Meltaway Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. Deuteronomy 32:2

Okay, last weekend I got an early start on my baking after realizing what month it is. It seems like only yesterday I was horrifed to find that somehow June 21st had just slipped by and the days were starting to get shorter (I really hate that).  At this point I can start to celebrate that we only have 79 days and 22 minutes until the winter solstice (of course, by the time you read this it will be probably only be 77 days!!!).  I think it’s my favorite day of the year…when the days start getting longer and the horrid darkness of wintertime starts to wane.  Judging by the fact that Googling the phrase “how many days until december 21 2011” returned “about” 143 million results, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels that way.  When it’s finally April or May again and the plants start to bloom, and the trees rustle with their new bright green spring leaves, I feel like I can finally take off my shoes and socks and take a breath.

I love fall, though, and we are in the midst of what is supposed to be the most colorful and intense display of fall leaves in 10 years. We went up north to visit my mom and stepdad this last weekend, and the news guys weren’t lying. Wow.  I think my favorites are the maple trees.  I love the yellows and oranges – so vibrant. I’m not sure if the sky is actually really a richer blue or if it’s just the combination of colors that makes it seem like it is.  I love to hear the leaves crunching under my feet, and the air is nice and crisp – perfect sweatshirt weather.  It’s exactly the right weather for having a fire in the fire pit and visiting the apple orchard. The only problem is that white stuff that’s going to start falling in just a few short weeks.  Eek! 

At any rate, I can’t do a thing to stop it, so I’m going to try to make the best of it.  I want to have time this year to sit quietly and craft, without having to worry about baking everything at once. So here’s another great cookie recipe.  This one calls for frosting.  While the frosting can be frozen, I actually think it’s best to make the cookies and freeze them without frosting – the frosting is easy to make, just doesn’t taste quite as good (at least to me) after it’s been frozen.

These are essentially a brown sugar shortbread cookie. They really do have that melt-in-your-mouth flavor that is so indicative of shortbread, with the added depth of brown sugar. These also have egg yolk, which helps to keep them just a bit moist.

Very basic ingredients. And because it’s a shortbread base, no leavening agents.

Start by creaming the brown sugar and butter together. Beat for about 3 minutes.

Nice and creamy!

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites.

Beat in the egg yolks and the vanilla.

Add the flour and stir to combine.

 

Roll into 1″ balls and flatten on an ungreased cookie sheet to about 1/4″ thick. This dough is crumbly and will be rough around the edges.  Bake until just browned in a 350° oven.

While the cookies are cooling, melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium low to medium heat.  Swirl gently occasionally, and watch it closely. When it turns brown immediately remove it from the heat. At the same time, put some walnuts in the oven to toast.

When the butter is browned, combine it with confectioners sugar and milk to make a creamy frosting.

 Add the milk a little at a time, beating between additions, until it reaches a thick but creamy and spreadable consistency.

 Put a pile of walnuts on a plate or a cutting board.  Spread each cookie with a generous dollop of frosting.

Dip the frosted side in the chopped walnuts, and then let the frosting set.

It might be a good idea to try a couple to make sure they taste good!

That’s the ticket!

Meltaway Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting:

Cookies:

  • 1-1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • Granulated sugar for flattening cookies

Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2-1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk, or additional as needed

Directions:

Cookies:

Beat butter and brown sugar until creamy.

Add egg yolk and vanilla and beat well.

Add flour and stir until mixed in.

Form into 1″ balls and flatten with a juice glass dipped in sugar. They should be about 1/4″ thick.  You can crowd them because they will barely spread.

Bake for 7-9 minutes until just barely starting to brown. Do not over bake.

Remove to a wire rack to cool.

While cooling, toast about 2 cups of walnuts (or nuts of your choice), and finely chop.  Place in a bowl or on a cutting board.

Frosting:

Brown the butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium low to medium heat.  Swirl occasionally and watch carefully – once it turns brown remove it from the heat immediately.  Slower is better to prevent burning.

Mix the browned butter, powered sugar and vanilla together, and add milk one tablespoon at a time until frosting is thick but creamy and spreadable.

Frost cookies and immediately press frosted side into chopped nuts to coat.  Allow frosting to set before storing in an airtight container. If you want to make them and freeze them, freeze the cookies unfrosted in an airtight container, and thaw before frosting.

Cookies and Milk and Thanksgiving and Christmas

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8

I believe in an earlier posting I may have alluded to the fact that even though I’m no longer in school (yeah, okay that’s the understatement of the year), I still think having cookies and milk when I get home is a great way to start the evening.  I love to dunk cookies in milk, and being the incredible cookie snob that I am, they of course have to be homemade. And I like my cookies sort of chewy and crispy all at the same time – unlike my husband who likes them hard as a rock.  I think this might be because his mom made an amazing slice and bake refrigerator cookie that was specifically formulated to be a dunker, e.g. a harder cookie.  So to make sure he gets cookies he likes, I always completely overcook two pans full just for him.  This is also kind of a defense mechanism, because if I don’t provide him with cookies that are too hard for normal folks to enjoy, he’ll simply leave the bag or the container open to ensure they get stale and hard as quickly as possible.

I will also now publicly admit to the fact that I will make cookies in anticipation of upcoming holidays and freeze them, in order to cut down on the amount of last minute baking. The reason I’ve hesitated to admit to this is because when I was growing up, my mom did the same thing.  And my brother and I pestered her unendingly and constantly while explaining to her that cookies were for eating, not freezing.  And we would raid the freezer anytime we could get away with it.  Actually, my dad, brother and I all raided the freezer without any guilt whenever we could.  I can remember my dad nonchalantly taking a spoon from the kitchen drawer, and then sort of innocently strolling downstairs to eat ice cream right out of the container.  My mom tried to help him with his diet because he had heart issues, so she was pretty aware of what was going on.  She had a sixth sense about when he was on a foray to the freezer, and if I had a nickel for everytime she’d yell down the stairs, “PHIL!!! Get out of that ice cream!”, I’d have at least $6.00. Plus I knew if I caught him at it he’d always offer to share as long as I didn’t tell mom.  We also used to search the house for the big candy holidays – Halloween and Easter, and I hate to brag, but we were pretty good. Between the three of us we could almost always suss out the hidden goodies.  And we were first class at looking innocent and blaming each other when the big day came and the larder was empty.  Somehow she always managed to come up with enough stuff anyway. Looking back, I think she probably hid decoys in several places to throw us off and kept a supply hidden somewhere. I’m guessing she buried it in the back yard.  She’s a cagey little thing.

Last week I realized that this weekend is October 1st. OCTOBER FIRST!  Okay, trying  not to panic. Eight short weeks until Thanksgiving and only four weeks later ’til Christmas.  This means that I need to get all my presents made and bought, plan two Thanksgiving and one Christmas dinner, all while working full time and trying to keep up with a blog!  Deep breath, I know I can do this.  My plan this year is to send a box of homemade goodies to the majority of the folks on my list.  But there are some others who are getting handmade gifts and I’m not close to finished. My dear friend Pam is coming over next weekend to learn to make candy, and that should spur me on a bit I think.  But in the meantime I can make and freeze cookies.

I started with a basic brown sugar cookie – a Cracked Brown Sugar Cookie to be precise.  This is a lip-smacking cookie and you really can’t eat just one.  They’re buttery and brown sugary sweet, soft and crispy, and perfect for dunking in milk.  Plus they freeze well and they’re easy to make.  I’m not sure where this recipe came from, but it was one of my aunts.  I’ve been making them for over 20 years and they don’t disappoint.  They aren’t fancy, but they are a perfect complement to other cookies and goodies on a holiday plate. A plus to these cookies is that they’re equally delicious with a big glass of homemade lemonade, so they’re a great summer cookie, too.

Ingredients are simple.  Brown sugar, white sugar (not shown because once again the orange canister looked like a glowing alien vessel – once I learn to do lighting correctly I’ll be able to fix that issue!) vanilla, eggs, butter, cream of tartar, baking soda and some salt (also not shown due to a minor brain fart).

Cream the butter and sugars together. Run the mixer for 3 or 4 minutes on a higher speed, and scrape down the sides a couple times.

Pretty!  Now add in the eggs and vanilla and beat it again until it looks like this.

Mix your dry ingredients together and dump ’em in the bowl.

Stir just until combined.  If you over beat the dough once you’ve added the flour, it’ll get tough.

Should look like this.  And it will smell heavenly!  Yes, it’s good dough, too. Try not to eat too much – they’re really good baked, too. At this point you can either start baking them or you can put the dough in the refrigerator for a bit.

When you’re ready to bake them, use a 1″ dough scoop (or hand roll them) and then roll them in granulated sugar. They’re going to spread out a little, so leave about 1″ between cookies.  Bake for between 9 and 10 minutes – until just barely starting to brown.  Let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 30 seconds and then remove them to a rack to cool.  When they’re completely cool store in an airtight container.  To freeze, layer between sheets of clear plastic wrap in an airtight container.  They should freeze well for up to 2 months.

Yep, they’re good!  They’re the ones on the bottom. Tomorrow I’ll post the recipe for the ones on the top – also very yummy!

Cracked Brown Sugar Cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (plus additional for rolling)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups flour

Directions:

If you are going to bake the cookies immediately, preheat oven to 350°.

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Beat for 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.

Add vanilla and eggs, and beat for about 1 more minute.

Mix flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together and add to butter/sugar mixture.  Stir just until combined.

Dough may be refrigerated for up to 2 days until ready to use; or may be baked immediately.

Roll or drop into 1″ balls.  Roll in granulated sugar and place on a heavy duty aluminum cookie sheet at least 1″ apart.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or just until beginning to brown.  They may not look quite done, but they’ll be fine.  Let them rest on the cookie sheet for about 30 seconds and then remove to cool on a wire rack.  When completely cooled, store in an  airtight container.  May be frozen up to 2 months if well-wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in an airtight container.


Simple Scrumptious Shortbread Cookies

Sail the main course in a simple sturdy craft. Keep her well stocked with short stories and long laughs. Go fast enough to get there but slow enough to see. Moderation seems to be the key. Jimmy Buffett

Yep, I think of Jimmy Buffett as my pal.  He’s been with me for over 30 years, singing songs that seem to perfectly reflect whatever I was feeling at the time.  Right now my life is at a point where simple things hold a great deal of appeal, which is a  frequent subject in Jimmy’s songs.

Sometimes I want to spend an entire day perfecting a complicated and amazing recipe.  One with many steps that have to be orchestrated as carefully as a ballet performance – one false step and it’s ruined, but when flawlessly completed yields a thing of great beauty and flavor.  Sometimes I’m successful, and sometimes not, but I always keep trying.  While I strive for baked goods that look good and taste good, taste is definitely most important.  Would that be function following form?

Anyway, there’s almost nothing simpler to make than a shortbread cookie.  Butter, flour, sugar, salt and vanilla – just five common ingredients.  Of course, you can add different flavors or flavors combinations. or some nuts if you like, but my favorite is usually the simple variety without any additions.  They will literally melt in your mouth.  So delectable!

It was another cool day here, so it felt like the perfect time to turn on the oven.

Just five ingredients.  Make sure the butter is room temperature, and sift the flour and salt together.

 

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cream the butter and sugar together until it’s combined.  For these cookies you don’t want the butter to be super light and fluffy, so as soon as they combine, you can add the vanilla, then stir a bit. Then add the sifted flour and salt and beat until combined.  It will be extremely crumbly.

Dump it out onto a pastry cloth and form it into a flat piece.  Wrap it up and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes.

 Here it is out of the fridge and ready to be rolled out.

 Sprinkle some flour on it as you’re rolling it out if it starts to stick to the rolling pin.\

You’ll want it about 1/2″ thick. You can reroll the dough and keep cutting out, just handle it gently.

Put them on a cookie sheet  – you can space them fairly close together since they won’t really spread out. Sprinkle with sugar (I like the chunkier sugar but couldn’t find it, so used regular, which is fine, too, just not as sparkly).  Bake for about 16 minutes until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.

These are perfect with a glass of milk . Mmmm. Enjoy!

Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter, room temperature (no substitutions)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3-1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 35o°.

Cream butter and sugar together until combined.  Add vanilla and stir just until combined.

Sift the salt and the flour together and add slowy just until combined.

Dump the dough onto a pastry cloth or marble slab and form it into a flat circle (it will be very crumbly, but don’t worry!).

Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, then place on a pastry cloth or marble slab and roll out to about 1/2″ thick.  Cut out with the cookie cutters of your choice, however, you’ll want to use cutters that are fairly simple shapes. You can reroll the dough and keep cutting it out.  Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a rectangle (still about 1/2″ thick) and use a pastry cutter to cut out rectangles about 1″ x 2″.

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 16 minutes, or until the cookies just start to brown around the edges.  It’s better to undercook than overcook these.

Cool on a wire rack until room temperature.  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.  These also freeze well – use wax paper or parchment paper between the layers.

You can substitute other flavorings for the vanilla, and also make additions such as dried lavender or finely chopped nuts.  These are really fun to experiment with.


Chocolate is My Friend So Let’s Have Brownies!

Fair and softly goes far. Miguel De Cervantes

When I was a little girl there were Girl Scouts and Brownies (little versions of Girl Scouts).  But there were also Campfire Girls and Bluebirds (little versions of Campfire Girls).  I think maybe the reason I like the color blue so much is because, yes, you guessed it, I was a bluebird! It was awesome.  I loved being in a club, and it was really exciting when the time came to move up and become an actual Campfire Girl – with the grown-up uniform (blue and red). 

In Campfire Girls I learned to bake banana bread, make friends, sew, do crafty things, and do nice things for others. I also had my very first S’more – and in order to have that S’more I learned how to make a fire in a coffee can.  We did this by tightly rolling up newspapers and coating them in melted parafin wax, and then packing them into an empty metal coffee can (do they even have metal coffee cans anymore?). It was so cool.  You light the newspapers on fire and you have a fire in a can.  When you’re 8 years old, that’s pretty impressive – heck, I still think it’s impressive!

Back in the 1970s the Campfire Girls  morphed into the Campfire Boy and Girls.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I had so much fun learning and spending quality time with my fellow Bluebirds and Campfire Girls, and it just seems like making it co-ed took something away.

 Here’s the Campfire Law:

  • Worship God – Respect all people, places and things as gifts of love. Share friendship and warmth as gifts to be given to others.
  • Seek Beauty – Look for the good in all people, places, things and nature.
  • Give Service – Show you care. Be a helper at home, at school, in your neighborhood, in your community, for your world.
  • Pursue Knowledge – Try new things. Experiment with a new skill. Learn more about something you already know.
  • Be Trustworthy – Be honest, truthful and do the things you say you will do. Be worthy of responsibilities others give you.
  • Hold Onto Health – Exercise, get lots of sleep, eat healthy foods, and keep your body neat and clean.  A healthy person feels good and is happy.
  • Glorify Work – Do the best you can with everything you do. Be proud of your work. Finish what you start.
  • Be Happy – Enjoy life. Be cheerful even if things don’t always go your way. Be positive. Help others to be happy. Have fun.

Okay, I know, I’m a sap.  A really sappy sap. I freely admit it.  I cry when I hold newborn babies (and even sometimes older babies), I have to change the channel when the ASPCA commercials are on TV, and I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the things around us.  And don’t even get me started on puppies, it’s ridiculous. I’m a glass half full person and I believe in unfettered optimism.

Now this doesn’t mean I haven’t had losses in my life or that I haven’t suffered – because, really, who hasn’t?  But what’s the point of focusing on the negative? In fact, sometimes I can’t believe the things that go through my head. And when I’m negative it almost always has bad repercussions. Case in point. One day I was at the post office and I was in a MAJOR hurry.  I had my head down as I was digging through my purse looking for my wallet.  The guy behind the counter was asking me questions: “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please”. “How would you like this sent?” “Priority mail please (said a bit impatiently). “Ma’am, how would you like this sent?” At which point I think VERY LOUDLY to myself, geez louise is this guy deaf or what? I then look up and notice a sign in front of him that says”I am deaf, please look at me when speaking”.  Yup, that’s how I roll.

The Campfire Law just totally embodies what I think life should be.  I know, I know, I’m a total pollyanna.  I just can’t help it.  But things like the Campfire Law brings back such great memories of simpler times,  and I especially like the very last one –  Be Happy. Makes me think of hearing the ice cream truck bell, playing hide and seek, being outside late and it’s still warm, going to bed in the summer when it was still light out (that one was my Mom’s idea), getting up early early in the morning and swinging on the swingset before anyone else got up…and not being mean to deaf people.

One thing that makes me particularly happy are brownies (not the little Girl Scouts but the cousins to cakes).  And Ina Garten recipes make me really happy!  Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa, has so many recipes that are just fabulous.  Most of them are surprisingly easy, and I haven’t tried one yet I haven’t loved.  They’re also great jumping off points for creating your own new recipes.  But her brownie recipe, called Outrageous Brownies, is truly outstanding.  When I want to make someone a really special treat, particularly in the summer (for some reason), I make these brownies.  Wonderful heavenly treats.

 

You’ll need these dry ingredients (and believe me, you’re going to use a boatload of baking powder).  Anyone know the difference between baking powder and baking soda?  And why they are not interchangeable?  They’re both leavening agents.  Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. But baking powder is sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar (another  leavening agent). Both cause a reaction that will make the baked goods rise, but baking soda makes the goods a little airier.  These brownies are very moist and we don’t want them to be cake like. So baking powder is a better choice here.

You’ll need all this stuff, too.  Do you count 7 eggs?  The recipe calls for 6 extra large eggs.  I only had large.  In most cases this isn’t an issue, but because there are so many eggs in this recipe, it was important to add an extra one to make up for the size difference. Turn the oven on to 350° and grease and 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan using baker’s grease (see the Baker’s Grease post for more info on this – http://www.chirplikeacricket.com/tips/bakers-grease/).

You need 6 ounces of good semi-sweet chocolate.  This is my little Salter scale.  You know I love kitchen gadgets, but they have to be gadgets that are truly useful.  This is one such gadget. Lots of recipes (including this one) go by weight rather than  measurements.  For instance, this recipe also calls for 1 pound plus 12 ounces of chocolate chips.  If you’re not sure how many cups that is, you can use the scale.  You turn it on, place a bowl on it, and then zero it out.  Then it will weigh only the ingredients and not the bowl (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be afraid of math, but why take a chance?).

Perfect!

Chop it up nice and fine.  It works really well to shave slices off, they will then melt very quickly.

Another beloved kitchen tool.  This is cool tool (yep, I’m a poet!). It’s a De Buyer (pronounced dee boy aye) double boiler.  This is really ingenious. It’s double-walled stainless steel with a space between the walls that holds water.  You don’t ever have to empty the water out – there’s a little gauge on the bottom to let you know when you need to add more.  There’s a steam vent that prevents liquid from getting into the melted chocolate.  Anyone know what happens when you get even one drop of water into melted chocolate? It turns into a big gritty nasty frozen mess. So you don’t want to be doin’ that. This pot holds a lot of stuff, too.

Put the chocolate chips, butter, and chopped semi-sweet chocolate in the double boiler.  You can also make a double boiler by placing a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Turn the heat on low, and let everything melt.

Here it’s about halfway done. Give it a stir once in awhile.

I want to stick my face in here.  I didn’t, though. When it’s done, take if off the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, comgine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and instant coffee. Don’t mix it, just stir it together.

I know, the coffee makes it look a little scary, and I hate those white stringy things in eggs.  Just try not to think about it.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the eggs and stir to combine. Let this sit until it comes to room temperature.  Or, if you’re impatient like me, stick it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.

While the chocolate mixture is cooling, toast and chop some walnuts (the original recipe doesn’t specify toasting the walnuts, but I think lightly toasting them for 10 minutes at about 350° adds a lot of flavor – just my 2¢).  Cool the walnuts down, and then mix them with 2 cups of chocolate chips and 1/4 cup flour.  The flour helps keep the chips and nuts distributed evenly in the brownies instead of falling to the bottom of the pan.

Sift 1 cup of flour, the baking soda and the salt into a small bowl.

Okay, now add the flour mixture to the chocolate.  Stir just until combined – don’t beat it.

 

Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips, and pour into your greased jelly roll pan.  Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, then gently bang the pan on the oven rack to dispell any air.  Bake for about 20 more minutes until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.

 

Here’s a trick I learned. Let them cool for 30 minutes or so, then pop them in the refrigerator (overnight works really well). They are very easy to cut when cold – they have a tendency to be more crumbly when room temperature.

And this is the loveliness that ensues.  But we’re not finished yet.  I learned something else from Ina, who is the queen of making food pretty and special.

 

 Ina indicates the batch makes about 20 brownies.  But those are huge brownies.  I cut them into 36 nice size brownies.  Place a brownie in the center of a piece of parchment paper (I used 12″ square pieces).

Fold the two sides together in the center over the brownie, and then fold them down flat.

Tuck the ends under.

Don’t you just love presents?  People love this presentation. I think it makes a very special treat. What would be really fun would be to give them out with single serving cartons of milk with red and white paper straws.

Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies Recipe (very slightly modified):

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 2-1/2 cups plus 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 ounces of very good semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
  • 6 extra large or 7 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup plus 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (yes, it says tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups lightly toasted chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 12 x 18 x 1″ jelly roll pan with baker’s grease.
  2. In a double boiler, melt the butter, 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and 2-1/2 cups of chocolate chips.  When melted, stir thoroughly to combine and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to cool.
  3. In a large bowl combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla and coffee – stirring to combine.  Do not beat.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and  and stir to combine.  Cool to room temperature.
  5. Sift 1 cup flour, baking soda and salt together and stir into the chocolate mixture – again, stir just to combine.
  6. Mix the chopped walnuts with 2 cups chocolate chips and 1/4 flour.  Stir into the chocolate mixture.
  7. Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350° for 15 minutes.  Gently bang the pan on the oven rack to remove some air.  Bake for 20 more minutes or until a toothpick or straw comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours before cutting. I find they are better when stored in the refrigerator, cover with plastic wrap to keep them from drying out after they have been cut.

 

 

Cupcakes, Ice Cream, and Answered Prayers

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26.

Mmmmm. Cupcakes! Cupcake. That’s what Joe Morelli calls Stephanie – she’s a sweet treat (if you haven’t read any of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, you need to – they’re hysterical). Isn’t it funny how we use food to describe people? Tough cookie. Marshmallow. Lamb chop. And of course, cupcake.

So I have this dear dear friend named Pam. Sometimes I call her Pammy, but cupcake would be an appropriate term of endearment for Miss Pam. What an inspiration she is to the people around her. She’s kind and loving and she is an amazing Woman of God. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. Being around Pam is both calming and exciting.  She is so loving and so ethusiastic – like a bright shiny new penny. A true friend of the heart. I could tell you so many things she’s done for others, but today I want to tell you about the party she gave last night for her husband, Barney.

Barney.  Mr. Barney. A wonderful match for Pam.  Funny, kind and a  Man of God. Barney has been on peritoneal dialysis EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the last 2 or possibly 3 years – due to having kidney disease. What this means is that Barney has a tube permanently implanted in his tummy.  What this also means is that there are lots of things Barney can’t do (like going swimming) because he has to make sure he doesn’t get an infection around his tube. And he has to be very careful about what he eats and drinks.

Now, if you met Barney, you’d never guess there was a thing wrong.  He doesn’t talk about it. He just does what has to be done and goes on taking care of his family and friends.  Me?  I think I’d be whining and complaining to anyone who would listen.  Not Barney. Not Pam. Their faith is unshakable. They truly see every event in their lives as a blessing.  Turns out Barney’s sister, Jennifer, who lives in another state, has a kidney she’d like to give to Barney. And she’s a match.  Talk about answered prayers.  And Barney is getting his new kidney THIS WEEK.  And his little sister, Jennifer, is just a honey.  I’m not sure, because I’m not Jennifer, but I don’t know if she really understands the depth of the gift she’s giving him.  She’s a lot like Pam.  Barney needs a kidney, she has an extra one – no brainer!

Last night Pam had a birthday party for Barney.  And I was so honored to make some treats for the party. Pam made the most wonderful spaghetti bake and a delicious chicken alfredo.  I think she could’ve done it with one hand tied behind her back. There were at least 50 people at the party, could’ve been more – the kids are shorter and harder to count. I got to make the cupcakes and since Pam is a huge fan of butter pecan ice cream, I had to make ice cream.  We had mint with chocolate, chocolate with almonds, of course, butter pecan, and good old vanilla bean.  Making ice cream is easy – I have a tutorial in an earlier post (I Scream You Scream We All Scream for Ice Cream).  I am going to include the recipe for the chocolate ice cream here – use the methods in the ice cream post.

The air of excitement and expectation that was present at the party was intoxicating.  Lots of folks shared great stories about what Barney and Pam mean to them.  And getting to meet Jennifer and spend time with her was awesome.  She’s what my husband calls a “one each only” – this  being a compliment of course. We’re all thrilled to know that Barney’s life is going to take such an exciting turn and it is truly by the grace of God.

I sometimes make cakes for people.  And I often make cupcakes.  Don’t you hate it when you go to a fancyexpensive bakery and you get a beautiful little something, but the taste doesn’t live up to the advertising?  It’s dry or flavorless and you just spent three bucks on something that isn’t worth the calories?  My goal is always flavor first, looks second.  Last September I made the cupcakes and cakes for my friend Ebbe’s wedding.  And they had to be perfect.  I tried quite a few recipes (scratch recipes of course), because I don’t like artificial ingredients, but I kept coming back to this one recipe. The reason I was hesitant is because it uses a boxed cake mix as a base.  And I have to admit, I’m a little bit of a snot when it comes to boxed mixes – I REALLY like to make things totally from scratch.  But I ended up trying this recipe, and oh boy, does it make great cakes and cupcakes. I don’t know who originally posted the recipe, but I’ve found it on many Websites which tells me other people think it’s good, too. Here’s what you do:

 

Start with all these ingredients. I used both a white and a chocolate cake mix, because I wanted to make both white and chocolate cupcakes (I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck ya know).

Mix up all your dry ingredients (cake mix, sugar, flour, and salt) and whisk ’em together.

Add in the wet ingredients (sour cream; egg whites for the white cake or whole eggs for the chocolate cake; oil, water, vanilla extract and almond extract)

Beat if for a couple of minutes until it’s fairly smooth.

Here’s what the chocolate looks like. Tasty too – the best thing about being the cook is licking the bowl!

Fill up your cupcake holders.  I’d say about 2/3 full for the vanilla and little bit less for the chocolate.

I cheated. It was fun. And easy. I love this batter squirter thingy!

Mmm. Bake for about 25 minutes.  They’re done when they spring back when you touch the top, or when you poke a testing straw in and it’s not wet when it comes out.  Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. These will be sticky to the touch, so don’t stack them on top of each other. I know it looks like there’s a missing cupcake…

Make some really rich butter cream (real butter cream made with butter, not butter cream made with *shudder* shortening – blech) and put it in a pastry bag fitted with a big star tip.  Make sure to squeeze all the frosting to the bottom of the bag so it doesn’t burp while you’re squeezing it. Now the best way to do this is to hold the cupcake in your non-dominant hand and turn the cupcake as you squeeze. My pictures are fuzzy because I was taking them with my left hand – sorry!

Squeeze a line of frosting around the entire perimeter of the cupcake…

Then inside the first line…

Then into the very center.  Flick your wrist up as you stop squeezing, and you’ve got a frosted cupcake.  Add sprinkles and such as needed. Mine were naked because the only sprinkles I had were Easter egg shapes.

They’re so cute!

The cupcake version of ice cream and cake!

Basic White or Chocolate Cupcake or Cake Mix

Makes about 30 cupcakes; or two 2″ x 6″ rounds and 6 cupcakes; or two 7″ rounds

Ingredients:

  • 1 box white or chocolate cake mix
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 -1/3 cups water
  • 4 egg whites if making white cake; or 3 whole eggs if making chocolate cake
  • 1/8 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together.
  3. Add all wet ingredients and beat for about 2 minutes until well combined.
  4. If making cupcakes, fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full for white and a bit less for dark.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until they spring back when touched.
  5. For cake, use baker’s grease or grease and flour, and start testing for doneness at about 35 minutes.  I also highly recommend using baking strips around the outside of your pan to keep the cake level.

Frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, if desired
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons milk, half and half or whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup sifted cocoa powder if making chocolate frosting (omit for vanilla)

Directions:

  1. Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients and vanilla and mix.  Add milk, one tablespoon at a time until frosting is spreadable.
  2. After frosting, keep covered in the refrigerator – this helps retain the moistness and the frosting stays pretty.

Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups half and half
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sifted cocoa powder
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 ounces finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cups Marcona almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions:

  1. Mix cream, half and half, salt and cocoa powder together in a heavy saucepan over medium or medium-low heat. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Heat until bubbles appear around the edges.
  3. While the cream mixture is heating, beat the egg yolks and the sugar together until the yolks turn lemony yellow.
  4. Take about 3/4 cup of the hot cream mixture and pour slowly into the egg mixture, whisking briskly. Pour the egg cream mixture back into the cream and half and half mixture.
  5. Continue stirring and cooking as the mixture thickens.  When it coats the back of a wooden spoon and you can draw a line that doesn’t disappear through it, remove from heat.
  6. Add the chopped chocolate and continue stirring until the chocolate melts.
  7. Refrigerate over night to chill completely.  The colder it is when you put it in the ice cream maker, the creamier it will be.
  8. Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  About a minute before the ice cream has completed processing, add the almonds and let them get completely incorporated.
  9. Freeze for at least 2 hours before eating.