Neapolitan Cupcakes

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Oh, you read that right. Neapolitan cupcakes. Just like the classic ice cream, with a perfect blend of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate, but in cupcake form! I saw these on Pinterest, and immediately wanted to make them. When I proposed the idea of a cupcake to Paul on Monday, he was enthused. I had him look through the various desserts I have pinned, and as soon as he saw the picture, he was of a one track mind. I found the original recipe here, and it was worth the work of a layered cupcake and a free afternoon spent baking. I actually timed everything out so I would have an uninterrupted afternoon of baking. I made the dough for the vanilla sables, then while it was firming up in the freezer, made and baked the batter for the cupcakes, sliced and baked the sables, and finished off the buttercream icing while everything was cooling. All in all, it was a productive day that I timed out (if I do say so myself) almost perfectly.

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I was also quite intrigued at the concept of a layered cupcake, and I have always been a fan of Neapolitan ice cream. Granted, my brother used to always eat all the chocolate, but I love the combination of flavours that always seem to marry together perfectly.
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The cupcake starts off with a chocolate batter, then a vanilla batter is layered on top of that, and after baking, the entire cupcake is frosted with a fantastic strawberry buttercream icing. I will let you know right now, if you are a fan of strawberries, this icing is for you. Oh. My. Gosh. It’s so good. Like sooo good. I kept having to restrain myself from licking the spoons, the beater, the spatula… well, you get the point. This strawberry icing is amazing. It uses a reduced strawberry puree to give it that punch of strawberry flavour, and it tasted EXACTLY like strawberry ice cream to me. So delish.
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If you are like me, and just dreaming of when the temperature outside hits more than plus 10, these Neapolitan cupcakes are definitely reminiscent of warm summer days and cool summer treats.

Ingredients

Yield: 22 cupcakes

For the chocolate batter:

1/3 c. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ c. boiling water
¼ c. butter, melted
2½ tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
¾ c. plus 2 tbsp. sugar
¾ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk (reserve egg white for white cake batter)
¼ c. heavy cream
1 c. flour

For the white batter:

1½ c. flour (the recipe says cake flour, but I used all-purpose and it was fine)
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
7 tbsp. butter, softened
¾ c. sugar
Seeds of ½ large vanilla bean, or 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
½ c. milk (anything but skim – I used 1%)
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the strawberry buttercream:

1 c. plus 4 tbsp strawberry puree*
1½ c. butter, at room temperature
5 c. icing sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
4-6 drops red food colouring (optional)

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the chocolate batter, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the cocoa and baking soda until incorporated. Pour in the boiling water, and whisk until the bubbling stops and the mixture is combined. Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a mixer, blend the melted butter, oil, sugar, vanilla and salt until combined, about 30 seconds. Stir in egg and egg yolk. Blend in the cocoa mixture and then the heavy cream. Slowly add in the flour and mix until incorporated, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.

Line a muffin/cupcake tin with liners of your choice, and add about 1/8 c. of batter to each liner. I used a ¼ cup measure, and used the full measure to fill two liners with batter. Repeat until all batter is used. Set aside.

For the white cake batter, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt for at least 20 seconds. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds together until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg whites, and vanilla extract until well blended.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix until combined. Add half of the milk mixture to the butter/flour mixture, and mix until combined. Mix for 1 minute, until light and fluffy, and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the second third of the flour mixture and the last half of the milk mixture, beating after each addition, then mix for 1 minute longer, again, until light and fluffy. Add the last third of the flour mixture, and mix until well combined.

Gently layer 1/8 c. of the white batter over the chocolate batter in the liners, and carefully spread batter to edges.

Bake in the preheated oven for 16-19 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, and making sure that a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the strawberry buttercream icing, put the strawberry puree into a small saucepan over medium heat, and reduce by 2/3, until you have about 6 tbsp of liquid. (6 tbsp. is slightly less than half a cup.) You must reduce the puree to the right amount, or the frosting will become too runny. The reduction will take about 14-15 minutes. Transfer the reduced puree to a bowl, and place in the freezer to chill, stirring every few minutes to evenly chill the reduced puree.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter until it is fluffy and pale. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in 2 c. of icing sugar, followed by the puree, vanilla extract, and food colouring. (Mine took 4 drops to get that fantastic pink colour.) Blend until combined. Add in the last 3 cups of icing sugar, mixing after each addition. If the frosting is too runny, add in more icing sugar, ¼ c. at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. (My icing took the 5 cups, no more.)

Spread or pipe the finished frosting over the cupcakes, and store in an airtight container.

* To make the strawberry puree, simply dice up some washed strawberries and blend them in a food processor or blender. Voila! Fresh strawberry puree!

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Vanilla Sables

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Hello again, my dear readers! This week, I felt an irresistible pull to make cookies. I didn’t really care what kind of cookies, I just wanted to make cookies. I also wanted to make something I have never made before. It was a kind of feeling that I just wanted to make small, single portion baking, so I made these vanilla sables, and, for a more indulgent treat, I made Neapolitan Cupcakes. That recipe will be posted in a few days, but I wanted to start off with something relatively simple.

Of course, who do I turn to when I am looking for something I have never made before? Annie, of course! She had this recipe for vanilla sables, as well as a slightly more complex version of Chocolate Chai Sables. Well, let me tell you, I was tempted by both, and the vanilla sables won. For a recipe I had never tried before, I wanted to taste the original version.
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These sables were a resounding success. I did have to make a few tweaks to the recipe, but that is because I don’t actually have any vanilla beans (gasp, I know!). It’s an investment I keep meaning to make, but I just keep forgetting to order a nice big bag off the internet. Either way, I substituted some extra vanilla extract for the absence of vanilla beans, and regular sugar for the vanilla sugar.

If, however, you have vanilla beans, and feel the urge to make some vanilla sugar, take some used vanilla bean pods, and stick them in a container of white sugar for a few days. That’s it! When I finally get around to getting some vanilla beans, I also have plans to make my own vanilla extract, so hopefully in the next year there will be a post on that.

These French sables, they remind me a little of shortbread. The cookie dough is all mixed together, then rolled into a log, and frozen for a few hours or overnight. After that, it is cut into slices, and baked. Quite simple, and not that time consuming. But, enough talk! To the cookies!

Ingredients

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

1 c. butter, at room temperature
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise (or 2 tbsp. vanilla extract)
2/3 c. vanilla sugar (or regular sugar)
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2¼ c. flour
½ tsp. salt

For finishing:

Turbinado sugar (approx. ¾ c.)
1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp. water

In a mixer bowl, combine the butter, vanilla bean seeds, and vanilla sugar. Beat on medium-high, about 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Blend in the egg yolks, one at a time, and add in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, add in the flour and salt until incorporated, and a thick dough forms.

Gather the dough together and transfer to a piece of parchment paper. With your hands, form the dough into a long log, about 12-14 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter. Wrap the dough up in the parchment paper, twisting the ends to secure, and place the dough in the freezer for 2-3 hours, or until firm.

After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Unroll the dough from the parchment paper, and pour a line of turbinado sugar on one side of the parchment paper. Whisk the egg and water together, then brush over the dough log. Roll the dough log into the turbinado sugar. (If you can’t find any turbinado sugar, just use brown or white sugar. I used white sugar, and the cookies turned out fine. Paul looked for me, but could not find turbinado anywhere.)

Slice the sugared dough into ½ inch slices with a sharp knife, and transfer to the baking sheets.

Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, for 14-15 minutes total, until cookies are just set and light golden around the edges. Let cool briefly on pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Honey Yeast Rolls

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Oh. My. Word. I just have to say, I can not believe how stupendous these rolls are. No word of a lie, these rolls are probably one of my favourite yeast recipes I’ve made to date. Just to put it into perspective for you, this recipe makes 10-12 rolls. I got 10 rolls out of them, cutting a few a bit bigger, and during dinner alone, I had 2 rolls, and Paul had 4. That’s right. 4 rolls. I think he agrees with me about the absolute awesomeness that are these rolls.

They are so light, fluffy, tender, and sweet. I was a bit hesitant to make them at first, thinking that the honey flavour would be overpowering. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There is some honey in the initial dough, but I was most worried about the honey/butter glaze before baking turning the tops of the buns overly sweet. But, to repeat myself with the first words of this post, oh my word these buns were AMAZING. I mean amazing. The sweetness of the honey butter contrasts wonderfully with the light sprinkle of coarse salt on top. One of these warm from the pan with a dollop of butter – hellooo heaven.

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I served them with a copycat recipe of Olive Garden’s Chicken Gnocchi soup, and the soup and these rolls together were absolute perfection. I have even decided now, that any time we need rolls for a big dinner party or holiday meal, I’m making these. They are THAT good. I have seen these on Annie’s blog quite a few times before, and finally got around to making them. I wanted to make soup last week, but it snowed yesterday, which gave me the perfect excuse for making a warm, comforting and hearty soup and some tender, fluffy rolls to go with it. I finished the meal off with a double batch of the brownies I made a few weeks ago (also from Annie, if my faithful readers remember!) and frosted the brownies (which was also an extremely smart choice). It made for a hearty, delectable meal, and to make matters better, now we have some leftover soup to freeze for later!

Ingredients

Yield: 10-12 rolls

2¼ tsp. instant yeast
1 c. warm water (110-115°F)
¼ c. honey
3 tbsp. canola oil
1¼ tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
3½-4 c. flour (I used all purpose and the rolls turned out fine, Annie used bread flour)
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. honey

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the yeast and water until just combined. Add the honey, oil, salt, and egg, and mix until combined. Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until the dough forms a sticky mass. Add in more flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (I only used an extra half cup of flour, not the full 4 cups.)

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place about 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 30 seconds. Cover with a clean dish towel and let dough rest for 10 minutes. Punch the dough down and form into 10-12 evenly shaped balls, and place into a round, lightly oiled baking dish. Cover with towel again and let rise for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Mix together the melted butter and honey, and brush over the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are light golden brown. Cover with foil, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the center of the rolls reads 190°F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool slightly before serving.

Sugar Cream Pie

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It’s Pi day! I, having never been a huge fan of math or things math-related, have never really celebrated Pi day before. I didn’t post anything last year for Pi day, and I wasn’t planning on posting anything this year. However, I have been an avid food-blog reader for quite a few years now, and the entire food-blogging community seems to LOVE Pi day. Thinking about it now, it makes complete sense. Celebrate math with pie? Heck yes! I don’t know why it took me so long to jump on the bandwagon!
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Either way, I was browsing through Annie’s Eats (I have mentioned her numerous times. Basically my food-blog idol.), and she celebrated Pi day by making this Sugar Cream Pie, which apparently is the State Pie of Indiana. As I have also mentioned before, I have rarely tried a recipe of hers that has failed me, so I decided to give this pie a go! It was also made extremely tempting by the fact that it can be made with pantry staples (hooray!) that you should have in your kitchen regularly, and is so easy to just go and whip up!
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I have never had Sugar Cream Pie before (let alone heard of it before Annie enlightened me!), and when I woke up today and realized it was Pi day, I figured – Hey! Let’s make some pie, because, why not? I will let you know, I should have used a deeper pie dish, because I had some of the filling leftover, but it tasted like an absolutely phenomenal custard or creme brulee, so I was okay with it!

Ingredients

Yield: 1 9 inch pie

For the crust:

1 recipe Flaky Butter Pie Crust

For the filling:

¾ c. flour
½ c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon (plus more for dusting)
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1½ c. heavy cream
1½ c. half and half cream
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prepare pie crust, and roll out to about 12 inches, then lay in pie plate. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper, and place pie weights in dish. (If you do not have pie weights, dried beans or rice will work.) Trim away excess and create a decorative border if desired. (Side note – I did, but I need new pie weights. Mine were not heavy enough to stop the crust from rising enough, so all my beautiful crust work was lost in the crust shrinkage. Sad day.) Bake crust for 20-25 minutes, then remove pie weights and bake for 3-5 minutes longer until crust is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugars, spices, and salt until evenly combined. Gradually whisk in the heavy cream, then the half and half and vanilla. Pour the mixed filling into the pre-baked pie crust.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is browned and the center is just set. Dust with additional cinnamon, if desired. Let cool completely before slicing, and serve.

Nanaimo Cheesecake

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Well, I have been looking at this Nanaimo cheesecake for a while now. It was originally brought to my attention by a dear friend, who requested I make her this recipe without coconut. I decided instead of making one large cheesecake, I would make four small ones. Three years ago, I bought eight small 6 inch cheesecake pans, and throughout heavy experimentation, I have figured out that one regular cheesecake recipe makes four small cheesecakes, and double the recipe makes the full eight mini cheesecakes.
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Either way, if you like Nanaimo bars, then you should probably give this cheesecake (and this recipe!) a try. If you have never had a Nanaimo bar, and are wondering what the heck a Nanaimo bar is, then I will tell you. First, the bottom layer is a mixture of cocoa, coconut, and walnuts. This is covered in a custard cream layer. Finally, a layer of chocolate covers the whole thing.

Above is a picture of a classic Nanaimo bar (the picture is not mine!), and here in Canada, they are extremely popular. While Nanaimo bars are not my favourite dessert, I am a fan of cheesecake, so this recipe called to me. A layer of cocoa, coconut, walnuts and graham crumbs, topped with a smooth, creamy cheesecake base enhanced with with vanilla custard powder, and a silky, velvety chocolate ganache.
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Cheesecake is always a finicky thing to make, and I have found that smaller cheesecakes tend to crack slightly more than larger ones. However, here are a couple tricks to help minimize the cracking.

Firstly, place a pan of warm water in the oven as you are preheating the oven. If you have to bake the crust before the whole cheesecake, place the pan of water in the oven as soon as you take out the crust. Make sure the water is warm or hot when you put it in the pan.

Secondly, cheesecakes like to cook at a lower temperature for longer. Usually recipes say to cook cheesecakes for 45-60 minutes. One way to help stop cracking is to cook the cheesecake at the recommended temperature for no longer than 45 minutes. After that, turn off the oven, and crack it for a second to lose some of the heat. Then, close the oven, and let the residual heat finish baking the cheesecake for the last 15 minutes. After that, crack the oven open again, and let cool to complete room temperature.

Finally, after cooling the cheesecake in the oven completely, transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill completely.

After your cheesecake has chilled completely, if there are any cracks, soak an offset spatula in hot water and gently push the chilled filling together to seal the crack. When the cracks are repaired, chill again.

However, back to the cheesecake! Take a chance on this recipe, and let it wow you!

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Ingredients

Yield: 1 9 or 10 inch cheesecake, or 4 6 inch cheesecakes

For the crust:

4 tbsp. melted butter
5 tbsp. cocoa powder
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1½ c. graham cracker crumbs
½ c. chopped walnuts
¾ c. sweetened coconut flakes

For the filling:

4 8oz. bricks softened cream cheese
4 eggs
1½ c. sugar
1/3 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. vanilla custard powder (which I found at Wal-Mart and Save-On-Foods in the baking aisle)

For the ganache:

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c. heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom and sides of a springform pan with parchment paper. Finely chop or grind the walnuts into a powder. Combine all crust ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until evenly combined. Press crust into the springform pan bottom and up the sides about an inch. Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, and cool on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

Place a pan filled with warm water in the lower rack of the oven.

For the filling, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in the sour cream, sugar, vanilla and custard powder and mix until smooth and combined.

Pour onto the crust, and bake 60 minutes, on higher oven rack above the pan of water.  Crack the oven, and let cool to room temperature in the oven, about 2-3 hours. After cool, chill completely in the refrigerator. Fix any cracks if necessary.

Once the cheesecake is completely chilled, place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Warm the cream in the microwave for 1½ minutes. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Let cool until thick and smooth, then pour over the cheesecake, and refrigerate until set.

Slice, serve, and enjoy!