Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!


It turns out that Valentine's Day is a pretty big deal in the cupcake world. And when Valentine's Day falls on a Monday, the weekend before Valentine's Day becomes a pretty big deal too.

People demand cupcakes, and for those of us that have a part in supplying them, it's all pretty exhausting.

Which is why I had to keep it simple this week. And the simplest, most eye-rollingly (it's totally a word) delicious thing I could think of was sugar cookie bars. Minimum effort, maximum reward.

Plus, if you cut them into hearts, you can hand them out as valentines and make all of your coworkers love you. Of course, you'll have some scraps leftover that you'll need to find a good use for, but I'll leave that part up to you.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

My dad's birthday was this week, and if you ask me, there's no better way to wish someone a happy birthday than by giving the gift of butter and sugar. Throw in some coconut, and you run the risk of having your family members glare at you for one-upping their gifts.

Ina Garten may not have been much help with my Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies, but she does know a thing or two about coconut cupcakes. Let's be honest, I usually only make cake so that I have something to put frosting on, and if it ever becomes socially acceptable to eat frosting with a spoon, I may never bake a cake again.

Unless it's this cake. This cake is life-changing. In fact, a good portion of the batter never reached its full potential because I couldn't stop "tasting" it.

Just kidding. I never do that. Gross.

I did, however, eat one as soon as it came out of the oven. It was warm and vanilla-y and almond-y and coconut-y. A-mazing. Even more a-mazing than the cream cheese frosting that came later, which tells me two things: 1) This cake is really something special, and 2) I'm becoming a frosting snob.

It was bound to happen eventually.

Coconut Cupcakes
Adapted from Ina Garten

For the cupcakes:

1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

16 ounces cream cheese
1-1/2 cups butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
24 ounces powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter for about 1 minute. Add the sugar, and continue creaming until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

2. Reduce the mixer to low speed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each one. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

3. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Fold in half of the coconut with a spatula.

4. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners, and divide the batter evenly between the cups. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. To make the frosting, cream the cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, and cream for 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer to low speed, and gradually add the powdered sugar until fully incorporated. Increase the mixer to medium speed, and beat for 2 minutes.

6. Once the cupcakes have cooled, frost as desired and top with the remaining coconut.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies

I usually skip the whole mise en place step. Which is weird, because mise en place is very much my style. Measuring out the ingredients ahead of time, setting them aside in little glass bowls, having everything ready to go in the mixer at just the right moment. It's so organized.

So today I took the time for mise en place, and I was totally channeling Ina Garten. I pictured myself standing in some ridiculous kitchen in the Hamptons, saying "half a cup of good peanut butter" all matter-of-factly as I add it to the bowl, and then being awkwardly silent so that the only sound is the ambient noise of the mixer running while the (imaginary) cameraman gets an extreme close up of the peanut butter.

You know what I'm talking about, right?

Everything was going great. These cookies are super easy to make, and with this whole mise en place thing, they practically make themselves.

But then I started unwrapping the Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts, and my Ina Garten fantasy was instantly shattered. Last year when I made these, the hearts I used were incredibly cute and perfectly sized for these cookies. These hearts not only look more like bunny ears than hearts, but also they're gigantic. I guess this is the surprise part?

At this point the cookies were in the oven, so there was no turning back. Instead of cookies with peanut butter hearts in the center, I was now going to have peanut butter "hearts" (note the appropriate use of quotation marks) with cookie around the edges.

And although these didn't turn out exactly how I'd hoped they would, the great thing about a baking disaster is that you usually have something to comfort you as you wallow in your disappointment. Like chocolate and peanut butter.

And let's be honest... oversized, misshapen peanut butter cups surrounded by peanut butter cookies are not actually a disaster.

Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
20-30 miniature peanut butter cups

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cream peanut butter and butter in an electric mixer at medium speed for about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar, and beat until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue to mix until incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour. Mix just until incorporated.

3. Scoop the dough into portions of about 1-2 tablespoons and roll each portion into a ball. Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl, and roll each ball of dough in the sugar, coating completely. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet.

4. Bake about 7 minutes, or until the cookies begin to puff up slightly. While the cookies are baking, unwrap the peanut butter cups if you haven't already. Remove the cookies from the oven and press one peanut butter cup into the center of each cookie.

5. Return the cookies to the oven and bake about 6 minutes more, or until the cookies are golden brown and the chocolate has begun to melt. Cool on the baking sheet about 10 minutes before transferring toa  wire rack to cool completely.

Note: I meant to put the peanut butter hearts onto the cookies upside down so that the tops of the cookies would be flat, but I was so preoccupied with how ugly they were that I completely forgot. I also noticed that Martha's directions say to chill the peanut butter cups ahead of time, which would have been a great idea since mine got pretty melty. Just know that no matter what you do, these cookies are going to be delicious.