Cactus and Succulent Cupcakes

Pittsburgh is in the full blaze of summer. It’s 90 degrees today, expected to be in the 90s for the next week, without a drop of rain in sight. I appreciate all of our seasons, but truth be told I prefer cold to heat – I’m more of a winter gal than a summer gal. I’d never survive in a desert climate. Well, not without air conditioning, anyway.

I’ve wanted to make succulent cupcakes for a while now, and today’s heat seemed like the perfect excuse. A few of my plants didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped, as I think my buttercream wasn’t as firm as it should have been, but it’s not bad for my first attempt. The color palette is exactly what I’d hoped it would be, and all in all, they turned out really well. They’re also delicious; the buttercream has a bit of lemon extract in it for a nice hint of citrus. Next time, I’ll make some of the buttercream a bit more firm (or I’ll chill it for a few minutes) to make more impressive spikes. For a great tutorial on how to make buttercream succulents, I recommend this video from Wilton.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the frosting

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract

To decorate

  • Brown, moss green, black, copper, and red food coloring
  • Wilton tips 199, 104, 352, 16, and 3
  • Flower nail
  • Disposable piping bags (or reusable, if you prefer)

Preparation

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

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

Place eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and continue to beat for another 30 seconds.

Add vanilla bean paste, almond extract, and canola oil and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.

Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternatively in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. Batter will be very thin.

Using a quarter-cup measuring cup, scoop batter into prepared cupcake liners, filling half full.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter, then beat on medium for 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla, almond, and lemon extracts and beat to combine.

To decorate: divide your frosting into small portions. Leave one portion white and tint the others light brown, green, and pink. To make my pink shade, I used a small amount of copper and a few drops of red for a more dusty shade.

Frost the tops of the cupcakes with light brown buttercream for the “sand.” I chose to do barrel cacti, rose succulents, and some things that sort of look like aloe using the following techniques:

For the barrel cacti: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 99 open star tip and add green frosting; pipe the body of the cactus. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton 3 small round tip and add white frosting; pipe spines up the sides of the barrel. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton 16 small closed star tip and add pink frosting; pipe a blossom on the top.

For the rose succulents: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 104 petal tip. Add a small amount of pink frosting up one side, then add green frosting; pipe out a small amount to ensure you have both colors showing. Pipe petals, similar to how you would a rose; if you’re making smaller rose succulents, you can use a flower nail and let the smaller ones chill in the freezer for a few minutes. You can also do plain green rose succulents.

For the aloe-like succulents: fit a piping bag with a Wilton 352 leaf tip and pipe stalks in a circle. Add as many layers as you like; mine had three layers of stalks. For a deeper shade of green, tint your green frosting with a bit of black for a deeper color. Use your leaf tip or small star tip to make stalks.

If you’re making smaller succulents and using your flower nail, you’ll want to take a bit of frosting and use it as glue to stick your chilled succulents onto your cupcakes.

Store cupcakes in a cool place in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

 

 

Cinnamon Pumpkin Cupcakes

Who wants pumpkin treats in the middle of June? I do. While I love to bake with seasonal ingredients, canned pumpkin is an evergreen in my pantry, something I keep on hand no matter the weather. Earlier this week I had a not-so-successful run at some pumpkin oat muffins (they tasted fine, but the bottoms stuck in their wrappers) and had about a cup of pumpkin left over, the perfect amount for these cinnamon pumpkin cupcakes.

Many frosting flavors pair well with pumpkin, like maple and various spices. I chose a simple cinnamon buttercream to echo the cinnamon in the cupcakes themselves, and it turned out really well. Mike’s coworkers demolished them yesterday, proving that I’m not the only person who appreciates a good pumpkin treat in the summertime.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

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

For the frosting

  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, to taste

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with paper liners; my recipe yielded 19 cupcakes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

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 half full.

Bake for 17-20 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, beat butter on medium speed for 1-2 minutes, then add powdered sugar all at once and beat on low until all the sugar is incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and beat well; taste and add more cinnamon if you like.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake. Store at a cool room temperature for 1-2 days; these cupcakes are very tender and will get a bit sticky if they’re left out much longer.

Buttercream Rose Cake

Things I learned to do during Baking in the Time of Coronavirus: Make buttercream roses. My decorating skills are limited at best; I can tint frosting and make some pretty basic designs, but until this cake I hadn’t used a flower nail before. I watched this tutorial from Wilton before I got started, and while my roses are much flatter than the ones in the video, they turned out pretty well.

I used buttercream frosting with a medium consistency, and I’d recommend going with a thicker consistency next time for flowers that aren’t quite as flat. This cake is for my mom’s belated birthday celebration – she turned 74 this past week – and we’re having her over for dinner this evening. She won’t likely eat the buttercream flowers (Genny is a woman who prefers cake to frosting), but this was great practice.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 8 ounces superfine sugar*
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

For the frosting

  • 1 1/4 cups butter, at room temperature
  • 4 – 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons almond extract
  • Yellow, red, pink, and green food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with butter, then line each with a circle of parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until combined; add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in flour and baking powder.

Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans, leveling the tops with a spatula. Bake for 18-20 minutes, then check to see if cakes are done; they will be light golden brown on top, have pulled away from the sides of the pan, and will spring back when pressed lightly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes; run a butter knife around the edge of each cake and turn onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter with your paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes, until fluffy. Add 3 cups powdered sugar and beat on low until the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine, then add another cup of powdered sugar; you’ll want a medium buttercream consistency that isn’t too stiff, but will hold its shape when you pipe the flowers.

Frost the top and sides of the cake with white, then divide your remaining frosting into two portions, with one portion much smaller than the other for your leaves. Tint the remaining white frosting yellow; I tinted my frosting using the same base color of yellow for the peach and salmon-colored flowers.

Fit a piping bag with a coupler and a plain tip; affix a parchment square to your flower nail with just a bit of frosting. Pipe a cone shape into the center of the nail, then switch tips to your Wilton 104 petal tip. You want the broader end of the tip to be toward the bottom as you pipe; pipe petals, turning your flower nail as necessary. When you’ve reached your desired size, slide the parchment off the nail and place it on a baking sheet. Once all of your flowers are piped, chill them until they’re firm.

To tint my frosting, I used the following color ratios:

Pale yellow – 2 drops yellow liquid food coloring

Peach – 1 drop red and 3 drops yellow liquid food coloring into the existing yellow

Salmon – 1 drop pink gel food coloring into the existing peach

Once the flowers are firm, place them on the cake in your desired arrangement; I also used a bit of buttercream to stick them to the surface of the cake. Tint the remainder of your frosting green; using the Wilton 352 leaf tip, pipe leaves next to your flowers.

Store at room temperature in an airtight cake caddy or cake stand for 2-3 days.

Makes about 10 servings.

Strawberry Lime Cupcakes

It’s June, and June means summer. Even if summer doesn’t technically start for a few weeks, I feel like it’s time to bake with summer flavors, like strawberry. I bought a ton of berries during my last grocery trip – berries are one of my favorite things – and decided to make a puree from some of the strawberries. While strawberry and lemon pair very well, I’d never made a strawberry lime combination, so I decided to give it a try.

These cupcakes use both lime extract and lime zest, but if you didn’t have extract you could just use a bit more zest. They have a lovely, almost pound cake-like texture that pairs well with a smooth buttercream. While lime is the dominant flavor in these treats, the strawberry brings a nice amount of sweetness; next time, I might use a bit less zest or omit the extract in the cupcakes so the flavor is more balanced. They’re still delicious, though, so I consider them a win.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime extract
  • Zest of half a lime
  • 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature

For the strawberry buttercream

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup strawberry puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners; this recipe made 21 cupcakes.

Combine milk, vanilla extract, and lime extract; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine cake flour, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, then reduce mixer speed to low and add butter a few cubes at a time. Continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture looks like coarse sand.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well between each. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the milk mixture and add the lime zest. Return to medium speed and continue to beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl well; the batter will become almost fluffy.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, drop scoops of batter into prepared cupcake pans, filling about 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pans immediately and cool completely on a wire rack before filling and frosting.

For the frosting, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla extract on low speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add first three cups of powdered sugar in half-cup increments, beating until fully incorporated.

Slowly add strawberry puree, mixing until completely incorporated, about 1-2 minutes, scraping your bowl well. If your mixture is too thin, slowly add more powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, until you reach a consistency that will be easy to pipe.

Fit a piping bag with a large star tip (I use the Wilton M1) and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake; my recipe made exactly enough for all 21 cupcakes, which is kind of amazing, because that never happens.

Store in an airtight container at a cool room temperature or in the fridge for 1-2 days.

Pumpkin Sourdough Loaf

My cousin Barb inspired me to take the plunge into the word of sourdough. I’ve not baked much bread, let alone sourdough bread, but last week I stirred together some flour and water and began my sourdough starter. I’m using the King Arthur Flour sourdough starter recipe, and as Barb said, it’s sort of like having a pet. I’ve decided to call him Horatio, which means timekeeper, and I feed him more flour and water twice a day.

Part of sourdough starter maintenance involves discarding a portion of your starter and adding more flour and water to keep the friendly bacteria and wild yeast in your mixture working together to help the starter rise. At a certain point in development, you can start to bake with your “discard,” so I decided to give it a try with this loaf, adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Pumpkin Spice Bread simply by the omission of raisins. The end result, while not as high-rising as the one in the KAF blog post photo, has a lovely spiced pumpkin flavor and nice texture.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 3/4 cup sourdough starter discard
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preparation 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf tin.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together vegetable oil, sugar, molasses, eggs, pumpkin, sourdough starter discard, and vanilla. Pour into flour mixture and stir until combined, then stir in walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Store at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for several days. Makes 16 slices.

Samoa Bars

Back when I still ate chocolate, I loved Girl Scout Samoas. Today I wanted to recreate them in bar form, and I found this recipe from Just a Taste. Truth be told, I found it more difficult to work with than I’d hoped, so I think I’ll try a different recipe next time.

I do have some suggestions, based both on the comments on the original post and my own experience. I think you could decrease the amount of coconut by at least 1 cup, and you could likely increase the amount of caramel as well. Another baker suggested mixing the coconut into the caramel, rather than pouring the caramel into the coconut, then keeping the mixture warm in the double boiler and adding it to the base a little bit at a time. Also, the base is very crumbly, so I chose not to dip the bottoms of the bars in melted chocolate; I used far less than the original recipe required. Despite being a bit difficult to work with, the bars turned out to be delicious. Mike decided he’s keeping them instead of taking them to work, and I even left a few without chocolate for myself.

Ingredients

For the base

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For the topping

  • 4 cups shredded coconut
  • 20 ounces caramel bits
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper, extending the paper over the sides.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then slowly add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Press into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, until just slightly golden. Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until browned, stirring frequently; this takes about 10-12 minutes. Keep a close eye on your coconut, as it can burn easily. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Place caramel bits, milk, and salt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the top of a double boiler and stir until caramel bits have completely melted; this takes several minutes. Stir together melted caramel and coconut and quickly pour over the base, spreading it as evenly as you can; I used a sheet of parchment to press the caramel/coconut mixture onto the base to help it stick. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then lift out of the pan by the parchment and cut into 2 x 1 bars.

Melt chocolate chips and place in a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (or in a zip-top bag, then snip the corner) and pipe chocolate over the bars. Allow to set before serving; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 30 bars.

Lime Tart

Mike loves Key lime pie, but Key limes – smaller and more tart than Persian limes – are hard to come by in Pittsburgh. A few months back, I perused some recipes online, hoping to find that you can easily substitute Persian for Key limes in pies. You can, of course. But there are a host of people on the internet who are here to tell you with near fanatical devotion that it simply won’t be the same.

Maybe they’re proud Floridians, I don’t know. But nearly every lime pie post I read had an incredibly enthusiastic Key lime loyalist assuring readers that Key limes are more tart! Key limes are so much better! And don’t think of using bottled Key lime juice because it’s absolutely not the same! I was surprised to find this level of devotion to a citrus fruit…and that’s saying a lot given my undying love of lemons. In any case, my Persian limes worked very well in this tart, which Mike proclaimed as delicious. Next time, I’ll pre-bake the tart shell for longer to put more color on the pastry and ensure it’s done on the bottom.

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • About 3-4 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • zest from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 Persian limes)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt, then add butter and shortening. Cut butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over mixture and toss with a fork; repeat with remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together; you don’t want to use more than 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water total or your mixture will be too soggy. Gather dough into a ball and knead it gently to bring it together.

Roll pastry out between two pieces of parchment paper, then peel off the top sheet. Carefully flip the dough over into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and position the pastry into the tart pan, then peel off the parchment. Gently press the pastry into the sides; I use a small bit of extra pastry for this to prevent it from tearing as it’s pressed into the fluted nooks.

At this point, you can trim the excess pastry if you like, but I chose to let my shell bake with the excess pastry hanging over the sides and trim it after it had baked to prevent shrinkage like they do on the Great British Baking Show. Prick the bottom of the shell with a fork. Line the shell with a double thickness of aluminum foil and bake for 8 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 8 minutes, until golden (mine was a bit pale, so next time I’ll bake it for another 10 minutes or so to start with). Remove from an oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely; if you’ve left your excess pastry on, you can trim it as soon as you take it out of the oven.

Lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Pour into cooled shell and bake for 15-20 minutes, until set. Cool at room temperature for 1 hour, then cover and chill for 2-3 hours before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Wookies

Whenever people tell me they’ve never seen Star Wars, I’m shocked. This iconic cultural phenomenon was a staple in my childhood, and I simply can’t imagine living a life without knowledge of its details. I assume nearly everyone is aware of it from pop culture, but if you haven’t actually seen it, you really are missing out.

Tomorrow is May 4th, also known as Star Wars Day, and to celebrate I’ve baked some wookie cookies. While I don’t think they look much like Chewbacca and I already have plenty of ideas about how to improve them for next time, the cookies themselves are delicious. The gingerbread recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction, though I chose to go with dark brown sugar in my dough, and the decoration is a combination of chocolate chips, royal icing, and a very thick glaze icing. Stay tuned for more wookie recipes in the future, and may the force be with you.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for eyes

For the royal icing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • Black food coloring

For the white icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Water

Preparation

To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, dark brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. With the mixer running on low, slowly beat in the flour mixture. Dough will be very thick and sticky. Divide into two portions and flatten into discs; wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one disc of dough and place it on a floured surface; this dough is very sticky, so you need plenty of flour for your work surface, rolling pin, and hands. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut using a gingerbread man cutter. Place cookies on baking sheets and use a fork to make the impressions for the fur, then add miniature chocolate chips for eyes.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium, then high speed, for 7-10 minutes until the mixture is glossy. Add black food coloring to your desired shade.

Fit a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on noses (I also did some black mouths, but didn’t like those as much), then swap out your tip for a flat or fluted tip and pipe on the sashes.

To make the white icing, combine powdered sugar with enough water to make a thick icing that you can still pipe. Place in a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on mouths, then add the white decorations to the sashes.

Allow icing to harden before storing between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container; store cookies for up to 2-3 days. Makes about 40 cookies.

Old-Fashioned Donuts

While I’ve rarely met a baked good I didn’t like, I have a particular fondness for donuts. Our local supermarket, Giant Eagle, actually makes very good donuts; my particular favorites are the maple iced ring and the jelly filled varieties. But at home, without the desire to work with yeast and hot oil, I choose to bake my donuts, rather than fry them.

The internet is full of good recipes for baked donuts, and this one comes from Baked By an Introvert, though I cut down the recipe to make just six. Using a combination of whole wheat and white flour, as well as nutmeg, these treats have a wonderful flavor and very soft crumb. Baked donuts are best eaten right after they’re made, but they can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for a day or so and still taste delicious.

Ingredients

For the donuts

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a 6-well donut pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together white flour, wheat flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, vegetable oil, and sugar, then whisk in egg and vanilla bean paste (or extract). Stir in the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour. Batter will be thick. Spoon into a piping bag and fill donut wells about 2/3 full.

Bake for 7 – 9 minutes, until the donuts spring back when pressed lightly. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes while you make the glaze.

Stir together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Remove donuts from pan and dip in glaze, covering the top. Place on a wire rack over a sheet of parchment paper to catch the drips and allow the glaze to drip down the sides.

Serve immediately; store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days.

Makes 6.

S’more Bars

As a child, I was kind of afraid of the woods. Blame it on the fairy tales, maybe? But as an adult, I cannot get enough of nature. While Swallow Falls State Park is my favorite place on Earth, the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from crossing state lines into Maryland. We’re lucky to live near North Park in Pittsburgh, and also to have our own backyard, complete with a fire pit.

I recently caught the scent of a backyard fire on the breeze, and this made me think of s’mores, which then made me wonder how I could bake something s’more-like for Mike and his coworkers. The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion includes a recipe called “Build-a-Bars” that can be adapted to whatever flavor profile you like, and it seemed a good option for a s’more bar. You could make a pastry crust for these, but I chose to go with a graham cracker crust for extra s’more-ness.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 13 1/2 sheets of crackers)
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For the filling

  • 2 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 4 full-sized Hershey bars, broken into pieces
  • 1 cup broken graham crackers

For the topping

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5 ounces evaporated milk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking tin.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, flour, and brown sugar and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium bowl, stir together miniature marshmallows, Hershey bar pieces, and graham cracker pieces; set aside while you make the topping.

For the topping, beat cream cheese, sugar, and salt until blended. Add egg and beat well to combine completely, scraping your bowl as necessary, until no lumps remain. Add evaporated milk and beat to combine completely.

Pour the filling evenly over the crust, then pour topping evenly over filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges bubble a bit and the center is set. Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting; cut into 24 bars.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2-3 days.