Monday, October 15, 2018

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Cobbler


  In my never ending search for pumpkin recipes, I happened to find this one, which also falls right in line with my love of slow cookers. I was looking for recipes that could be deemed "Thanksgiving worthy", and I found this on a blog called The Gunny Sack. First and foremost, it's absolutely delicious. And as an added bonus, it uses the slow cooker, which frees up your oven for other things. That certainly sounds Thanksgiving worthy to me! And it's also so easy that any cooking novice can make it. The blog described it as "pumpkin pie without the crust", but I think it's so more than that. It's rich and decadent and screams for vanilla ice cream and/or caramel sauce. You should definitely consider this for your next holiday meal!
Ok so lets talk about the recipe for a hot sec.
I've listed the recipe and directions as I found them on the blog. But here's the thing.. Just like with many "Dump Cake" recipes, the dry cake mix is supposed to be just sprinkled over the top, and NOT stirred in. However, it's been my experience that sometimes the butter doesn't reach all of the cake mix and I'm left with powdery pockets of dry cake mix on top. My solution is to mix the cake mix with the melted butter to form a dough, chill it for a quick 10 minutes so it firms up a bit, and then crumble the dough over the top. Problem solved!


3 eggs 
29 oz can of pumpkin puree   
12 oz evaporated milk 
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger 
1/2 tsp salt  
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 box butter pecan cake mix  
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter

Beat the eggs slightly. Add the pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla. Pour the mixture into a greased slow cooker. Top with the powdered cake mix and sprinkle with brown sugar. Drizzle melted butter evenly over the top. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

Tips:
 When I served this, it was still piping hot, and therefore very soupy (which was not altogether a bad thing). It will set up more as it cools, just like any other custard. I think the sweet spot is where it's not piping hot, but still a bit warm. Then it's set up a little, but still good with ice cream!
I couldn't find butter pecan cake mix, so I just used a regular butter cake mix, and then topped it with a couple handfuls of chopped pecans. Use any kind of cake mix you like! Spice cake, white, yellow, even carrot. Btw, the added texture of the pecans was just the perfect thing! Just sayin'!
Also, I just used 2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice blend instead of the cinnamon and ginger. All good! 
Side note, I think I may cut back on the butter just a bit next time. Maybe cut it to just 1/2 cup.

Here's a tip from 365 Days of Slow Cooking, which was passed on by The Gunny Sack
To keep the top of the cobbler from becoming too soggy, place a tea towel or a couple pieces of paper towel over the slow cooker, and then place the lid on top. This prevents any condensation from dripping back into the cobbler!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream


 So, I was looking for a recipe for pumpkin cupcakes. Yes, yes, I know I already have a recipe for Pumpkin Cupcakes on my website, but I figured, more is more, right? And like the other recipe, many recipes use cream cheese frosting for their pumpkin cakes, so I was thinking, maybe I'd try doing a cinnamon Swiss Meringue, instead. Mmmm... good idea. This CLEARLY falls squarely into the "how can this not be good?" column.
 I did my usual search, trying to find just the right recipe, and as usual, there were several criteria I needed to meet. Well, for one thing, I wanted 24 cupcakes. I was making it for my fabulous group of theater friends, and 12 was just not gonna cut it.  Also, whenever I bake something pumpkin, I want a recipe that uses the whole can of pumpkin. Don't you hate when a recipe just calls for 1/2 cup? What are you supposed to do with the rest of the can of pumpkin? Yes, I know, put it in the fridge, and save it for something else, right? Only it's usually a science experiment in my fridge by the time I get back to it. For me, it's better to just use the whole can on the first go. Great. Ok, so I happened to see a recipe for cupcakes on a website called Live Well, Bake Often. The recipe only made 12 cupcakes, which made me wonder if doubling the whole recipe was an option. As I scrolled through the comments section at the bottom of the recipe, a baker asked if it could be doubled. Danielle, who is the blogger, responded that making THIS cake recipe would be better for 24 cupcakes, so that's how I happened to find it. (Did all of that make sense?) Anyway, as my Dad would have said "It was like going around my ass to get to my elbow, but I got finally got there."
 Anyway, the recipe is PERFECT. You literally just throw all of the wet ingredients into a bowl, mix them up, and then stir in the sifted dry ingredients. It's just that easy. It also bakes up to become the most perfect cupcakes you've ever seen and I think this is now my go-to recipe!
See? More really IS more! And topping them with the cinnamon Swiss meringue buttercream turns them from great cupcakes into OMG Cupcakes. Like, seriously.
 So, thank you, Danielle over at Live Well, Bake Often, for the fabulous recipe. And thank you to the reader who left the comment. Funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it?



For the cupcakes:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder 
1 tsp baking soda 
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1 tsp salt 
1 (15oz) can pumpkin puree 
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
4 large eggs 
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place cupcake papers into 2 cupcake pans to make a total of 24 cupcakes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, ground cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
Using a 2 oz ice cream scoop, fill each of the cupcakes evenly. Place pans in oven. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, switching pans about halfway through (to insure even baking). The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back when lightly tapped, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.



For the Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream;

5 large egg whites
pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 lb (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 tsp ground cinnamon


Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
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 (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day. If not, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
Tips:
The cupcake recipe should make EXACTLY 24 cupcakes. When you're filling up the cupcake pans, if you come up a little short, just take a little from this one and a little from that one until all are filled evenly. They bake up to the perfect dome over the top, and they don't spread out to stick to your pan, which I greatly appreciate. 

The buttercream recipe is Martha Stewart's, and it's my go-to for Swiss Meringue. There are MANY versions of Swiss Meringue, ranging from just 2 or 3 egg whites all the way up to as many as 9 or more. This one is my favorite because it always turns out perfectly, you can tweak it to make it new (adding the cinnamon was my extra little twist!) and most importantly, it has the smoothest creamiest texture, and as much as I hate the expression, it has the perfect mouth feel. Some recipes have what I call a sort of plastic texture, and that's just not my favorite thing at all. This one wins.

Of course, if you don't want to do this buttercream, you can choose any other favorite frosting, or just swirl some regular Cream Cheese Frosting onto your cupcakes. It's just that sometimes I feel like that's what everyone uses on EVERYTHING and I was going for something a little different.
But you do you!


Monday, October 1, 2018

Pumpkin Dream Cake


Ok, so, you may be wondering "what is a Dream Cake?" Honestly, I have no idea, so basically I'm asking the same question. At first, I guessed that it's a cake that uses Dream Whip, which is a brand of whipped topping mix. But then I saw many recipes (like this one from a website called The Novice Chef) that don't include it. So that made me wonder what exactly constitutes a "Dream Cake." Is it the structure? or maybe the amount of layers? Nope. Some dream cakes have two layers, some have three, some have four, or even more. Some are baked in a 9x13 pan, and some are baked in a tube or Bundt pan. Is it the frosting? Nope. The frostings vary too.. some are whipped toppings, some are cream cheese, some are chocolate, and on and on.
Not the structure, not the layers, not the frosting. Hmm..
 So I guess the only thing that makes it a Dream Cake is the fact that you love it so much that it could be described as "dreamy." I know. I know. It's a little bit weak, but actually, do we really care? I mean, all we really care about is how good it is, am I right??? And yes, let me tell you, this cake is good enough to be described as dreamy! I mean, we're not talking Zac Efron Dreamy or anything, but still... this cake is pretty darned dreamy. And it's perfect enough for your next special occasion. Add this one to your holiday repertoire! And in the meantime, if you find out what a Dream Cake is, please let me know, OK? Great then.



Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk

Frosting:
12 oz (1 1/2 packages) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 cups powdered sugar



For the cake:
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Grease 3 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla, pumpkin and vegetable oil. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Divide batter evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely or chill before frosting.


For the frosting:
In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add confectioners' sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Assemble the 3 layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Pop back in the freezer to harden the crumb coat for about 10 minutes. Apply one final thick and even layer around the outside of the cake. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.



Tips:
 I'm sure you can bake this in 2 9" layer pans instead of 3 8" pans. I would just keep an eye on it while it's baking, just to be sure!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars



  Well, it's officially Fall, and whenever I think of Fall, I think of baking things with apples and pumpkin. Yes, I'm THAT guy who loves everything pumpkin, but as I've often said, if you were to ask me what my favorite dessert is, in the whole wide world, in the history of ever, it would be an apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel poured over the top. Hands down. Like, there's not even another dessert that comes close. As much as I love a chocolate this and a chocolate that, I'd rather go for the warm cinnamon and apples that make the whole house smell like home. So when I was looking for an apple pie something to bake, I happened upon this little gem of an idea. Yes, they're apple pie, yes, they're BARS, and yes, they have caramel drizzled over them, and not only that it's SALTED caramel. Um, YES PLEASE.
 OK, so let's look around and see if I can find the right recipe. WHOA. Who knew there would be so many variations???? I found literally no less that 10 different versions on different cooking blogs all over the place. But then, I noticed something.. many of the recipes were adapted from (or inspired by) a particular version on one of my favorite websites, a blog called Sally's Baking Addiction. It seemed to me that this was the standard against which all others were compared. So I figured, well clearly that's the one I need to make!
And as luck would have it, I just happened to have all of the ingredients to make it! Perfect! At first, it seemed like a lot, but upon closer look, there was really nothing difficult about it. The dessert has several layers, so it stands to reason that the recipe would have several steps. All very simple!
And O. M. G. can I just tell you how heavenly they smell while they're baking?  I'm not even kidding. Oh, btw, whenever I share a recipe, I usually give you a few hints and helps, but Sally has already done that for me too. So, thank you, Sally, for yet another wonderful recipe and also for the hints! I remain a huge fan! It's nice to share something from someone who clearly loves baking as much as I do!
And the next time YOU happen to be looking for an apple pie something to bake, give this one a try.
Everyone will be glad you did!


Crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Apple filling:
2 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced (1/4 inch thick)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Streusel:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Caramel Drizzle:
Here's the link for SBA's Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce 
or you can just do what I did..
I melted a bag of Kraft caramel bits with 1/4 cup of milk, then added a tsp of kosher salt.



 Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.

Make the crust:
Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.

Make the apple filling;
 Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.

Make the streusel:
  Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

 Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
 Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. I usually cut them into 16 smaller bars, but you can cut them into 12 larger bars. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.




Sally's Tips:
The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel. I like to use two different kinds of apples for a more complex flavor. I typically use 1 tart apple variety such as Granny Smith, and 1 sweeter apple variety such as Pink Lady. You'll end up with about 3-4 cups. A little more or less is OK, based on your preference of filling. Recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9x13 pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes and cool completely as directed in this recipe.

Joey's final thoughts:
Of course I doubled it and baked it in a 9x13 pan. Because MORE IS MORE! I used Honeycrisp apples because they're my absolute favorite. And then I added an extra little sprinkle of salt over the top. You do you!!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Blondies


  Do you ever get in one of those moods where you just feel like having a specific something??? Like, lately I've been in the mood for something peanut butter. I blame my niece, Kristin, because she's always saying "The peanut butterier the better!" So I did a quick inventory of my pantry to see what might inspire. I found a bag of white chocolate chips and immediately knew that this was the right PB pairing. It reminded me of white chocolate Reese's cups, which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. So I did a bit of googling and found this recipe on a blog called Bake or Break. That's it!! It's sweet, it's salty, and it's everything you want in a peanut butter dessert. Also it's quick to throw together and it uses regular everyday ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Perfect!
So the next time you're feeling like something peanut butter, just whip up a batch!
They'll definitely satisfy your deepest PB cravings!



1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed or mixing by hand, combine the butter, brown sugar, and peanut butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. If using a mixer, reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.


Tips:

*As I've posted above, you'll notice that the original recipe includes cinnamon, but tbh, I think I may omit it next time. Now, you know how much I love cinnamon... my usual rule of cinnamon is "there's no such thing as too much", but in this instance, I think even that tiny little bit conflicts with the peanut butter flavor. I think it gets in the way of the salty sweet thing that I love so much. But they're still delicious either way! You decide!


Baking for a bigger crowd? Just double the entire recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan. The baking time stays the same. 
Want it to be even peanut butterier? Add some peanut butter chips along with (or instead of) the white chips!
As always, when I bake any kind of brownies or dessert bars, I line the pan with parchment paper with a little extra hanging over the edges. Then after the bars are baked and cooled, I use the parchment as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan at once. This saves your pan from being ruined, and it lets you make nice even perfect cuts!
Btw, I added an extra tiny little pinch of salt because I love salty and sweet together. It also really brings out the flavor of the peanut butter!