Maple Pumpkin Cupcakes

While scrolling through Pinterest a few weeks ago, I found adorable cupcakes frosted to look like pies. What better time to bake such a treat than the start of Thanksgiving week? I’ll bake actual pies on Wednesday (apple and pumpkin, an annual tradition), but Mike will take these treats to work with him tomorrow.

I’ve gone for a maple pumpkin flavor profile in these treats, and truth be told, the flavors could be stronger. A little more spice in the cupcakes, perhaps a dash of maple extract along with the syrup in the buttercream, and we’ll be in business. They still taste great and have a lovely texture, but right now they’re more of a spice cupcake with a hint of maple than the bolder flavors I’d planned. That’s the beauty of baking, though; there’s always a next time.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice*
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 plus 2-3 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 3-4 teaspoons milk
  • Brown, orange, red, and golden yellow gel food coloring

*If you don’t have pumpkin spice, you can make your own. Combine 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoons each of ginger and allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg; this will yield 2 1/4 teaspoons of spice. I make my own blend and keep it in a small jar year-round. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 14 cupcakes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin spice.

In a large glass measuring cup, combine pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix well, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Stir until well-combined and smooth.

Using a two-inch cookie scoop, fill cupcake wells about 3/4 full.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven; immediately remove from tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting, in a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the powdered sugar, all at once, then beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter; this will take several minutes.

Add salt, vanilla, and maple syrup, then beat on medium speed for about 3-4 minutes, until very light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl very well at least a few times.

Divide frosting into portions for orange, brown, and white; you’ll need just a small amount of white (about 1/4 cup) and about equal portions of orange and brown. To make orange, combine orange food coloring with brown and golden yellow, then add a few drops of red and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary. To make brown, combine brown food coloring with golden yellow and stir, adding more color to reach your desired shade if necessary.

Fit a piping bag with a large plain tip and fill with orange frosting; pipe into cupcakes and smooth the surface so it’s flat (or just frost with an offset spatula).

I used several different frosting tips for my pie crust details, including a petal tip, a leaf tip, and a star tip. I think I liked the leaf tip best. Fit a piping bag with the tip of your choice fill with brown frosting; pipe around the edge of each cupcake to make the crust detail.

Fit a small piping bag with a star tip and fill with white frosting; pipe a blob in the center of each cupcake to look like whipped cream.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Note: my orange frosting started to look mottled the day after these were baked, but it still tasted delicious. Makes 14.

Maple Pecan Cookies

I like to bake with seasonal ingredients, and fall is a wonderful time of year for maple. While browsing on Pinterest, I came across this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, originally called maple brown sugar cookies. I amped up the pecans just a tad and decided that in my version, they definitely deserved equal billing with the maple.

These are life-changing cookies, my friends. I mean, out-of-this-world, stop-the-presses delicious. Amazing flavor, great texture, all topped with wildly tasty maple icing. Just be sure you use pure maple syrup when baking these, rather than pancake syrup. Pure maple syrup, while pricier, is absolutely worth the cost when it comes to flavor. It also lasts pretty much forever, not that it has a chance in my house.

Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract
  • Heaping 1 cup pecans, chopped

For the icing

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt

Preparation

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until very fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine, then scrape down the bowl and add maple syrup, vanilla extract, and maple extract, beating to combine completely. Add flour mixture all at once, beating to completely combine; stir in pecans. Dough will be very soft. Chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge; using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on your baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes, until edges are set but centers are still puffy. Lightly bang your baking sheet on the counter or your stove top to slightly deflate the cookies; allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl; set aside. Melt butter and maple syrup on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts. Pour into powdered sugar and whisk until smooth, then add a pinch of salt to taste. Drizzle over cookies; allow icing to harden before storing.

Makes about 25 cookies.

Candy Brownies

Mike and I had several premium candy choices left over from this Halloween, among them fun-sized Snickers (let’s be honest, they should just be called bite-size) and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. What better to do with leftover chocolate than to stuff it into brownies, then chop up some more and sprinkle it over the top of said brownies?

This recipe is adapted from one I found at Averie Cooks; I actually made a double batch, but the measurements below would yield one single 8 x 8 pan. You can use regular cocoa powder if you like, but I went with Hershey’s Special Dark, which is actually just Dutch processed cocoa. You’ll also notice that the recipe contains both coffee and espresso powder, which really enhances the flavor of chocolate without making it taste like coffee itself. One of the great mysteries of flavors, no?

Ingredients

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled for about 1 minute
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee (it’s fine to use leftover coffee from the morning)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 12 fun-sized Snickers bars
  • 8 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, cut into quarters

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking tin with foil and spray with baking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, eggs, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and coffee and mix well to combine. Whisk in cocoa powder, espresso powder, and salt until well blended, then add flour and mix until just combined; you don’t want to over-mix your batter.

Pour about 2/3 of the mixture into your prepared tin. Take 8 of the Snickers bars and 8 Peanut Butter Cup quarters, placing them in four evenly spaced rows of four candies each; I alternated my rows so there was one of Snickers, then one of Peanut Butter Cups, then another of Snickers, and a final one of Peanut Butter Cups. Pour the remaining batter over the candy and smooth as much as possible with an offset spatula. Chop up remaining candies and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for about 30-32 minutes, being very careful not to over-bake. Brownies are done when a cake tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it. Remove from oven and cool in pan completely before cutting.

Remove from pan and cut into 25 squares. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Bloody Murder Cupcakes

Due to inclement weather, trick-or-treating has been postponed in many neighborhoods around Pittsburgh. Cue outrage! I do have to admit that in my childhood we went trick-or-treating exclusively on Halloween, regardless of the weather. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor freezing temperatures kept children of the 1980s inside on Halloween night. Out we went with coats over our costumes or sweatshirts underneath, prowling the neighborhood in eldest-child-lead packs (I truly have no recollection of ever trick-or-treating with my parents), returning soaked and half frozen with pillow cases full of candy bars we had to break in half before eating, lest they be laced with razor blades. Ahh, the 80s.

But times are different now, and in all fairness it really is horrible out tonight. In any case, to celebrate this Halloween, I’ve whipped up some bloody murder cupcakes, a new take on the crime scene cupcakes I’ve made previously, thanks to some candy decoration weapons. Mike is very excited to take these to work in the morning.

 

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water

For the frosting, blood spatter, and weapons

  • 1 recipe vanilla buttercream
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • Red gel food coloring
  • Wilton Halloween weapon candy decorations*

*I had the variety pack, which featured knives, axes, and meat cleavers and I bought at my local Target. Fun!

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe can yield 12-16 cupcakes depending on how full you fill the wells. Now that I’ve baked this, I recommend filling the wells about half full, rather than three-quarters full as I did tonight.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix until well-blended, then make three wells for the wet ingredients.

Place vinegar, vanilla, and vegetable oil into the wells; add water and mix until the batter is smooth. The mixture will bubble up slightly when you add the water, so just keep mixing until you get a smooth consistency in the batter, which will be fairly thin.

Use a 1/4 cup measure to fill the cupcake wells about half full.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire racks.

Prepare the frosting and fit a 14-inch piping bag with a large plain tip. Pipe generous portions of frosting onto each cupcake, then flatten out each blob with a small offset spatula.

Stir together raspberry jam and red gel food coloring to your desired bloody shade.

Using a teaspoon from your flatware, drop, drizzle, or splatter jam onto each cupcake. If you like, lightly drag a toothpick through the jam splatters to extend the splattered effect. Place a candy weapon on top.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

Irish Apple Crisp

Mike tagged me in a Facebook post with this recipe, and the comment section went wild. Friends and relatives chimed in from all over; everyone wanted it, everyone wanted me to bake it, everyone wanted to come over for dinner and have it for dessert. And so, I made it.

I strayed a bit from the original recipe in terms of some of my ingredients, my preparation, and my topping. Rather than McCann’s Irish Oatmeal, I used regular quick-cooking oats; instead of using a food processor to make the crumble, I just rubbed the butter in with my hands. I also chose to go with a whiskey sauce, rather than the honey whiskey whipped cream in the original recipe. My California bestie Amanda also made this, but she subbed nutmeg for the cinnamon because she’s allergic, and I bet hers was amazing, too. Mike absolutely loved this recipe, whiskey sauce and all. He’s looking forward to sharing this post on Facebook, gloating that it’s his…all his.

Ingredients

For the crisp

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons Kerrygold Irish Salted Butter*, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats

For the whiskey sauce

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 lightly beaten egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

*Yes, I bought this ultra-trendy butter. I’ve yet to eat it, but suspect it’s delicious. 

Preparation

In a medium pan, bring water and whiskey to a boil. Remove from heat; add golden raisins and and vanilla. Cover and allow to sit for about 1 hour, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 glass baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine sliced apples with sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, tossing to coat. Stir in raisins; pour into your buttered baking dish.

Combine flour and light brown sugar. Add butter and rub into the mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs. Stir in oats, then pour crumble over apple mixture.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is golden brown and apples are tender.

To make the whiskey sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in sugar and beaten egg yolk, then cook, stirring constantly, on medium-low heat for about 5-6 minutes, until the sugar melts and the mixture begins to thicken just slightly. Remove from heat and quickly stir in whiskey. Serve warm; reserve leftovers in the fridge.

Makes about 6 servings, depending on your serving size.

 

Mega Chocolate Caramel Cookies

These cookies are massive. Four-inches-wide massive. They’re also made with Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder and stuffed with Milky Way Simply Caramel candy bars. Yep, that’s right: dark chocolate cookies stuffed with caramel candy. Genius, right?

I found the recipe at Life, Love, and Sugar while scrolling through Pinterest for Halloween cookie ideas. While I omitted the sprinkle of sea salt on the top because I didn’t have any sea salt, if I make these again I’ll definitely add it. They smelled amazing in the oven, and they’re now packed safely in a box on their way to my nephew Roman in North Carolina. Next time, I think I’ll cut the candy bars into quarters, rather than just halves, and make smaller versions. I actually made two batches, as the ingredients below yielded 10 cookies for me. I also chilled my Milk Way bars prior to stuffing them inside the cookies, but I’m not sure this was necessary. When I cut one of the cookies in half, the caramel definitely didn’t ooze out the way it appeared to in the original baker’s blog post, but I’m sure they’ll taste great anyway.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened*
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 Milky Way Simply Caramel fun-sized candy bars, cut in half

*The original recipe recommended salted butter for this, but I just used regular unsalted. I suspect this may alter the flavor of the cookies, so fingers crossed that mine turned out okay. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat well, then add the flour mixture all at once. Beat on low, then medium speed, until combined.

Scoop generous, 2-tablespoon-sized scoops of dough and roll into a ball. Break the ball in half and stuff with half a Milky Way; press back together and roll again to seal the candy bar inside. Place on baking sheets several inches apart; cookies will spread as they bake.

Bake for 10-12 minutes; the centers will look puffy, but the edges will be just set. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 10 four-inch cookies.

Here we have a cookie sliced in half. 

Skeleton and Mummy Cookies

Halloween is just a few days away, and I’ve spent this weekend baking, fulfilling my role of Great Pumpkin. My favorite girls in Maryland – Mo and Margo – will receive these skeleton and mummy cut-outs just in time for the holiday. Will the royal icing stand up to shipping? It’s a fairly dry confection, so I’d hope so. And I suppose if any of the eyes or bandages flake off in shipping, it’ll just add to the Halloween creep factor. Hopefully I’m not going to traumatize the children.

I’m not that experienced with royal icing, and I’ve used the meringue powder version for these treats, rather than the version with a fresh egg white. Royal icing consistency can vary from much more liquid, appropriate for “flooding” sugar cookies, to a sturdier variety more commonly found on gingerbread houses. It’s not exactly tasty, but these cookies have a delicious chocolate flavor that will more than make up for it.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the royal icing & decoration

  • 1 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • About 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Small-sized candy eyeballs

Preparation 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, beating until well-combined.

Slowly add flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and beating until a very well-combined, soft dough forms.

Gently knead the dough a few times to make sure it comes together; roll dough into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line three baking sheets with parchment or foil.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut with a gingerbread man-shaped cookie cutter and place on prepared sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine the meringue powder, powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a mixer and beat on medium speed using the whisk attachment; your mixture will probably clump together at first, so just dribble in enough additional water to make a smooth consistency. Continue to beat on medium-high speed for a few minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and fill with royal icing. For skeletons, pipe eyes, mouths, ribs, and arm and leg bones. For mummies, place a small dot of icing on the back of each eyeball and press it onto the cookie; swap out your piping tip for a flat-style tip (I used a Wilton 47 basket weave tip, because that was as close as I could get; a rose petal tip like a Wilton 104 would also likely work) and pipe bandages across the cookies. Allow icing to harden completely before storing; store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your cutters; my batch yielded about 18 cookies.