Strawberry Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

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I’m turning 32 today. Thirty-two. Am I feeling like 32? Probably… yes, I do. For instance, I now embrace a 10:30 bedtime which allows me to get plenty of sleep and renders me fully functional when I wake-up in the morning. I also adore my memory foam pillow, which has become a necessary requirement for a good night’s sleep.

I often write a blog post when it’s my birthday. On this particular one, I find myself on vacation in Washington DC visiting my friend Kristelle. It’s been almost three years (four years for Matthew) since we moved away from DC and this is our first time back visiting. It is pretty difficult to put into words the various things that make me absolutely love DC. It’s a diverse city where people come from various backgrounds, making the District vibrant, dynamic, and ever changing. Each neighborhood has a distinct feel and I miss the ability to walk or use public transportation to get everywhere. In one day of vacation alone, I walked 10 miles in the city. 

If you’ve followed Sweet Precision for a while you might remember my Strawberry Birthday Cake tradition. This year I decided to switch things up a little bit and made birthday cupcakes instead! Let’s talk a little bit about these cupcakes. Are you one of those people who feel like buttercream is too rich and heavy? If so, you’ll love the Swiss-style meringue buttercream that I used for this recipe which is light and delicate. Swiss meringue is prepared by cooking egg whites and sugar together in a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water. The mixture is then removed from the heat and whipped at high speed until it forms stiff peaks and has cooled. After this, room-temperature butter is slowly added into the mixture. Meringue-based buttercreams are light and creamy in texture, which I love. They also don’t ‘crust-over’ as with simple buttercream.

STRAWBERRY

Strawberry Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes approximately 24 cupcakes 

Cupcake Ingredients
1 box white cake mix
1 (6 oz) box strawberry jello
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup water

Frosting Ingredients
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
red food coloring, optional

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two cupcake pans and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients together, including strawberries. Slowly stir wet ingredients in with the dry being careful not to over mix the batter. Pour batter into cupcake tins and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan and then remove to a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Pipe or spread frosting onto cupcakes.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Working with meringue buttercream frosting can be tricky. If your frosting is “broken” the fat and liquid won’t emulsify, and you’ll be left with a bowl of fat globules that look like cottage cheese. If this happens to you, first try mixing the frosting a little longer to see if it comes together on its own. If it doesn’t come together with additional mixing, scoop out a cup of curdled mixture and microwave 5 to 10 seconds, until melted but not hot. Pour the melted buttercream into the mixer while on medium speed and whip until combined. This works every time!

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OREO Turtle Cheesecake

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“I want cheesecake for my birthday! Can you make some…PLEEEEASE?”

This is the annual request that I get from Matthew on his birthday. It’s a request that (most of the time) I am more than happy to oblige. The exception being last year when I decided to forgo making a birthday cheesecake—an unfortunate occurrence that he has reminded me of several times over the past year.

Having failed at my birthday cheesecake duty last year, I wanted to make something unique and special this year. It’ll be hard to top my favorite which was a Sweet Potato Cheesecake that I made a couple of years ago. However, inspiration struck one day during my weekly grocery run to Meijer. OREO cookies are one of Matt’s favorites, and I thought why not try and incorporate them into a cheesecake?!

This delectable cheesecake boasts an OREO cookie crust topped with a nutty layer of caramel and a classic cheesecake filling. Drizzles of melted chocolate and caramel-pecan sauce finish it off in style. This cheesecake takes a little more work than your basic recipe, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

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The Ultimate OREO Turtle Cheesecake
Makes approximately 12 servings

Ingredients
24 OREO cookies, finely crushed
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 (14 ounce) package caramels
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate

Directions
Place racks in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Mix cookie crumbs and butter; press onto bottom and 2 inches up side of 9-inch springform pan.

Microwave caramels and milk in a microwaveable bowl on high for 3 minutes or until caramels are completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring after each minute. Stir in nuts; pour half into crust. Refrigerate 10 minutes. Refrigerate remaining caramel mixture for later use.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with mixer until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Pour over caramel layer in crust.

Bake 1 hour 5 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until center is almost set. Run knife around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim. Refrigerate 4 hours.

Microwave reserved caramel mixture 1 minute; stir. Pour over cheesecake. Melt chocolate; drizzle over cheesecake.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Be sure to use a cookie sheet under your springform pan when baking in the oven. The caramel may ooze out during baking and this way it won’t get your oven dirty.

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Strawberry Birthday Cake

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I’m celebrating my birthday today, and everyone’s invited!

My favorite birthday tradition revolves around eating the most delicious strawberry cake you will ever taste. It’s a ritual I’ve had ever since I can remember. When I was younger, my mom always baked this cake for my birthday. I even remember her making it for my roommates and I when we were in college. It’s a recipe that’s been passed around between friends and family for years and has become one of my favorite cakes to bake… and eat.

This year was no different. I made my birthday cake last night and got to spend a few peaceful moments to myself in the kitchen. As I was baking, I started thinking about how 31 years of collecting knowledge is pretty cool. Tucking lessons away like lint collected in a  pocket. Saved tidbits from parents, friends and strangers. Things I’ve learned from wild successes and blunt failures. Afterwards, I was inspired to make a list of life lessons and truths that I’ve learned thus far. So without further ado, in no particular order, here are 31 things I have learned and know to be true on my birthday this year.

1. Surround yourself with people who love you and want you to be happy.
2. Remember to be true to yourself in all things you do.
3. Do things that are uncool. Later on, they usually end up becoming cool anyway.
4. Don’t take action when you’re angry. Take a moment to calm down and ask yourself if what you’re thinking of doing is really in your best interest.
5. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.
6. You don’t need to stuff your feet into shoes that hurt just because the shoes are gorgeous.
7. If I tell myself I can do something, I can usually do it.
8. If I convince myself I can’t do something, well then, it won’t get done.
9. Even though I might think I’m right, it doesn’t mean I always am.
10. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I don’t have to agree with it, nor pretend I do. But their opinion belongs to them and it’s not up to me to judge.
11. A sore knee/shoulder/wrist doesn’t have to mean giving up exercise; it just means doing it differently.
12. No matter how many weights I lift, there is no way I will ever have Michelle Obama’s arms. In fact, I’ll probably injure myself instead.
13. It’s okay to wear earplugs when you’re at a concert/wedding/bar with ear-splitting music.
14. Saying no or “Sorry, I’m too busy” is okay.
15. It’s okay to ask someone to speak up or slow down if you can’t understand what they’re saying.
16. It’s okay to eat dessert first—and only.
17. It’s okay to take a nap in the middle of the day if you’re tired.
18. Don’t compare yourself or try to be someone else.
19. It’s easier to take a small action now instead of a big action “some day.”
20. Telling someone they’re wrong never leads to anything positive. Even if they’re wrong.
21. It’s OK if you don’t like something. Just don’t pretend that you do.
22. Stop watching so much TV.
23. Don’t listen to anybody who tells you “you’re missing out” by not going somewhere or doing something. You’re only missing out if you believe you’re missing out.
24. Do activities by yourself. Solo social activities (movies, dinner, concerts, travel) can be a lot of fun.
25. Stop texting or checking your phone when you’re with other people. It’s rude and it’s sad.
26. Drink more water.
27. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Compare yourself to you.
28. Friends really do come and go. Some come back. Some don’t. That’s OK.
29. You will make mistakes. So what?
30. It’s OK to feel sad.
31. It’s hard to accept your privilege in life. Doing so will make you more aware of the challenges and obstacles others face.

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Strawberry Birthday Cake
Serves approximately 12 people 

Cake Ingredients
1 box white cake mix
6 oz box strawberry jello
3 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries (thawed and chopped)
1/2 cup water

Frosting Ingredients
16 oz box confectioners sugar
1/4 cup frozen strawberries (thawed and chopped)
1/2 cup butter

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round baking pans and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients together, including strawberries. Slowly stir wet ingredients in with the dry being careful not to over mix the batter. Pour batter into baking rounds and bake in the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in the pan and then invert onto a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer. Make sure butter is at room temperature prior to mixing. At very end, slowly add room temperature strawberries and blend until well mixed.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Working with buttercream frosting can be tricky. If you’re frosting is “broken” the fat and liquid won’t emulsify, and you’ll be left with a bowl of fat globules that look like cottage cheese with soupy liquid in the bottom. The first potential issue is inconsistent temperature. Both your egg/sugar mixture and your butter must be at the same temperature. Another issue might be excess liquid. Unwanted liquid can result either from the addition of fruit or other moist flavorings. The best plan is to avoid a broken buttercream in the first place. You can do this by adding fruit and flavorings a little at a time. However, broken buttercream happens to even the best of us. Here’s how to get yourself back on track.

Step 1: Try mixing it a little longer and see if it comes together on its own.
Step 2: If it doesn’t come together with additional mixing, scoop out a cup of curdled mixture and microwave 5 to 10 seconds, until melted but not hot.
Step 3: Pour melted buttercream into the mixer while on medium speed and whip until combined. This works every time.

The Young Baker

Birthday Cake

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Something special happened last week, but I didn’t have time to share it with you right away. Last week was… (drumroll please) my birthday! I realize this notice comes late, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate with me. I’ve still got some birthday cake left (at least what I haven’t devoured yet) and I’m going to share the delicious and simple recipe with you so you can bake some too!

I had a bonus birthday surprise last weekend when my friend Danielle flew into DC to surprise me for my birthday! She conspired with my boyfriend Matt to surprise me at the airport—I had absolutely no idea she was coming! We had a wonderful weekend filled with sightseeing, a comedy show, brunch, a visit to Home Depot (to get tools to mount my spice rack to the wall), and of course—a wonderful baking adventure.

This strawberry cake has been a birthday tradition of mine for several years. My mom has made this cake for as long as I can remember and it’s always been a favorite of mine. Remember that picture of me frosting a cake as a little kid? Yep, that’s me making this strawberry cake. This year I requested the recipe from my mom so I could try and make it myself!

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Cake Ingredients
1 box white cake mix
1 (6 oz) box strawberry jello
4 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup water

Frosting Ingredients
1 (16 oz) box confectioners sugar
1/4 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 cup butter

Directions
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 inch round baking pans and set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix wet ingredients together, including strawberries. Slowly stir wet ingredients in with the dry being careful not to over mix the batter. Pour batter into baking rounds and bake in the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in the pan and then invert onto a baking rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting, cream together butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer. Make sure butter is at room temperature prior to mixing. At very end, add strawberries and blend until well mixed.

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Heather’s Helpful Hints
I’ve found that often frosting recipes end up making way more than you need for a recipe. To store frosting, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Before using, just be sure to quickly re-whip the frosting to restore its original consistency.