Saturday, March 26, 2011

March's Cupcake Of The Month - Samoa Cupcakes

As you might have noticed from my last post, I sort of have a thing for Thin Mints (as well as Lemonades... and Tagalongs...), but I never really liked Samoas (now better known as Caramel deLites), with the reason being that I don't like coconut (it's because of the texture, not the flavor!). By request from a friend though, I came up with my own version of this cookie-turned-cupcake.

And I must admit, it's a pretty damn good cupcake. Even for someone who doesn't like coconut. And I'm so very glad I decided to make this because it gave me a reason to learn how to make homemade caramel!

By the way, I'm never buying caramel sauce from the store ever again. Never. Ever. Again.

I'll admit, it's a bit intimidating the first time you go over the recipe, especially after reading that the sauce can go from cooked to burnt in an instant. But don't be discouraged! Once you've got it down, you'll never go back to those preservative-filled squeeze bottles ever again! Of course, if you do end up going with a store-bought sauce for this, I obviously won't know and I definitely won't judge.

*Unlike my past posts, this one will not feature any baking-process pictures. I was pressed for time and couldn't stop or spend the time I wanted and needed to take the proper pictures.*

The Ingredients (makes 2 dozen):
For the caramel sauce (from Ina Garten's recipe; optional):
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1/3 cup water
-1 1/4 cups heavy cream
-1 tsp vanilla extract
For the cupcakes:
-3 cups all-purpose flour
-1 1/2 tsp baking powder
-3/4 tsp salt
-1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-4 large eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cups milk

For the frosting:
-1 cup unsalted butter, softened
-1 cup vegetable shortening
-1 1/2 cups caramel sauce
For the topping:
-2 cups coconut shavings, toasted
-1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted for drizzling
-1/4 cup caramel sauce

The Directions:
Optional: Mix the water and sugar together in a saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then increase the heat to medium and let it boil uncovered until it becomes a warm chestnut brown color (or until it reaches 350 degrees). Then remove from heat and slowly add the heavy cream and vanilla. Return to low heat and allow to simmer, stirring constantly, until the caramel has dissolved into the cream and the sauce is smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before adding to the buttercream (note: this can take up to 4 hours).
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your muffin pan(s) with cupcake papers.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add eggs one at a time, making sure to mix well after each. Then mix in the vanilla.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in increments. Scrape after each addition to make sure nothing settles at the bottom.
6. Once the batter is smooth, fill cupcake papers about halfway and bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean, rotating the pan(s) halfway through to ensure even baking. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
7. Beat butter and shortening together until combined and fluffy and then stir in the caramel sauce. Make sure to really scrape the bottom of the bowl for excess caramel that might have settled there.
8. Frost your cupcakes once they've completely cooled.
9. Top with the toasted coconut shavings and then drizzle caramel and chocolate over the top.
10. Consume and enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Short, Dark and Minty - A Homemade Version Of A Girl Scout Favorite

I don't know about you, but whenever March rolls around, there's only one thing on my mind.

Not March Madness...

Not St. Patrick's Day...

It's those damn Girl Scout cookies.

How I feel about them is sort of like how I feel when I have a crush on someone. When the person's around, I get all bubbly and excited. And then when I haven't had any contact with them for awhile I think, "okay, he wasn't that cute... I'm over him!" and I go on with my life. But somehow, they always find a way back in, and when they do, I'm giddy like a little schoolgirl again. But I digress. 

My love for Girl Scout cookies amazes me every year, for multiple reasons, but mostly because throughout the other eleven months, I never really eat cookies. I'll have cravings, like any other human being, but I usually don't go so far as to actually eat them (same goes for any other sweet, baked good). There's just something about these little discs of dough and their glazey goodness that I can't get enough of... But at $4 a box and who-wants-to-know how many calories, I have to show some restraint.

But deep down, there is always the inner fatty waiting to rebel against this restraint and take over my body as I helplessly watch myself eat through one box in a day (okay, this never actually happened to me in real life. I swear!). Luckily, though, both the baker and the cookie chaser in me talked it out this year and said, "hey Anna! You bake, so why aren't you making your own cookies whenever you want them?"

And then it was like a light bulb went off in my head: I can make my own cookies and I can make them whenever I want, which means I no longer have to wait until March to get my fix (which also means no more out-of-control cookie-eating)!

Ahh, thank you, subconscious.

The Ingredients:
For the cookies:
-1 cup butter, softened
-1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-3/4 tsp salt
-1 1/2 cups flour
For the chocolate covering:
-1 lb semisweet chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
-1 tsp, or to taste, peppermint extract
(You can use mint chocolate chips, instead, if they're available)

The Directions:
1. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then add sugar and beat together.
2. Stir in the vanilla extract, salt and cocoa powder.
3. Add in the flour and mix until the dough is crumbly.
4. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead it until you can form a smooth ball. Divide the dough in half, flatten into discs, wrap in plastic and chill for 15 minutes.
5. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. Take one of the discs of dough out and dust a dry, flat working surface with flour and roll it out. Cut out your cookies (I used a shamrock cutter for St. Patty's Day!) and bake for about 10 minutes. Don't worry if the cookies don't have that dry, wafer-like texture right when you take them out. They'll dry up once they've cooled.
Tip: Don't roll the dough too thin! Or you'll end up with a bunch of burnt cookies, like I did. (SAD!)
It was the perfect opportunity to add a shamrock to my cookie cutter collection
7. While cookies are cooling, melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps, then stir in the peppermint extract and remove from the heat. I found that my chocolate was a little too thick to coat the cookies properly so if that happens to you too, you can put it back on the heat really quick and add 1 tbsp shortening (which I should've done). 
8. Drop cookies in one at a time and cover with a thin coating of chocolate. I used a fork to help me take out the cookies. Tap your fork (or whatever utensil you're using) against your bowl to let the excess chocolate drip off. Allow your cookies' coating to dry on a lined baking sheet (I used wax paper). If you want the chocolate to harden faster, just stick them in the fridge for 10 minutes.
One of my cookies got too excited and fell apart right after dipping
9. Consume and enjoy.