Classic Cupcakes

Whenever Queen Cupcake visits a new bakery, she always gets a red velvet cupcake.  It’s her litmus test as far as determining the best cupcakes in New York.  Or LA.  Or wherever she is at the moment.

red velvet

Everyone makes red velvet cupcakes.

It’s a quirky little flavor though, in that there is enormous variety in everyone’s take on it.

red velvet 2

I’ve posted about my favorite red velvet cupcakes twice, and have yet to actually provide the recipe here on this little site.  They are some of my favorite cupcakes I make, and I make them a lot.

To make a dozen of my favorite red velvet cupcakes, you will need:

  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2  Tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

Cream butter and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  Cream till mixture is lighter in color and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn mixer on high and add egg.  Scrape down bowl and continue to beat until combined.

In a small bowl, mix cocoa powder, food coloring, and vanilla till combined.  Add mixture to butter mixture, and beat till everything is smooth.  You will need to do some serious bowl-scraping to get the color to mix evenly.

Turn mixer to low and add half the buttermilk.  If you were a diligent baker, you would combine flour, salt, and baking soda in another bowl.  You might even sift the ingredients together.  I never bother.  I add 1/2 C flour plus the salt into the mixer next.  I scrape the bowl down when too much pushes up against the sides, and then, still keeping things on low, I add the rest of the buttermilk.  Then I add the other 1/2 C plus 2 T flour, and the baking soda and mix till everything is just incorporated.

Then it’s volcano time.  Remember when elementary school science fairs were all about papier mache volcanoes?  They erupted because of a fizzy combination of baking soda and vinegar and that’s what we’re about to do here.  I add the little bit of baking soda and make sure to pour the white vinegar right on top to watch it fizz up.  Then I put the mixer back on and let it do its thing till the ingredients disappear.

I scoop even amounts of batter into the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.

I let the cupcakes cool, and then I make this frosting.

Sometimes [chocolate bundt cake with chocolate glaze]

Sometimes my husband goes to grad school and he take the computer with him.

Sometimes that happens on a weekend.

Gone are my chances to laze around, pinning recipes to try and catching up on blog reading.  Instead, I’m forced off of my butt and into work mode.  Laundry happens, cleaning happens, I mean, really the possibilities are endless.  I used to shudder when he took the computer, but now I like it.  It makes me do stuff.  Like realize what a time-sucker this stupid machine actually is.  Whoa, that was harsh.

Let’s eat some cake.

One computer-less morning, I dusted off the cookbooks on my shelf when I realized it was my half birthday.  Because if Pinterest has taught me anything, it’s that half birthdays require half cakes.  Also because I’m working on celebrating this year.  I went straight to Joy the Baker because she’s always a good time.  My gut instinct was to go with cream cheese pound cake, because holy heaven, it looked so dreamy.  But, keeping in mind this was a half birthday cake, I thought cutting a loaf cake in half wouldn’t be exciting at all.  So I upped my game and made her chocolate Bundt cake with chocolate glaze.  Half a Bundt cake certainly makes a point.

chocolate bundt cake with chocolate glaze

I brought this half to my in-laws on the blessed day and brought the other half to work the following day.

chocolte bundt cake with glaze 2

And that half tasted better.  (And yes, the glaze is lumpy because I used yogurt instead of sour cream.)  So to all you cake-bakers out there who can’t seem to get it together to make things ahead of time: 1.  I hear you.  2.  This is so much better when made a day ahead of time.

To make Chocolate Bundt Cake to feed an army, you will need:

For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 C hot prepared coffee
  • 1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 C all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 C sour cream (I used full fat plain yogurt)
  • 1 C plus 2 T vegetable oil

For the glaze:

  • 3/4 C unsalted butter
  • 1 C (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate
  • 4 T hot prepared coffee
  • 1/3 C sour cream, at room temperature (I used the same yogurt and my glaze was both unimpactedly delicious and gloppy)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a Bundt pan.  Because of all the cracks and crevices in said pan, I find reciting a quick prayer is also effective.  Take out a large, medium, and small bowl.

In the large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.  Set aside.  In the medium bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until thick and pale.  Add sour cream and oil, and carefully whisk until well incorporated.  In small bowl, whisk together coffee and cocoa powder until smooth.  Add egg mixture, all at once, to flour mixture.  Once no lumps remain, add coffee mixture and gently mix to incorporate.  The batter will be loose and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45-60 minutes, until skewer inserted in cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan 20 minutes, before removing.  Let cool completely on wire rack.

When cake is cool, make the glaze.  Place butter and chocolate in heat-proof bowl over 2 inches of simmering water.  Stir until chocolate and butter are melted.  Remove from heat, stir in 2 T coffee.  Add sour cream, stirring gently till incorporated.  At this point, use the 2 remaining T coffee if the glaze needs thinning.  Mine was plenty thin already.

Depending on the chocolate you use, this glaze is super dark, and could easily be sweetened (and thus thickened) using some confectioners sugar.  Joy does that here.

Why Christmas was Awesome

I know that for a lot of you, Christmas ends on the 26th, and you’d like nothing better than my not mentioning it again until December, 2014.

Christmas Tree

Indulge me for a second.

This Christmas was awesome and I fear that if I don’t take the time right now, fresh out of it, to record what made it so, it will be lost for the ages.

home for Christmas

It wasn’t the kind of awesome where everything was perfectly decorated or someone unwrapped a puppy.  It was the kind of awesome that you get from a nice, low-key day, where the gifts are thoughtful, and the dinner isn’t just good, it’s easy.

peppermint stacks

Two Christmases ago, my husband and I were in Chile, and last year, we went to Rome.  I loved our trips, but after two years away, I vowed that this was a year for Christmas in America.

chocolate peppermint log

We did our usual routine of Christmas Eve with my in-laws, and an early morning shoot up 95 to my hometown.

icebox buche de noel

We arrived, open presents, hung out for a little, and then, per tradition, Sous Chef Lauren arrived to start cooking dinner with me.

Christmas Dinner

But there really wasn’t much to do in that department.

penne with five cheeses

With the exception of our annual Christmas latkes (oh hey, early days of this blog), everything was either prepped in advance, or simple to throw together.

Star of David cupcakes

Well, it helped that I wasn’t responsible for the main dish.

So here is what we had.  And though we ate these foods on Christmas dinner, nothing here is Christmas specific.  This would all work brilliantly for a dinner party, or other situation where you find yourself in need of recipes for an indulgent meal.

candlelight

Thus, I bring you a simple Christmas dinner, 2013 style:

Appetizers:

Smitten Kitchen’s Latkes – These are the best, and Sous Chef Lauren’s and my traditional Christmas fare.
Advance Prep: Not really possible with these guys.  But this is the only part of the menu that requires hands on time right before serving.

Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms – I emailed Sous Chef Lauren with the parts of the menu I had cobbled together so far, and asked her to fill in the holes.  She knew that mushrooms were an integral part of this meal.  We never got as far as slicing bread to soak up the juices.  We dug right into these as-is.
Advance Prep: Get everything ready in the morning and just pop in the oven 20 minutes before you need them.

Dinner:

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak – Because I never need an excuse to ask for it for dinner.  The honey gives the meat this hint of sweetness that drives me over the edge.  This steak is the best.
Advance Prep:  Marinade this baby the night before, and hand it off to a loved one to grill for you about 20 minutes before dinner.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Penne with Five Cheeses – We had some vegetarians round our Christmas table this year, and they needed something of sustenance.  I remembered that I made this for Christmas Eve many moons ago (the power of making notes in the margins of my cookbooks) and it was darn good.  Of course, I forgot the penne back in DC and so I scrambled to make this work with the pasta we had in the pantry.  Testudo pasta for the win.
Advance Prep: Make the dish, the night before or the morning of, and bake it off when you need it.  If you’re taking it straight out of the fridge, put it in the oven while it preheats, so it warms up gradually.  If you take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature first, then you can just stick it in once the oven is preheated.  If you think of neither of those options in time, no worries, it just might need longer to bake.

Green Beans with Almonds – There’s no link for this one, dear readers.  Saute up some Trader Joe’s frozen green beans in some onions.  At the end of cooking, add a couple splashes of red wine vinegar and some toasted almonds.
Advance Prep: Get everything ready in the morning, cover, leave it on the stove.  When it’s time for dinner, uncover, and reheat over a medium to high flame.  If you do prepare the green beans in advance, hold off on adding the almonds until right before serving.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Brussels Sprouts with Bacon – Per Wooden Nickels’ request, because she heard they were the best around.
Advance Prep:  Get everything ready that morning and throw in the oven when you’re ready.

Dessert:

Skinnytaste’s Cranberry Bliss Bars – Cutting a 9 x 13 pan’s worth of bars in little triangles leaves you with more bars than you know what to do with.  So despite gifting these to my morning Starbucks team, I had plenty left for our Christmas table.
Advance Prep:  Make these a couple days in advance, wrap well with foil or plastic wrap, refrigerate, and place on the table when the time is right.

Star of David Cupcakes with the leftover chocolate frosting from this cake – Santa brought me these in my stocking last year, and Christmas seemed as good a time as any to break them out.  The box did come with frosting mix, but I had whipped up my father-in law’s birthday cake/Christmas Eve dessert that same night, and my husband suggested I use the remnants of the bowl for these as well.
Advance Prep:  Make these a couple days in advance, wrap well with foil or plastic wrap, refrigerate, and place on the table when the time is right.

Joy the Baker’s Chocolate Peppermint Icebox Yule Log Cake – And then I found out that Grandma Glass of Milk made an icebox cake right before my parents’ wedding.  And all was well.  It’s worth noting that the peppermint whipped cream that goes into the making of this cake is absolutely heavenly, and you will still have a bit left after stacking everything together, so I’d suggest having hot chocolate at the ready.
Advance Prep:  Joy’s cake needs some time in the freezer before it’s served.  This one is a must-make in advance, at least 24 hours before serving.  Then it needs 20 minutes out of the freezer before you’re ready to slice into it.  The perfect pause between dinner and dessert.

The Way You Know About a Good Melon

You know what I’m talking about.

When I saw this, the most gorgeous video in the world, which I’ve since watched at least 8 times, I knew exactly what my evening would look like.  I just knew.

cheers to boozy milkshakes

Side note–my evening was already scheduled to involve Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2.  Adding boozy milkshakes to the mix was the icing on the cake.  Or in this case, the whipped cream on the milkshake.

And so I went about my day.  I walked on the beach with Wooden Nickels and CV(D), I started a book I need to read, and I went to the grocery store.  I cuddled with Baby O.  I made dinner, much like I usually do.   I tried to eat my veggies.

boozy assembly

But all the while, there was this nagging thought in the back of my head.  Boozy milkshakes.

And so, in between (spoiler alert!) Bella becoming a vampire, Renesmee growing up at a frightening rate, and Baby O joining everyone who’s anyone on Team Jacob, my night became complete.

boozy aerial view

These milkshakes, quite simply, are the best things to come out of my kitchen in longer than I care to think about.  It’s not that anything I made was bad,  It’s not even that anything I made wasn’t good.  These are just in an entirely different category.

boozy milkshakeTo make them, you’ll want some quality homemade hot fudge.  You can make this as early as 10 days in advance.  Though I would venture a guess that if you make it 10 days before you want boozy milkshakes, there will be no hot fudge left.  The hot fudge is deep, and dark, and silky smooth.  I made mine while sipping on my first beverage of the day.  I’m on vacation.

hot fudge

To make a generous amount of hot fudge, you will need:

  • 2/3 C heavy cream
  • 1/2 C light corn syrup
  • 1/3 C dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 C cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped and divided
  • 2 T butter

Place cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and 3 oz. chocolate in small saucepan and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until just so slightly thickened.  Remove mixture from heat and stir in remaining chocolate and butter.  Use immediately, or let cool, and store, covered, in the fridge.

You’ll also want some whipped cream.  I find it works best if you ask a friend to make it, so you can focus on what’s most important.  Which booze should be a part of your boozy milkshake?

CV(D)'s whipped cream

Thanks for whipping the cream, so I could agonize about liquor, CV(D).  You’re a true friend.

To make whipped cream, you will need:

  • 1 friend who knows whipped cream tips and tricks, like putting the mixer beaters and bowl in the freezer in advance of needed them
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 2 T powdered sugar (fun fact…CV(D) uses granulated sugar)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (CV(D) won’t hear of this; she deems it unnecessary)

Beat all ingredients till you can flip the mixer or whisk over, and the mixture holds its shape.

When you’ve settled on the booze of your choice (Baileys, please), get things whipped up in your blender.

To make the milkshakes you will need (for each shake):

  • 3 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 C milk
  • 1-2 oz. Baileys Irish Cream (or liquor of your choice)

Blend ingredients in blender till smooth.

Lace a drinking glass with hot fudge, pour in your milkshake, and top with whipped cream and more hot fudge.  Enjoy with vampires and werewolves.

team jacob

*If you, like so many, are wondering on which side of the Jacob/Edward battle lines your baby lies, may I suggest placing her in front of the television when one character appears alone.  If, five seconds later, she begins to wail like her life depends on it, she is likely not a member of said team.  Just a suggestion.

I Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone

This is not a new finding.

red velvetI have a favorite red velvet cupcake, and a favorite cream cheese frosting, and yet I am always looking for something new.

joyThis time around, I made the frosting Joy recommends (or at least, my spin on it) in lieu of my old standby, and was amazed at the difference a hint of cinnamon makes.  Do you see those little flecks in the swirls?  I die!

joy 2I made Joy’s cupcakes exactly as she recommended, but I tweaked the frosting recipe so I’d have a higher cream cheese to butter ratio, and enough to be piped on my dozen cupcakes.  These are my new fave, and dare I say it? Better than these!

To make enough frosting for a dozen cupcakes, you will need:

  • 4 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 or 5 C powdered sugar
  • scant 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Cream butter and cream cheese in mixer till smooth.  Slowly add powdered sugar till incorporated.  Add cinnamon.  When everything is well-mixed, I like to crank up the mixer to whip the frosting for a minute or so.  I like the texture it gives.

 

Biscuits for CV(D)

CV(D) and some of our coworkers, past and present, recently shared a lovely meal at one of my favorite haunts.  We did that thing polite ladies do, where they inquire as to whether anyone is getting an appetizer.  Around those with whom I’m not as well acquainted, I tend to play it shy, and follow others’ leads.  Not so with this crew.  When we did the whole, “are we getting appetizers?” thing, I spoke up right away, bursting at the seams in support of the table biscuits. They were embarrassingly large, and melt in your mouth amazing.

Looking to replicate those buttery, layered, flaky, disks in her own kitchen, CV(D) asked me for my most favorite biscuits.  I emailed her a link for Ina’s, which I’ve made several times without being disappointed (duh).

biscuit doughNever being one to leave things alone, however, I didn’t make those for Thanksgiving.  I made Joy the Baker’s cheddar chive and jalapeno (but without the jalapeno) biscuits instead.  They’re from her cookbook, which I haven’t whipped out much since this summer, and miss terribly.  They came to me in a vision in between Thanksgivings two and three, when I started shamelessly adding all the foods I missed not having eaten yet to my final Thanksgiving table.

And they hit the spot, with that same comforting taste our table biscuits had so many weeks before.  Oh man, were my favorite parts those cheesy bits that oozed out through the sides.  See ‘em down there?

biscuits bakedOur final Thanksgiving feast was one for a mere five people.  I made 15 biscuits.  No one was too upset that there were so darn many of them.  Especially those of us with gravy in serious need of sopping up.

To make 15 of your own, you will need:

  • 3 C flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 C cold buttermilk, plus more for topping
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 C extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium jalapeno, seeds partially removed, diced small (this was not something lying around in my kitchen on Thanksgiving evening, so I completely left it out)
  • 1/4 C minced chives
  • 3/4 C unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • coarse sea salt, for topping

Place rack in center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

Place flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, and butter in bowl of food processor.  Pulse mixture until butter is the size of small peas.  This is the lazy man’s method.  Alternately, do this in a mixing bowl, mixing everything except the butter first, then cutting in the butter with a pastry cutter or two forks.

In a small bowl (or measuring cup if you don’t like doing dishes), whisk together buttermilk and egg.

Pour flour mixture into large bowl, add cheese, jalapeno (if using), and chives.  Create a small well in the center of the flour mixture, and add buttermilk mixture all at once.  Toss together with a fork, making sure that all the flour bits are moistened by the buttermilk.  Mixture will be shaggy.  That’s that flaky biscuit goodness that we all love.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured space, and knead for 8-10 minutes, to bring everything together.  Smack that dough out to a 1 1/2 inch thickness, and start cutting 2 1/2 inch circles.  You can do this with a biscuit cutter, or the mouth of a drinking glass.  When you’ve cut all the circles you can, bring the remaining dough back together, and pound it to a 1 1/2 inch thickness again.  Keep repeating the cutting process until you’ve used all your dough.

Place biscuits on baking trays, brush with buttermilk, and top with salt.  Bake 12 – 15 minutes.  Eat them as soon as you possibly can.*

*Biscuits are always best immediately, but when you’re preparing a feast, that’s not always an option.  In that case, let them cool completely, and reheat them in the oven the next day.

We put our leftovers on top of this.

Life Lessons

In my 28 years of existence on God’s green earth, I’ve learned a thing or two.  Important life lessons, like:

  • It’s worth spending money on people who know what they’re doing really well.
  • At least 95% of Season 6 of “The Hills” is totally scripted.
  • There will be an answer, let it be.
  • Cooking is therapeutic; baking, even more so.
  • It’s not dinner until you dump a cup of Parmesan cheese on top.
  • The book is always better than the movie.
  • It is what it is.

And while baking (though not therapeutically), I learned something new.  Something to which I will cling for the rest of my days:

  • Never try to make something with bourbon and chocolate chips healthy.

You probably just read that and thought, “duh.”  But, dear readers, sometimes I get ideas in the kitchen, and I make little tweaks on recipes.  Sometimes wonderful things happen. The first time I tweaked Joy the Baker’s Mommom’s bourbon-spiked banana bread (which, coincidentally, was the first time I made Joy the Baker’s Mommom’s bourbon-spiked banana bread), however, it didn’t go so well.

I did this dumb thing where I added whole wheat flour because I felt like it.

There’s no excuse for that.

Whole wheat flour has no place in a bourbon-spiked banana bread.  Whole wheat flour is for the birds.

The other night, I had 3 bananas sitting listlessly on the kitchen counter, and I wanted a redo.  So I made this bread again.  I brought it to work.  And it got gobbled up faster than you can say Joy the Baker’s Mommom’s bourbon-spiked banana bread.  Therein, a lesson.  Never try to make things with bourbon and chocolate chips healthy.  This is no place for whole wheat flour.  It’s a place for vices coming together in one glorious loaf.

To make one, you will need:

  • 2 C flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 C sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 ripe-overripe bananas
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 3 T bourbon
  • 1 C coarsely chopped walnuts (I omitted)
  • 1 C chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 inch loaf pan.

Sift first 3 ingredients together in medium bowl.

In separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.  Stir in bananas, lemon juice and bourbon.  Fold in flour all at once and beat till almost incorporated.  Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips with spatula.

Spoon mixture into loaf pan.  Bake 45 minutes to an hour, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean (gooey chocolate chips aside).  Let cool in pan 20 minutes before inverting on cooling rack.  Slice into it shortly thereafter.

Favorites

I have this thing about hyperbole.  I live for it.  See what I did there?  It’s no great secret that I speak in absolute extremes.  Often whatever I do is the best _______ ever.  And I mean it.  So when Joy and Tracy gave their podcast listeners homework the other day, I knew I could make it happen.  All I have to do is come up with 5 favorites right now.  Favorites?  I love favorites!  Let’s go!

1.  The Beatles

*source

I make a new playlist for each season, and when I heard The Beatles blasting at Trader Joe’s yesterday morning, I knew it was time to delete “Winter 2011″ and get started on “Spring 2012.”  There are a couple bands who see heavier rotations once the weather heats up, Dave Matthews and Mumford among them.  But it doesn’t get better than the Fab 4.

2.  Liege Waffles

At least, I think they’re my favorite right now.  One of my favorite readers (hi reader!) emailed me after a glamorous ski trip with her family and said she couldn’t get enough of these crazy waffles on her trip.  She did some research and decided they were Liege waffles, emailed me and asked whether I knew anything about them because she was dying to make them again.  I had never heard of them, but as soon as Wikipedia told me they feature, “chunks of pearl sugar which caramelize on the outside of the waffle when baked,” I gasped.  I’ve had Liege waffles many times before, at our neighborhood Farmers’ Market.  I tracked down this recipe, which, as soon as I own a waffle iron, should be fantastic.

3.  New Stationery

I had been squeaking by with my husband’s and my wedding stationery for the past two and a half years, with nothing to show for my “new” last name.  I am a firm believer in thank you notes and monograms.

4.  Lilacs

OMG, lilacs.  Wooden Nickels recently informed me that most gardeners deem these purple plants inferior, but I don’t care what they say.  We had one right by the side of our house growing up, and I would always cut a couple stems and bring them inside to no avail during the 10 days they bloomed.  The branches are meant to stay outdoors, and never lasted more than a day in water.  For the hot second I could keep them alive, they made my whole room smell like heaven on earth.  This beauty is on the first .25 miles of my running route (and thus, also the last .25 miles), and I’m convinced the poor people who own this yard know me as “that weird girl who always stops and smells our flowers when she runs/walks by.”  Oh well.

5.  Trader Joe’s

*source

Trader Joe’s, how do you pull off being the best grocery store in the entire world?  Every time I shop at you, I spend considerably less than I do at my big name grocery store, and my snooty healthy grocery store.  And every time I go I stray considerably from my grocery list.  I come across items that friends have recommended (half baked ciabattini rolls, pita crisp crackers, and dark chocolate non-pareils just from yesterday’s trip), and always find about twelve additional things I don’t really need but cannot live without.  Plus shopping there is just an overall pleasant experience, which is a claim not many grocery stores can hold.

Those are my current faves.  What are yours?

Friends

Ten years ago (yes, ten!) , I set off for the University of Maryland after spending a whopping 18 years in Pennsylvania.  I adore the town where I grew up.  And when everyone asked me why I wasn’t going to college there, I said, “If I don’t go away to college, I won’t ever go anywhere.  I’ll be right back after I graduate and I don’t want to say I’ve never lived anywhere else.”

So you know how that one ends.  Because here I am in DC with no plans to move back to PA anytime soon.

I hate it.

And I also sometimes love it.

If you’ve ever moved to a new place you likely understand this raging internal conflict.

The one thing that has made this whole transplant experience worthwhile are the friends I’ve made here.  In fact, I’m sure I would be quite miserable without them.  I am beyond fortunate that I work with some of the best girls in town.

And they humor me by coming over for dinner every now and again.  You know three of them already.  That’s AGOMYR in the bottom left corner, Hey Girl Hey in the bottom right, and of course, CV smack in the center with the blue dress.  The lovely lady in the top left of the picture is my ex (roommate, that is), and the fifth member of our little crew is our resident health expert.  She does crazy things like exhibit self control when faced with a plate full of desserts.  We don’t know how she does it, either.

These ladies came over the other night, so I baked.

I started getting Joy’s Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart with Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream together the evening before everyone arrived, and I had a little epiphany.  Said epiphany was not that Joy’s cookbook is the new best thing that happened to my kitchen, because I figured that out already.  It was that the baking I was doing was a different kind entirely.

If you hang around here long enough, you’ll realize that baking is part of my everyday life.  I’m never too far from needing thirty cupcakes, a batch of brownies to bring to Grandma Glass of Milk, muffins for a staff breakfast, or cookies, just because I don’t like to have an empty cookie jar.

But that’s not this kind of baking.  That’s the kind you can do with your eyes closed if you have to.  This kind of baking was the kind that matters.  It’s the kind that takes time, and thought, and care.  It can’t be done in an hour.  As I put together the tart shell with my own two hands, and whipped up the ganache, I thought about how this is the kind of cooking that you want people to feel.  You want your friends to take a bite and realize you’re telling them something.

I’m so glad you came over.

You make living here fun.

Thank you.

To make a tart to feed your friends, you will need:

For the shell (which tastes like a big giant graham cracker):

  • 1 1/2 C all purpose flour
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • scant 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold, small diced
  • 1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and spices in large bowl.  Cut in butter with your fingers.  This means you want to get in there and smush the little butter pieces until they get all mixed with the flour.  If you’ve never done this before, it may feel weird, and like you’re not getting anywhere.  But keep at it, until your biggest pieces of butter are no bigger than a little pea.  Once incorporated, add the egg yolk and mix things together again with a fork.  Dump the mixture into a nonstick tart pan, pressing the crust flat to the bottom of the pan, and up the sides.  Place tart crust in the freezer for an hour.

For the ganache:

  • 8 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used Scharffen Berger)
  • 1 1/4 heavy cream
  • 1/2 stick butter, at room temperature, cut in half

Place chocolate in medium bowl.  In small saucepan, heat heavy cream till it barely simmers.  Pour cream over chocolate, and let sit for one minute.  Stir gently with whisk, until chocolate and cream are combined.  Add the pieces of butter, and stir in with spatula until melted.  Set ganache aside and let it cool to room temperature.

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter one side of a piece of foil and press buttered side against the crust.  Bake shell for 20 minutes, remove foil, and bake for another 15.  Remove shell from oven and let cool completely.

You’re almost there.

For the topping:

  • 1 1/2 C fresh berries that you would want to eat with chocolate (Joy recommends raspberries and blackberries)
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 3 T powdered sugar

In a mixer fitted with whisk attachment (or with your hand mixer) beat cream and sugar until stiff peaks form.

Pour cooled ganache into cooled shell.  Top with whipped cream and berries.

Serve to people you love.

Dear readers, in case you’re all sentimental now and in dire need of a good laugh, please observe what happened after my husband returned home from his guys’ night adventure and ate his own piece.

Random Things

1.  Today is Pi Day.

As such, I made some Jello Pudding Pies and brought them to work.  Jello Pudding Pies are like, the easiest pies in the world to make (easy as pie…see what I did there?) but I got a little anxious about these guys.  There are about a million recipes for Jello Pudding Pie out there on the internets, and how was I to know which one was right and which wasn’t?  Two percent milk or skim?  Pudding/Cool Whip mixture, or all pudding with Cool Whip on top?  Things seemed to work out okay in the end, or so said everyone I fed.

2.  Yesterday was Taco Tuesday.

That’s not a thing.  It became one while I was menu planning on Sunday.  I always ask my husband if there’s anything in particular he wants on the table that week, and he said tacos, right as I arrived at the blank space next to Tuesday.  There you have it.  Taco Tuesday is born.

3.  I am not a single girl.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t eat like one.  I finished dinner the other night and wasn’t hungry.  Unfortunately, my body is finely tuned to crave at least one tiny morsel of something sweet at the end of each meal, which meant the wheels in my head were spinning.  I could eat a Hershey kiss, but that would mean opening the whole bag.  I could eat a spoonful of Nutella, but I lost count of how many times I’d already done that.  I could make Joy the Baker’s Single-Girl Melty Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake!  She mentioned it on one of the podcasts and it sounded perfect for an old married gal whose husband doesn’t eat sweets.

How closely do you read my posts?  Did you notice the part where I said I wasn’t hungry after dinner?  I just wanted one little sweet bite?  This is not one little sweet bite.  I thought it would be.  See, you mix all these little spoonfuls of stuff into a little bowl.  Then you pour the contents of the little bowl into a little baking dish.  But what you take out is not little.  This is one decadent dessert.  It’s incredibly rich, incredibly chocolatey, and incredibly awesome.  Oh well, so I ate more chocolate than I planned on for a day.  I’m no worse for the wear.

The best part about single girl melty chocolate peanut butter cake is you need absolutely no reason to make it.  The recipe yields one serving, so it’s not like the leftovers will be taunting you for the next week.  Make it, eat it, get over it.  That’s what single girls do.

This is my plate after I finished.  Is that an overshare?

I followed Joy’s recipe exactly, though my cake needed about double the oven-time, and still didn’t keep its shape out of the pan.  I’m totally fine with that though.  Just meant more chocolate goop to lick clean.