Now just to decide on what colors to mix up…

For the cookie recipe, I used the same one I baked last year. Although this year they had the homemade vanilla in them, which Sailor Husband swears makes a huge difference. He said they tasted just like the cookies he remembers getting at bakeries on Long Island, NY when he was little (and this is after trying an un-iced cookie!). So that’s a good sign! This weekend I have several other types of goodies to bake, so hopefully next week I shall have some other recipes to share.

For packaging I’m planning on using some Martha Stewart boxes I got at the craft store. I was planning on using tins, but couldn’t find any that I liked and weren’t $5 each (once again, I’m on a teeny budget for Christmas stuff this year!). So a coupon and trip to Michael’s were what sealed the deal for me with these. Plus they’re pretty cute and red and white. I’m also including hand written “menus” in each. So I guess that infuses a little bit of DIY into the mix with the premade boxes!

So the house has been smelling heavenly and the air has been full of Christmas music. Because what is holiday preparations without the appropriate tunes? I’ve been listening to a bunch of remixes on 8tracks, but would love to know: what is your favorite holiday music to get you in the spirit?

December 10, 2010 · 31 lovely thoughts
posted in holidays,in the kitchen · tags: , , ,

A few months ago I spotted a post on Joy the Baker about making your own vanilla extract. What?! Why??? Yes, I know–it’s a little weird to make vanilla extract, considering you can buy it easily just about everywhere. But I was honestly a little curious about how it would be if I made it myself–and it seemed like it could be a lot better than store bought. Worth a try, right?

doing the prep work in September.

Late in September I gathered all the supplies up (vanilla beans, purchased at a local kitchen supply store; 80 proof vodka, and a jar) and set out to get it going so it’d be done by the time I started baking Christmas cookies. I faithfully followed the pointers in the post and was sure to shake the little jar that was stashed away in the pantry every week for the two months it needed to age. I even stuck a pretty label on the front so I wouldn’t forget when I started it, since I tend to be a bit scatter-brained.

see how light it was before? the extract got to be so dark and rich after 8 weeks of aging!

Right before Thanksgiving I just couldn’t stand it any longer, and popped the top open to sniff it–it was the best smelling vanilla I had ever smelled! (And was subsequently passed around to anyone I could grab to confirm that it was indeed marvelous.) I also needed a teaspoon of it for some cream cheese icing for cupcakes and I have to say, it was a huge success. Now I just need to get cracking on my cookie baking and using up some more of this! I didn’t make a huge batch this time, since I wanted to see if it worked before using more vodka and investing in lots of vanilla beans. (They’re pretty expensive, but I’ve seen them on Amazon.com for reasonable prices. Vanilla beans, in my opinion though, are one of those ingredients that are really worth it!) But I think perhaps next Christmas I’ll plan far enough ahead, buy some pretty bottles and give it to friends who bake. It really is loads better than the store bought… Definitely worth the wait and patience (something I don’t excel at!).

Amy Karol also recently posted about homemade vanilla and used a slightly different technique (it has to “brew” for 6 months instead of 2). She also listed some helpful links for bottles, so be sure to check out what she wrote. Would you ever consider making your own vanilla extract? Have you ever done it before? Got a favorite brand of vanilla that is not worth missing? Please share!

December 3, 2010 · 41 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , ,