Carrot Cake Cupcakes

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It gets harder to make friends as you get older… wouldn’t you agree?

It’s some strange mixture of people having important adult-like obligations combined with the fact that you just don’t go out as often as your 21 year-old self did. I’ve been on a friend finding quest since I moved to Ann Arbor. I see a potential friend at every opportunity, literally. Take last week as a case in point. I was outside my apartment taking pictures of my cupcakes since the light was much better than it was inside. A girl around my age comes out of the complex and looks at my photography project with an inquiring eye. After explaining that I have a baking blog, I found out that she is a new student at the Ford School of Public Policy which just happens to be where I work. Ka-Ching!! My mind suddenly leaps to visions of impromptu Sunday brunches, late night venting sessions over Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and romcom movie night marathons. Surely we are BFF’s in the making, right?

I’ll keep you updated on that front.

For the time being, let’s try to stay focused on these carrot cake cupcakes. I made them for a work potluck and they are nice and moist but not too sweet, which is what I like the most about them. One of my coworkers questioned whether a “dessert” that contains vegetables and nuts could really be coined as a dessert. I say if you’re adding in 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of oil it qualifies as a dessert. Definitely.

So enjoy these cupcakes and make them for a special occasion. Or maybe make them for a friend. Even though we may fall out of touch as we get older, nothing says “I appreciate you” like a home baked good as a present, for no reason other than just because.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes Recipe
Adapted from Real Simple

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Cupcake Ingredients
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
3/4 pound carrots, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

Frosting Ingredients
8 ounces bar cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch table salt or fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Directions
Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing once, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

For the cupcakes, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg in a large bowl; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, and egg; fold in the carrots and 1/2 cup of the pecans. Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and mix until just combined and evenly moistened.

Divide the batter among the muffin cups and bake, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Refrigerate the frosting until slightly stiffened, 20 to 30 minutes. Frost the cupcakes, dividing the frosting evenly, and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of pecans.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
For an extra hint of sweetness, fold 1/2 cup raisins into the batter when you add the pecans.

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Sweet Cherry Pie

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Did you know that Michigan harvests about 75 percent of the cherries produced in the United States?

Well neither did I… until I moved to Michigan.

Lately, I’ve been attempting to settle into my new surroundings in the land of blue and maize. It’s a somewhat daunting task when you have to keep up with a conversation where NYPD isn’t referring to the police but instead a pizza restaurant. I even had a “Five-Year Engagement” moment one weekend when I was at a picnic with Matt where he was discussing the art of conference presentations with his grad student friends. If the reference escapes you, it’s a great romcom about a spouse that follows his fiance to Ann Arbor, after which all sorts of misadventures begin to happen to the couple.

Regardless, I’m beginning to feel like I’m relatively settled in my new location after a month. Ann Arbor (or should I say A2) has a great little market called the Produce Station that I’ve frequented to get some locally grown fruit. Last time I was there, I picked up some Michigan cherries and decided that I would try my hand at making a pie. This was my attempt at doing something “Michigan-like” over the weekend.

This pie is a cinch to make, and it comes together rather quickly. The only part that will take some time is pitting the cherries. Make sure you wear some dark colored clothing so you don’t stain anything you’re wearing. Although Matt and I ate about 3/4 of the pie, I brought some of the leftovers into work. Considering it disappeared rather quickly, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll be happy if you give this pie a try.

Sweet Cherry Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Ingredients
2 prepared pie crusts
4 cups pitted fresh cherries
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar (adjust this according to the sweetness of your cherries)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
Coarse sugar, for decoration

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Stir together the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon and almond extract gently together in a large bowl. Gently place one prepared pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan and trim the edges to a half-inch overhang. Spoon filling into pie crust, discarding the majority of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter. Drape the second pie crust over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edge decoratively. Brush the egg wash over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake the pie for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
For quick clean up, bake your pie on a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil. This way any of the filling that spills over can be easily cleaned up at the end.

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Amish Friendship Bread Pumpkin Scones

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The Sweet Precision Kitchen is up and running at my new location in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Matt and I spent the past two weekends getting settled into our new space. This included combining our pots and pans and deciding what things need to go… or stay in many cases. Although this might sound like a simple process, it definitely involved some compromises.

This post marks the continuation of my Amish Friendship Bread baking challenge. For those of you that are new to this, Amish Friendship Bread is a type of bread made from a sourdough starter that is shared in a manner similar to a chain letter. The starter is a substitute for baking yeast and can be used to make many kinds of yeast-based breads and shared with friends. My goal with this baking challenge is to keep my starter going for an entire year. If you need a recipe for the starter, you can find one here.

This recipe for pumpkin scones is a delicious treat. In reality, the scones turn out more like a cross between a muffin and a cookie. Since fall is around the corner I thought I’d get a head start on a fun pumpkin recipe. Don’t worry there will be many more to come!

Amish Friendship Bread Pumpkin Scone Recipe

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Ingredients
1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chilled butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in center of dry mixture; set aside. In another bowl combine starter, pumpkin and egg. Add egg mixture all at once to dry mixture. Using a fork, stir just until moistened. Knead in butterscotch chips.

Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface. Shape into 4” x 12” rectangle. Cut rectangle into quarters (4” x 3”) and cut each piece on the diagonal to form 8 wedges. Place wedges 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you find that the dough is sticking to your fingers, try adding additional flour to the mixture one tablespoon at a time. Alternatively, you can also try coating your fingers with some vegetable shortening.

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