Archive for January, 2010

anxiously awaiting Christmas cupcakes part 2, or just anxious?

January 23rd, 2010

xmas 1xmas 2Sorry for the weeks-long break between part 1 and part 2 of Christmas cupcakes. No doubt you’ve been anxiously awaiting what now sounds like old news. Anxious just happens to be how I’ve been feeling too much since the break-in. And it really annoys me that not only did the thieves take things dear to me but they’ve also taken away my peace of mind—along with too much of my ability to get things done, like blogging.

My New Year’s strategy was to combat this. “Just show up,” I told myself. So where have I been? Apparently a little lost. No GPS. No Google Map directions. Dead cell-phone battery. Not even a paper map. (Remember those—you can still get them free from AAA.) I know friends and family are nearby, and I have to start somewhere. So here I am. We’ll have to see how well my own sense of direction serves me.

Back to Christmas dinner: Remember that we have pumpkin–chocolate chip cupcakes (really muffins, but let’s not quibble about details). We’ll pick up with making cream cheese frosting and Carter’s reminding me “I can do it myself, Mommy” (no doubt thinking “Thank you very much”). Jeff is much better than I am about encouraging Carter to do things for himself. It’s something I need to think of and do more often, so I handed over the electric handheld mixer. And Carter mixed the frosting.

Now comes Carter’s favorite part: red sprinkles. He did real-time decorating, taking the bowl of frosting and assorted red and green sprinkling options to the table, and custom topping a cupcake for each of us: Grandpa, Aunt Janet, Daddy, and Mommy.

I hope your holidays were as sweet and thoughtful as was my cupcake, and I will be showing up here again. No need to wait anxiously.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat to blend.

Christmas cupcakes part 1: my take on pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins

January 11th, 2010

Not being much of a pie baker, many holidays back, I went in search of an alternative pumpkin dessert recipe. I found a pumpkin–chocolate chip loaf cake recipe on Epicurious, which reviewers rated highly and suggested making as muffins. Here’s my take on pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins.

Next up: Carter’s take on how cream cheese frosting and red sprinkles transform pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins into perfect Christmas cupcakes.

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put paper liners in muffin tins. Alternatively, coat the tins with cooking spray, or butter and flour them. Note: I used a standard ice cream scoop to portion the batter and had a yield of 16 muffins; I put water in the empty spots.

Sift first five ingredients into a mixing bowl. Cream butter in a separate mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the pumpkin and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, alternately with milk, starting and finishing with the dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips.

Distribute batter evenly among muffin tins. Bake until the muffin tops brown and feel firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Adaptation notes: The original recipe calls for just 1 cup of pumpkin, 1 1/4 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of walnuts, and 3/4 cup of chocolate chips. I pulled a Jessica Seinfeld / Sneaky Chef move and added a whole can of Trader Joe’s organic canned pumpkin. I also decreased the sugar to balance out replacing the nuts with a second dose of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.

Adapted from Epicurious (Bon Appétit, November 2000)

epic failure: the rise and fall of orange-nutmeg popovers

January 9th, 2010

risefallBad omen: Carter describing the orange-nutmeg popovers in the oven as “mashed potatoes shaped like Mount St. Helens.” They looked puffy and yummy, but we all know what happened to the picturesque Mount St. Helens. It’s rare that a recipe doesn’t work for me. The orange-nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking just didn’t.

The recipe said to “prick each popover with a small knife to let the the steam escape because this helps them from collapsing.” I pricked. They collapsed.

Did using a blender, instead of mixing by hand, affect the batter’s airiness in a bad way? Was the baking temperature, only 375˚F, compared to 425˚F in other recipes, too low to crisp up enough the popovers? This popover recipe didn’t have any additional notes on popover baking techniques. The popover recipes in BakeWise and Baking Illustrated are much more informative.

Aside from the technical issues, the real problem was the strong, off-putting flavor. For six popovers, the recipe included 1 teaspoon each of salt, fresh ground nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper, plus the zest of one large orange. The other ingredients were fairly standard: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 cup flour.

Jeff took one look at the popover on the plate and requested one of the “puffy” ones. I had to explain that these were the (formerly) puffy ones. He took one bite, put it down, and said “too nutmeggy.” I thought they tasted too salty and peppery but powered through eating one, as I tried to pinpoint the flavoring errors of my ways.

I had trouble leveling off the teaspoons (I used a 1/4 teaspoon to measure because it’s hard to scoop up fresh-ground spices) of nutmeg and pepper because of their rough texture, and I wonder if I packed the spices instead of loosely leveling them, ending up with too much. That wouldn’t explain the salt, though, because I used table salt. If I were to try these again, I would cut all of the spices in half, but keep the orange zest.

I hope my successful popover debut wasn’t beginners’ luck, which I’m prone to. (Don’t ask my brother David about the first time we played backgammon, or my brother Tom about fishing in Virden, IL, for instance. )

I also hope my favorite little baker and budding scientist, who is feeling much better, will help me experiment with another popover recipe this weekend. Carter said to me the other day: “Mommy, I have a hypothesis, and I’d like to do an experiment to test it out.” I asked him if Daddy had told him what a hypothesis is, which wouldn’t be out of character. His answer: “No. I heard it on Dinosaur Train.”

sweets post-holiday questions

January 6th, 2010

1) Why did Santa stuff my stocking up with every variation of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I highly recommend the new Select Clusters) and bring me a Wii Fit, which that says I should lose 5 pounds? Not that I don’t want and appreciate all of the above.

2) Can I legitimately call myself a baker if I didn’t bake a single Christmas cookie? I kept (keep) meaning to. I even bought cookie cutters over Thanksgiving weekend.  Considering question #1, though, maybe it’s better that I didn’t…

Carter: “Mommy, We forgot to put out milk and cookies for Santa!” We won’t be skipping baking cookies next year.

magical popover debut

January 5th, 2010

popoversAs far as I’m concerned, a perfect present is something I really want and wouldn’t buy for myself—like a popover pan (thanks, Dawn!). I’ve never met a Nordic Ware pan I didn’t like (I’ll cop to collecting Bundt pans), and the English popover pan is no exception. I’d never actually made popovers. It sounded like fun, and it is.

The basic batter is super simple—milk, eggs, flour, salt, butter—and should be easy to put together with kids. Sadly, I didn’t get to try because Carter has been recovering from pneumonia and was napping when I mixed up the first batch.

Better yet, though, is watching popovers balloon up like new skyscrapers in the oven. Popover pan cups are 4 inches high, and the batter goes from filling the cups halfway up to towering over the top—demonstrating yet again the magical chemistry behind baking. Carter missed the transformation because he was in the bath, but he was impressed with the result when I carried the pan in to show him.

You can make popovers in a muffin pan, too, so don’t be scared off by my choice of specialty bakeware. I read a bunch of popover recipes and the key to the “pouf” is high heat. You heat the oven with your baking pan of choice in it with a silver baking sheet or a baking stone under it. Once the batter has rested (another key) and everything is hot, fill the pan quickly, and don’t open the oven door once the popovers are baking.

Jeff appreciated my effort. Carter ate half of one with strawberry jelly and was underwhelmed. He, like me, has an expressive face that doesn’t hide much. I hope he’ll be a little more excited when he feels better and we make them together. I also want to experiment with flavors. I have my eye on Mary Cech’s orange nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking. I’ll report back.


1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon oil (for greasing a popover pan; plus 2 teaspoons if using a muffin tin)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt; add to the egg mixture. Stir with a spatula just until combined; the mixture will be lumpy. Add the melted butter. Whisk until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, then put it in a container with a spout, if your mixing bowl doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 teaspoon oil in the bottom of each of the 6 cups of a popover pan (or in each of 10 cups of a muffin tin)—no need to spread around. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a silver (not dark) baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack. Heat the oven to 450˚F.

After the batter has rested, remove the pan from the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the cups in the pan—work quickly and keep the oven door closed. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Lower the heat to 350˚F and bake until popovers are golden brown all over, about 15 minutes more. Remove the popovers from the pan and cool them on a wire rack for a few minutes. Best served immediately.

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

remember me? catching up

January 3rd, 2010

treenew cousins

Hello, Blog, My Old Friend. It’s been too long. It’s not that I haven’t thought about writing, just like I think about baking and exercising. Doing, however, is a whole different thing than thinking about. Starting is the hardest part. And, I know, when I show up, the rest takes care of itself. (I’ve been trying to say and—not but—a brainstorming lesson learned at Stanford.)

Whether blogging, baking, or exercising, I resolve to show up more this year. And getting more organized is always on my list. Started out on the right foot (and left) today: yoga class at the Y this morning and Wii Fit (thank you, Santa!) this afternoon. If Wii Yoga classifies me as an “amateur,” what does it call people who haven’t taken a dozen years of yoga classes? At least, I bowled a 181 (Carter had a 183) and lowered my WiiFit age to 33, down from 56 (!) on Christmas. Hope I can keep it up better than all the other people with good intentions who will pack the Y this month.

karateDecember was busy. We went to Charlotte to meet my newest niece and nephew (now 6 months old); Carter and their 5-year-old brother, Conor, adore each other and had a blast. Carter earned his green belt in karate. He picked out a “Carter-size” tree (almost 4 feet tall) at Target and waited to trim it with my father- and sister-in-law, who came for Christmas. A lot of presents for Carter fit under that little tree. Jeff and I want to play with his new toys—Lincoln Logs,  Lego helicopter transporter, etc.

Continuing a bit of an unlucky streak, three UPS packages were stolen from our front porch, so having a Crayola Glow Station from Santa under the tree  required a Christmas Eve dash to Target. Also taken: a smoked turkey from Jeff’s dad, a rocket place mat that says “Daddy,” and another (still a surprise) present for Jeff. Also, unfortunately, Carter came down with pneumonia during a quick post-Christmas trip to visit my family in Illinois. He’s recovering well, and needless to say, it’s good to be home for a quiet weekend before it’s back to the normal weekday commute-work-daycare routine come Monday.

I look forward to 2010 being a better year, and I wish you and yours a happy, healthy new decade.