banana cream pie cupcakes

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This is the first of his birthdays since I met Dave over eleven years ago that I haven’t made a banana cream pie. This is okay with me; for one thing, it isn’t one of my favorite things to make; I don’t get to use the mixer and there’s no batter to eat, where’s the fun in that? For another, I’ve pretty much expended the banana cream pie category, making versions with regular and graham cracker crusts, richer and lighter pastry creams, traditional and tweaked whipped cream toppings, even additional layers of chocolate and caramel. There’s not much for me left to explore in the banana cream pie realm.

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Except turning it into cake. Dave actually requested green tea crème brûlée for his birthday dessert this year instead of pie, but I also offered to make cupcakes to bring to work. This would hopefully head off our standard office procedure of a coworker making an emergency trip to the grocery store to pick up a cake for an afternoon birthday celebration. (It sort of worked; instead, someone made an emergency trip to the store for cheese and crackers and fruit for the afternoon birthday celebration.)

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These are not so different than all the various banana cream pies I’ve made over the years. There are still sliced bananas, pastry cream, whipped cream, and a buttery mixture of sugar and flour. The difference is that the butter and flour is baked into cupcakes instead of rolled into a pie crust. Dave is generally a bigger fan of pie than cake, but he enjoyed these, and our coworkers raved. And by my standards, they’re a heck of a lot more fun to bake than a pie, so everybody wins.

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One year ago: Asian Lettuce Wraps
Two years ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Three years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Four years ago: Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins
Five years ago: Lasagna Bolognese

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Banana Cream Pie Cupcakes (from Annie’s Eats and Cooks Illustrated’s Yellow Cake recipe)

Makes 24 cupcakes

For 23 cupcakes, I fitted a slice of banana into the bottom of the carved out center before spooning on pastry cream and topping with a portion of the removed cone. For the last cupcake, I decided to try adding the pastry cream first and then topping with a banana and discarding the entire cone. This was much more successful because you can fit in more pastry cream and the banana makes a stable surface for the whipped cream topping.

Filling:
1 cup half-and-half
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar, divided
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
bananas, peeled and sliced

Cake:
2½ cups (10 ounces) cake flour, plus extra for dusting pans
1¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon table salt
1¾ cups (12.25 ounces) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

Topping:
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup (1 ounce) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ bananas, peeled and sliced

1. To make the filling, heat the half-and-half, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds. When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

2. To make the cupcakes, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 cupcake wells with paper liners. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar together in a large bowl. In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together the melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and yolks.

3. In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

4. Add the flour mixture to the now-empty mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment. With the mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in the butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the whisk and sides of the bowl. Return the mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds.

5. Using a rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the whites into the batter to lighten the mixture, then add the remaining whites and gently fold into the batter until no white streaks remain. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners. Lightly tap the pans against the counter 2 or 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.

6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove them from the wells and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. Use a paring knife to remove a 1½ inch-diameter cone from the center of each cupcake; discard the cones. Spoon 2 teaspoons of pastry cream into the well of each cupcake, then top with a slice of banana.

8. To make the topping, beat the heavy cream on medium-high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until frothy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, scraping the bowl as necessary.

9. Pipe the whipped cream onto the cupcakes. Top with a slice of banana.

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christmas star wars cookies

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I’m exceptionally proud of these cookies. Not necessarily for how they came out in the end, although I’m pleased with that too. But mostly for coming up with the idea completely on my own.

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This is rare for me – I’m a good idea copier, and a proficient idea alterer, but a poor idea generator. I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea of Star Wars Christmas cookies, except that I wanted to send my in-laws cookies for Christmas and didn’t know how I could possibly live up to the original Star Wars cookies I sent them last spring. And, okay, maybe the picture of Darth Maul in a Santa suit on the front of the Star Wars Lego advent calendar we got our nephews for an early Christmas present helped.

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But my creativity didn’t end with just coming up with the idea. Googling “Christmas Darth Vader”, “Christmas Yoda”, and “Christmas Stormtrooper” just showed me a few pictures of each character wearing a Santa hat. That wasn’t going to cut it, because I wanted the characters to be different.

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Combining the ultimate Star Wars bad guy and the ultimate Christmas good guy to make Vader Santas was a given, and the white stormtroopers would work well for snowmen. Yoda’s wide earspan would make good antlers, and hopefully the red nose would make the Rudolph idea obvious. That left Boba Fett…my least favorite of the character shapes got left with the leftover idea, and he just ended up with an elf hat.

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It seems to have worked out, because we gave the cookies to a 4-year-old, and he identified the Star Wars/Christmas connection of each cookie immediately…except for Boba, and that’s no surprise. He’s got a red and green hat, that’s Christmassy enough. And hey, if that’s the best I can come up with, at least it was my own idea. And Rudolph Yoda’s red nose makes up for any weaknesses in the vaguely elf-like Boba.

One year ago: Herb-Roasted Pork Loin
Two years ago: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes
Four years ago: Pumpkin Seed Brittle

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hot chocolate mix

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I’m not usually much of a Christmas baker, but I got this grand idea last month that I should send my in-laws packages of cookies for Christmas. I sort of had a bad feeling about it, like it was probably going to end up stressing me out, but once I get a hold of an idea that sounds fun, I have a hard time letting go. And so it was that a week and a half before Thanksgiving, I was mixing, forming, and freezing dough for Christmas cookies.

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I didn’t have much of a plan from the beginning. I love this bourbon pound cake recipe and thought it would ship well. I knew I wanted something fruity and something chocolately. Hazelnut dried cherry biscotti covered the fruit requirement, but the decorated sugar cookies I couldn’t resist adding wouldn’t help with the chocolate. And then I remembered this hot chocolate mix recipe, which I first made several years ago.

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It’s the perfect thing to ship off to northeastern Ohio in December, sure to be appreciated through the upcoming snowy months. There’s no worry about breaking in transit, a relief after individually wrapping 28 treat bags containing sugar cookies in bubble wrap. And it’s easy, a relief after spending the greater part of a weekend decorating elaborate sugar cookies (that had better not break in transit). I think it’s safe to say that my cookie packages were a great success – assuming those 28 bubble-wrapped sugar cookies arrive safely, at least.

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One year ago: Mushroom Farro Soup
Two years ago: Gingerbread Cake
Three years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Four years ago: Candied Orange Peel

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Hot Chocolate Mix

Makes about 36 servings

To make vanilla sugar, mix a vanilla bean into the sugar and let it set for a few days.

I used 2 cups of sugar, but the mix was two sweet for me, so I’ve reduced it in the recipe.  It might depend on how sweet your chocolate is too; mine was 72% cocao.

The amount of espresso powder you add might depend on who you plan to serve the hot chocolate to: more adds complexity and cuts the sweetness, but less is more appropriate for kids.

20 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) vanilla sugar
2¼ cups unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Grind chocolate in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process until mixed. Transfer to an airtight container. To serve, mix 3-4 tablespoons into 8 ounces of hot milk.

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gingerbread cookies

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I have what I admit is a random prejudice against crisp, crunchy cookies. I want soft, I want tender, I want chewy. I think most people, or at least most people of my generation, agree with me, but I doubt it was always this way. Surely there was a time when crisp cookies were at least as popular as soft ones. How else would we have gingersnaps?

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Obviously when I went looking for a gingerbread cookie recipe, “snap” wasn’t going to be part of the title. I wanted chewy and sweet but not too sweet and spicy but not too spicy.

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What I got was just about the perfect cookie – by my soft cookie standards. It puffed quite a bit in the oven, but not enough to lose its shape. It could use some more spice, but that’s easy to fix next time. More importantly, it was just the right level of sweetness, and even better, perfectly chewy. At least I thought so; Dave said he prefers his ginger cookies crunchier. Unfortunately for him, the only way he’ll get snappier gingerbread cookies is to make them himself, because this recipe was too perfect for me to try another.

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One year ago: Pizza with Butternut Squash and Kale
Two years ago: Red Pepper Risotto
Three years ago: Steak au Poivre
Four years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Gingerbread Cookies
(slightly adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

Makes about 3 dozen, depending on the size of your cookie cutters

I chilled my cut cookies on the baking sheets, before baking, for about 10 minutes before transferring to the oven. This tends to help cut-out cookie retain their shape during baking, but these still puffed quite a bit.

I didn’t use the icing recipe linked here. I decorated my cookies with cream cheese frosting because it seemed easier and tastier. It was, but the cookies had to be stored in a single layer to avoid messing up the frosting.

The spices in the original recipe here were pretty mild; next time I’ll double them.

⅔ cup molasses (not robust)
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
½ teaspoon salt

1. Bring the molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Stir in the baking soda (mixture will foam up), then stir in the butter 3 pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding next, until all of the butter is melted. Add the egg and stir until combined, then stir in the flour and salt.

2. Arrange a rack in the middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and easy to handle, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Halve the dough, wrapping one half in plastic wrap; keep at room temperature.

4. Roll out the remaining dough into a 14-inch round (⅛-inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut out as many cookies as possible with cutters and carefully transfer them to the prepared baking sheets, arranging them about 1 inch apart.

5. Bake the cookies, one sheet a time, until edges are slightly darker, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the pan before transferring them to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps. Decorate cooled cookies as desired with decorating icing.

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eggnog cupcakes

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Eggnog is sort of ridiculously bad for you. I think of it as a Christmasy milkshake. I enjoy it, but moderation is key. Dave, on the other hand, learned a hard lesson about moderation recently, as he poured himself a big glass of the nog and topped it off with a generous pour of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Declaring it delicious, he went ahead and poured himself another big glass, while I attempted to point out without being too terribly annoying that that there is a whole lot of eggnog. An hour later, lying on the floor clutching his stomach, he agreed.

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Perhaps iced tea glasses are not the best way to enjoy eggnog, and cupcakes, instead, are. The ingredients are similar anyway – eggs, sugar, dairy – and because eggnog is so thick, you can add a decent amount to cake batter without hurting the texture of the cake. I started with this recipe, but it’s clearly based on a vegan source, with its lack of eggs and butter. That’s fine, but I like the structure eggs give to batters, and I thought butter would be a good match with the dairy-flavored cake. I’ve always had good results with this vanilla bean cupcake recipe, which is a pretty standard cake batter, so I combined the two. For the frosting, I used an easy American-style buttercream, with just a couple ounces of cream cheese added to enhance the pudding flavor of the eggnog.

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The batter, with just 2 tablespoons of bourbon, was like a sweet cocktail, with alcohol fumes dominating the flavor. Of course most of that burns off in the oven, resulting in tender, moist cupcakes with just a hint of bourbon. The frosting was particularly dangerous, and I had to be careful that I didn’t eat so much that I had to join Dave in stomach-clutching. Powdered sugar-based American buttercream can be one-dimensionally sweet, but the cream cheese, eggnog, and bourbon give this one plenty of extra flavor. A generous grating of nutmeg brings home the Christmasy overtones. This is definitely the right way to enjoy eggnog, although I wouldn’t be opposed to a small glass of the stuff with a shot of Bailey’s either. I’m not sure Dave is recovered enough to join me.

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One year ago: Spelt Crackers
Two years ago: Bolognese Sauce (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
Four years ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins

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Eggnog Cupcakes (adapted from Annie’s Eats and these Vanilla Bean Cupcakes)

Makes about 15 cupcakes

I included butter for flavor and a couple tablespoons of oil because it does a better job making cakes tender and moist than butter does.

1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup eggnog, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon or dark rum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (5.75 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the frosting:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
Pinch of salt
2½ cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons bourbon

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and baking powder. In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the eggnog, oil, vanilla, and bourbon.

2. Place the butter and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Gradually add the sugar to the butter mixture. Mix in the eggs one at a time, until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, add one-third of the flour mixture, followed immediately by half of the eggnog mixture, mixing just until incorporated. Repeat with another third of the flour and the rest of the eggnog, then the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about ⅔ of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

4. To make the frosting: Place the butter, cream cheese, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the powdered sugar and nutmeg, and mix on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggnog and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 4 minutes. With the mixer on medium-low speed, blend in the bourbon and vanilla. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

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chai snickerdoodles

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Making a commitment to cook two pre-chosen recipes a month has been a great way to push my boundaries with the occasional challenging recipe, as well as check off some easier recipes that have been nagging me for years but I never got around to making. There’s not always a good reason that I needed the extra push, but sometimes the accountability is necessary to check that dish off the list. It’s been a great way to convince myself to try flavors I knew I would like but hadn’t quite convinced myself to make yet, like the ones in these cookies.

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But. There is a problem sometimes. The problem is not that I end up making a recipe I’m not in the mood for because it’s the last day of the month, although that has happened. That’s part of the game. No, the problem is that I am then obligated to share recipes here that I don’t necessarily recommend. If I was a more organized person, I would make the recipes multiple times in the month until I had them perfect, but this is stretching my competence too far.

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Instead, we have snickerdoodles that didn’t turn out just right. Which is particularly annoying, because they’re from a recipe I wholeheartedly endorsed several years ago. This time, however, they were crisp, without that light cakey bite I prefer in snickerdoodles. I can only guess that the difference is the temperature of the dough right before baking.

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But this challenge was about chai, not snickerdoodles, and the chai spices were perfect. They weren’t drastically different from regular cinnamon-coated snickerdoodles, but the extra spices, especially the cardamom, made them a bit more special.  They weren’t perfect, but neither am I, so I have no choice but to share an imperfect recipe.

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One year ago: Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
Two years ago: Bacon Egg Toast Cups
Three years ago: Sopaipillas
Four years ago: Chocolate Chip Cookies (comparison of 4 recipes)

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Chai Snickerdoodles (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and The Novice Chef)

Makes about 60 cookies

Dough:
2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Chai mix for rolling dough:
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1. Adjust oven racks to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, salt, and sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 1½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until combined, about 30 seconds. Add in the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.

2. In a small, shallow bowl, combine sugar and spices for rolling the dough. Stir or shake well to combine. Working with a scant tablespoon of dough each time, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

3. Bake until the edges of the cookies are beginning to set and the center are soft and puffy, 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

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apple cake

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When I saw this beautiful apple walnut cake, with those perfectly arranged apple slices on top, I wanted to make it as soon as possible. I bought the walnuts and apples, I printed out the recipe, and then I…I made a different cake.

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I just couldn’t get past the step that required slicing apples fussily thin and fussily arranging the slices in the pan. I want to be the type of person who spends the time to precisely arrange fruit for the prettiest possible dessert, but I am just not.

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But I have no regrets. The cake I made instead is more rustic than the one that had initially caught my eye, but no less delicious for it. In this case, instead of paper thin apples painstakingly arranged in a pretty pattern, the apples are unceremoniously spread in two layers, one in the middle of the cake and one on top. You still have to peel and core the apples, but the coarse cut takes a fraction of the time as getting out the mandoline to make even slices.

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In its own tall, straight-sided way, this cake is just as impressive as the other. It’s also rich and moist and just sweet enough, filled with baked apples that taste just like fall. I still want to try the apple walnut cake, but it’s going to require magical amounts of free time and patience, especially now that I have an easier recipe in my back pocket.

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One year ago: Notes on planning a Thanksgiving feast
Two years ago: Cranberry Shortbread Cake
Three years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Four years ago: Breakfast Tacos

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Apple Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Apples:
3 pounds apples (about 6 medium), peeled, cored, chopped into ¼- to ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar

Cake:
2¾ cups (13.2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 eggs

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a tube pan, preferably with removable sides, with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the apples, cinnamon, and 5 tablespoons sugar.

3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the oil, butter, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the oil mixture and stir to incorporate.

4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples, then arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

5. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan. Cool at least an hour before serving. The cake will keep, covered tightly, for up to 2 days.

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cinnamon macarons with apple buttercream

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Macarons have been all the rage recently, and yet, I’ve had no real desire to make them myself. This, even though they’re known to be finicky, and I do love making my life unnecessarily complicated. But while I do love a challenge, I don’t particularly love meringue cookies.

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This is probably because I’ve never gotten them quite right, as they always seem to be chewy in the center instead of crisp the whole way through. Maybe the precise directions included with many macaron recipes could help me avoid this pitfall. If not, at least they’d be filled with swiss meringue buttercream.

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One of the hallmarks of good macarons is the foamy feet around the bottom edge, which show that your macarons rose up in the oven instead of spreading out. When I started to see those feet form, I made Dave come over to look through the oven window with me and give me a high-five. I was also happy with the smooth tops of the cookies, and it goes without saying that I was happy with the apple buttercream, which was noticeably and pleasantly appley.

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The only problem? A chewy center. I guess practice makes perfect. Fortunately, I think it’s safe to say that meringues are good enough to make again.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Cinnamon Macarons with Apple Buttercream (adapted from Tartelette)

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies

For a lot of meringue-making tips, read Tartelette’s article.

Meringues:
110 grams blanched almonds or almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
100 grams egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), aged overnight
25 grams sugar
Pinch salt

Apple buttercream:
4 egg whites
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) granulated sugar
Pinch salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, process the almonds and powdered sugar until the nuts are finely ground. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl with a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed (high speed if using a stand mixer) until soft peaks form. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the nut mixture into the egg mixture. After about 50 folds, the batter should be evenly mixed, with no streaks of egg white.

2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Spray the lined sheets lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a wide (about ½-inch) round tip. Pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared pans, leaving about an inch between rounds. Gently rap the baking sheet against the counter to pop any large bubbles. Set the piped dough aside for 1 hour.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are lightly browned around the bottom edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack; cool for about 5 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer the cookies from the pan to the wire rack. Cool completely before filling.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer), combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees.

5. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment; beat the egg white mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and it has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is thick and smooth, 3-5 minutes. Add apple butter and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

6. Pipe the buttercream onto the flat sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining cookies.  Serve immediately or cover and store overnight in the refrigerator (bring to cool room temperature before serving).

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candy corn cheesecake

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I don’t know what it is about candy corn that makes some people eat it until they’re sick, but for the people who love it, they can’t seem to resist.  My sister is one of those people.  She also considers cheesecake one of her favorite desserts, so obviously a cheesecake baked to look like candy corn was the perfect dessert for her.

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It’s just a regular cheesecake with colored batter poured into divided rings. The dividers are carefully removed before baking. However, I refused to buy a special cake batter divider tool, so I looked around my kitchen for alternatives. A 6-inch springform pan would work for the outer ring, and I went really low-tech for the inner ring – a Dixie cup with the bottom cut off. There was some leakage of each color below the dividers, but I think that would be hard to avoid with nearly any set up.

candy corn cheesecake collage

As for which cheesecake recipe to use, that was easy. It was a cake for my sister, so I made her favorite. It worked perfectly – the batter was thin enough that it didn’t stick to the dividers when I removed them, but thick enough not to mix once the dividers were removed.  My sister loved it just as much as I knew she would – and she even managed to restrain herself from eating it until she felt sick.

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One year ago: Butternut Squash Risotto
Two years ago: Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon
Three years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Four years ago: Sushi Bowls

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Candy Corn Cheesecake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake)

Makes 16 servings

I didn’t want the cheesecake to be too tall, because I wanted slices to have the approximate dimensions of one piece of candy corn, so I cut the recipe down by a fourth, but I think it was too short then. I’ve increased the ingredient amounts back to those in the original recipe, so your cheesecake will be taller than mine.

For the crust:
4 ounces graham crackers (about 8 full crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
1⅓ cup (9.33 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1⅓ cups sour cream

1. For the crust: Grease a 9-inch springform pan and wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In the food processor, process the graham crackers until finely ground; add the sugar and salt and pulse to combine. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs; pulse until evenly coated. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

3. For the cheesecake: Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and creamy, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 2 minutes, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is thoroughly combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream.

4. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in a larger baking dish.

5. Arrange molds of 2-inch diameter and 6-inch diameter in the springform pan. Pour uncolored batter into the smallest mold in the middle, to a height about 1-inch below the top of the pan. Color the remaining batter yellow and fill the outermost ring. Use a small amount of red food coloring to color the remaining batter orange and pour the rest of the batter into the second ring. Carefully remove the molds by lifting them straight up out of the batter.

6. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish around the springform pan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the center jiggles like jello when lightly shook and a thermometer inserted into the center of the cheesecake reads 150 degrees. Turn the oven off, prop open the oven door, and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another hour.

7. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and the water bath. Cool on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours or up to a week.

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raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes

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I did a lot of things I’m proud of this weekend. I didn’t have to work Friday, so I kicked off the three-day weekend with the second-longest run I’ve ever done, and the longest run that wasn’t part of a big race. Then I made Dave give me hourly high-fives for the rest of the day.

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The next day, I had my first-ever paid baking order. A coworker hired me to make a dozen each of two different types of cupcakes for her daughter’s wedding. Two dozen isn’t a lot of cupcakes, but I wanted to get them just right, with great taste and beautiful garnishes.

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Less than an hour after I dropped those off, we had a bunch of people over to watch football – the first time Dave and I have entertained more than a couple friends at a time since we’ve been married. By keeping things casual (or at least, my version of casual), enlisting a lot of help from Dave, and being creative with what I already had around, I managed to entertain the way I like to – with a lot of food, of course – but without a lot of stress.

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One of the ways I made the most of what I had available was to make extras of these cupcakes. The wedding’s colors were black, ivory, and red, so the bride chose these raspberry-swirled cheesecake cupcakes drizzled with chocolate and topped with raspberry truffles, as well as chocolate cupcakes with champagne frosting topped with chocolate-covered strawberries. While I was at it, I went ahead and made extra chocolate-covered strawberries and raspberry truffles for my friends too.

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Both sets of cupcakes turned out every bit as good as I’d hoped, and that never happens! The swirls on the cheesecake were pretty and not sloppy, the drizzle didn’t cover up as much as the swirls as I was worried about, the fresh raspberries fit nicely onto the tops. The chocolate cupcakes rose into a perfect mound, and the swirls of frosting didn’t look too amateurish. My first time making chocolate-covered strawberries went just fine, even the stressful part that involved melting white chocolate. I dropped the cupcakes off and then entertained guests all evening, only spitting half-chewed chips on someone once! This is about as successful as my life gets.

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One year ago: Croissants (Tartine Bread)
Two years ago: Coffee Break Muffins
Three years ago: Green Chile Huevos Rancheros
Four years ago: Pan-Seared Steak with Red Wine Pan Sauce

Printer Friendly Recipe
Raspberry-Swirled Cheesecake Cupcakes (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes via Annie’s Eats)

Makes 32 cupcakes

The truffles and drizzle make for a nice presentation, but the swirled cupcakes are plenty tasty and pretty on their own.
For the crust:
1½ cups (about 8 full crackers) graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

For the raspberry swirl:
6 ounces (¾ cup) frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (10.5 ounces) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 32 muffin wells with paper liners.

2. For the crust: In a food processor, process the graham crackers and sugar until evenly ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Press 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of each liner. Bake until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, maintaining the oven temperature.

3. For the raspberry swirl: Combine the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. (Or press the raspberries through a food mill, stirring the cornstarch and sugar into the puree.)

4. For the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and salt, then the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

5. To assemble, spoon 3 tablespoons of the cheesecake batter over the crust in each cupcake liner. Dot ½ teaspoon of the raspberry puree in a few dots over the cheesecake filling. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to lightly swirl the puree.

6. Bake until the filling is set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Raspberry Truffles (seen on Annie’s Eats, but I didn’t use the same recipe)

6 ounces fresh raspberries
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2½ tablespoons heavy cream

1. Gently wash and dry the raspberries.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

3. Let the mixture stand at room temperature until it’s thick enough to hold a shape, about 45 minutes, then, using a pastry bag with a small opening, pipe into the stemmed opening on the raspberries.

Chocolate Drizzle (adapted from Tartine’s Chocolate Friands)

I didn’t make this separately, I just stirred in more cream to the ganache leftover from the raspberry truffles. I’m offering it here separately as a good chocolate drizzle recipe.

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup heavy cream

In a small heavy saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium-high heat. (Do not rapidly boil.) Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a fork, gently stir, starting in the center and working toward the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

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For the chocolate cupcakes, I used this recipe for the cupcake portion; this champagne buttercream for the frosting; and this method for the chocolate-covered strawberries.