Sunday, February 12, 2012

for the ladies

I have had a crazy start to the new year with lots of traveling!  Starting at Christmas I went to Cincinnati, then Eastern Florida, then New York, down to Miami, Western Michigan, back to Cincinnati, and ended the travels in Tampa.  That was one month.  While my frequent flyer miles were growing, my mixer was getting dusty.  As soon as I had some down time in Chicago I decided to get to work.
Three of my best friends have birthdays in January.  Unfortunately, none of them are in Chicago.  I had all intentions of baking them each a different cupcake and then shipping them out.  Nope.  That didn't exactly happen.  I ended up making one flavor to honor all of them.  I didn't send any, but it is the thought that counts, right??

I made red wine and chocolate cupcakes.  This is fitting because I have had a lot of wine and chocolate with these ladies.  I went to Trader Joe's and picked up a bottle of 2 buck chuck.  I didn't find it necessary to use a nice wine when baking.  
The recipe had quite a lot going on, but I made it work... This wonderful recipe came from

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz. dark chocolate broken into small pieces
1/4 cup boiling water
1 stick butter, room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup red wine

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a medium heatproof bowl, combine cocoa powder and chocolate pieces, whisk in the boiling water until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar.  Beat in the eggs until well blended.  Sift in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix until just combined.  Alternating, add the chocolate mixture and wine, mix until batter is smooth.

4. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them about halfway full.  Bake for about 20 minutes.


1 cup wine plus 4 tablespoons, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks of butter, softened (not room temperature, butter should still be a little cold)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt

1. Place 1 cup wine and granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium high heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved, and simmer until mixture is reduced to just 1/3 cup.  Allow to cool completely

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the softened butter and confectioners' sugar.  Mix on low speed at first, and then on high until mixture is fluffy.  With mixer running, gradually pour in the cooled wine reduction.  Add salt and beat until well combined.  Scrape down the bowl as necessary.

3. Again, with the mixer running, gradually pour in the 4 tablespoons of wine one  tablespoon at a time until thoroughly mixed.  Then ice away (make sure the cupcakes are cool before icing)!
These babies are awesome!  I didn't love the icing alone, but the combo together is great.  You should know there is a lot of wine in these cupcakes.  I didn't even feel bad finishing the bottle.  

I would absolutely reco making these!

So, Happy Birthday! Love you!!!

Birthday Girls: Erin, Alyson, & Stacy


Thursday, February 9, 2012

NYC Round 2

If you recall, the last time I was in New York I tried to hit up several bakeries to give the big city a fair shot.  I had all intentions of doing this on my last trip, but I had a crazy schedule and there wasn't much down time for cupcake testing.  I was only able to get to 2 places, and they weren't even intentional.  

The first, unfortunately, I don't remember the name.  I was staying at the Gansevoort Park Hotel and had just returned from a night out on the town.  My friend Mike and I decided to continue the party at the Gansevoort's Rooftop bar.  As the party died down, we of course, went out searching for late night.  We ended up at a store across the street from the hotel and right in front of my face was a beautiful cupcake counter.  You'll have to remember that this was roughly 3AM so it could have looked like total dog crap and I would have thought it was high quality.
This guy was fantastic, all dressed up in his chef outfit.  He had a great attitude for putting up with the late night crowd.  I went with the chocolate chip cookie dough.  The problem with getting a cupcake at 3AM is that sweets are the last thing I want.  I am 90% sure we also ordered gyros, but for some reason I don't have any pictures of those...
I didn't end up trying the cupcake til mid day the following day.  I remember not liking it very much.  My educated review is to definitely go party at the Gansevoort Rooftop but don't get a late night cupcake at the shop across the street :)

The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of events, but I was able to run to Crumbs before heading to LGA.  Normally I wouldn't want to go to a chain - especially in NYC, but I had never been and there was one just a couple blocks north of the hotel.  

Upon walking in, the first thing I noticed was that the cupcakes are HUGE.  The second thing I noticed - they put the calories next to each cupcake.  This can't be good for business.  The worst by far as the Blackbottom Cheesecake Brownie Cupcake at 1090 calories.  I would love to know who sees that and then orders one.  
I decided on the white hot chocolate.  
It was a standard yellow cake which was delicious!  It had a light icing with white chocolate chips and marshmallows. I really liked the icing as well.  Overall I found the cupcake to be misleading because it did not taste like white hot chocolate.  It was good, but needs a new name.  There was also something in the middle which I didn't love.  I am not exactly sure what it was, but I am not a fan of fillings.  I also only had about 2 bites.  I couldn't bring myself to eat anymore after such a crazy weekend.
I did pick up a tray of minis to bring back to Chicago to share.  I had a few and really liked the ones I tried.  My friend Katie also said each flavor she tried was great.  
I would definitely go back, but maybe now I will try the Chicago Crumbs to see if it compares.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Over the holidays I traveled down to Orlando to visit the fam and while there I made a stop at Blue Bird Bake Shop (  They had a nice variety of cupcakes and they all looked delicious.  Due to my indecisiveness I decided to buy two to take home so I could split with my mom.  
I loved the simple packaging and cute sticker.  I am a sucker for things like this.  

Neapolitan - I loved the strawberry icing.  It had the right amount of strawberry taste to it and was the perfect consistency.  The cake was just okay.  Personally, I did not think the flavors were strong enough.  The strawberry outweighed the vanilla and chocolate for sure.  I think a rich chocolate bottom would have helped.  Overall it was a delicious cupcake.  I loved the presentation.  Usually I don't enjoy that much icing, but I thought it looked nice.  
To get in the holiday spirit my second choice was Peppermint.  This was a chocolate cake with a peppermint buttercream.  Again, I loved the icing, but thought the cake was just so so.  All together it had a really good flavor.  I  liked the contrast that the crushed peppermint and chocolate shavings provided.

I would absolutely try Blue Bird again.  I arrived at closing time, so I can imagine that these cupcakes would be much better right when the bakery opens.   


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cross Country Cakes

I recently came across a recipe for Biscoff cupcakes.  Most people aren't familiar with Biscoff unless you have flown on Delta.  They are the little cookies the flight attendants hand out to you during the beverage service.  
I used to think these cookies were manufactured specifically for Delta until I met my friend Laura.  Laura was my roommate for 3 years in college and her mom would send her giant tins of Biscoff cookies for every birthday and holiday.  When I saw the recipe I knew I had to make them for her.  The problem is that we no longer live in the same city.  She lives in Big Bend National Park down in Texas.  I wasn't sure if she could receive packages because the first few years she lived down there she didn't even have cell service.  There was even a summer without running water...seriously.  However, she assured me the package would make it, so I hopped in the kitchen and got to work.  
The Beautiful Ms Laura.  She loves that headlamp.
The reason these are considered Biscoff cupcakes is because they are made with Biscoff spread.  Looks like a jar of peanut butter, but instead, creamed cookies.  You can't just buy Biscoff spread in the store (or at least I have no clue where you would), so I ordered some off of Amazon.  I would love to know other uses for this spread outside of cupcakes.  Do people put it on a bagel? Apple? Biscoff & jelly sandwich?

The recipe came from


1 1/4 c APF
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
a pinch salt
1/2 c Biscoff spread
1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c half and half


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
In a small bowl, whisk together first four ingredients. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, beat Biscoff spread and brown sugar until creamy. Add vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla, mix well.
Slowly mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the half and half, until completely combined.
Spoon cupcake batter into tin, about 1/4 cup batter per cupcake. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. 

These cupcakes were originally made with a marshmallow frosting, but I didn't think that would hold up so well on the way to Texas.  I just used a basic cream cheese frosting then topped with crumbled cookies.  
I didn't love the consistency of the cupcake.  When I bought the spread it came in a pack of two, so I will definitely try to make them again, but I will take a different approach than the recipe above.  I know you are all waiting on the edge of your seats to see how they turn out, so stay tuned!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Right to womanhood...

I think for men the "right to manhood" is usually when they get their first car.  For ladies, I think it is baking an apple pie.  As shocking as it may sound, I have never baked one from scratch on my own until this year (gasp).  

This fall some girlfriends and I went to Country Line Orchard, about 45 minutes outside of Chicago.  I figured if I was going to bake an apple pie from scratch I may as well pick the apples too.  My all time favorite apples are Honeycrisp and Pink Lady, but they were not in season at the time.  
I settled on Gala which would still be in my top 5.  I didn't want to bake with Granny Smith because I feel like EVERYONE uses granny smith in pies.  "They give it so much flavor" is what I always hear.  Well, personally I didn't want my pie to be super tart so I went with the more subtle Gala.  The picking was fine, but I was bored after about 5 minutes.  The selection was pretty picked over (no pun intended) so I had to really search for the good ones.  Luckily I am tall so I was able to grab some of the apples that were left up top.
After picking the apples we decided to go through the corn maze (again bored after 5 minutes).  Before going in the guy running the show told us that the maze was pretty muddy and if we didn't want to slip and fall or get dirty then we should buy booties.
Only two of us decided to buy them - yes, we looked like morons.
The worst part is that there was hardly any mud in the maze.  Maybe a small section that was easily jumpable for a full grown adult.  Next time I am risking it.  After all that fun it was time to actually bake the pie....  I used a recipe from

Pie Crust Recipe
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/2 cup ice water
1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.
2. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
3. Stir in the ice water, a Tablespoon at a time, until the crust mixture forms a ball.

4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
5. Sprinkle flour onto rolling surface. Roll dough out, then divide in half. Roll each half to fit a 9-inch pie plate.
6. Place crust in pie plate, pressing evenly into the bottom and sides.

Filling Ingredients:
8 cups sliced,peeled apples - about 3 lbs.  
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons butter
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk
1. In a large bowl, toss the sliced apples with lemon juice.
2. Combine sugars, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg; add to apples and toss well to coat.
3. Fill pastry lined 9 inch pie pan with apple mixture. Dot with butter.
4. Place second crust on top of pie filling, cut slits in top of crust to vent. Seal the edges of the crust with a fork or by hand.  - I chose to lattice the top.
5. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk and milk. Brush mixture over top crust.
6. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.
7. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake 40-45 minutes more or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.
I forgot to brush with the egg mixture, then tried to do it last minute while it was baking.  That is why it looks kind of weird on top.  Regardless, this pie was AMAZING.  Couldn't get enough of it.  


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Suite Life

Well, my last post was a little premature.  My friends and I actually booked a last minute trip to South Beach for the night.  We had one hour to pack and get ready from the time we booked.  Crazy.  It was a blast, but I didn't have any time to snag a cupcake as it was a ridiculously short trip.  However, I was able to grab a sweet treat in Connecticut.

I have always said Connecticut is very vanilla.  Nothing much to it - very mediocre.  When I was in Norwalk, CT I stopped at Cake Suite, and I found it appropriate to get a vanilla cupcake.  I did go a little crazy and get one with chocolate icing and sprinkles.   
Icing - Chocolate.  Very smooth and had a light flavor that I really liked.  Cake - Pretty dry.  Not that great.  Yellow cake with chocolate icing is one of my all time favorite combos, but this one was just okay.  Cake Suite specializes in actual cakes for a special occasion and probably bulk cupcakes too.  I don't think they sell a lot of cupcakes "off the rack".  You can see the display below...
Not all that appealing - close to the floor and only a handful of varieties.  I probably wouldn't go back to Cake Suite, so hopefully Connecticut has another spot I can try!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

They say money doesn't buy happiness...

but, money does buy spontaneity.  Sitting around with friends this morning we were inspired to take a last minute trip to Vegas...for the night.  Unfortunately, prices were rising by the minute...seriously.  At one point we thought we had a roundtrip flight for $230.  Gone.  Then $350.  Gone.  We couldn't move fast enough, and now we sit here still in Chicago.  What a bust.  I need my own plane.  
Obtain private jet = 2012 goal.