Tag Archives: sugar

Carnival Cupcakes

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While I love baking, anything involving decorating with icing really isn’t my forte. A few years ago I got ambitious and baked 250 miniature cupcakes for a friend’s farewell party. This was probably my most creative baking moment as I made hundreds of miniature mocha cupcakes topped with coffee bean icing, devil’s food with fresh coconut frosting, and lemon with mixed berry icing. They were a hit and disappeared long before the cramp in my hands did. But I found the task tedious and after that baking and icing extravaganza, I vowed never to repeat that foolishness again. (In all fairness I should also mention that I only had a couple of days to prepare and execute all of the baking and decorating).

So for the next couple of years I focused on baking and perfecting other sweet treats–cookies, tarts, bars, and breads–these are all right up my alley. And I studiously avoided making another cake or cupcake. But then this past year, at Sidney’s request, I baked and iced cupcakes for his birthday. While they tasted great, their appearance left a lot to be desired. And then last week I received a request from  Sidney’s pre-school asking parents to contribute baked goods for their upcoming Carnival party. Sidney once again requested cupcakes and since this was going to be a kid’s party, I decided to make them fun.

One of the things I love about Sidney’s school is its complete lack of food restrictions. Children are encouraged to eat anything and everything and are welcome to bring in homemade treats to share with their classmates. While my initial inclination was to get creative with my flavors, I eventually decided to keep it simple and kid friendly. Both the cupcake and butter cream recipes are courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. The yellow buttermilk cupcakes are tender without being overly sweet. And I must admit, I absolutely love this Swiss meringue butter cream icing recipe. Again, since it has a minimal amount of sugar it isn’t sweet and the loftiness of the meringue makes it a decorators dream–and yes, this is coming from a cake decorating adverse person.


For the cupcakes:

3 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 whole eggs, at room temperature

3 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard sized muffin tins with paper liners.
  • Sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating until each in incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Add the egg yolks, and beat until thoroughly combined.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the flour in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions.
  • Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the lined cups, filling each three-quarters of the way full.
  • Bake, in batches if necessary, rotating half way through for 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely before frosting.

Yields: 36 standard sized cupcakes

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream

5 large egg whites

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1 pound unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Food coloring, if desired

  • Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heat proof bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved (the mixture will feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingers).
  • Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool, about 10 minutes.
  • With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, add the vanilla extract and food coloring, if using.
  • Switch to a paddle attachment and continue beating on a low-speed until all of the air bubbles have been eliminated, about 2 minutes.
  • If using immediately, use a rubber spatula to move to a piping bag and decorate your cupcakes as desired.  Or, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days of freeze for up to 1 month. Before using, return the frosting to room temperature and beat with the paddle attachment on low-speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Yields: 5 cups of frosting

Bolognese Hot Chocolate


Does the cold, gray post holiday weather have you down? Are you dreaming of warmer and sunnier days? I know I am but in the meantime I’m keeping myself warm with this rich and spicy hot chocolate adapted from my all time favorite food podcast, The Splendid Table.

The combination of cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest bring a warming comfort to this drink and the chocolate makes it simply rich and divine. I like to use a combination of Belgian chocolates in my drink. And to make this drink that much more decadent, I’d added a splash of heavy cream to this otherwise dairy free drink. You don’t have to but go ahead and do it. It is sure to cheer you up during this post holiday slump!


 4 4-inch cinnamon sticks, crushed

2 to 4 8-inch long vanilla beans, split 

zest of one small orange

pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

2 quarts (8 cups) water

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1-1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 teaspoons vanilla extract 

1/4 cup heavy cream

  • Combine all ingredients except chocolate, vanilla extract and heavy cream in a 4-quart pot.
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat, leave the spot covered, and let steep 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture into an 8-quart pot.
  • Return the pot to the stove setting it over medium heat.
  • Add the chocolate to the mixture and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
  • Whisk until just below the boil then stir in the vanilla and the cream.
  • Serve immediately.

Serves 8

Twenty-Five Days of Cookies: Meringue Drops

Christmas is just six days (gulp) away and what better way is there to countdown to the big event than to feature a cookie recipe each day? Think of it as a cookie recipe advent calendar. And to fill that advent calendar I’m featuring twenty five of my favorite holiday cookie recipes that are sure to fill your holidays with cheer. Bake them to fill your cookie trays, bring them to a cookie swap or eat them yourself; they are guaranteed to bring about holiday joy. And if you love baking as much as I do, making them is a fun filled gift unto itself. Enjoy!

Egg whites and sugar. It doesn’t get much easier than these cookies that can be dressed up or down to fit any occasion.  For Christmas I’ve doctored mine up with a bit of red and green food coloring, added some colored sugar and they are good to go.  I’ve experimented with different flavorings as well.  Vanilla is always tasty but I found some creme de menthe in pantry used that to make mint ones.  In the past, I’ve also used orange or lemon extracts as well.  Which ever flavor you decide to use, they are sure to be a hit.


2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 cup super fine sugar
1 teaspoon extract of your choice
coarse sugar and food coloring if desired
  •  Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  •  In a clean, non-plastic bowl beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until frothy.
  •  Add the salt, cream of tarter, and food coloring if using and beat until blended.
  • Gradually add the sugar until completely incorporated and stiff peaks begin to form.
  •  Add the extract and beat until completed incorporated and no streaks remain.  Continue beating until the peaks are shiny.
  • Using a small dough scoop, tablespoon or a pastry bag, place tablespoon sized portions of the meringue mixture on the prepared cookie sheets.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Without opening the door, turn off the oven and allow to sit for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the cookies are completed cool and crisp.

Blood Orange Marmalade


Jam and jelly are nice but for me, marmalade is where it is at. With its chunks of candied citrus, marmalade is the perfect topping for toast, muffins and cakes. When slathered on poultry or pork it melts to form a sweet, sticky and tangy glaze that takes an ordinary cut of meat and makes it special. And best of all, marmalade is easy to make. As in so easy that it is a shame to buy it instead of making it yourself.

I recently came into possession of a lot of blood oranges and turning some into marmalade was one of the first things I did. I used a recipe from Epicurious and because I like my marmalades extra chunky (and I had a lot of oranges), increased the amount of fruit called for in the recipe. I also used Grand Marnier as my orange liqueur of choice. You can use your favorite orange liqueur if you prefer or even omit it in its entirety, but I prefer the extra flavor a small amount adds. I also reserve the simple orange syrup that results from the first cooking. It makes for a perfect glaze for sugar cookies or pound cake and makes for a refreshing spritzer when combined with tonic water. And the marmalade? It is delicious and you can eat it on anything and everything. I’ll never go back to buying it again.


2 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups water, divided
3 blood oranges, seeded and thinly sliced with peel into rounds
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

  • Combine 1 cup of the sugar, 1 cup of water and the orange slices in heavy medium saucepan.
  • Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  • Reduce heat to low and cook until orange peel is tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
  • Pour into strainer set over medium bowl. Reserve the syrup for another use and finely chop the orange slices.
  • Combine remaining 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water and the lemon juice in another heavy medium saucepan.
  • Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
  • Add chopped orange. Reduce heat to low then cook until orange is very tender and rind is translucent, about 30 minutes longer.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier. Transfer the marmalade to small bowl and allow to cool completely before refrigerating for up to one week.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

Pecan Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake


Coffee cake is a classic that never goes out of style. Tender and crumbly with lots of flavorful cinnamon, and perhaps nuts, coffee cake is the perfect mid-morning snack when served alongside a cup of coffee (hence its name). At least that is what my husband’s co-workers said when they devoured an entire coffee cake in less than 10 minutes.

This recipe comes from King Arthur FlourBecause I was gifted with several pounds of pecans I’ve taken the liberty of adding finely chopped nuts into the streusel topping. I love the toasty crunch they add  to the topping. There are two things that you will immediately notice about this recipe; first it makes a large cake. If you prefer, you can cut the recipe in half then bake it in a single 8″ x 8″ cake pan. (You may need to reduce the baking time slightly). The second thing you will notice is that the recipe does call for a lot of sugar. Disliking anything too sweet, I was initially skeptical about the amounts but much to my delight the cake is not sweet. Instead, the generous amount of cinnamon adds spice and complexity to the cake. So bake the cake, pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy.


Streusel Topping:

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3/4 cup plain yogurt

1 1/4 cups milk

3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  • To make the topping, whisk  together the sugar, salt, flour, and cinnamon.
  • Add the melted butter, stirring till well combined. Set the topping aside.
  • To make the filling, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa powder in a small bowl Set it aside.
  • To make the cake, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, salt, granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat well combined and smooth.
  •  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  •  In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt and milk till well combined.
  •  Add the flour to the butter mixture alternating with the yogurt and milk mixture, beating gently to combine.
  • Pour half the batter into the prepared pan, spreading all the way to the edges.
  • Sprinkle the filling evenly atop the batter.
  • Spread the remaining batter atop the filling.
  • Use a table knife to gently swirl the filling into the batter. You don’t want to stir the filling into the batter, rather you want to create a ribbon of cinnamon filling throughout the cake.
  • Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.
  • Bake until the cake is dark golden brown around the edges and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
  • Serve cake right from the pan.

Yields 16 pieces

Sesame Crusted Chicken Cutlets w/ Vietnamese Caramel Sauce


Chicken cutlets are a hurried cook’s best friend. They cook up quickly, are versatile, and can serve as a blank palate for whatever flavors you want to add. But the biggest danger to cooking thin filets is over cooking them; in a matter of seconds they can go from perfectly cooked to over done leaving you with meat that is dry and rubbery.

So how do you make sure your filets are perfectly cooked? I like to bread mine with a crispy coating first which helps seal in the juices. This recipe, from Cuisine at Home, yields perfectly cooked chicken cutlets that are crispy, juicing and thanks to the spicy caramel sauce that accompanies them, full of flavor. The triple coating of bread, egg and panko crumbs infused with toasty sesame seeds results in a delicious outer layer that seals in all of the juices. You can make the caramel sauce while the chicken cooks, leaving in the solids as I do or straining them out if you prefer a smooth sauce. I like to keep them in because they add texture and interest. Either way, your results are sure to please. Serve the chicken alongside rice or noodles so you can enjoy every last drop of the caramel sauce.


For the chicken:

4- 3 ounce chicken filets

1 1/2 cup panko crumbs

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 egg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the sauce:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 shallot, minced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced

1 serrano chile, seeded and minced

  • Combine the panko crumbs and sesame seeds in a shallow dish.
  • Beat the egg in a separate shallow dish.
  • In a third shallow dish combine the flour, salt and pepper.
  • Dredge a chicken filet in the flour mixture then dip it into the beaten egg before coating with the panko mixture. Set aside on a plate and repeat.
  • Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
  • Add the chicken filets and cook, flipping once, until brown on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side.
  • While the chicken is cooking, place the sugar in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook the sugar until it has melted and is light brown in color.
  • Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce and fish sauce in a small bowl then whisk it into the melted sugar.
  • Stir in the shallots, garlic, ginger and serrano chile.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until thicken and reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  • Serve the sauce over the chicken.

Serves 4

Cranberry Orange Relish

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Who wants that cranberry jelly from a tin can when you can make a fresh and flavorful cranberry relish in a matter of minutes.  This dish always brings me back to my childhood and to this day I can’t eat turkey without thinking of and longing for this side dish.  Try it, you’ll love it.


1 pound fresh cranberries, washed and picked over

1 whole organic orange, scrubbed

1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

  • Working in batches, pulse the cranberries until coarse in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Place the chopped cranberries in a large bowl.
  • Cut the orange into eight pieces, leaving the peel on but removing any seeds.  Place the orange pieces in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add to the cranberries.
  • Add the salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar to the cranberries; stir to combine.  Cover and allow to sit for several hours or preferably overnight.
  • Stir the relish and add more sugar if needed.

Yields 3 cups

Chocolate-Peppermint Fudge

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Fudge is the ultimate holiday treat.  Whether served as part of a dessert table or given as a hostess gift who doesn’t love fudge?  And best of all, fudge is surprisingly easy to make and since a little goes a long way, you get a lot of bang for your efforts.

Good fudge has only a few simple ingredients and because of this, I like to use the best quality cream and chocolate I can find. This is also why up until this point I had made fudge while in Albania since fresh heavy cream is all but impossible to locate.  But when I recently came into possession of one precious quart of heavy cream, I just knew I had to make fudge.

This recipe is courtesy of Fine Cooking magazine.  Their rich chocolate version is good as it is but to make my fudge a bit more festive I’ve given my confection a peppermint twist. If you want the original simply omit the peppermint extract and the crushed candy canes.  Or make both versions.  It is that good.


3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, plus  more at room temperature for buttering the thermometer and pan

3 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

1 teaspoon table salt

2 large peppermint candy canes, crushed

  • Lightly butter the surface of a candy thermometer and set aside.
  • Put the sugar, cream, chocolate, corn syrup, peppermint extract and salt in a large, heavy saucepan and stir with a spoon until the ingredients are moistened and combined.
  • Stirring gently and constantly, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, 7 to 12 minutes.  Cover the saucepan and let the steam clean the sides of the pan for 2 minutes.
  • Clip the candy thermometer to the pot, being careful not to let the tip of the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot, or you might get a false reading.  Let the mixture boil without stirring until it reaches 236 to 238 degrees, 2 to 5 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat and add the butter but do not stir the mixture.  Set the pan on a rack in the coolest part of your kitchen.  Do not disturb the pan in any way until the mixture has cooled to 110 degrees.  Depending upon the temperature of your kitchen this should take between 1 and 1 1/2 hours.
  • Meanwhile line the bottom and sides of an 8×8 inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhand on two opposite sides of the pan.  Butter the foil.
  • Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with the crushed candy canes then set aside.
  • Remove the candy thermometer from the fudge mixture.  Using a hand mixer, beat on high speed until it is a few shades lighter in color and thickens enough that the beaters form trails that briefly expose the bottom of the pan as they pass through, 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Pour the thickened mixture into the prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to help nudge it out of the pot, scraping the bottom but not the sides of the pot.
  • Smooth the top of the fudge with the rubber spatula then set the pan on a rack and allow the fudge to cool completely, about 2 hours.
  • Turn the fudge out of the pan onto a clean cutting board and peel off the foil.  Turn the slab of fudge right side up and cut it into 25 equal pieces.

The fudge will keep for up to 10 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yields:  25 servings

Sesame Brittle

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When I was in first grade my class had a lesson on cooking.  Since we were a room full of six-year olds the lesson was pretty basic.  I don’t recall what, if anything, we actually made but I remember it inspiring me to go home and cook something all by myself and that dish I remember.  I made peanut brittle.  Or at least that was my intent.  Nut brittle isn’t hard to make but somewhere along the line the six-year-old chef in me went wrong and I ended up with a gooey mess that stuck to my mom’s favorite baking pan.

I’ve had my share of cooking mistakes since that first failed candy making attempt but fortunately they haven’t involved making brittle.  A simple sugar and butter syrup, when you use a candy thermometer making brittle is actually a pretty fool-proof endeavor.  Classic peanut brittle is the standard but other nuts are nice too.  For an unexpected twist you can stir in seeds or spices instead.  I love this recipe from Fine Cooking magazine; the combination of black and white sesame seeds imparts a toasted flavor that contrasts nicely with the sweet base.  It is sure to become a holiday tradition in my family.


2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 cups toasted sesame seeds, black, white or a combination of the two

  • Line a 10 x 15 inch rimmed baking tray with parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking spray.  Set aside.
  • Combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter and 2/3 cup of water in a large saucepan.  Stir until all of the sugar is wet.
  • Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and cook the mixture over medium-high heat without stirring until the thermometer registers 310 degrees and is tan around the edges. It should take between 12 and 16 minutes to reach this point.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and quickly remove the candy thermometer.  Stir in baking soda then the salt.  (The mixture will foam).
  • Quickly whisk in the seeds.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan, tilting the pan to evenly distribute the candy mixture before it cools.****
  • Allow the candy to sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until it has completely set.
  • Invert the brittle onto a cutting board and use a meat mallet to break the candy into medium to small-sized pieces.
  • Store in an air tight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Yields:  6 cups

**** Cook’s tip:  The remnants of the candy mixture will quickly adhere to the pan and the candy thermometer as the mixture cools.  Simply add a cup or two of water to the empty pan, cover and bring to a boil. The heat and steam will loosen the mixture and make it easy to scrape down the sides and remove the stuck on candy.  Once the mixture boils place the candy thermometer in the pan and the stuck on candy will slip right off.

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