blueberry pie

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The two weeks a year when blueberries are reasonably priced are almost a tease. Blink and you miss it! Down here in the desert, some years it doesn’t happen at all (or maybe I blinked). They went on sale recently, and I loaded up my cart. I didn’t know what I was going to make for dessert that weekend, but I knew it would have lots of blueberries in it.

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Pie. Pie is so classic, and like I recently said, I don’t get many opportunities to make it. While pies aren’t the easiest desserts to make, at least blueberries don’t require any tedious prep like most other fruits – that is, unless you choose a high-maintenance Cook’s Illustrated recipe for blueberry pie.

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I did, because I hate soupy pies enough to pre-cook the filling and peel and grate an apple into the mix. And clean out the coffee grinder to powder the tapioca when the grinder I keep in the kitchen for non-coffee things broke. All the cleaning, dough-rolling, pre-cooking, and apple-shredding was worth it when I was rewarded with a flaky crust over a juicy but not soupy filling of my favorite summer fruit.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Blueberry Pie (pretty much straight from Cook’s Illustrated, except for I don’t use their crust)

CI notes: This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1¼ cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons.

dough for double-crust pie (I always make this one)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar (5¼ ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (see note)
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Using 1¼-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1½ inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least ½-inch overhang on each side.

4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving ½-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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margarita cupcakes

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I haven’t really been drinking margaritas lately, since we’ve moved from daiquiris into experiments with all sorts of tiki drinks, but eating them is another thing. I hosted a taco bar party recently, where I supplied corn tortillas and beef barbacoa and everyone else brought sides or toppings. I thought about serving margaritas, but I wasn’t excited about squeezing a hundred limes; sangria for a crowd is a whole lot easier.

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But a taco party without margaritas in any form just isn’t right, so we’d have them for dessert instead. This is a white cupcake flavored with lime zest, then brushed very liberally with a mixture of tequila and orange liqueur. The buttercream, light and airy swiss meringue, is flavored with more lime juice and more tequila.

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I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to get the flavor of liquor in the batter to come across after a dessert is baked (bourbon pound cake seems to be an exception), so I don’t even attempt that here, just brushing – and then brushing some more, and then more – the baked cakes with liquor. The cupcakes aren’t so strong that you’ll gag on the fumes, but they do have a hint of bite to them, just like the best margaritas. And I had way more fun making cupcakes and frosting than I would have had squeezing lime after lime after lime.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Margarita Cupcakes (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)

Makes 24 cupcakes

It seems like a lot of liquor to brush into the cupcakes, but trust me that you will use it all, and the cupcakes won’t be soggy.

Cupcakes:
3¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons (13.5 ounces) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
6 large egg whites
2¼ cups (15.75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
12 tablespoons (1½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lime juice
6 tablespoons tequila
3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Buttercream:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
2 tablespoons tequila

1. For the cupcakes: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

2. Put the sugar and lime zest in a mixer bowl mix with paddle attachment until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the lime juice, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

3. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them ⅔ to ¾ of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-24 minutes, rotating the pans once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly. Transfer the pans to wire racks; cool about 5 minutes, them remove the cupcakes. Cool cupcakes completely on a rack before frosting.

4. Combine the tequila and orange liqueur in a small dish. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke about 10 holes in the top of each cupcake, almost to the base. Brush with the alcohol mixture. Keep brushing the cupcakes until all the alcohol has been used.

5. For the buttercream: Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a metal mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees and the sugar has dissolved. Using the whisk attachment, beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 6 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more. Stir in the lime juice and tequila; mix just until incorporated. Use a wide star tip to pipe frosting onto the cupcakes, garnishing with tiny lime wedges and lime zest.

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strawberry shortcake cupcakes

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I’ve had these cupcake wrappers for at least a year, maybe close to two years. But because they’re tulips, I was determined that I could only use them in the spring, and sometimes, a whole month or two can go by where I don’t think about cupcake wrappers. If that month is April and May, then it’s too late for tulips. Having actually remembered this year, I wanted to make the most springy cupcake I could.

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Strawberries are the obvious choice. And what dessert is more springy than strawberry shortcake?

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This isn’t too different than a cupcake adaptation of this strawberry cream cake, but the cake portion of that recipe is meant to be dense enough to stand up to layers of strawberries and whipped cream. I wanted something fluffier, so I started with my favorite basic vanilla cake. The filling in that strawberry cream cake would be perfect for adding to the middle of cupcakes, because the strawberries are minced and juicy, just right for maximizing the flavor they can contribute in just a small hole in the middle of each cupcake.

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The topping is perfect as well, since the cream cheese stabilizes the whipped cream enough to mound on top of each cupcake. With a slice of strawberry over the hole filled with strawberries to even out the top of the cupcake, plus more fresh strawberries on top, there were plenty of berries to balance the cake and rich cream topping. It was a perfect combination.  Tulips and strawberries, what’s better than that for spring?

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes (cake adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride; filling and topping adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Strawberry Cream Cake)

24 cupcakes

Vanilla cupcakes:
3 cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Strawberry filling:
8 ounces fresh strawberries (about ½ quart), washed, dried, and stemmed
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon Kirsch or port
Pinch table salt

Whipped cream topping:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch table salt
2 cups heavy cream

6-8 strawberries, sliced crosswise into rounds
additional strawberries for garnish

1. For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and baking powder.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

3. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture, beating until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the buttermilk, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk, then the last of the flour. Mix for 15 seconds longer.

4. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about two-thirds of the way full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

5. For the filling: Quarter the berries; toss with sugar in a medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain the juices from the berries and reserve (you should have about ¼ cup). In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, give the macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about ¾ cup). In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the reserved juices and Kirsch until the mixture is syrupy and reduced to about 1½ tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the reduced syrup over the macerated berries, add a pinch of salt, and toss to combine.

6. For the topping: When the cake has cooled, place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream; when it’s almost fully combined, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2½ minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed (you should have about 4½ cups).

7. To assemble: With a paring knife, carve a cone out of the center of each cupcake. Use a slotted spoon to transfer some strawberry filling to the cavity; top each hole with a round slice of strawberry. Frost the cupcakes; garnish with additional strawberries. If not serving within about an hour, refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour before serving (otherwise, the cake will seem hard and stale).

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beer ice cream

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I wish I could think of a more appetizing name for this. If I’d used one of the chocolate porters in my fridge, I could have called it Chocolate Porter Ice Cream, which sounds good, because, you know, chocolate. Scotch Ale Ice Cream sounds marginally better, but this recipe isn’t limited to scotch ales. A variety of beers can be used, and therefore Beer Ice Cream really is the most appropriate name.

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Not necessarily any beer can be used though. You want something full-flavored, but not too hoppy. IPAs are out. The original recipe specifically recommends Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo, with Oskar Blue’s Old Chub Scotch Ale as a close second. I happened to have a can of Old Chub in the fridge, and, bonus, we were celebrating my friend’s birthday by drinking beer, and this is one of his favorites.

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So beer ice cream sounds a little weird, and to be honest, it tasted a little weird right after I mixed up the custard. Once I froze it though, it was much better; it almost had a caramel flavor to it, with a little extra something. No matter what you call it, it’s a great match for chocolate stout cake.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Beer Ice Cream (slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Feed)

Makes about 1 quart

ATK notes: This recipe is best made with a malty beer that is 8–11% ABV. Avoid overly hoppy beers since hops become bitter once cooked. Make sure to cook the custard slowly in step 3 so that it thickens properly, which will ensure a creamy, rich-tasting ice cream.

The article accompanying this recipe has some specific recommendations for beer options to use.

12 ounces 8-11% ABV beer
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 large yolks
2 cups heavy cream

1. Pour 5 ounces of the beer into an 8-inch skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the beer is reduced by half, about 10 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary to avoid creating too much foam. Mix the reduced beer with the remaining 7 ounces of beer; add the vanilla and stir to combine.

2. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium shallow bowl. In a large bowl, prepare an ice bath.

3. In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth. Whisk in the cream and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat, until the mixture thickens to a custardy consistency and registers 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes. (The custard should coat the back of a spoon so that dragging your finger through the custard on the spoon’s back leaves a visible trail).

4. Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the shallow bowl. Whisk in the beer mixture, and set the bowl into the ice bath. Whisk occasionally until the custard reaches room temperature, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

5. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a glass or plastic container, pressing plastic wrap or waxed paper against the surface of the ice cream, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours and preferably 24 hours. Ice cream will keep, frozen, up to 5 days.

chocolate stout cake

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We celebrated my friend’s 40th birthday by eating meat and drinking beer. He’s a hunter with friends who are hunters, so we had two types of venison, Barbary sheep, rabbit, quail, partridge, and dove. We also compared ten different stouts. It was a nice manly birthday party.

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Obviously chocolate stout cake is the perfect birthday cake for Game and Stout Night. (And just wait until I tell you about the perfect ice cream for Game and Stout Night.) For one thing, a glazed bundt cake is simple to put together compared to a layered, filled, iced, and decorated cake, which was good because I also contributed baguettes, ravioli filled with homemade venison sausage, and ice cream.

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Small slices of bundt cake are also easier to handle than a triple-layer wedge of cake when you’ve been eating meat and drinking heavy beer all night. But there’s a lot of flavor packed into a small serving, with lots of rich chocolate and a hint of bitterness from the stout and the espresso powder in the glaze. I left the leftovers with the hosts, and I was so annoyed the next morning when I didn’t have any cake to eat with my coffee, but at least it was the perfect cake for Game and Stout Night.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Chocolate Stout Cake (via Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen)

Cake:
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 large eggs, room temperature
⅔ cup sour cream

Glaze:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons heavy cream
¾ teaspoon espresso powder

1. For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with baking spray, or spray with cooking spray and then dust with flour. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the stout and butter together until the mixture comes to a simmer; add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sour cream until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stout mixture. Add the flour mixture; using a rubber spatula, fold the flour into the batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

5. For the glaze: In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water, melt the chocolate, cream, and espresso powder until smooth and glossy. Drizzle over cooled cake.

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walnut cinnamon slices

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I was kind of embarrassed by these cookies. Or maybe I was embarrassed for them. They’re so plain. And brown. And not even the deep, rich, tempting brown of chocolate.  More like a pale, flat beige.

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For all that, they’re surprisingly delicious. Well, I wasn’t surprised, because the recipe is from Tartine, and that cookbook is full of home runs. The cookies are so soft and tender, but not too fragile to pile into a plastic container and bring to a wine-tasting party to share with friends.

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They’re a great match for wine, and not one cookie was left by the end of the night. Which is probably for the best, but I admit I was disappointed that I couldn’t have one with coffee the next morning. I guess cookies don’t need to be flashy as long as they’re buttery and sweet, lightly spiced and studded with meaty walnuts.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Walnut Cinnamon Slices (slightly adapted from Tartine)

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Dough:
9 ounces (1¾ cups) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (3 ounces) walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup (4.65 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
½ teaspoon salt

Sugar coating:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, walnuts, cinnamon, and baking soda; set aside.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until it is blended and creamy but not too aerated. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the egg and salt. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture, still beating on medium speed. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, beating until just combined.

3. Working on a large sheet of parchment paper, shape the dough into a rectangular log about 18 inches long with one side 2 inches wide and the other 1 inch wide. Wrap tightly in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

5. To make the sugar coating, whisk the egg yolks and cream together in a small bowl. Spread the sugar on a rimmed baking sheet. Unwrap the dough and brush the log well but sparingly with the egg wash. One at a time, dredge the log in the sugar, coating evenly on all sides. Cut crosswise into ¼ to ⅓-inch slices. Arrange the rectangles on the prepared baking sheet.

6. Bake until the edges are golden but the centers remain pale, 7-10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

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triple chocolate cupcake comparison

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left – annie; right – josie

Annie and Josie, two peas in a pod as usual, published chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache and chocolate frosting within a week of each other. They differed, however, on the recipes they used. Josie chose the recently published Cook’s Illustrated recipe, while Annie went a different direction with a combination of Martha Stewart’s cake recipe filled with Dorie Greenspan’s ganache recipe and frosted with Martha Stewart’s recipe.

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annie

Clearly, as I said four years ago, a comparison was in order. There were two main differences between the recipes – the cake recipe itself, including the ingredients and the mixing method, and the way the ganache is added to the cake. I did not compare the frosting recipes associated with each cupcake recipe, because I did that in a past comparison it was late and I was tired and I ran out of chocolate.

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annie

Annie – This cupcake starts out in an usual way, in that the butter is melted with the sugar, and then that mixture is beaten together. The rest goes like most cake batters do – an egg is added, then a mixture of cocoa and hot water, and finally the dry ingredients alternating with the wet ingredient, in this case sour cream. The only source of chocolate is cocoa. A hole is carved out of the baked cupcakes and is filled with ganache.

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annie

Josie – The wet ingredients and chocolatey ingredients (cocoa and bittersweet chocolate, plus coffee) are whisked together, then the dry ingredients are added. The batter is divided between the muffin cups, and then, before baking, the ganache is placed on top of the cupcakes (see photo of ganache looking either like poop or intestines; I’m sorry).

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josie

This was the first time I’ve brought a comparison to work and had my coworkers vote, but I loved it – and I suspect they didn’t mind either. The overwhelming favorite was the recipe from Annie’s blog. There were a couple complaints of bitterness in the recipe from Josie’s blog (Cook’s Illustrated’s recipe), which could be due to the coffee.

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left – josie; right – annie; no filling in either

The real key though was adding ganache to the center of the cupcake after it was baked; people loved that chunk of chocolate in the middle of the chocolate cupcake. When the ganache was added before baking, it seemed to meld into the cupcake itself. You can see that there’s no distinct ganache in the finished cupcake, but I assure you that it was added.

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left – annie; right – josie; both with fillings

I’m so glad to have a clear winner in a comparison post for once, although, let’s face it, with this much chocolate in the kitchen, my coworkers were the real winners. As with almost all comparisons I do, both recipes were stars, which is why having the side-by-side is so helpful.  The real lesson seems to be to add ganache to a baked cupcake for the ultimate chocolatey experience.  Josie and Annie, thanks for two great very chocolately recipes.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Triple Chocolate Cupcakes (rewritten from Annie’s Eats, cake adapted from Martha Stewart, ganache adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

12 to 14 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water
1½ cups (7.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.85 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

For the ganache filling:
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

1. For the cake: Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the cocoa and water. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then stir in the sugar. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer) and beat on medium-low speed until cooled to room temperature, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the sour cream. Repeat with another third of the dry ingredients, the remaining sour cream, and the remaining dry ingredients, beating just until combined.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; after five minutes, remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

4. For the ganache: In small saucepan, heat the cream until it just simmers; pour it over the chocolate. Let set about one minute, the whisk to combine. Whisk in the butter. Chill, uncovered, until solid but not hard, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

5. Use a paring knife to remove a 1½ inch-diameter cone from the center of each cupcake. Cut off the bottom of each cone and discard. Fill the well will ganache, then cover with the top of each cone. Frost as desired.

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josie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes (from Cook’s Illustrated via Pink Parsley)

12 cupcakes

Ganache Filling
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
⅓ cup (1 ounce) Dutch-processed cocoa
¾ cup hot coffee
¾ cup (4⅛ ounces) bread flour
¾ cup (5¼ ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For ganache filling: Place chocolate, cream, and confectioners’ sugar in medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave on high power until mixture is warm to touch, 20 to 30 seconds. Whisk until smooth; transfer bowl to refrigerator and let stand until just chilled, no longer than 30 minutes.

2. For cupcakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-size muffin pan (cups have ½-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners. Place chocolate and cocoa in medium bowl. Pour hot coffee over mixture and whisk until smooth. Set in refrigerator to cool completely, about 20 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Whisk oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla into cooled chocolate-cocoa mixture until smooth. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

4. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon ganache filling on top of each cupcake. Bake until cupcakes are set and just firm to touch, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before frosting, about 1 hour.

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banana cream pie

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It’s Dave’s birthday (well, yesterday was), and therefore time for my annual banana cream pie post! Except last year I made banana cream cupcakes, and the year before I took a break from posting about banana cream pie – I must have assumed I’d made all the variations that were out there. But then I found a recipe that steeps bananas in the half-and-half that is then used to make the pastry cream, and I had to try it.

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I have to say that this might be my favorite banana cream pie recipe. There are things I really like about each of them, but this one is simply just what a banana cream pie should be – the crust stayed crisp even after two days in the fridge, the pastry cream didn’t slop all over the plate, and everything was in balance.

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Steeping the bananas in the dairy used for the pastry cream didn’t make an obvious difference, but I wonder if that was part of what made this pie so good, because all the components seemed to go together so well. Unless I find yet another trick to try in the realm of banana cream pies, I’ll be making this one for Dave’s birthday next year too.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Banana Cream Pie
(very slightly tweaked from Cook’s Country)

I didn’t want to buy a second container of half-and-half only use a small portion of it, so I used 2 cups half-and-half, ¼ cup whole milk, and ¼ cup cream. Then I only used ¾ cup of cream for the topping, reducing the confectioners’ sugar to 1½ tablespoons. I also scraped the seeds of a vanilla bean into the steeping dairy and let the bean steep as well. And I forgot the orange juice.

5 ripe bananas
4 tablespoons butter
2½ cups half-and-half
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
pie crust for single-crust pie (recipe below)
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1. Peel 2 of the bananas and slice them into ½-inch-thick pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced bananas and cook until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half, bring to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to sit for 40 minutes.

2. Whisk the granulated sugar, egg yolks, and salt together in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in the cornstarch. Strain the cooled half-and-half mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the yolk mixture – do not press on the bananas – and whisk until incorporated; discard the cooked bananas.

3. Transfer the mixture to a clean medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it is thickened to the consistency of warm pudding (180 degrees), about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, press greased parchment paper directly against the surface, and allow it to cool for about one hour.

4. Meanwhile, roll the pie dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured counter. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, fold the edge of the dough under itself so the edge of the fold is flush with the outer rim of the plate, and flute the edges. Refrigerate for 40 minutes, then freeze for 20 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375°.

5. Line the chilled pie shell with a 12-inch square of aluminum foil, folding the foil over the edges of the dough. Fill with pie weights, place the pie plate on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and the weights, rotate the plate, and continue baking until the crust is golden brown, about 7 to 11 minutes. Transfer it to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

6. Peel and slice the remaining 3 bananas to about ¼-inch-thick and toss them with the orange juice. Whisk the pastry cream briefly, then spread half over the bottom of the pie shell. Arrange the sliced bananas on the pastry cream. Top with the remaining pastry cream.

7. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the cream, confectioner’s sugar, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, about 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the pie. Refrigerate the pie until it is set, at least 5 hours and up to 24 hours.

Pie Crust for Single-Crust Pie (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Deb has instructions for mixing by hand if that’s your preference.

1¼ cups (6 ounces) flour
1½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓-½ cup ice water

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until mixed. Add half of the butter; pulse once, add the remaining butter, and process with 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are about ¼-inch across. Add ¼ cup of water; pulse once, then add 2 more tablespoons of water. Pulse a couple times to incorporate the water, then pinch a portion of the dough together; if it crumbles, pulse in another tablespoon of water. If it barely holds together, transfer the mixture to a large piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a ball, kneading it once or twice so it holds together. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling.

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pumpkin chocolate chip bars

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I try to bring something for my coworkers to snack on once a week. Sometimes I feel guilty for ruining people’s diets, but mostly people seem to appreciate it, and, honestly, I don’t do it for them. I do it so I get to do some baking without doing lots of eating.

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Although squeezing baking into a weeknight isn’t always so easy. By the time we get home, work out, make and eat dinner, and maybe fold some laundry, there isn’t a lot of leftover time. I usually end up staying up later those nights, not to mention making us late for work the next morning while I garnish or cut into squares or whatever each particular dessert requires.

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Recipes like this one make it easy.  It’s mixed like a basic cookie dough, butter then sugar then eggs, half a can of pumpkin, stir in a bag of chocolate chips. There are no individual cookies to scoop, no fillings or toppings, just spread the batter in a pan and bake. And, most importantly, the bars that come out of the oven are soft and tender, pumpkiny and chocolately, and perfectly sized for someone to grab a quick square with their morning coffee.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars (adapted from Martha Stewart via Sparks from the Kitchen)

2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, spices, and baking soda.

2. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer). Beat the butter on medium-low speed until it’s smooth, then add the salt and sugar. Continue beating on medium-low until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running, add the egg, then the vanilla. Beat in the pumpkin until blended. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until evenly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out dry, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

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mango cream puffs

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For the first Friday happy hour get-together we threw, I had about 24 hours notice, which works out to just a few hours in which I was both awake and at home. I got home from work fifteen minutes before our friends showed up. And yet, it went off without a hitch. I reminded Dave approximately five hundred times that night that I can clearly keep things simple when I need to.

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The second happy hour was a different story. I had that Friday off of work, and I took advantage of it by spending just about all day cooking – and cleaning and emptying the dishwasher.

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Dave has gotten into making rum cocktails lately, so I went with a Caribbean theme for the food – empanadas, bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, fried yucca root, shrimp ceviche, and cream puffs filled with mango curd. We also had an assortment of Mexican beers available for anyone who fancied themselves too manly for a cocktail.

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It was another success, although not quite as smooth as the first. A good portion of the people we invited didn’t show, even a few who had RSVPed, and there was a ton of food leftover. Plus, apparently when you supply your guests with cocktails that taste like juice (I’ll share the recipe later; trust me that Dave has perfected it), they’ll stick around longer than the two hours we’d all joked was the limit.

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Still, it was a great time, and I can’t wait to throw another one of these little parties. And I was not unhappy about leftovers. The empadanas were great for lunch, and the cream puffs were a perfect pre-breakfast snack the next day – after I finally got all the dishes done. There are some advantages to simpler entertaining, but to be honest, I love both.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Mango Cream Puffs (from Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 24-30 small cream puffs

My food processor was dirty when I made this, so I used the mixer fitted with the whisk to mix the dough. It worked well.

Dough:
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons water
1½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (2½ ounces) all-purpose flour
Mango curd (recipe follows)

1. Whisk the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup. You should have ½ cup (discard the excess). Set aside. Combine the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. When it reaches a full boil and the butter is fully melted, remove from the heat and stir in the flour until incorporated and the mixture clears the sides of the pan. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, until the mixture is slightly shiny, looks like wet sand and tiny beads of fat appear on the bottom of the pan (the mixture should register 175-180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).

2. Immediately transfer the mixture to a food processor and process with the feed tube open to cool slightly, 10 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the reserved eggs in a steady stream. When they have been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process 30 seconds more until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms.

3. Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip with the dough. Pipe the paste into 1½-inch mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 to 1¼ inches apart (you should be able to fit 24 mounds on the baking sheet). Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds.

4. Bake for 15 minutes (do not open the oven door during baking). Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly firm, 8-10 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Use a paring knife, cut a ¾-inch slit into the side of each puff to release steam; return the puffs to the oven, turn the oven off, and prop open the oven door with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dry the puffs in the turned-off oven until the centers are just moist (not wet) and the puffs are crisp, about 45 minutes. Transfer the puffs to a wire rack to cool completely.

5. To fill the puffs, use the tip of a paring knife to make a small cut perpendicular to the first, creating an X in the side of each puff. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch plain tip with the pastry cream. Pipe some of the pastry cream through the X into the side of each puff until it starts to ooze back out. Repeat to fill all the puffs. Dust with powdered sugar and serve within several hours.

Mango Curd (from Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 1 to 1½ cups

1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into ½-inch pieces
⅓ cup (2.33 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. Puree the mango, sugar, lime juice, and salt in a food processor or blender, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as necessary. Add the yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through a sieve set over a large metal bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard the solids in the sieve.

2. Set the metal bowl over a saucepan that contains 1 inch of simmering water (do not allow bottom of the bowl to touch the water); whisk the puree until it is thickened and a thermometer registers 170 degrees, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in butter one piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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