Dark Chocolate & Peppermint Pattie Cupcakes

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When I was in college, I used to love grabbing a York Peppermint Pattie on my way to class. The spot-on combination of cool peppermint with rich dark chocolate was the perfect companion to my morning cup of coffee. As I grow older, some candies become less and less exciting, but peppermint and chocolate seem timelessly appealing—whether in the morning, evening, or as an after-dinner treat.

For these, I kept the separation of flavors similar to the original candy, with peppermint frosting and dark chocolate cupcakes.

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Ingredients
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
  • ½ cup Hershey’s dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup  sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon  salt

Frosting:

  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar, to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons peppermint extract, to taste
  • 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 6 York Peppermint Patties (To crush/cut and place on top of the cupcakes)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚. Line a muffin pan and set aside.
  2. Put the bittersweet chocolate in a small pot on the stove. Set at low-medium heat, and stir as it slowly melts down. When completely melted and smooth, add in the butter and cocoa powder. Combine until smooth, then remove from heat, put in a small bowl, and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt until fluffy.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Beat together.
  6. Mix in 1/2 of the flour mixture to the chocolate-egg mixture until fully mixed in, then mix the rest of the flour mixture.
  7. Pour the batter evenly into the muffin pan cups and bake about 18-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to fully cool for roughly an hour and a half before frosting.

Frosting:

  1. Beat together the room-temperature butter with 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add milk. Mix in 1/2 a cup of powdered sugar at a time until desired consistency. (I used less powdered sugar than usual for a thinner, slightly more liquidy frosting that matched my mental image of the inside of a York Peppermint Pattie.) Mix in peppermint extract, one teaspoon at a time, until desired taste.
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White Chocolate & Vanilla Cupcakes

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I’ve always loved setting goals. Ever since I was a kid I liked to plot out how each day could/would be spent, for maximum enjoyment. I’d make giant, colorful to-do lists and calendars, planning good days to have sleepovers, or how much allowance I had to save to buy an intricate hamster habitat. The older I get, the more serious some of my goals become. I want to save a certain amount of money each month to buy a condo in five years. I want to connect more with old friends through letter writing, Facebook, trips home, and birthday cards that make them feel remembered.

With the recent New Year, I’ve thought hard about ways to improve my life. As a die-hard fan of goals, calendars, and to-do lists, resolutions are of course at the top of my list. But I didn’t want to break them, not this year. I wanted sustainable goals, interesting goals that would challenge me but weren’t impossible. And that’s when I started thinking about balance. Due to my inherent obsession with accomplishments and with checking things off my to-do list, I’m not very good at keeping all the areas of my life in check.

When I first started this blog, it was with a pursuit of happiness. But I believe that I went at it all wrong. I knew that baking brought me joy so I suddenly crammed it into every available moment of free time. I went in head first, like I always do, and spent months obsessed with recipes, ingredients, and photography. To the point where I lost sight of all the little pleasures. Like how freaking cute my flower plates are with their antique ivory background and gold trim.

White Chocolate Cupcake with Powdered Sugar on Top

So this is me, starting over, with my happy little blog. I want to remember the details of why baking brings me joy. I won’t pump about six recipes in one weekend anymore. Maybe once a week, if it sounds fun. What a simple, obvious truth. That I don’t have to be tied to my own hobbies. Maybe everyone out there who reads this already knew that, but I feel utterly blessed to be swimming in my own epiphany for awhile.

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The Whiteout Cake (as printed in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)

2 1/2 cups of cake flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups ice cold water

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the white chocolate frosting:

6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

White sprinkles or white nonpareils

Preheat the over the 325 degrees F. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake tins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cupcakes comes out clean. Transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. 

White Chocolate Frosting:

Melt the white chocolate and set it aside to cool. (Put in the microwave at a high setting for 30 seconds, remove and stir. Put in for another 15 seconds, remove and stir. Repeat until mixture is completely smooth and melted.)

In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream to cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla and white chocolate and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Make sure cupcakes are completely cool before frosting. Top with white sprinkles, powdered sugar, or white nonpareils.

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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake

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I’ve always had an affinity for making candy-inspired desserts (heath cupcakes, candy cane cookies, candy corn cupcakes, and sour patch watermelon cupcakes). When thinking about what to make for Brian’s dad’s birthday, he mentioned his dad’s love for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and I was eager to try out a cake version. Truth be told, the chocolate cake tasted pretty standard to me, but the peanut butter frosting was amaazzinnng—perfectly rich, creamy, and sweet with just the right amount of powdered sugar.

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Recipe:

I used this recipe for the chocolate cake, but made three revisions: 1) I left out the vinegar, 2) I added in 2 oz of melted dark chocolate and 2 oz of melted German chocolate along with the wet mixture, and 3) I slowly stirred in one cup of boiling water at the very end before baking (a trick I learned to make the cake extra moist).

I used the frosting from this site. Crumble up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for the top.

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Red Hot Cupcakes

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I’ve read a lot of baking books. I love the cupcake-specific ones, and especially ones that include a pretty picture with every recipe. But some compilations are a little too predictable. Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, on the other hand? Innovative pairings, fool-proof measurements, high-quality, interesting ingredients. So once I tried their peanut-butter, cookie-crumb pie recipe (and it was a success!), I couldn’t wait to try another. This recipe, featured here, combines spicy-sweet cinnamon with rich, bright-colored red velvet.

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Peanut Butter, Nutella & Chocolate Cookie Mini Pies

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No matter the time of year, ice-cold treats always taste a little better to me than everything else. Ice cream is of course at the top of that list, but I’ve also always been a sucker for random frozen cookies or candy bars. That’s why I was so excited to find this recipe in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. I’ve never totally swooned over regular pies but these ones have a) a chocolate cookie crust (like an oreo) and b) a creamy, cool, rich filling. Peanut butter is delicious, but it can be a little too much for me sometimes, so I went for half peanut butter, half nutella. Oh, and once again, I had to make them in mini form.

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{Extra filling + extra cookies that hadn’t been crumbled into pie crust = delicious treat}

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{I also used some extra filling and cookies to make mini frozen cookie sandwiches}

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{White chocolate hot sauce}

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Peanut Butter Pie
with Cookie Crust
and Easy Hot Fudge Sauce (from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)

For the chocolate cookie crust:
30 chocolate wafer cookies (about 6 ounces)
1 Tbs. sugar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

For the peanut butter filing with chocolate bottom:
½ cup (3 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
½ teaspoon light corn syrup
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter, ½ cup nutella
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1½ cups heavy cream

For the easy hot fudge sauce:
6 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces dark chocolate (64% cacao), (or make with white chocolate)
finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup light corn syrup

Chocolate cookie crust:
1) In a food processor, grind the cookies to a very fine powder. You should have about 1½ cups. Put the crumbs in a bowl and stir in the sugar. 2) Pour the butter over the crumb mixture and mix until well combined. The mixture will feel wet. Turn the crumb mixture out into paper-lined cupcake tins and press it into the bottom and up the sides. (Once frozen, the paper liners will easily peel away.) You can use the back of a large spoon to even out the crust. 3) Put the crust in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Peanut butter filling with chocolate bottom
1) Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave oven or in a double boiler. Add the corn syrup and stir to combine. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate in a thin layer on the bottom of the chilled pie crust. 2) Put the crust back in the refrigerator while you make the peanut butter filling. Put the cream cheese, peanut butter, nutella, vanilla, and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until well combined and completely smooth. Set aside. 3) In a clean bowl, use the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment to whip the cream until soft peaks form. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until the mixture is uniform in color. 4) Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and freeze for at least 4 hours. Once the pie is frozen, you can cover it with aluminum foil and freeze for up to 3 days.

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Vanilla Heath Bar Cupcakes

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Heath bars have always been one of my favorites. Ever since my older sister first introduced me to their insanely addictive combination of milk chocolate and English toffee, I couldn’t help but feel a little elitest about them. The ingredients exhibit a sense of sophistication so superior to regular candy bars featuring some other crowd favorite, like caramel, peanut butter, or nuts. Is that ridiculous? Probably. But there is definitely something about toffee (maybe its rarity in recipes?) that sets it apart from the rest.

I used to love heath bars mixed into shakes, or crumbled on top of big, freezing bowls of ice cream. Most candy bars are an utter disappointment (not to mention a mess) when they start to melt, but I love what a little sunshine (or quick pop in the microwave) can do to a heath bar. The outer chocolate becomes smooth and creamy, while the inner toffee somehow maintains its crunch.

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Because I’ve never been a die-hard chocolate fan, I decided to abandon normal convention and make vanilla-toffee cupcakes instead. By the time I finished the super-sweet English toffee-flavored cupcakes, I worried about overdoing it with the frosting, so I went with a more-butter, less-powdered-sugar variation that came out just sugary enough.

Cupcakes:

1/2 package vanilla pudding mix
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (1 fl oz) container toffee flavoring
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs

Frosting:

4 tbsp butter, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
2ish cups powdered sugar, to taste

Heath bars for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pudding together.
3. In a separate bowl mix oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla, milk, and flavoring oil.
4. Combine the wet with the cold mix.
5. Line each cupcake tray with paper liners and fill 2/3 full.
6. Bake 18-22 min or until toothpick comes out clean.
7. Use an electric mixer to butter and vanilla. Add 3/4 cup of powdered sugar at a time. Let cupcakes cool for 1-2 hours before you frost. Crumble heath bars on top. I pushed them in a little bit so that they stuck to the frosting.

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Ode to Dessert

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It occurred to me recently that I’ve invested a lot in dessert. In fact, I imagine that finding a cupcake recipe perfectly suited to a day, event, or holiday will solve everything. I hope and pray that my perfect recipe will last. That it will carry far beyond dessert and will resonate—will take on an essence, a life, a memory. Like the way I associate baked French toast with Christmas morning, even though my sister has only been making it for four or five years. It is Christmas, in the same way that creamsicles are childhood, funfetti cake is my birthday, and that gluten-free pizza my mom makes with the garlic, the red peppers, the goat cheese, is so inherently representative of her love for my gluten-free dad.

My love for dessert is a sweetly perfect marriage between art and emotion. I like desserts because they’re beautiful in a way that dinner never has been for me—I love the bright whites, soft pastels, deep, rich browns of chocolate and the way they stand, like little sculptures. You can carve, mold, decorate them. Dress them up in costume-like frosting and tiaras. They can be both elegantly grown-up and childlike, in a way that life rarely can.

But more than their beauty, they also mean something. They’re an integral part of celebrations. You can gift them, or make them for yourself. They’re sometimes a treat, other times a reward, always a happy ending. And realizing how symbolic they are, how important, is helping me to accept my love for them. I used to think I just had a sweet tooth. I worried that I was doomed to daydream about cupcakes and sugary piles of frosting for life.  Now I have an acute appreciation for what desserts can bring—to a get-together, a meal, or an otherwise lacking afternoon. I love dessert, and I’m not ashamed or afraid to invest all kinds of time, attention, and interest in unearthing old, new, and soon-to-be-favorite recipes. Because truth be told, they bring me a certain kind of joy that nothing else can.

Candy Cane + White Chocolate Cookies

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A couple weekends ago I was invited to my first-ever baking party. Sure, I’d had my handful of impromptu baking get-togethers, but nothing like this. Baking always puts my mind at ease, there’s something so incredibly therapeutic about it, and I can’t imagine anything making it any better, except good friends and conversation.

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{I crushed up a whole cup of candy canes for the pepperminty flavor}

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{Red food coloring made the dough extra festive}

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{My friend Lisa has an adorable cat named Penguin (who we found hanging out in this bag during the party)}

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1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup finely crunched-up candy canes (I used a metal pounder and placed the candy canes inside two plastic bags)

1 cup white chocolate chips

4 drops red food coloring

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Fold in the candy cane pieces and white chocolate pieces. Once the dough is mixed, drop four or so drops of red food coloring into separate parts of the dough and very lightly scrape/spread it around. I didn’t spread too much, as I wanted some cookies to have pops of bright red, and others to be the normal dough color. Bake about 8 minutes, or until golden brown.
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Eggnog Cupcakes

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I can’t believe that it’s December. Despite the fact that Christmas is less than a month away, it feels more like October to me here in Seattle. It’s windy, rainy, and there’s no snow to be seen. But Brian and I bought our tickets home to Michigan for the holidays (red eye on Christmas Eve!) and I’m finally in the mood for all kinds of festive recipes. Cupcakes like these will hold me over until I’m home baking cookies with my family in a few weeks.

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Cupcakes:
1/2 package vanilla pudding mix
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ container eggnog flavoring
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup eggnog
A few drops yellow food coloring
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs

Frosting:

4 tbsp cream cheese, room temp
4 tbsp butter, room temp
The other half of the eggnog flavoring bottle
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp eggnog
3-4 cups powdered sugar, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pudding together.
3. In a separate bowl mix food coloring, oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla, eggnog, and flavoring oil.
4. Combine the wet with the cold mix.
5. Line each cupcake tray with paper liners and fill 2/3 full.
6. Bake 18-22 min or until toothpick comes out clean.
7. Use an electric mixer to combine all the frosting ingredients but the powdered sugar. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time. Let cupcakes cool for 1-2 hours before you frost.

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Mini Lemon Meringue Pie

Once I got on the mini pie craze, I couldn’t stop. And I have to admit, this was my favorite recipe so far. Bright and colorful.  Tart and sweet. I’ve always loved creamy-meets-fruity combinations—and with the tiny, bite-size shapes and the fluffy meringue on top, these were everything I could have hoped for.

 I used this recipe but replaced the graham-cracker crusts with regular pie crusts made with a 3-inch flower-shaped cookie cutter. I poked holes in the dough and then baked them in the oven alone at 425 for about 6-8 minutes or until lightly tan (since you’ll bake them again later with the filling and meringue, don’t overdo them here).

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