Monday, September 24, 2012

Apple Pie Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes

It's taken me many years to admit that I love apple pie. It's not that I have a personal vendetta against it. It's just that I always rejected apple pie in favor of sweeter options, like my grandma's peanut butter pie. 

Until I discovered this shameless trick: When no one is looking, I scrape out the crust, and leave all of the apple goop behind. The crust absorbs the apple flavor, but I don't have to, you know, eat the apples.  

Then I found something even better: apple crumb. Instead of the traditional latticework of pie, apple crumb has a brown sugar/butter topping that is crispy, amazing...and also kind of difficult to separate from the apple filling. Which means I'm forced to eat an entire slice of pie, fruit and all. 

I tried it, and liked it. 

Well, actually, I loved it. 

So when my boss's birthday rolled around, I decided to make him apple pie cupcakes, but with crumb on top and cinnamon rolls as the cake. 

Two years ago, I attempted to make him an actual apple pie, but I dumped the whole thing in the oven. Needless to say, I don't consider pie-making one of my favorite hobbies.

But my boss loves apple pie.

This is my (delicious) compromise.

The recipe called for a caramel drizzle on top. But I decided to use the icing that came with the cinnamon rolls instead.

The effect was pretty outstanding. In the words of my office's resident foodie, "This is your best creation yet. I love apple pie, but man, this is above and beyond." I call that success.

Apple Pie Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes

What you need
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼" cubes
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
½ Tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup flour
¼ + 2 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 can (12.4 oz) refrigerated cinnamon rolls

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly coat 8 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter over high heat. Add the apples, and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Make sure to stir them occasionally so they don't burn. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cook for 5 more minutes, then add lemon juice.
  3. Combine butter, flour, ¼ cup brown sugar, and walnuts with a fork until crumbly. Set aside.
  4. Separate the cinnamon rolls, and flatten each one into a 4" round. Press them into the muffin cup, essentially creating cinnamon roll bowls. Divide apple filling evenly among the 8 cups, then sprinkle the brown sugar/walnut mixture over each. (Hint: Press into small clumps, rather than leaving it loose.) 
  5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until bubbly and slightly browned. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before removing from cups onto a cooling rack. Serve while hot, drizzling cinnamon roll icing over each.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012 Whoopie Pie Festival (and the World's Largest Whoopie Pie!)

I'd never even heard of a whoopie pie until I moved to Pennsylvania. When I first tried one, I was impressed, but only in the way that Little Debbie Raisin Creme Pies impress me. Apparently, though, the whoopie pie is a big source of prideand conflict—in the Northeast

The history of the whoopie pie, also known as the BFO (for "Big Fat Oreo"), is hotly debated. Maine recently named the whoopie pie its official dessert, and Pennsylvanians freaked. They claim the sweet treat can be traced back to some of Pennsylania's earliest residents. Amish women supposedly packed the pies in their children's lunches, and upon discovering the pies in their pails, they would joyfully shout, "Whoopie!" 

Residents of Maine, however, say that a woman working in local bakery baked spoonfuls of extra cake batter, then glued them together with frosting. This, they posit, was the first whoopie pie. 

I'll side with Pennsylvania, only because it means we get to host the annual Whoopie Pie Festival. The event, held in Pennsylvania's Amish Country, boasts more than 100 types of whoopie pies. Now that's something to brag about.

Confetti whoopie pies!
My pick? Orange cake with marshmallow fluff filling.  

It was quite delicious, although I made myself sick after eating the entire thing. (In my defense, I ate half of it, shopped at the Pottery Barn Outlet, then ate the other half. I thought that was sufficient time for my stomach to regroup.) 

A whole army of orange whoopie pies!

I was a little disappointed that were no samples available. I was left with only the saliva-inducing descriptions. Some of the more tempting options...

Want to make your own whoopie pies? Check out my post about Elvis Whoopie Pies. (My worlds collide! A Pennsylvania dessert with Tennessee-inspired flavors!)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Birthday Cake Batter Cookies

I've never baked a cookie that I liked more than the dough itself. Until now. I've also never regretted making a cookie as much as I regret making these. I seriously can't stay out of them. 

I'm obsessed with three things:

Cookie dough.

Cake batter.


These cookies capture the magic of all three in one seriously sweet treat. This might possibly be the best cookie I have ever made. 

The inspiration started with my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I first discovered it in high school, when I was trying to impress my boyfriend with my baking skills. I'm fairly certain those cookies were why he fell in love with me. I eventually dumped him, but I stuck by that recipe for the long haul. It's a no-fail crowd pleaserthe soft, dense type of cookie most people assume could only come from a bakery. 

The irony? The secret ingredient is a basic supermarket staple: instant pudding mix. 

I wanted to create a cookie with the same soft, cake-like texture. But I was afraid pudding mix would overpower the cake batter flavor I sought. So I broke out the milk powder, the secret weapon of Momofuku Milk Bar, one of my favorite NYC bakeries. I combined it with sugar, cornstarch, and a little salt to create my own milk-flavored pudding mix. The powdery mixture contributes creaminess more than it does flavor.

The effect was exactly as I intended. The batter was, as you'd expect, delicious, but the cookies were otherworldly. If I sound like I'm bragging, it's because I am. These cookies were GOOD.

Fresh out of the oven!
Birthday Cake Batter Cookies

What you need
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups yellow cake mix
3 sticks butter, softened
1 ¼ cups brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup white sugar
2 ½ Tbsp milk powder
3 ½ Tbsp white sugar
2 ½ Tbsp cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 ½ Tsp vanilla extract
2 cups white baking chips
½ cup sprinkles

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Beat the butter, brown sugar, and 1/3 cup sugar until well combined. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the milk powder, ½ Tbsp white sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly beat the mixture in with the butter and sugar.
  4. Stir in the eggs and vanilla, then gently fold in the white baking chips and sprinkles.
  5. Roll dough into 1" balls, and place on an ungreased baking sheet, about 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes. 
Or, if you really want to get experimental, grill the cookie dough! 

I flattened a ball of dough into a pancake shape, and grilled it on a 350°F griddle. The outside was crispy, the inside gooey. I have no idea if this is safe, since the inside wasn't fully cooked, but I do know it was delicious!

Grilled cookie!
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

10 Ways to Upgrade Your Oatmeal

For Sunday brunch on my recent trip to NYC, I forced Frank to schlep across town to try out OatMeals. The Greenwich Village brunch spot only opened this summer, but it features a menu I've been waiting for my whole life: oatmeal (not too soupy, just like I like it), made with milk or water, and a cornucopia of sweet and savory toppings. (The list ranges from dulce de leche to cinnamon chips to truffle oil. Die.) Buffets have my heart. So does oatmeal. I nearly stroked out on the sidewalk from the anticipation alone. 

Frankie went with The Canadian, a sweet-and-savory combination of bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, roasted apples, maple syrup, and sea salt. He ordered the "Papa Bear" (a.k.a jumbo) size, yet managed to wolf it down before I finished even half of mine. (He eats indiscriminately, so I'm not sure if it was that tasty or he was just that hungry.) 

I chose the more traditional Strawberry Shortcake, featuring fresh strawberries, graham cracker rounds, strawberry jam, whipped cream, white and brown sugar, and peanut butter chips (my own special addition). My only complaint: all of my toppings were gone before I ate even half of the oats. (It was almost impossible to stir because the toppings were piled so high.) Other than that, it was divine.

I love the idea of upgrading steel-cut oatmeal, since it's such an easy, reliable breakfast food. Here are eight more AMAZING topping combos from OatMeals that I'm dying to try:

1. Salted Caramel
Cinnamon, brown sugar, sauteed apples, whipped cream, caramel drizzle, fleur de sel (a type of sea salt)

2. S'mores
Dark chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, sliced almonds

3. Cheesecake
Blackberries, candied lemon zest, crystallized ginger, dollop of mascarpone

4. Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin puree, pecans, brown sugar, pumpkin spice, whole milk

5. Shaved Parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, flaky sea salt, cracked pepper, bacon (optional, but recommended)

6. Fig & Gorgonzola
Dried figs, crumbled gorgonzola, balsamic vinegar glaze

7. Croque Monsieur
Diced ham, gruyere cheese, nutmeg, steamed milk

8. Indian Spiced
Raisins, sliced almonds, coconut milk, crystallized ginger, cardamom, vanilla, brown sugar

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Honey Almond Butter with Golden Raisins

This weekend, my sweet boyfriend took me on a surprise trip to New York City for my 24th birthday. We started our Saturday in Greenwich Village at one of my absolute favorite spots in the city: Peanut Butter & Co. 

If only that intellectual man behind the tree were my boyfriend.

Impromptu photo shoot, while waiting for our sandwiches.
And the real Frankie comes out. 
My sweet tooth required that I order the Cookie Dough Surprise, a creamy combination of peanut butter, vanilla cream cheese, and chocolate chips. I ordered it toasted, which made it so deliciously melty that I ate the entire thing. My belly was both satisfied and horrified.

Cookie Dough Surprise
Frank opted for the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Sandwich, featuring PB & Co.'s to-die-for cinnamon raisin peanut butter, vanilla cream cheese, and apple slices. He's less of a peanut butter fanatic than me, but he still devoured it (and berated his mom for depriving him of such decadence in his school lunches).

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Sandwich

Since I don't live in the city, I'm forced to recreate the magic of PB & Co. in my own kitchen. Which is why I eat peanut butter every day, without fail, for breakfast. I toast a whole-wheat English muffin, apply a generous layer of creamy peanut butter, and sprinkle golden raisins on top. I've been mocked for my odd breakfast, but I don't care. I'll eat it every morning until I die. 

Or until something better comes along.

Like Honey Almond Butter with Golden Raisins. 

My trip to PB & Co. got me thinking: Why not make my own nut butter, with golden raisins already folded in? I decided to use almonds, instead of peanuts, since they have a Mediterranean flavor that pairs well with honey and golden raisins. 

First, I roasted the almonds at 350°F for 10 minutes.

Then, I chopped them up in my food processor for several minutes, until the oils that make nut butter creamy were released.

Early in the process.

Creamy, creamy.
Then I added sea salt...

...and honey. 

Finally, I stirred in cinnamon and golden raisins.

The cinnamon's warmth is the perfect accent to the roasted richness of the almonds, while its subtle sweetness is a delicious backdrop for the raisins and honey. The sea salt awakens the flavor of the whole thing. 

Smear it on toast, add it to your oatmeal, or eat it by the spoonful. You'll love it regardless.

Honey Almond Butter with Golden Raisins

What you need
2 cups almonds, raw
2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp honey
¼ cup golden raisins
2 tsp cinnamon

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the almonds on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and roast for 10-12 minutes. 
  2. Grind the roasted almonds in a food processor for several minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides, until the consistency is thick and creamy.
  3. Transfer to a glass jar, and stir in the sea salt, honey, golden raisins, and cinnamon until evenly combined.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Cookies

Let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room: These cookies are hideous. They're too dark to be peanut butter, too light to be chocolate. Not quite the texture of oatmeal cookies, but not completely smooth. 

I wouldn't take one off the dessert table, either.

That'd be a big mistake. I served these ugly ducklings at a recent get-together, and the crowd was, understandably, skeptical. But then someone bit into one, and declared, "Now that's a good cookie." Everyone dug in. And everyone was smitten. I declare victory.

I took a dependable oatmeal peanut butter cookie recipe, and swapped in melted Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for the peanut butter. Then, I added Rice Krispies cereal along with the oatmeal. The final result: a delightfully chewy cookie, with just enough peanut butter-chocolate flavor to tempt your taste buds into eating another.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Cookies

What you need
½ cup shortening
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup Reese's Peanut Butter cups, melted
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ cup instant oats  
¾ cup Rice Krispies cereal 
Almonds (optional)

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Chop up the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and melt in a microwave-safe bowl.
  3. Cream together shortening, butter, brown sugar, white sugar, and melted Reese's Cups. Beat in the eggs one a time, until well combined, then add the flour, baking soda, and salt, until well combined.
  4. Gently fold in the oats and Rice Krispies cereal.
  5. Roll dough into 1" balls, and place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 11 minutes in the pre-heated oven. While the cookies are still hot, press an almond into the center of each, if desired. 
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Cadbury Egg Fudge Cookies
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Peanut Butter & Co. Elvis Whoopie Pies

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mini S'mores Pies

So I'm a little late. August was National S'mores Month, because it's, supposedly, the prime time for campfires. But, I'm sorry, who really wants to cozy up to an open flame during the hottest month of the year? Certainly not me.

September, however, is another story. It signals the beginning of fall (and the birth of me!). It's the season of fleece jackets, pumpkin spice, and fallen leaves. That is campfire weather. 

Unless, of course, you live in an apartment that doesn't have a square of grass in its vicinity. By you, I mean me. The only fire that might happen is inside my apartment, since my pilot light has a habit of extinguishing itself, thereby threatening my life. But enough about the natural gas I regularly inhale during my sleep. Back to the bigger dilemma...

I live in an urban downtown, where campfires aren't too readily available. The next best thing: the broiler in my oven. I started with a crunchy graham cracker crust, whipped up a smooth, deep chocolate filling, and finally, topped it off with cinnamon marshmallows, browned under the broiler. 

The pie isn't overwhelmed by any one layer; rather, every bite delivers the impeccable balance of flavors that makes s'mores so addictive. It's the perfect dessert for the summer-fall transition: not fruity and summery, but not too pumpkin-hot-chocolate-hibernate-for-the-winter either. Take advantage now. 

Mini S'mores Pies

What you need

¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
½ Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp butter, melted

Chocolate Filling 
(adapted from Garden and Gun
5 large egg, yolks
6 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
¼ Tsp fine sea salt
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
7 oz milk chocolate, melted


*I used Kraft Jet-Puffed Cinnamon Bun Marshmallows. The warmth of the cinnamon compensates for the lack of toasty, over-the-open-flame goodness. 

Put It All Together

  1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Divide evenly among 5 mini aluminum pie pans; press firmly into the bottom of each pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 7 minutes. 
  2. Make the chocolate filling: Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, sea salt, until thick. Set aside.
  3. Boil the milk in a medium saucepan. Whisk ½ cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture (don't pour all of the milk in at once, or the eggs will curdle). Slowly pour in the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. 
  4. Pour the egg-milk mixture into a heat-safe bowl, and place over a saucepan of simmering water, without letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Whisk constantly for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture looks glossy and thick.
  5. Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla and melted chocolate. 
  6. Divide the chocolate filling evenly among the mini pies, then place marshmallows on top. (They should be touching, without any significant gaps.) Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until the marshmallows are light brown and slightly crispy.  
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