Archive for Originality

Pina Colada Cake

(Pardon the horrendous picture. This is actually the only decent shot I got and I am terrible at taking pictures in restaurants!)

I’m currently in China getting chubby on dumplings and hand-pulled noodles but figured I’d leave something sweet for you to munch on while I’m gone!

I made this cake as a (surprise, surprise) last-minute decision for a friend’s birthday (originally someone else volunteered but ended up not having enough time). I simplified it by baking it in a disposable cake pan, making a whipped topping rather than buttercream, and just slathering on toppings rather than slicing out layers etc. Actually, I was under some severe time constraints so we drove all the way to the restaurant with separate components and a still-too-warm cake and I threw it all together in Boy’s trunk. Thankfully, it came together perfectly and went well with the Cuban dinner we attended for the celebrant. It was a huge hit (some even said it was better than this ice cream cake). The flavors melded and the cake was a light ending to our meal. Each individual component was full of flavor and together there could be nothing more delicious.

Pina Colada Cake
adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

Ingredients
For Brown Sugar Cake:

  • 3 3/4 c cake flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 c packed light brown sugar
  • 1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

For Pineapple Topping:

  • 1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple in juice
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean

For Coconut Whipped Topping

  • 2 c heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/4 c confectioner’s sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/2 c sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F.

For filling: Combine pineapple, sugar, lemon juice, and the scraped vanilla seeds in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly while the sugar dissolves, 2-3 minutes. Then increase the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and almost jam-like. Cool completely before using.

For cake: Butter a 9×13″ cake pan (or 3 9″ round cake pans). If you use the 9×13″ pan, you will have extra batter for cupcakes or a 9″ round cake.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl attached to an electric mixer. Whisk gently to combine. Add brown sugar, butter, and 1 1/2 c buttermilk and blend on low speed. Once incorporated, beat on medium 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs with remaining 1/4 buttermilk and vanilla. Add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between, just until combined. Pour 2/3 of the cake batter (you can eyeball) into the prepared cake pan, saving the rest for cupcakes or a smaller cake. (Or divide among the 3 9″ round cake pans evenly.) Bake 35-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (for smaller pans, adjust time accordingly). Cool completely before topping.

For whipped topping: Whip heavy cream until soft peak stage. Add confectioner’s sugar and coconut extract and continue beating until stiff peaks. Taste and add sugar/extract as needed for your coconut loving taste.

For assembly: Spread pineapple topping over cooled cake (despite not using all the cake batter in my 9×13″ cake, I still used all of the topping – it’s yummy!). Then spread shredded coconut, followed by the whipped topping. Serve and enjoy!

I wish I had more pictures but alas it was not my camera’s night.

Enjoy your week everyone!

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Neapolitan Ice Cream Cake

Lessons I’ve learned thus far in my quarter of a century existence on this earth:

1. Double knotting sneakers can never be a bad thing.

2. Facial moisterizer is necessary after I wash my face or I dry up and it’s not attractive.

3. People have a funny way of surprising you (this can be good or bad but there are lots of surprises either way).

4. Coffee is not actually essential to my being though I enjoy it.

5. Ice cream cakes are best made in a pan with four tall sides for ease of transport and the least amount of messy.

Yup. That’s it. Five things. That’s one thing for every five years I’ve been alive. But the quantity isn’t what matters, it’s the quality, and friends, that’s some quality lessons learned up there. Let’s talk about the last one, shall we?

Several weeks ago we went out for a going away party for a friend (she just left for Korea for a month). While she was out of earshot, her boyfriend said that he thought she snuck a cake into their car because she’d be out of town for his birthday. He then remarked that out of all the years they’d been together she’d never gotten him the cake he truly wanted. My ears perked up. Cake? I’m in!

Turns out all he wanted was an ice cream cake. And that’s what he was going to get.

The first birthday cake I made for my group of friends was actually for Boy. He too wanted an ice cream cake but only told me this on the day of his celebration which led to a lot of scrambling around. Needless to say, the cake was improperly frozen and proceeded to melt all over me as we tried to transport it from my freezer to the restaurant. There was toilet paper involved. Don’t ask.

The second ice cream cake I made the next year was for Boy’s roommate. I discovered the joys of building the cake in a disposable pan with tall sides so that if it began to melt it wouldn’t melt on me. Much better. However, I baked the cake in a separate pan and then transferred it which meant some holes and not the prettiest slices.

This time around, I think I finally perfected my ideal cake. I baked a bottom cake layer in the pan and simply built up the cake by adding homemade ice cream on top. It was a huge hit with the birthday boy, Boy himself, and all our friends and was much simpler than my previous versions. I may switch up the flavors but this will definitely be my method!

Note: If you’re looking to plan out your time, I suggest making the ice cream bases the night before and refrigerating overnight. The cake can also be made the day before if desired or the morning of. Make sure you freeze it for at least an hour before spreading ice cream on top. I then churned my middle layer (vanilla), immediately spread atop the cake, and froze for 20 minutes while my top layer (strawberry) churned. I didn’t wash my ice cream maker in between and went straight from flavor to flavor. You can spread this part over a few days if you like. I’m just insane.

Vanilla Ice Cream
adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours

Makes ~ 1 quart.

Ingredients

  • 2 c whole milk
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Instructions
Bring milk and cream to boil in a heavy saucepan. Meanwhile whisk together yolks and sugar until slightly thickened. While whisking, drizzle 1/3 of the hot mixture into the eggs to temper. Pour the rest of the hot mixture in, whisk, and then transfer back into the pan. Heat on medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture is 170-180F or the custard coats the back of a spoon without running when you slide a finger through it. Strain into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until ready to churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Strawberry Ice Cream
adapted from epicurious

Makes ~5 cups.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 c heavy cream
  • 3 3×1 inch strips of lemon zest
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 c sugar, divided
  • 1 lb frozen strawberries (fresh if you can find really great ones), trimmed and quartered
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions
Combine cream, zest, and salt in a saucepan and heat until just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and 1/2 c sugar until well combined. Add a small amount of the heavy cream to the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Then add the rest in, mix, and pour back into the saucepan. Turn the heat back on medium-low and whisk constantly as you heat the mixture to 170F. Be sure you do not exceed 180F. Pour through a sieve into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or until cool.

Once cooled, puree strawberries with remaining 1/4 c sugar and lemon juice in a blender. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds. Mix into the cooled custard. Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Chocolate Cake
adapted from Gale Gand

Makes 1 9×13″ cake.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c + 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 eggs*
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c boiling water

*for the half egg, you can break the egg into a bowl, whisk, then measure out half of the mixture

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×13″ cake pan and set aside.

Sift together sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl fitted with an electric mixer, combine eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and beat on low for 5 minutes. Gradually add the hot water, still mixing at low speed until just combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool and freeze at least 1 hour to firm up before assembly.

For Assembly: Ensure that the vanilla ice cream is soft before spreading by either spreading right after churning or letting the ice cream sit on the counter for 30 minutes. Spread vanilla ice cream onto the frozen chocolate cake. Freeze for 30 minutes while you churn or soften the strawberry layer. Spread strawberry ice cream and freeze at least 1 hour before serving. Decorate as desired.

I love ice cream cakes, don’t you?

Banana Cupcakes for Lovers

I know, I know. Two posts in two days. That’s never happened here. But I had to say something:

Stop the presses.

I mean STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP NOW!!

Before you all go running to make Valentine’s Day treats for yourself, for your hunnybunny, for your kids, for your friends, for the librarian, for the guy who found the cell phone you left in a cab, or for anyone else, I have a proposition for you.

Make. These. Cupcakes.

They are sweet but not too sweet, decadent but not too decadent, and perfect. Just perfect.

I had a friend ask me for this very cupcake several months ago. He had been to a cupcake truck in The City (that’s NYC for those not in the know) and had this very same flavor combination. He fell in love. He wanted them for the party we were having at my house that day. That day?! How was I supposed to come up with a recipe on the spot? But I agreed because if you know me at all, you know I have a hard time saying “no” to close friends. Within a few hours, these cupcakes had to be made.

They were good. But not good enough for my standards.

I’m not sure what it was that I didn’t love about them because everyone else seemed to be in heaven. I didn’t write down the recipe though because it didn’t strike me to do so.

So when, several months later, this same friend asked for the recipe, I had nothing to give him and I decided to give it another shot.

This time, I meant business.

It took a couple tries but I managed a banana-y cupcake that could hold up to the other bold flavors of the cupcake. The next issue was that the Nutella as a stand-alone filling was too sweet. “It hurt!” said my dark-chocolate-loving-molars. So I mixed in a little of the dark chocolate my teeth love so much and came up with a ganache that still tasted of Nutella but wasn’t nearly as toothache-causing. And then, when all was said and done, I decided Martha was the queen and how could I possibly come up with a better frosting than her own caramel swiss meringue buttercream? So that’s what I used.

The balance is there. You taste all three flavors separately and together they harmonize like a well-practiced glee club (LOVE GLEE!!). And really? What’s better for Valentine’s Day than something filled with bananas and Nutella, reminiscent of the crepes you ate (or want to eat) in France? Nothing.

You will thank me for these. I thank me for these!

Banana Cupcakes for Lovers
a STO original, frosting adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes

Makes 16.

Banana Cupcake:
Ingredients

  • 4 medium to large ripe bananas
  • 2 c cake flour (or 1/4 c cornstarch with 1 3/4 c flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 c milk

Instructions
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Poke bananas several times with a fork, arrange on baking sheet, and roast for 15 minutes. Skins should be black.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, cream together butter and both sugars. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture and milk, alternating between 3 dry additions and 2 milk additions, mixing just until the ingredients are incorporated. When bananas are finished roasting, turn oven down to 350F. Peel and mash bananas with a fork. You should have about 1 1/2 c of banana mash. Fold this in to the batter.

Portion batter out among prepared cupcake liners. Bake 22-26 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Nutella Ganache:
Ingredients

  • 1/2 c Nutella
  • 3 oz 60% dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions
In a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt Nutella, chocolate, and heavy cream together. Set aside to cool.

Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
Ingredients

  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
Combine 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp sugar and water in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Then, continue cooking without stirring until the syrup comes to a boil and begins to change color. Use a wet pastry brush to brush down the sides of the pan and swirl the pan occasionally for even coloring. Once the mixture is a dark amber, remove from heat and add the cream in a steady stream while stirring constantly. Warning: the mixture will bubble up so be careful. Set aside to cool.

Set a heatproof bowl (that can accompany whatever electric mixer you have) over simmering water and combine remaining 1/2 c sugar with egg whites. Whisk constantly while heating until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar is dissolved. Then, using your electric mixer and the  same bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff, but still moist, peaks and until the egg whites are cool (you can touch the bottom of the bowl to determine this). Set aside briefly.

In a separate bowl, cream butter until it is pale and fluffy. Add butter, 1/4 c at a time to meringue, beating on medium-low. When all is added, mix in vanilla. Finally, slowly pour in caramel and continue to beat until fully incorporated.

If not assembling the day of making the buttercream, you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Using an electric mixer, beat the buttercream briefly prior to frosting.

Assembly: We’re going to use the cone method to insert the ganache into the cupcake. Take each cupcake and cut out a cone shape from the top, inserting your knife at an angle pointing toward the center of the cupcake and going around in a circle. Once the cone part is out, cut off the tip of the cone and/or scrape out a bit more of the cupcake. Place about 1 tbsp of ganache inside and top with the cone you just cut out. Frost with the buttercream by dolloping it on with a spoon, a piping bag/tip, or a ziploc bag with a hole cut in the corner. Due to the buttercream, cupcakes are best eaten day of assembly but can probably last a day in an airtight container.

I can’t handle the yum. Boy called this, “Killer.” (People still say that?!)

Lace Cookie Cannolis

January is kicking my butt.

I’m sleep-deprived, gym-deprived, friend-and-family-time-deprived, and generally life-deprived. It took some planning, brainstorming, and baking at random hours of the night, but I managed to eek out some delicious baked goods this past week and can’t wait to share them with you.

But first, the new feature!

This Week I Ate

  • Annie’s Zuppa Tuscana. This soup was easy enough for a weeknight dinner but was extremely filling and satisfying. The kick of cayenne was a perfect complement to the creamy base and the hearty kale. It looks like a thick heavy soup but it’s mainly stock and white wine based which definitely offers comfort without making you hit food coma right afterward. Loved it!
  • Trader Joe’s Stuffed Pork Loin with Spinach (and some cheese.. I think feta but I don’t remember). Boy made this. Just as a side, when Boy makes dinner it’s either one of two things at all times. 1: Trader Joe’s, or 2: pasta with doctored up jarred sauce. He’s gotten pretty good at doctoring things up adding fresh veggies, herbs (we owned a basil plant for awhile until he let it die), or even white wine. This pork loin was quite delicious too. I heart Trader Joe’s.
  • and a whole lot of hospital cafeteria food. Such is my life.

Ever since I came up with the resolution to create a new recipe each month I’ve been brainstorming ideas. The goal of the resolution was to start learning how to make other baked goodies besides cupcakes which, up until now, has really been the only branch of baking I’ve felt comfortable tinkering around with. So this month I didn’t set any limits on myself. I set out to find inspiration.

On my interview trail (what we call the interview season between November and January when most residency programs hold their interviews), I began to treat myself to a baked good while traveling back home. After a long day of interviewing (our days usually go from 7.30 or 8am until 2 or 3 pm), the only redeeming part of the day would be finding a nearby bakery and finding something wonderful to nosh on.

One particular interview in the Bronx brought me to Conti’s, home of a wonderful cannoli I just couldn’t turn down.

And because we’re meant to be together, literally the next day Boy and I were discussing what I could make and he suggested something to do with cannolis.

Mind you, we are not exactly an Italian, cannoli-eating couple.

So then it had to be done.

It’s not exactly a completely original recipe but the idea is all mine. Baby steps, people!

The crunchy, slightly nutty lace cookies are a perfect complement to the ricotta cannoli cream dotted with chocolate shavings. Sometimes I find cannoli shells a bit too sweet for my taste but these flavors worked really well together. For a nice dinner, you can make napoleons or for something a little more casual you can form the lace cookies into taco shapes and make little cannoli tacos!

I’m quite proud.

 

Lace Cookie Cannolis
a STO original of sorts

Ingredients
For lace cookie
(adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod, originally from Essence of Chocolate):

  • 1/2 c all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 c unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For cannoli cream (STO original):

  • 3/4 c ricotta, full-fat preferred
  • 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 1 oz semisweet chocolate, shaved

Instructions
For cookies: Preheat oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, salt, and oats in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using a stand or hand mixer, mix together butter, cream, corn syrup, and vanilla. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix.

Drop 3/4 tsp of batter onto baking sheets leaving 2 inches all around each cookie as they spread in the oven. Bake 7-9 minutes or until golden. If molding into taco shapes, balance a wooden spoon atop 2 glasses turned upside-down. Once cookies come out of the oven, while they’re still warm, carefully drape over the wooden spoon handle into a taco shape and allow to cool in that position. Otherwise, allow cookies to cool on baking sheets for about 2 minutes before transferring to a rack.

For cream: Fold together ricotta, confectioner’s sugar, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whip heavy cream to stiff peaks. Then fold heavy cream into ricotta mixture. Finish by folding in shaved chocolate.

For assembly: For napoleons, layer 3 same-sized cookies with 2 dollops of cannoli cream. Top with extra cream.

Is your January out of control?

 

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Pumpkin Filling

“Tell me about yourself.”

What a difficult question! It seem so simple. There’s so much to say! I’ve lived for so many years, had so many experiences, but where does one start? Do you want to know about why I wanted to become a doctor? How about the time I puked in the hallway in second grade while everyone was walking for some event and I just kept moving as if it never happened? Do you want to know about my parents? Brother? Grandmother? Pet fish who died a few months ago?

Which self do you want to hear about, is the questions I should reply back.

It’s officially interview season for residency programs all over the country! My first one is tomorrow followed by my second on Wednesday right before my third on Thursday and my fourth on Friday. Yes, that’s right. Four full-day interviews complete with tours of hospitals in four days with an added “Meet the Residents” dinner the night before each and every one of those interviews.

And this is only the beginning?!

I have 13, possibly 14, scheduled interviews with the last on January 5 (for now anyway).

How I’ll keep sane with all the travel is beyond me at the moment. I’m stuck in the present. The present, where I still have these cupcakes to calm me down the second I start hyperventilating about how these interviews will decide the next four years of my life, what city I’ll be in, which hospital I’ll work at.

I’ve been thinking lately that it’s been awhile since I’ve come up with a new cupcake recipe. After much thinking and consideration, this idea came to me in an instant. Funny how things work that way, isn’t it? You spend all this time trying to plan it all out and, in the end, things just fall into place.

These came together perfectly on the first try and they are a taste of hearty fall. The cake itself is a bit dense, almost like a quickbread even. The filling and frosting are not overly sweet but are filled with spicy warmth. The combination is winning and every bit make me feel like I am home and settled into the autumn season.

I urge you to make these as is or leave out the filling and frosting altogether and you have a semblance of a cinnamon muffin on your hands!

 

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Pumpkin Filling and Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting
a STO original

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Ingredients
For cupcakes:

  • 2 c cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 /2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c buttermilk

For filling:

  • 3/4 c pumpkin puree, I used canned
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger

For frosting:

  • 1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a cupcake/muffin pan with lining papers.

For cupcakes: In a large bowl, sift cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until completely incorporated before moving on. Add vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture followed by the buttermilk in 3 and 2 additions respectively, mixing until well combined. Do not overbeat. When mixed, divide evenly among cupcake liners, each about 2/3 to 3/4 filled. Pop in the oven for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once done, cool on wire racks.

While the cupcakes are baking, prepare the filling and frosting.

For filling: Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

For frosting: With a stand or hand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat until creamy and smooth. Then add vanilla, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves and mix just until combined. Taste and adjust flavorings as needed.

To assemble: When the cupcakes are cooled, cut out tiny cones from the top of each one. Cut off the very tip of each cone to give a little more space for filling. Drop about 1 tbsp filling per cupcake. You should have just enough filling. Replace the cone and frost with the cream cheese mixture. For these I put the frosting in a gallon-sized plastic bag, cut off the tip, and piped the frosting on.

PS. Is anyone as excited about seeing the Pioneer Woman and Bobby Flay go at it as I am?

Green Tea Cupcakes – Repost

The first original recipe to be published on STO, this cupcake flavor profile came to me on a whim and proved to be every bit of delicious I expected it to be. Originally published on March 9, 2010.

Last weekend was my first full-sized baking event. Ever. (Well, beyond the occasional school bake sale that I may or may not have volunteered for.)

70ish cupcakes along with animal heads made of cake and cookies to spell “CONGRATULATIONS.”

Slight overachiever. (In case you’re wondering, medical school does not require one to be an overachiever. I’d actually classify myself as an underachiever in that regard seeing as how I obviously spend more man-hours baking than studying.)

Wednesday:

  • Bake almond cakes for snacking while baking on Friday.
  • Bake cake to make animal heads.
  • Bake sugar cookies.
  • Make royal icing for the first time ever (what a time-consuming spontaneous idea).
  • Ice cookies in green, brown, and blue.

What really happened: I did all the above with a two-hour break to have dinner with an old roommate. Dinner was good. Consequences of leaving the kitchen for 2 hours in the midst of baking were not-so-good. I had to stay up until 1 and still wake up at 5.30 to drive an hour to the hospital. Icing cookies with royal icing took MUCH longer than anticipated (a.k.a. all night). No one warned me of this!

Thursday:

  • On call at the hospital until midnight.
  • Attempt to get some sleep.

What really happened: Got out of call at 10 but was exhausted due to the lack of sleep the night before. When did I turn into an old fart? On my Surgery rotation (the first one of the year) I got 4-5 hours routinely and made it through the 6-day work-week! Now? Give me 8 hours or someone’s going to lose an eye (which translates into: Give me 8 hours or I’ll repeatedly whine via texting to Boy the next day which I’m sure makes him want to poke his eye out.) After having 4 cups of coffee that day I still had to chug a Mountain Dew in a last ditch effort to stay awake while on my 12th hours at the hospital. And yet, with all that caffeine, I slept like a log (when I got home).

Friday:

  • Bake green tea cupcakes (subject of this post), fill, and top.
  • Bake banana chai cupcakes and ice.
  • Coach Boy and friend (Ashley) on how to make animal heads and hope it turns out okay.

What really happened: A 6-hour baking event complete with misplacement of sanity, sneaking pizza slices, and the Gaga challenge on America’s Best Dance Crew, a million and one dirty dishes, monkeys that looked genetically deformed, veritable wars against chocolate, heavy cream, exhaustion, and the clock, and sugar overload.

Saturday:

  • BABY SHOWER!


Didn’t Ashley and Boy’s animal heads come out cute? I love the Asian lion! And Tony the Tiger!

What really happened: Success! People loved the cupcakes and the animal heads (which also tasted delicious)! Yay!

Moral of the story: It was all worth it.

Seriously. I’d do it again. Chalk it up to the little-engine-that-could-overachiever in me. Or perhaps I have yet to find my sanity.

But really I put the green tea cupcake together piece by piece, pulling and adapting from various recipes, JUST for the shower and am elated with the results. It’s the first time I’ve ever come up with a concept on my own and carried it to fruition. The green tea flavor is there but it’s not overpowering, the strawberries add just the right amount sweetness and creaminess, and the mint whipped topping gives it a hint of freshness. It’s well-balanced and crazy good. (Oh! Do you hear that train? That big, loud obnoxious train? I believe that’s the Sharlene Happy-train and I’m tooting my own horn.) They’re absolutely delicious. Go bake them NOW!

Note on the animal heads: I didn’t take pictures while I was prototyping them and was too busy to take pictures while Ashley and Boy made them proper so sorry about that. Essentially, I took Bakerella‘s cake pop posts and created a lion, a tiger, and a monkey. The balls were made of crumbled yellow cake from a box, lemon frosting from a tub, melted chocolate candies, sweat, tears, and perhaps a few drops of blood. They were refrigerated for about an hour and then covered in various melted chocolate candies: dark chocolate for the monkey with a peanut butter face, peanut butter for the lion, and orange chocolate for the tiger. Ears for the lion and tiger were made of diamond shaped sprinkles pressed into the ball so that only a triangle was seen. The lion mane was made of caramel popcorn pressed on while the chocolate was still wet and the monkey ears were made of dark chocolate candies. Facial features were painted on with melted dark chocolate. Instead of putting them on sticks, since the plan was to have them rest atop the cupcakes, we coated them and laid them on parchment figuring the bottom wouldn’t be visible anyway. Holler if you have questions.

Note on photography: For fear of the whipped cream melting before the actual baby shower, I sent Ashley home with the whipped cream in an airtight container, 2 disposable decorating bags, decorating tips, and 35 un-topped green tea cupcakes. As such, the only finished product pictures I have are Ashley’s photos of the baby shower. The green tea ones have ridge-less tops (as in the picture below).

Green Tea Cupcakes with Strawberry Mascarpone Filling and Mint Whipped Cream

adapted from Chockylit, Giada, and Dorie

Cupcake
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp matcha
1 c milk [I used 2% because it’s all I keep stocked.]

Filling
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 c thawed and drained frozen strawberries
1/4 c sugar
Juice of half a lemon (approximately 1 tbsp)

Topping
1 2/3 c heavy cream
5-8 fresh mint leaves [or a few drops mint extract]
1/3 c sugar

Instructions


Cupcake:
Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs/egg yolks one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.


In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha. Mix 1/3 of flour mixture into batter followed by 1/2 of the milk. Repeat and then add in last of the flour mixture, each time mixing until just combined.

Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.


Filling:
In a food processor [or blender if you want to make your life difficult but have nothing else in your tiny kitchen; for this, I suggest chopping up the strawberries into small pieces and let the mascarpone soften a bit and you’ll be just fine] , combine mascarpone, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice until smooth.

Topping:
Bring 1 1/3 cups cream and the mint leaves to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pull the pan from the heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes, then pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
[If using mint extract omit this step.]

Strain the cream into a measuring cup and add as much additional chilled cream as needed to measure 1 1/3 cups. Working with a stand or hand mixer in a medium bowl, whip the cream and sugar [and mint extract, if using. Use 1-2 drops to start and increase as you taste. You don’t want the mint flavor to be too overpowering, just enough to give the cupcakes a fresh taste.] until the cream holds firm peaks.

[forgot to take pictures! whoops!]

Assembly:
Using a filling tip, pipe several areas of the cupcake with strawberry filling. [I piped 4-5 in a circle and then 1 more in the middle.] Alternatively, you can use the cone method by cutting out a cone from the cupcake, filling, and reapplying the cone (you may want to cut the bottom of the cone off so it all fits, or keep the bottom on to give your cake extra height). Top with the whipped cream.

Get to baking! You’re missing out!

– Sharlene

Cinnamon Banana Dirt Pudding

REMINDER: CUPCAKE HERO JULY [COCONUT] ENTRIES DUE JULY 17TH!! Email me at smalltownoven[at]gmail[dot]com!

onto the entry..

No flour. No baking powder. No baking soda. Sugar but only in the form of packets.

You have just entered the twilight zone.

Just kidding.

You’re actually in the studio I’m staying in for the month.

I KNOW.

Such a place exists? you may ask. And my answer would be Sad, but true.

So what is a girl to do when she yearns to bake all day every day but has an empty kitchen smaller than her closet at home??

[Back story: I’m staying with a friend in NYC because I’m doing a rotation here for a month. She lives in a studio with a kitchen that actually has less than a square foot of provided counter space. I’m talking fridge, sink, stove. She installed a countertop that is on a hinge so you can fold it down when you don’t want it which works because you can’t really move when it’s set up. It’s tiny. So she doesn’t cook. Or bake.]

I racked my brain for ideas on how I could get my fix. And I though PUDDING!

What a fantastic idea! I needed to buy a few ingredients, yes, but not nearly as many as if I were to make cookies, cupcakes, etc which were all first on my list.

So here I am with pudding. And oreos.

Because for some reason I’m obsessed with oreos these days. No lectures on how obscenely unhealthy they are for you please.

If you’ve ever had dirt pudding, it’s usually made with vanilla pudding, whipped topping, and oreos. I decided to make it a cinnamon pudding and add in some bananas to make it a little fancier. Can I tell you? This version of dirt pudding is delicious. The cinnamon pudding itself is unbelievable and could very well stand on its own but add it to some oreos, bananas, and whipped topping? Good gravy we have a winner!

If you’re low on flour, or even if you’re not, let me introduce you to my friend Cinnamon Banana Dirt Pudding. BEST friend, in fact.

Cinnamon Pudding
adapted from Sweet World

Ingredients
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 cups milk (I used whole)
3 egg yolks
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Instructions

Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk. Then add the yolks and cinnamon stick.

Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with whisk, approximately 7-8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly 1 to 2 minutes, until pudding is thick. Remove the pan from the stove.

Strain the pudding into a medium bowl. Add the cinnamon and whisk until the cinnamon is completely mixed in. Discard the cinnamon stick.

Leave the pudding on the counter for 30 minutes, until lukewarm then place in the refrigerator to completely cool down.

Cinnamon Banana Dirt Pudding
a smalltownoven original

1 recipe chilled Cinnamon Pudding (see above)
2-3 large bananas
1/2 tub Cool Whip
1 package oreos

Instructions
Crush oreos in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, frying pan, etc. Set aside. Slice bananas however thickness desired. Set aside.

In a serving container (I used an 8×8 brownie pan because it’s all I could find) layer the oreos, pudding, whipped topping, and bananas. Continue layering with oreos, pudding, whipped topping, and finish with oreos, reserving a handful or two. I only did one layer of bananas. It’s up to you.

Chill for several hours before serving to allow oreos to soften. Just before serving, top with remaining crushed cookies for a little crunch.

Simple but delicious!

Mint Blueberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Whipped Cream

Sometime in the midst of all my stress and end-of-the-year nervous breakdowns I gave thought to doing away with this blog altogether. It’s still a baby, a little blip on the internet map, and could have very easily fallen away without much of a fuss.

When I suggested this to Boy, he was not in agreement.

I started this with the sole intention of pushing myself to be a better baker, to create recipes instead of always following someone else’s lead, and to try new things.

So, with that in mind, I joined Daring Bakers last month and completed my first challenge earlier this month (the reveal is on the 27th). This past weekend, I decided to try something else too.

I’m going for Cupcake Hero.

Whoa.

I decided this on Saturday. On Sunday I woke up with a few ideas of how to use blueberries in a cupcake and took my sweet time getting to the grocery store etc. Then, last night around 8 pm I realized that the deadline for Cupcake Hero is midnight tonight.

WHOA!

I scrambled. But I’m actually quite happy with the result! Maybe I work well under pressure? I even had the chance to have Boy and two other friends try a few! The overwhelming opinion was that they taste “fresh” and that’s exactly what I was going for. Not too sweet, not too heavy, and perfectly summery.

Let’s hope I win but if not this is definitely a recipe I’ll keep in my arsenal when I’m looking for something different to bring to a party. They’re delicious.

Mint Blueberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Whipped Cream
a smalltownoven original

Makes 12.

Ingredients
For cake:
2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp mint extract
3/4 c milk
1 1/4- 1 1/2 c blueberries (I used fresh)

For topping:
1 c heavy cream
10-15 mint leaves
3 oz white chocolate, chopped

For garnish:
fresh blueberries

Instructions
Do ahead: Heat heavy cream and mint leaves in a saucepan until boiling. Take off heat, cover, and steep for 1 hour. Strain mint leaves out of cream and refrigerate until chilled for several hours or overnight (freezer if you’re in a rush).

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12-cake muffin/cupcake pan with appropriate liners.

Toss blueberries with 1 tbsp flour. In a large bowl, sift together rest of flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream sugar and butter together until well blended using a hand or stand mixer. Add eggs one at a time and mix well. Add extracts and mix completely. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternating with the milk in 2 additions, mixing well in between each addition. Fold in blueberries.

Bake for 20-24 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes before moving to cooling racks.

For topping, melt white chocolate with 2 tbsp of mint-infused heavy cream in a large bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be careful not to allow the white chocolate to burn! Once melted, take off heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a separate large bowl, whip the rest of the heavy cream (~3/4 c) until the appropriate consistency. Fold in the cooled white chocolate.

To assemble, place a dollop of topping on each cupcake and garnish with fresh blueberries.

How cute!

– Sharlene

Strawberry Mango Cupcakes

I was going to write about how I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend (I still do hope that by the way) and tell you all about my own weekend which went by too quickly given I was on call Saturday so it mostly just felt like a normal weekend having Monday off.. except now I’m an extra day into the week when I have a bajillion things to do.. so the Monday off threw me for a loop and now my post has gone in a completely different direction.

To be honest, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. It’s the tail end of third year and I have one more major exam to round out the year. The only problem is that I haven’t been studying like I usually do. It might be the weather, it might be the produce in stores which inevitably finds its way into my kitchen to be made into something delicious (we hope), or it might just be “senioritis.” Either way, it’s not good.

Because I have to do well on this exam.

It’s not just that though. There are graduations (such as little brother who’s going to law school this fall yippee skippee), baby showers, and the casual BBQs that I always want to attend even though I probably shouldn’t. It’s all sort of just added up to the point where I’m completely underwater and struggling to stay afloat.

Friends out there, do you have days/weeks/times like this? When you just don’t see how you’re going to get everything done and you can’t figure out where to cut corners? What if you don’t want to cut corners? What if all your corners are important as in your best friend, your boyfriend, your family, and then school/your career? It feels as if I’m the piece of paper and those are my four corners and if I cut one of them, I cut off a piece of me (temporary, yes, but still). Is this all a little too heavy right now?

Well, that’s how I’m feeling.

In contrast, these cupcakes are light and fresh. They tasted, dare I say, like summer. Even better after they had been refrigerated for an hour or so before eating. This past weekend I chose my family and baked these for my brother’s going-away/Memorial Day BBQ (he’s attending a summer session that will allow him to have to take less credits in the fall). They’re a wonderful pick-me-up. I wish I still had some left over but they went quickly!

My only note is that I strongly suggest using Champagne mangoes. They’re yellow-skinned and can often be found in the Asian food markets. I find them to be much sweeter than the red/green ones I usually find at the supermarket and while you can attempt to use those, I think these really made the cupcakes. Let me know if you try them either way!

Strawberry Mango Cupcakes
cake adapted from Annie’s Eats; whipped cream a STO original

Makes 30ish regular cupcakes or 60 mini-cupcakes.

Ingredients
For the cake:
2 1/2 c cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1/3 c buttermilk
1/4 c oil [I used olive oil.]
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c chopped strawberries
1 c chopped Champagne mangoes (approximately 2 mangoes)

For the whipped cream:
1 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar, more to taste
1 ripe kiwi, pureed
1/2 Champagne mango, pureed

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F. Line cupcake pans with appropriate liners.

Sift flour, salt and baking soda into a medium bowl.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl and using a hand or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time until combined.  Then add the rest of the wet ingredients (buttermilk, oil and vanilla) and combine.  Add flour mixture, stirring until just combined.  Fold in chopped strawberries and mangoes.  Fill cupcake liners 1/2 to 3/4 full and bake accordingly: 18-22 minutes for regular sized cupcakes, 8-10 minutes for mini-cupcakes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before adding topping.

For the topping, whip the heavy cream using a hand or stand mixer on medium speed until it begins to thicken. Slowly add sugar while mixer continues and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold in the kiwi and mango. Taste and add sugar if desired (this will depend on the sweetness of your fruit). Pipe or dollop onto cupcakes.

A tiny bite of freshness!

– Sharlene

Green Tea Cupcakes

Last weekend was my first full-sized baking event. Ever. (Well, beyond the occasional school bake sale that I may or may not have volunteered for.)

70ish cupcakes along with animal heads made of cake and cookies to spell “CONGRATULATIONS.”

Slight overachiever. (In case you’re wondering, medical school does not require one to be an overachiever. I’d actually classify myself as an underachiever in that regard seeing as how I obviously spend more man-hours baking than studying.)

Wednesday:

  • Bake almond cakes for snacking while baking on Friday.
  • Bake cake to make animal heads.
  • Bake sugar cookies.
  • Make royal icing for the first time ever (what a time-consuming spontaneous idea).
  • Ice cookies in green, brown, and blue.

What really happened: I did all the above with a two-hour break to have dinner with an old roommate. Dinner was good. Consequences of leaving the kitchen for 2 hours in the midst of baking were not-so-good. I had to stay up until 1 and still wake up at 5.30 to drive an hour to the hospital. Icing cookies with royal icing took MUCH longer than anticipated (a.k.a. all night). No one warned me of this!

Thursday:

  • On call at the hospital until midnight.
  • Attempt to get some sleep.

What really happened: Got out of call at 10 but was exhausted due to the lack of sleep the night before. When did I turn into an old fart? On my Surgery rotation (the first one of the year) I got 4-5 hours routinely and made it through the 6-day work-week! Now? Give me 8 hours or someone’s going to lose an eye (which translates into: Give me 8 hours or I’ll repeatedly whine via texting to Boy the next day which I’m sure makes him want to poke his eye out.) After having 4 cups of coffee that day I still had to chug a Mountain Dew in a last ditch effort to stay awake while on my 12th hours at the hospital. And yet, with all that caffeine, I slept like a log (when I got home).

Friday:

  • Bake green tea cupcakes (subject of this post), fill, and top.
  • Bake banana chai cupcakes and ice.
  • Coach Boy and friend (Ashley) on how to make animal heads and hope it turns out okay.

What really happened: A 6-hour baking event complete with misplacement of sanity, sneaking pizza slices, and the Gaga challenge on America’s Best Dance Crew, a million and one dirty dishes, monkeys that looked genetically deformed, veritable wars against chocolate, heavy cream, exhaustion, and the clock, and sugar overload.

Saturday:

  • BABY SHOWER!


Didn’t Ashley and Boy’s animal heads come out cute? I love the Asian lion! And Tony the Tiger!

What really happened: Success! People loved the cupcakes and the animal heads (which also tasted delicious)! Yay!

Moral of the story: It was all worth it.

Seriously. I’d do it again. Chalk it up to the little-engine-that-could-overachiever in me. Or perhaps I have yet to find my sanity.

But really I put the green tea cupcake together piece by piece, pulling and adapting from various recipes, JUST for the shower and am elated with the results. It’s the first time I’ve ever come up with a concept on my own and carried it to fruition. The green tea flavor is there but it’s not overpowering, the strawberries add just the right amount sweetness and creaminess, and the mint whipped topping gives it a hint of freshness. It’s well-balanced and crazy good. (Oh! Do you hear that train? That big, loud obnoxious train? I believe that’s the Sharlene Happy-train and I’m tooting my own horn.) They’re absolutely delicious. Go bake them NOW!

Note on the animal heads: I didn’t take pictures while I was prototyping them and was too busy to take pictures while Ashley and Boy made them proper so sorry about that. Essentially, I took Bakerella‘s cake pop posts and created a lion, a tiger, and a monkey. The balls were made of crumbled yellow cake from a box, lemon frosting from a tub, melted chocolate candies, sweat, tears, and perhaps a few drops of blood. They were refrigerated for about an hour and then covered in various melted chocolate candies: dark chocolate for the monkey with a peanut butter face, peanut butter for the lion, and orange chocolate for the tiger. Ears for the lion and tiger were made of diamond shaped sprinkles pressed into the ball so that only a triangle was seen. The lion mane was made of caramel popcorn pressed on while the chocolate was still wet and the monkey ears were made of dark chocolate candies. Facial features were painted on with melted dark chocolate. Instead of putting them on sticks, since the plan was to have them rest atop the cupcakes, we coated them and laid them on parchment figuring the bottom wouldn’t be visible anyway. Holler if you have questions.

Note on photography: For fear of the whipped cream melting before the actual baby shower, I sent Ashley home with the whipped cream in an airtight container, 2 disposable decorating bags, decorating tips, and 35 un-topped green tea cupcakes. As such, the only finished product pictures I have are Ashley’s photos of the baby shower. The green tea ones have ridge-less tops (as in the picture below).

Green Tea Cupcakes with Strawberry Mascarpone Filling and Mint Whipped Cream

adapted from Chockylit, Giada, and Dorie

Cupcake
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp matcha
1 c milk
[I used 2% because it’s all I keep stocked.]

Filling
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 c thawed and drained frozen strawberries
1/4 c sugar
Juice of half a lemon (approximately 1 tbsp)

Topping
1 2/3 c heavy cream
5-8 fresh mint leaves [or a few drops mint extract]
1/3 c sugar

Instructions


Cupcake:
Beat butter on high until soft, about 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs/egg yolks one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.


In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha. Mix 1/3 of flour mixture into batter followed by 1/2 of the milk. Repeat and then add in last of the flour mixture, each time mixing until just combined.

Bake for 22-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.


Filling:
In a food processor [or blender if you want to make your life difficult but have nothing else in your tiny kitchen; for this, I suggest chopping up the strawberries into small pieces and let the mascarpone soften a bit and you’ll be just fine] , combine mascarpone, strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice until smooth.

Topping:
Bring 1 1/3 cups cream and the mint leaves to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pull the pan from the heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes, then pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
[If using mint extract omit this step.]

Strain the cream into a measuring cup and add as much additional chilled cream as needed to measure 1 1/3 cups. Working with a stand or hand mixer in a medium bowl, whip the cream and sugar [and mint extract, if using. Use 1-2 drops to start and increase as you taste. You don’t want the mint flavor to be too overpowering, just enough to give the cupcakes a fresh taste.] until the cream holds firm peaks.

[forgot to take pictures! whoops!]

Assembly:
Using a filling tip, pipe several areas of the cupcake with strawberry filling. [I piped 4-5 in a circle and then 1 more in the middle.] Alternatively, you can use the cone method by cutting out a cone from the cupcake, filling, and reapplying the cone (you may want to cut the bottom of the cone off so it all fits, or keep the bottom on to give your cake extra height). Top with the whipped cream.


Get to baking! You’re missing out!

– Sharlene