Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake

I've eaten a lot of different homemade vanilla cupcakes in my life, so I've tasted a fair share of good, bad, and great varieties. This vanilla cupcake recipe belongs in the BEST category. The cake is sweet, moist, has a wonderful vanilla flavor, and beautiful flecks of vanilla bean throughout. I loved these cupcakes even without frosting. This recipe will now be my go-to vanilla cupcake recipe, especially for parties or events. They are well worth the expense to make them, trust me!

The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake
(recipe slightly adapted from cupcakeproject)
Makes 16-18 cupcakes

1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising (I used Queen Guinevere from KAF)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1 T pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup whole milk (for best flavor do not use reduced fat milk)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 16-18 muffin tin cups with paper liners.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out all of the black seeds. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar with the vanilla bean seeds, using the back of a spoon to break up the clumps.

In a bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the sugar/vanilla bean mixture to the flour and mix well.

Add the softened butter to the flour mixture and mix on low speed. Because there is very little butter, the mixture will resemble fine crumbs when mixed.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, oil and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat until combined.

Slowly add the milk to the batter while mixing on low speed. Continue until just combined. The batter will be quite thin and that is OK.

Fill the cupcake liners 1/2 full with batter.

Bake for 14 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted in the middle of each cupcake (I baked mine for about 17 minutes, but the baking time will depend on your oven). The cupcakes will be very light in color on top.

Remove the cupcakes immediately from the pan (still in the paper liners) and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To finish the cupcakes, frost with your favorite frosting. I chose to thinly frost my cupcakes with my favorite chocolate frosting found here. Enjoy!

Little flecks of vanilla bean throughout.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Coconut Cake

My husband requested that I make him a coconut cake this year for his birthday. He and I both love all things coconut, but I was a bit surprised by his slightly strange/random cake choice. He usually requests my chocolate chip pound cake, but this year he decided he needed a cake that was close to his heart. His mother used to make him a coconut cake every year for his birthday when he was growing up. After just spending a lot of time with his mother a couple of months ago, I'm not surprised my husband was feeling a little nostalgic. I would be worried if he wasn't. So, I found this AWESOME recipe from King Arthur Flour and it was SO good. The cake is so coconut-y, sweet, soft, moist, and delicious. My husband loved it and declared that this cake was exactly what he was wishing for.

Coconut Cake
(recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)

For the cake:
3 cups cake flour (I used Queen Quinevere cake flour from KAF)
2/3 cup coconut milk powder (found at KAF or fine whole food stores)
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup plus 2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large egg whites (the equivalent in packaged egg whites is ok)
1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 drops or 1/4-1/2 tsp coconut flavoring

For the frosting*:
1- 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
5 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
1/2 tsp salt
3 to 4 drops or 1/2 tsp coconut flavoring (or can use 1 tsp vanilla if you don't want the coconut flavor too strong)

For garnish:
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

*I recommend starting the frosting before you make the cake.

To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8 or 9 inch round or square baking pans with nonstick baking spray; set aside. If using cake strips, soak them.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the cake flour, coconut milk powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is extremely light and fluff, for two minutes. Then scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat for at least three minutes more. Add 1/4 of the dry ingredients, mix until combined, and scrape the mixing bowl.

Combine the egg whites, milk, and coconut flavoring in a small bowl. Add 1/3 of the egg mixture to the butter mixture, mix until just combined. Continue adding dry and wet ingredients by turns, until all are incorporated. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and mix for one more minute.

Divide the batter between the two pans, and wrap the outsides with the soaked cake strips. If you don’t have cake strips, place the pans in larger pans and fill the water halfway up the sides of the pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, and when a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a wire rack. Remove the cake strips or take the pans out of the water. Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes, then turn out of the pan and return to the wire rack to finish cooling completely before filling and frosting.

To make the frosting:
Set a fine-mesh strainer or colander over a bowl or large measuring cup and line it with a clean linen towel or cheesecloth. Pour the coconut milk into the lined strainer and let the coconut water drain for up to 2 hours (it only took about an hour when I did it). After draining you should have a thick lump of cream left.
Once the coconut milk has drained, cream the butter with 2 cups confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl using an electric or hand mixer. Beat in the salt and coconut flavoring (or vanilla) until the mixture is smooth. Add the coconut cream and mix, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the remaining confectioners' sugar and mix until the frosting is smooth and spreadable (if frosting seems to be too thin, add a little more confectioners' sugar until desired consistency is achieved). Cover and hold at room temperature until ready to use (I did place my frosting in the fridge for about 20 minutes because it was very soft).
When the cakes are cool, cut each in half horizontally, creating four layers. Place one layer on serving plate and cover with 1/4 of the frosting. Place another layer on top and cover with 1/4 more of the frosting. Repeat until all the layers are frosted (including the sides).
To garnish cake: sprinkle sweetened coconut flakes all over the top and sides of cake.

I recommend storing the cake in the refrigerator, loosely covered. Take the cake out about 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Poppers

F-R-I-E-D spinach and artichoke dip. What?!?! Yes, you heard right. This is recipe is really, really good (!!!!). I'll be honest, it's a bit messy to make and a little time consuming (especially if you are making a lot like I did), but seriously worth it. You must make these.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Poppers
(recipe adapted from Dinner With Julie)

Favorite spinach and artichoke dip recipe (I tried Julie's recipe and it was great!)
Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
Egg (may need more then one)
Canola oil
Kosher salt

Mix together your favorite spinach and artichoke recipe. Bake it according to the directions and allow it to cool (try not to devour it all, it will be hard to resist....a little scoop for yourself is perfectly fine though :) ).
Cover and refrigerate the dip overnight (or up to a few days), so it's cold and firm.

About a half hour or so before serving (even a few hours before) remove the dip from the fridge and scoop out about a walnut sized amount of dip and form into a ball using your hands. Place the dip ball onto a plate. Continue until all the dip is used. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and place back into the fridge to firm up a little, about 20-30 minutes.

When you are ready to make the poppers, heat about an inch or so of canola oil over medium-high heat, in a heavy skillet or shallow pot (I used one of my cast iron skillets).

In a shallow bowl, add about a cup or so of flour and about a teaspoon of kosher salt; whisk together. In another shallow bowl, beat the egg. In a third shallow bowl, add the panko bread crumbs.

Remove the dip balls from the fridge, roll a few at a time in the flour, then into the egg and finally into the bread crumbs (slightly pressing the crumbs onto the dip to adhere).

Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, gently drop the balls into the oil, a few at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Fry on one side until golden brown, then flip and cook on the other side (it will only take about a minute or less per side). Transfer the hot poppers using tongs or a slotted spoon to paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve warm. Enjoy!!

Mini Shortbread Fruit Tarts

I am SO behind with blog posts! I can't believe Easter in only a few days away. This recipe will definitely be a cute addition to your Easter meal or for Mother's Day!

My oldest son recently studied Medieval times in his fourth grade class. At the end of this unit the entire fourth grade got together to have a HUGE Medieval feast. It was awesome. Parents were organized to make and bring Medieval style foods for the feast. There was SO much great food, it was awesome. The feast was a huge success and I am giving big props to Mrs. Allen (one of the fourth grade teachers) for organizing rock!
So, one of the courses I made for the feast was chicken wings. I decided to make my friend Andrea's fabulous recipe for maple chicken wings (recipe found here), and they were a big hit!
I also made some wonderful mini shortbread fruit tarts for the dessert course. They were sooooo good! The shortbread shell was buttery and slightly sweet, the lemon no-bake cheesecake style filling was so creamy and perfect, and the fresh fruit on top tied everything together. Major success.
I ended up making a TON of these little tarts because our church's annual Ladies Tea was the following day after the Medieval feast. All the ladies at the tea loved the little tarts and many asked for the recipe. I love it when recipes are a hit!

Mini Shortbread Fruit Tarts
(recipe adapted from, and laurenslatest

For the Shortbread Tarts:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 T cornstarch (or 6 T more all-purpose flour)
1/4 tsp salt

For the cream cheese filling*:

1- 8 oz package full fat cream cheese, softened
1- 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
Zest of one lemon (about a full teaspoon)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large or 3 small lemons)
1 tsp vanilla
Fresh raspberries, blueberries, strawberries or other cut up fruit
* For great alternative filling for these tarts, especially for younger kids, combine a package of vanilla instant pudding with 1 1/2 cups of milk, set aside. Whip 1/2 cup of heavy cream with 1/2 tsp vanilla extract in a separate bowl, until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the thickened pudding. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use--up to a few
days in advance.

For the cream cheese filling:
In the bowl of an electric mixer (hand mixer is fine), or food processor, beat the cream cheese until creamy and smooth. Add the condensed milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Transfer the filling to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours so the filling will thicken and not be as runny. This filling can actually be made a few days, or up to a week in advance, as long as it's kept sealed and cold.

For the shortbread tarts:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and confectioners' sugar until smooth, and then add the vanilla, mixing well.
Add the flour, cornstarch (or extra flour) and salt. Mix until the dough is just incorporated and forms a soft dough (don't over mix). Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes or so, until the dough is firm enough to easily roll into balls.

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Spray 36 mini muffin tin cups with non-stick baking spray.
Take a scant 1 tablespoon of shortbread dough and roll into a ball (doesn't have to be perfect) and place it in the prepared muffin pan. Gently press the dough with your fingertips onto the bottom and up the sides of the muffin cup. Repeat this for all of the cups (you should get 30-36 shells).
Once all the tarts are made, cover the muffin tins with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes so the shortbread can become firm.

Remove the plastic wrap from the tarts and bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden brown. About half way through the cooking time, remove the pan(s) from the oven and gently prick each tart with the tines of a fork to help limit the amount the shortbread puffs up.
When the tarts are done, remove from the oven onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before trying to remove the tarts from the pan.
Once cool, a good trick to getting the tarts out of the pan, is to spin each one to loosen and then gently lift them out. Shortbread is very fragile, so be sure to have a very gentle hand!

When ready to serve (or up to a couple hours in advance prior to serving), pipe or spoon filling into each tart. Then top each tart with fresh berries or other cut up fruit. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Enjoy!