Miniature Vanilla Cupcakes

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I made these cupcakes on a baking whim. It was one of those times when I wanted something sweet to eat and somehow—miraculously—we had all the ingredients for cupcakes in our pantry. It’s moments like these when it feels like all the stars have aligned to support my insatiable sweet tooth. Normally I’m short one egg or a stick of butter, and the walk to the grocery store seems like too much work for the reward. But not this time!

One nifty tip that made these cupcakes possible is that I used frozen buttermilk which I brought to room temperature for the recipe. Weeks ago I had extra buttermilk from a recipe and I simply froze it in ice cube trays for later use. I originally shared this tip when I made my Peach Upside Down Cake last year. Honestly, it’s a trick that has saved me time and time again because rarely do I have fresh buttermilk on hand.

Outside the Sweet Precision kitchen, it seems as though time has been flying! This is the first week that it’s truly felt like summer here in Ann Arbor. I broke down and had to turn on the air conditioner because we were sweltering away in 85 degree heat inside our apartment—ugh. Matt is teaching a course this semester which has been keeping him busy. I’ve been counting down the days to our Beyoncé concert, which has me ridiculously giddy. I’ve always felt like Memorial Day weekend marks the true start to the summer season. From here on out the days feel noticeably longer, the weather gets warmer, and you can officially break out those white pants! Hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

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Miniature Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes approximately 20 miniature cupcakes 

Cupcake Ingredients
1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 egg yolks (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup buttermilk (room temperature)

Buttercream Frosting Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 20 minutes before baking your cupcakes. Spray a miniature muffin pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

Onto a parchment paper, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Once all of the egg yolks are incorporated, add the vanilla extract and mix in.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Start with 1/3 of the dry, mix well, and then add 1/3 of the buttermilk, and repeat two more times with remaining ingredients. Once everything is incorporated, beat well with a rubber spatula to make sure your batter is fully mixed and fluffy.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 18-22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. When cupcakes are done, the tops should be golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center. A cake tester should come out clean. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Let rest 5 minutes. Run a small knife or metal spatula around the sides of the cupcakes and invert onto a cooling rack. Let cupcakes cool to room temperature.

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes and decorate with your choice of sprinkles!

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Using fresh butter is very important when you’re making buttercream frosting. Now is not the time to use the butter that’s been sitting in your refrigerator for over a month. To test your butter for freshness, cut a small slice of butter from the block or stick. Look at the color. If the inside of the butter is the same as the outside, it is still fresh. However, if the inside of the butter is lighter than the outside of the butter, this means it has oxidized and is no longer fresh. Typically your butter will last about 1 month in the refrigerator unopened.

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Sweet Potato Caramel Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting

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I don’t typically consider myself a competitive person. I never played team sports growing up and I’m not a huge fan of board games. One thing that does get me in a competitive spirit is baking. Baking competitions send me into a frenzy of recipe planning and plotting to devise the most delectable prize worthy dessert.

Three weeks ago it was announced that we would have a fall baking competition at work. Since then, I did a lot of thinking about what makes the perfect fall dessert. I went back and forth thinking of different recipes that combine my favorite fall ingredients. Apples, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash… the list could go on forever. After a careful process of elimination I was able to hone in on one ingredient that I thought would be the key to my victory. Sweet Potatoes.

So let’s talk about these cupcakes a little bit. I actually adapted a spice cake recipe and swapped out the pumpkin for sweet potato. I’m a big fan of the complex flavor sweet potato adds when baking. I filled the cupcakes with caramel which creates a special surprise when someone takes their first bite. I topped the cupcakes with a basic seven minute frosting made from egg whites and sugar. As a final touch, I used my new kitchen torch to apply heat to the frosting and create a toasted marshmallow finish. The result is a decadent dessert with a truly unique combination of flavors. Flavors good enough to win TWO prizes in the baking competition for visual appeal and creativity. So what are you waiting for? Give these mini cupcakes a try before winter is officially here!

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Sweet Potato Caramel Cupcakes with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
Makes approximately 24 mini cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 to 3 medium or 2 large)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon (more to taste) ground ginger
Two pinches (more to taste) ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
High quality store bought caramel

Frosting Ingredients
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Roast sweet potatoes: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Prick potatoes all over with a fork. Rest on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning once or twice, until soft. Let cool completely. Can be kept in fridge for up to 3 days, if baked in advance.

Make cupcakes: Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place rack in middle of the oven. Fill a miniature muffin pan with foil liners. Peel cooled sweet potatoes and run flesh through a potato ricer, or mash until very smooth. (Do not blend in a blender or food processor.) Measure 1 1/2 packed cups (about 12 to 13 ounces) from sweet potato mash; you may have a little extra, which you should warm up with a pat of butter and sprinkle of sea salt and not share with anyone. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs, and beat until just combined. Mix in sweet potato puree, then stir in dry ingredients just until they disappear. Spread batter in prepared muffin pan, and bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Let cupcakes rest in pan for 5 minutes on a cooling rack, then remove onto cooling rack, and let cool completely. You can speed this up, as I always do, in the fridge.

Fill cupcakes: Fit a pastry bag with a small to medium sized round tip. Fill pastry bag with high quality store bought caramel. Insert tip of pastry bag into center of cupcake and apply medium pressure to release approximately one teaspoon of caramel filling into cupcake.

Make frosting: Place egg whites, granulated sugar, a pinch of salt and cream of tartar in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Whisk mixture for 3 minutes, until whites are warmed and sugar granules feels mostly dissolved. Remove bowl from top of saucepan, then, with an electric mixer, beat egg white mixture on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 to 7 minutes longer. Add vanilla and mix until combined.

Frost and decorate: If you’d like to make huge, marshmallow-like dollops, use a very large round piping tip or the corner snipped off a freezer bag. Pipe large dollops of frosting on each cupcake. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the dollops so that they look (and smell!) like toasted marshmallows.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
This recipe calls for cream of tartar when whipping your egg whites. My secret is that this ingredient isn’t absolutely essential to the success of your frosting. Don’t fret if you don’t have any at home in your pantry. What cream of tartar does is help stabilize your egg whites and give them volume. It also helps with preventing crystallization of the sugar, making your frosting creamier. However, despite these benefits, the average person probably won’t be able to tell if you leave this secret ingredient out.

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Lemon Blueberry Cupcakes

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Somehow summer managed to sneak up on me this year. Our winter was so long here in Michigan, it was only two months ago that we had snow on the ground! Now, summer fruits are making an appearance in the grocery store and the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market is in full swing.

Matt and I reserved a garden plot in our apartment complex this year. We decided to plant butternut squash, tomatoes, basil, and peppers. Matt has taken more of a lead with the garden and I wander over and check it out a couple times each week. We’re looking for a good way to combat the weeds that have been growing abundantly. So if anyone has any great ideas, please advise! (Correction… Matt has informed me that we also have green onions and cilantro in the garden as well. It’s clear who has been devoting more time to this endeavor!)

Our new puppy Maya continues to be both the cutest and most challenging little dog in the world. She gives you love and kisses and then leaves a “present” in another room when we’re not looking. However, her puppy obedience classes have been a success and she now knows how to sit and come… when she wants to that is. One thing I can definitely say is that Maya keeps me more active than I ever was before. I purchased a fitbit a few weeks ago and have found that between morning and afternoon walks, I can usually hit my 10,000 steps a day goal. I’m positive that in my pre-doggy life I probably was averaging around 2,000 steps a day.

With all the excitement of summer and new puppies, I haven’t been baking quite as often. The result is that my cookbook has been piling up with recipes that I want to try out. I was recently sorting through trying to find a fun summer cupcake recipe. Blueberries have been ridiculously cheap lately, so I decided to use that as a theme for this post. These cupcakes have a delicate lemon flavor that is complimented by the blueberry filling and garnish. They are perfect to bring to an outdoor picnic or even a work potluck!

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Lemon Cupcakes with Blueberry Filling
Makes 30 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 cup whole milk, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided

Lemon Cream Icing Ingredients
2 cups chilled heavy cream
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Blueberry Filling Ingredients
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp pectin
1/2 pint of blueberries
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line 30 cupcake pan cups with paper liners.

Sift the self-rising flour and salt together in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the unsalted butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating each egg until incorporated before adding the next. Mix in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Gently beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture, one third at a time, alternating with half the milk and half the lemon juice after each of the first 2 additions of flour. Beat until just combined; do not over mix.

Fill the prepared cupcake liners with batter 3/4 full, and bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before removing them to finish cooling on a rack.

To make the filling, stir together 3 tablespoons sugar and pectin until combined. Place sugar mixture, blueberries, and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to boil for 5 minutes, or until thickened. Cool filling completely.

To make the icing, beat the cream in a chilled bowl with an electric mixer set on Low until the cream begins to thicken. Add the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice, a little at a time, beating after each addition, until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to High, and beat until the icing forms soft peaks, about 5 minutes.

To assemble cupcakes, cut out a small portion of the centers of cupcakes. Pipe or spoon blueberry filling into the centers. Pipe or spread frosting on top of cupcakes and garnish with blueberries.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
I’m usually not a fan of buying kitchen gadgets for the sake of simplifying something that you could easily do by hand. However, I will say that a cupcake corer is an investment which will make the process of removing a portion of your cupcake much simpler. As a bonus, you can find one for about $5 on Amazon.

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Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Halloween is a time for ghouls, ghosts, goblins… and why not a pumpkin too!

Last Halloween I shared a post about my Strawberry Shortcake costume that I was so excited to wear until my plans were foiled by the infamous Minnesota Halloween blizzard of 1991. I figured why not stick with the tradition, and share another fun costume story with you this year!

In our household growing up, Halloween costumes were never purchased from the store. Instead, they were creatively crafted from whatever items you could find around the house. Growing up in Minnesota, Halloween comes at a time of year that is pretty chilly. Therefore, you definitely don’t want to be parading around the neighborhood in shorts or a t-shirt.

My mother, being the smart woman she is, decided that she would create the ultimate Halloween costume for me one year. It fit the criteria of being both homemade and warm. We went to JoAnn fabrics and bought some orange fabric and some accompanying fabric paint. We came home and she crafted a giant pumpkin costume complete with eyes, a nose, and a mouth. All that one had to do was slip on the costume and fill it up with insulation of your choice (which ranged from newspaper to balloons). The look was completed with some orange face paint and some green sweatpants with a turtleneck. This costume was such a classic that I wore it for several years!

Continuing with the pumpkin theme of this post, these cupcakes are pumpkin all the way. The center is a pumpkin shaped cheesecake and the cupcakes themselves have canned pumpkin in them. This recipe can easily be split into two days which makes them pretty easy to pull together. Since there is already quite a bit of prep work, I cheated and used box cake mix—you should too without any guilt!

Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
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Mini Cheesecake Ingredients
butter, to coat the inside of your pumpkin molds
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
orange and green food coloring
silicone pumpkin molds

Cupcake Ingredients
1 package (2-layer size) spice cake mix
1 cup sour cream
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1/4 cup oil
3 eggs

Frosting Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
3 1/2 pounds sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
orange food coloring
sprinkles for decoration

Mini Cheesecake Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter the cavities in your pumpkin molds.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, heavy whipping cream, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor, pulse until smooth. Alternatively, mix cream cheese and sugar together until well blended. Add whipping cream, eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth. Remove about 2 tablespoons of filling and color it green. Color the remaining filling using orange food coloring.

Paint the green filling into the stems of 40 cavities. The filling is pretty thick and should stay in place nicely, but just to be safe, pop these filled molds into the freezer for 5 minutes before filling with the orange cheesecake.

Set silicone pumpkin mold on a baking sheet. Fill the pumpkins with orange cheesecake filling. Leave a small amount of room in each mold for the filling to expand while baking (about a 16th of an inch.)

Bake 12-14 minutes until the tops look set but the cheesecake pumpkins are still jiggly. Allow to cool for 30 minutes at room temperature, then place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. You can, at this point, wrap the mold well and store them in the freezer for up to several weeks.

Remove the molds from the freezer, turn the mold upside down and press the pumpkin cheesecakes out. I set mine on a non-stick baking mat just to be sure they wouldn’t stick later once they thawed. It will be easiest to move these now to a serving platter or dessert plates.

Cupcake Directions

Heat oven to 350ºF. Beat cake mix, sour cream, pumpkin, oil, and eggs until blended. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan. Pour a thin layer of batter into each of the cupcake liners.

Remove the Mini Cheesecake Pumpkins from the freezer. Un-mold them, and stick 2 cheesecakes together (put their backsides together) then place them in the center of each cupcake liner. It is very important that you know which way your cheesecake pumpkins are facing. Later when you cut into a cupcake to reveal the pumpkin, you want to cut across the front not the side.

Fill the cupcake liners up over the cheesecake pumpkins. I felt it was easiest to put my batter in a large disposable pastry bag and pipe it into the cups. Once all the cups are filled allow them to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. While you are waiting, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes until they are set around the edges and puffed in the middle. As the cupcakes cool, they will sink a bit in the center. Allow them to cool completely.

Frosting Directions
Cream butter, shortening, cream cheese and extracts. Gradually add confectioners sugar and salt. Beat on low speed until nice and creamy. This recipe is for a stiff consistency. For a thinner consistency, use 3 pounds of powdered sugar instead.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
To make the perfect cream cheese frosting, your cream cheese must be at room temperature. You can ensure this happens by letting it sit out overnight. Butter should be at room temperature, but still a bit cool (try leaving it out for 2-3 hours before making the frosting). The butter shouldn’t be completely soft and mush in the package. It should be soft, but still hold its cube shape.

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Happy One Year Anniversary!

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Today is a special day! It’s the one-year anniversary of my blog. As you can see, I had a private party last night and celebrated this occasion. Since it was our anniversary, I decided that for a change I wasn’t going to bake anything. Instead, Matt picked up two cupcakes from the Cupcake Station which is an amazing cupcake shop here in Ann Arbor. We lit a candle, ate our cupcakes, and celebrated my first year of blogging.

It’s hard to believe an entire year has gone by since I first decided to work up the courage to start my blog. At the beginning it was an intimidating process. I didn’t know if anyone would care what I had to say, or let alone take the time to look at my pictures or try the recipes. Now a year later, I’ve joined a wonderful community of bloggers and enjoy the release that comes with baking, photographing, and writing. In honor of my one-year anniversary, I’m taking a look back at the past year and have picked my top five recipes to share with you.

1. These Girl Scout Samoa Cookies were by far my favorite recipe of the year. Inspired by my goal of recreating these classic Girl Scout cookies, this recipe was a hit once I posted it. In fact, I’m hesitant to buy real Samoa cookies ever again!

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2. My Fourth of July Cake Pops were a vision that I had for a long time. Finally, when my parents came to visit me in DC we put that vision into action. I might have been late to the cake pop craze, but it was fun making these beauties.

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3. The recipe for my Classic Pound Cake comes from my grandma Rachel. The recipe and baking instructions are simple, but sometimes there’s nothing better than a moist and buttery pound cake. Sometimes the classics really are the best.

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4. This was the year of my Amish Friendship Bread baking challenge. This Rosemary Lemon Amish Friendship Bread was by far my favorite recipe. So often we limit ourselves to the traditional cinnamon loaves, but this recipe takes things up a notch by using lemon and rosemary in mini bundt shaped pans.

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5. These Christmas Pinwheel Cookies won third place in the Epicurious Christmas baking challenge. When Matt sent me an email saying that I should enter something, I was hesitant to say the least. But after some encouraging from him I entered these cookies and was surprised to have a winner on hand. These cookies kicked off my 12 days of Christmas baking challenge.

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Thank you for joining me on the adventure of my first year of blogging. I enjoy each and every comment and interaction that I have with you. The part that makes blogging so worthwhile is YOU, my readers!

Here’s to another year of mixing, measuring, and baking in the Sweet Precision Kitchen!