Tag Archives: chocolate

Foodbuzz 24×24: The Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party (Recipe: Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate)

I remember that Christmas morning with all the clarity of the glass icicles adorning our Christmas tree — at least one of which was shattered each year, an inadvertent Christmas tradition. Mom was sitting on the couch in her dramatic floral robe. The scent of coffee — which I loved, despite being averse to the bitter taste — filled the house. The rest of the family was milling about the living room, preparing to distribute the presents.

Suddenly, with a pine needley, jingle-jangly harrrrrumph!, the Christmas tree outright fell on my mother.

I mean, one minute that thing was standing tall, looking regal and festive, and the next it was on her head. She let out a startled cry and flailed from between its branches, sending ornaments and pine needles flying around the room.

Mom will disagree — and okay, my little brother’s First Christmas ornament broke, and that was sad — but this was quite possibly the most hilarious and lively Ruble Christmas morning to date.

Other Christmas mornings were notable too. There was the one where I found, after opening all my gifts, that I hadn’t received the one thing I wanted most: a pedal go-kart. I pasted on a happy face, but I was disappointed. I did have one present left, but it was a card and didn’t look promising.

The card turned out to be from Santa. I scanned it halfheartedly, and realized that it was a set of instructions. I was supposed to head upstairs to my sister’s room. Suddenly, my heart filled with hope. I charged up the stairs eagerly and shot through the door. There, in all its bright yellow glory, was my go-kart!

Other years brought a dose of holiday reality. When I was around 6, I opened my parents’ closet a few days before Christmas to put some clothes away. To my great surprise, I found myself staring at a gigantic dollhouse. I was so stunned that it took me a few moments to realize that this must be a poorly hidden Christmas present.

My tiny heart filled with glee as I briefly surveyed the three-story mansion, complete with furniture, a balcony, and landscaping. I’d always been enamored with miniatures, and now my parents had apparently decided to indulge my dollhouse obsession. I closed the door, thrilled at my discovery and determined to act surprised when I received my gift.

On Christmas morning, I ran downstairs and sure enough, the dollhouse was standing in the living room like a beacon of childhood happiness, boasting a big bow. I squealed joyfully and ran over to it, only to hear my parents call out, “That’s for your sister!

Those four words — so tiny! so brief! — cut me down faster than a fir tree on a Christmas farm.


family photo!

Then there was the Christmas morning I woke up and accidentally stabbed myself in the nose while trying to brush my hair out of my face. My entire family, probably bemused but not surprised by the fact that I’d managed to injure myself immediately upon waking, waited patiently while I tried to stop the bleeding.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.


salted caramel.

It’s true; Christmas morning has varied wildly over the years — exciting, disappointing, joyous, dangerous, absurd. One constant that we’ve all come to cherish, though, is Christmas morning breakfast. Every single year, without fail, my mother wakes up early, bakes an egg casserole, and rolls out dough to make fresh cinnamon rolls. While we’re all still counting sugar plums in our jammies, she’s hard at work in the kitchen.

This year, in her honor, I decided to design some recipes specifically for a holiday breakfast — dishes that in addition to being fancy and indulgent, could be prepared almost entirely in advance. To test my menu — that’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it — I threw a Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party, where I decked my halls and created a make-believe Christmas morning.

The party turned out to be special even beyond the menu. See, Mike and I have never spent a Christmas morning together, despite being in a relationship for most of the past 12 years.

I’m not complaining. So many families are separated on Christmas morning because of deployment, distance, and even death. Our situation is downright joyful by comparison. We’re separated each year because both of our families have Christmas morning traditions. We spend time with our own parents in the morning before meeting later to enjoy Christmas afternoon together. This year, though, my Make-Ahead Holiday Breakfast Party was the perfect way to create a “Christmas morning” for just us.

So yesterday morning, we donned our PJs and slippers in true Christmas morning fashion. I lit my first ever fire, put the finishing touches on all of the make-ahead dishes I’d prepared earlier in the week, and we sat down together to eat. Little Byrd sat between us eating her Christmas kibble. Our plates, however, were loaded down with Gingerbread Coffee Cake, Cinnamon Stix with Eggnog Glaze, Savory Bread Pudding with Cranberries and Fennel, Winter Breakfast Chili in Sourdough Bowls, and Buttered Toast with Bright Pepper Jam.

Between bites, we sipped this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate. I’m not one for hot breakfast drinks, usually, but I’d make an exception for this thing any day. You coat the mug with hot, buttery salted caramel before pouring in the steaming mocha hot chocolate (where coffee plays a supporting role rather than the lead). The whole thing is topped with a mess of caramel whipped cream and a caramel drizzle.

I’ll be sharing the other make-ahead breakfast recipes with you throughout the coming weeks as you prepare for the holidays. In the meantime, share your favorite Christmas morning memories. Anyone have any harrowing experience with falling Christmas trees?

Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by Savory Sweet Life, adapted from Martha Stewart (caramel and cream) and TLC
Yield: 2 big mugs of hot chocolate

I can’t really quantify how buttery, caramelly, chocolatey, and delicious this Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate is, so let me just say: mmmmmm. I don’t like coffee, but in this recipe it’s there to add richness and balance, and isn’t the dominant flavor. The recipe is designed to be completed mostly in advance, making it lovely for a holiday morning breakfast — or anytime you’re in a festive mood. Also, don’t be afraid of caramel. This recipe includes temperatures, and as long as you use a candy thermometer, you’ll be great!

Mocha Hot Chocolate Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup brewed coffee
2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli 60% cacao)
2 tablespoons sugar

Caramel Sauce and Cream Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of coarse salt

Directions:
1 to 3 days in advance: Make the hot chocolate and the caramel. First, heat the milk, coffee, chocolate, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a boil. Remove it from the heat and whisk it to ensure it’s fully combined. Pour it into a bowl and let it cool, stirring periodically, before covering it and refrigerating it.

Make caramel sauce: Prepare an ice-water bath and set a heavy bowl in it. Heat the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves (don’t stir at all, or crystals will form and make your caramel grainy). Use a pastry brush to wash down sides of pan often to prevent crystals from forming. When the sugar starts to turn amber, you can swirl a couple of times to ensure it’s caramelizing evenly.

Cook until the sugar turns a dark amber (definitely use a candy thermometer here! You’re looking for it to read about 345 degrees), 5 to 7 minutes more. Immediately remove from heat, and slowly whisk in 1/2 cup cream (reserve the rest of the cream in the fridge). It will bubble up when you do this, so be careful. Return the caramel to medium heat, whisking and heating until the sugar melts completely and the mixture boils.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the caramel into a bowl set in an ice-water bath. Let the caramel cool, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Whisk in creme fraiche or sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Cover and refrigerate this.

The morning of: Reheat the chocolate mixture in a saucepan over medium heat on the stove (or for a couple of minutes in the microwave), stirring often. In the meantime, whip your remaining 1/4 cup cream in a cold bowl to stiff peaks.

Coat the sides of two mugs with caramel sauce, reserving a little over half of it. Gently fold most of the rest of the caramel sauce into your whipped cream (reserving a little to drizzle on top). Fill caramel coated mugs with mocha hot chocolate. Top with caramel cream and drizzled caramel. Serve immediately.

Note: I received a stipend from Foodbuzz for creating this meal.

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle

The first face to poke through the door of my classroom was that of an older woman. She was followed by one of my 7th grade students, who was followed by a white haired man. “Come in! Find a seat anywhere!” I called as I made last minute adjustments to the position of the projector.

Soon people were pouring into my room. They had arrived for Grandfriends Day, where Woodlawn students invited their grandparents (or grandpeople they’d “adopted”) to eat lunch with them and participate in their classes.

I’m going to go ahead and publicly admit that I was terrified of Grandfriends Day. What activity could I plan that both a 60-year-old and a 12-year-old might enjoy? We usually read novels or tackle projects that take weeks to complete. What concept could I introduce and cover in a meaningful way in 30 minutes?

Thankfully, I learned a trick at the beginning of my teaching career that always serves me well in these types of circumstances: when you’re scared of a new thing, get enthusiastic and give it an honest, earnest try. (This also works with baking, writing, and life in general.) So as the students and their grandfriends filtered into my room, I pasted on a smile.

Once they were all somewhat assembled, I took a deep breath and did something a little ridiculous. I turned on the projector and pressed play on this video (no, really, go watch it). Confusion turned into giggles as Maru the cat repeatedly attempted to gain access to a huge cardboard box. Young and old alike cheered when he finally sprang into its depths. I surveyed the classroom as they watched, concluding that funny YouTube clips were, indeed, a language that spanned the generations.

When the video ended, I posed a question: “What was Maru’s goal?”

“To get in the box!” the class cried in unison.

“Did he accomplish his goal the first time he tried?”

“No!”

“How about the second?”

“No!”

“Did he eventually get in the box?”

“Yes!”

Their enthusiasm was cute. They were still riding the wave of cheer that Maru’s antics had created. I distributed sheets of notebook paper as I issued their assignment: “Write about a time when you, like Maru, had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.”

Some dove at their paper with ardor while others thoughtfully drummed fingers or pencils on the desk. A short ten minutes later, though, everyone sat staring at their finished anecdote. I asked for volunteers to share, wholly unsure about the quality of work I was about to receive. I needn’t have been concerned, though. I have great students and, it turns out, they have amazing grandfriends.

One man told of learning to drive a car with a manual transmission and repeatedly killing the engine before finally getting the hang of it. Another told of being determined to get his garden planted despite the rain that threatened to prevent it. A third detailed how he and his construction crew had created a machine that could drive 16 nails a second to accomplish their goals more efficiently.

Two women discussed taking a pottery class and working for months before they produced the bowl or vase they’d envisioned. My students relayed sports goals they’d attempted to accomplish: a back set in volleyball, a backflip in gymnastics. Finally, one of my students raised his hand and asked to read his grandfather’s composition.

His grandfather had worked with a veterinarian as a young man and decided to enter into that profession himself. His application to NC State’s veterinary program, however, was denied. Undeterred, he entered the college for agriculture instead, and — my student articulated the following with great pride — became the first person in his family to graduate from college.

We were all quiet for a minute before one clap — and then another, and then another — began a round of applause for this man’s accomplishment. It was one of those moments (you teachers out there will know just what I mean) when I thought, “Oh, this is why I teach.”

Some folks that day had reached their goal by pushing through the obstacles. Others had used trial and error, learning from their mistakes and adjusting their actions. Still others had created a tool to help them accomplish their objective. That man, though, had courage and flexibility I sometimes lack. Instead of getting discouraged, he changed his goal. He created a path for himself that wasn’t what he’d originally envisioned. The pride his whole family felt at his accomplishment was a testimony to his success.

I wish I’d had that much grace this week when making this Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake. Yes, I said cake, because that’s what this dessert was supposed to be.

My goal was to create a towering chocolate cake drenched in gooey salted caramel and frosted with a smooth, fudgy icing. I saw that goal crumble before my eyes, however, when I opened my refrigerator and found all 6 layers sliiiiiiding down like they were preparing to do the limbo. The skewers I’d added for support were leaning right along with the cake.

I could pretend I handled it well, because this is the internet. For all you know I’m a supermodel who, apart from saving puppies and keeping a perfect house, never loses her temper. In the spirit of honesty, however, let’s just say that there was a solid 30 minutes of angst in my kitchen Wednesday night.

Then somehow I flipped a switch. I stopped trying to restack the layers, grabbed a spoon and my trifle dish (thanks for my trifle dish, Joyce!), and started building this bucket o’ cake. As I worked, my mood improved drastically.

Not only was my trifle pretty, less fuss to frost, and easier to transport, but it was also going to taste every bit as delicious as the cake I’d envisioned. The satisfied faces of my family around the Thanksgiving table the next day confirmed that it was a success.

Your turn: tell me about a time when you had a goal you couldn’t accomplish right away.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Trifle



Recipe by: Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: About a billion servings. Or at least 10-15.

This is actually a recipe for a 6-layer salted caramel chocolate cake. Feel free to attempt the cake and keep the trifle as a backup plan in case it doesn’t work — or just make the trifle from the beginning! Either way, the dessert you end up with will be rich, moist, and covered in the most delicious salted caramel and fudgy frosting. By the way, if you’re scared of making caramel, don’t be — just make sure you use a candy thermometer, which takes the guesswork out of the process.

Cake Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tablepoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Caramel Ingredients:
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter

Frosting Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Coarse salt
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
flaked sea salt, such as Maldon

Directions:
Note on scheduling: You can make the cake layers a few days in advance. Just wrap them and refrigerate them, and take them out and freeze them the day you’ll be cutting and assembling them (which will make them easier to work with). You can make the caramel up to three days in advance and keep it in the fridge — just let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours before using it. The entire cake can be assembled a day in advance and refrigerated, allowing its flavors to meld.

Make the cake: Cut 3 circles of parchment paper and use cooking spray as “glue” to adhere them to 3 9-inch round cake pans. Then grease the pans and the paper (I use Wilton’s Cake Release, but you could also use butter and flour). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and coarse salt together in a mixing bowl. Beat the dry ingredients on low until combined before increasing the speed to medium and adding eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Divide it among the three pans.

Place the pans in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with just a few moist crumbs, about 30-35 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through so they’ll bake evenly. Let them cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning them out onto sheets of wax paper and leaving them to cool completely. Stick them in the freezer if you’re going to make a cake; if you’re going for a trifle, just leave them out.

Make the caramel: Slice your butter into tablespoon chunks and set it back in the fridge for later. In a large saucepan, gently combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Once you put it on the heat, you won’t stir it anymore to ensure that the sugar will not crystallize and give you grainy caramel. Put a candy thermometer on the pan and heat it over high heat (no stirring!). Once the mixture starts turning amber around 320 degrees, you can gently swirl it every now and then (not stirring!) to ensure the sugar caramelizes evenly. Heat it until the mixture is dark amber (350 degrees on your thermometer), about 14 minutes. Remove it from the heat.

VERY CAREFULLY and slowly, pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble up and spatter so just be prepared and stand back — flaming sugar is no joke! Once you add the cream, whisk the mixture until it’s smooth before returning it to the heat and cooking until it reaches exactly 238 degrees (I know it sounds weird, but apparently this is crucial for the texture), about 2 minutes. Pour the caramel into a medium bowl and add the salt. Let it cool for about 15 minutes before whisking in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time (you’re definitely going to want to enlist another set of hands here; otherwise your arm will fall off).

Make the frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa and warm water. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, confectioners’ sugar, and a generous pinch of coarse salt until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate and the cocoa mixture. Let this sit for about 30 minutes before you use it.

Assemble the cake (or trifle): If you’re making a trifle, simply tear up the cake and alternate layers of cake and 3/4 cup of caramel in your bowl, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Do a layer of frosting in the middle of the dish and another layer on top before drizzling with caramel and sprinkling with sea salt.

Alternatively, if you want to try the cake, freeze your cake layers until they’re firmer (this makes them much easier to work with). Use a long serrated knife to level their tops and cut each layer in half. Place one layer on a serving platter and spoon 3/4 cup of caramel on top, using a spoon or offset spatula sprayed with cooking spray to help spread the caramel. Place another cake layer on top and repeat the process, alternating layers of cake and caramel, leaving the top cake layer uncovered. For goodness’ sake, place dowels through your cake (I’d say at least 4), mark them at the height of the cake, remove them, and cut them down to size. Then replace them in the cake. I’d also wrap the entire cake tightly in plastic wrap before chilling it to prevent sliding. Refrigerate it until it’s set (about an hour) before frosting the top and sides of the cake and sprinkling with sea salt.

Serve the trifle or cake: I think this dessert is delicious no matter what, but it’s absolutely out-of-this-world if you heat a serving of it for about 30 seconds before spooning a big hunk o’ vanilla ice cream on top. I didn’t try this with a cake slice, so I don’t know that it’d hold together — another benefit of a messy trifle.

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Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles

Despite the fact that I’ve been inexplicably bought and paid for by the Son of God Himself, I feel guilty all the time. Call it a complex.

adorable napkins courtesy of sweet Erin

Sometimes it’s Byrd’s fault. She does this thing when I’m leaving for work every morning — do your dogs do this? — where she ramps up her cute factor by 200%. Suddenly she seems fluffier and snugglier. She’ll kiss my ankles and roll over for belly rubs. She’ll look up at me with eyes that I could swear weren’t that adorable yesterday.

It’s as if she’s saying, “You’re not gonna LEAVE me, are you mom? You couldn’t possibly leave your innocent wittle baby puppy, could you?”

But every morning, I break her heart by telling her goodbye and shutting her up in my bedroom. Then I walk out to my car feeling like a heel.

Other times it’s my own fault that I feel guilty. I’ll have a mile-long list of things I need to accomplish, but I’ll allow myself 5 or 10 minutes to check Facebook. And, you know, I have to check Pinterest. And what if something important happened in the world? I’ll read CNN online for just a minute or two. And what if something important happened to Reese Witherspoon? I’ll hop over to People.com for a bit. Of course I need to check my site traffic. And gosh, it’s been forever since I’ve checked Facebook . . .

Suddenly it’s 1 o’clock in the morning and my to-do list suddenly looks a lot like an accusation staring up at me from my notepad.

Last night my guilt was even more justified. I always feed my turtle, Squirt, in a plastic storage container on the kitchen counter. I usually keep an eye on him so he doesn’t climb out and get hurt, but yesterday I was just so preoccupied. I had piles of 7th grade essays, 6th grade quizzes, and 6th grade projects to grade. Modern Family was playing in the background. Byrd was playing in the floor. My head was lost in a cloud of thesis statements and Gloria’s Colombian accent.

Suddenly, I heard a thump. I walked into the kitchen and found Squirt not in his feeding tank on the counter where I left him, but standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking around thoughtfully.

He had fallen off the counter.


quick, think of something happy. like pumpkin truffles.

MY BABY FELL OFF THE COUNTER BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY TO WATCH HIM CLOSELY. After bursting into tears, repeatedly checking all of his little turtle limbs for injuries, hugging him (much to his dismay), and investigating the scene of the accident, I sat in floor, awash in a sea of guilt. I promised myself I’d be a better mother. I thanked God profusely that he’d fallen on the carpet and not the linoleum. I called Mike and confessed my negligence.

Meanwhile, Squirt swam around in his tank and chomped at carrots, pleased as a plum to be back in the water and apparently none the worse for the wear.

The truth is, guilt is useful insofar as it leads us to make a change. The discomfort I felt after Squirt’s fall has convicted me to never leave him unsupervised again. For some people, discomfort about the way they’re living is what leads them to submit to Christ and be changed. It’s a good thing.

But beyond that, guilt is a disease. Once you’ve made a change, lingering guilt serves no purpose but to cripple you. It’s a lying voice telling you that you’re unworthy, incapable. Don’t believe it.

Today as Squirt basks under his sun lamp, I’m going to ignore the deceitful voice of guilt. I’m going to believe that I’m the best mommy for that reptile. I’m going to give myself a blank slate. And I might even try to cut down on the Facebook…

…after I post another status update about pumpkin truffles.

Since we’re on the topic of guilt, here are some truffles for you to eat way too many of — and to forgive yourself for later!

They’re worth it. In this super simple recipe, rich pumpkin cheesecake middles are coated in indulgent dark chocolate. The resulting truffles are adorable and totally poppable. Give yourself a break and make some dessert.

What kinds of things do you feel guilty about sometimes?

Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles



Recipe by: Adapted from Whole Foods
Yields: About 30 truffles

A creamy pumpkin mixture spiced up with gingersnap and graham cracker crumbs is rolled into a ball and coated with rich dark chocolate. These delectable truffles would make a lovely autumn gift since they’re so cute and poppable, but don’t feel guilty saving them all for yourself!

Ingredients:
2 cups dark chocolate chips (see note below recipe)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/8 cups finely ground gingersnaps
3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of orange zest (I used a dash of orange extract)
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
pretzel sticks (optional, for pops)
sprinkles or extra cookie crumbs (optional, for decoration)

Directions:
Make the pumpkin middles: In a large bowl, melt the 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips according to instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each). When the white chocolate is melted, let it cool down for a bit before adding the gingersnap crumbs, pumpkin, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, extract or zest, cinnamon, salt and cream cheese. Beat this mixture until it’s completely smooth. Cover it and refrigerate it for about 2 hours until it’s firm enough to roll into balls.

Roll ’em: Roll the pumpkin mixture into balls and place them on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate them for another hour to let them firm up. When you’re ready to make your truffles, melt your dark chocolate according to the instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each).

Insert the pretzel sticks: (Obviously skip this step if you’re making truffles and not pops!) Take a few pumpkin balls out of the fridge at a time. Poke the end of pretzel sticks into the melted chocolate and stick one in the center of each pumpkin ball, placing them back in the fridge to set. Repeat with all of the pumpkin balls.

Dip ’em: Take out a few pumpkin pops at at time (if you just inserted pretzel sticks, use the ones that have been chilling the longest) and carefully dip the balls into the melted chocolate while holding the pretzel, using a spoon to help you coat them. Gently bounce and turn the pop (while supporting the whole pretzel stick) to let the excess drain off. Sprinkle on some sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, or gingersnap crumbs if desired, and then stick the pop into a foam block in the fridge to dry. Alternatively, if you’re making truffles instead of pops, use two forks to dip the pumpkin ball into the chocolate and pass it between the forks to drain the excess. Roll it carefully onto a sheet of wax paper in the fridge to dry. Chill the pops about an hour, until they’re completely dry and set.

NOTE ON COATING CAKE POPS OR TRUFFLES: When it comes to coating cake pops or truffles, there are several options. My favorite coating is usually Candiquik or candy melts, because they have a lovely texture when melted, dry quickly, and don't melt if they sit out of the fridge. In this recipe, though, I chose to use plain dark chocolate to coat my truffles. Though it takes longer to dry and can get melty in your hands even once it's set, I wanted the taste of rich dark chocolate to contrast with the pumpkin. My chocolate of choice is always Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips — they are seriously delectable.

OTHER TIPS:
– If you need to thin your chocolate or candy melts, stir in a scant spoonful of shortening until it’s melted. Add more as needed until desired consistency is reached.
– Don’t ever put water or water-based substances in chocolate or candy melts, or they’ll seize and become unusable.
– Keep your bowl of melted chocolate or candy melts inside of a larger bowl filled halfway with hot water. The heat from the water will keep your chocolate liquid while you’re dipping all of your truffles, so that you won’t have to keep reheating.
– See this video for a visual of how to dip cake pops and truffles.

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Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars

On top of a sheet of felt-and-glitter tabletop snow, wooden blades were spinning, propelled by steam from tiny candles. Below the windmill but carved from the same light wood, tiny German townspeople busied themselves preparing for a wooden winter. I stood there for a few minutes, watching the delicate dance of the Christmas Pyramid: wood and fire, fuel and hunger.

It was my first visit to Mike’s great-aunts’ house, and thankfully, I was just in time to see their earnest and intricate Christmas display. Rose and Martha had been adding to their holiday collection over the course of many years and many travels, and their home now good-naturedly bore its heavy load of cheer.

Along with the Christmas Pyramid, a yuletide scene adorned every available surface in the house. The sturdy 1950s countertop in the kitchen boasted a full Christmas village. Warm orange lights glowed from miniature, snowy-silled windows. Plastic children, round with winter wool and red-nosed beneath fur caps, constructed snowmen in the yard. Figurines of all shapes and sizes skated on a mirrored glass pond thanks to tiny unseen magnets. And, in my favorite tableau, kids posed with St. Nick before a toy camera that gave a CLICK-FLASH! every few seconds as if snapping their photo.

The entire house was busy with whirring, chirruping, chiming, ringing. Understated carols rung out at regular intervals from mysterious origins. I would turn my head to find the source only to see a Christmas train, a Christmas snowman, a Christmas door hanging, a pudgy Christmas Santa statue, lights, bells, snow — Christmas chaos!

Imagine yourself as a child. Imagine that one day you really did get to step through your mirror, like you’d always dreamed might be possible. All it took was a little shimmy, a heel click or two, maybe a wink, and you were finally allowed to flow right through the glass. Imagine that when you stepped in, you stepped straight into a world of candy and jolly Santas and benevolent holiday rabbits and secret gardens and fairies and talking animals.

The joy of this house was that same joy. Walking into the door of this house was like walking into a fantastic place you knew existed somewhere, but could never seem to find as a child.

If the house was a Christmas fairyland, Rose and Martha were the magnificent queens of the domain. Martha was lovely, humble, and meticulous, welcoming and distributing presents. And Rose was mischievous, adventurous, and excited, whispering sly comments and shaking gifts. Together, what a pair.

They weren’t just wonderful on Christmas, either, and not just the first time I met them. We would celebrate their birthdays together at a boisterous gathering at Trio, one of their favorite restaurants. Folks from far and wide would turn up and share stories of the things they’d accomplished.

Both were teachers that poured out their time and energy for their students. Rose spent 11 years in night school to earn her degree in History. She then spent several more years learning about computers as she taught, creating a computer lab for her elementary school students. Rose and Martha traveled around the world together, sometimes preferring a foreign country, and sometimes heading to Chetola, a beloved spot in the North Carolina mountains, instead.

It was hard to believe things could ever be difficult for Rose. It seemed impossible that her pure fire-engine gumption couldn’t propel her through just about anything, including health problems and age and, good grief, probably a wall of fire and a mountain of steel at that.

She did slow down, though. At one point she broke a bone and had to recover in a nursing home, and I remember going to see her and realizing her gumption was willing, but her body demanded rest. When you see a pillar of strength and realize it’s fragile, it shakes you. Your whole frame of reference starts to bend just a bit.

Rose’s bone slowly healed. She went home and continue living her beautiful life. We went to dinner and a basketball game with her and Martha months later — her beloved UNCC 49ers — and though she had grown more frail, we could still see the spark of her heart.

This past Saturday, though, just hours before Mike was planning on visiting her, Rose passed away. The book of Greek myths he planned to take and read to her still sits where I tucked it quietly away once I heard. There’s nothing I can say to fully eulogize this sort of burning life. I wish, instead, you could’ve heard Martha’s strong voice at Rose’s funeral singing Amazing Grace with unexpected verve.

And I hope that Rose feels just now as if she’s stepped, finally, through a looking glass. I hope the real presence of Christ is stronger even than the joy of a billion Christmas wonderlands on a billion countertops. I hope she feels like, finally, she’s home.

Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, inspired by S’mores Bars
Yield: About 12 bars

I made these Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars as a treat for Mike, ditching a previous plan involving pumpkin (which he’s not fond of). I’m so glad I did. They’re rich and heavenly, crunchy and gooey, and altogether full of warm niceness for a cool autumn day. Apart from tasting amazing, they’re super quick and simple — something I value more and more lately. Heat up one or two of these and enjoy them with some cold milk.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (i.e. crumbs of about 10 Oreos)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized Cookies ‘n Cream candy bars (e.g. Hershey’s)*
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
*can substitute a regular white chocolate bar if these are unavailable where you live!

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and create a foil sling: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the foil as well.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow (2-3 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cookie crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Divide the dough roughly in half, placing half the dough in your prepared pan and the other half in the fridge to chill until you’re ready for it.

Use the back of a spoon sprayed with cooking spray and to press and spread the dough in the pan until it covers the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Place the Cookies ‘n Cream bars side by side over the dough (if they fit; if not, break them and arrange) such that you have a full single layer of chocolate (about 1/4 inch thick). Glop on marshmallow creme and use a greased offset spatula to spread it evenly across the candy bars. Take the remaining dough out of the fridge and place it on top of the marshmallow layer (to do so, take a small handful at a time and flatten it into a “shingle” in greased fingertips. Lay these side by side over the top. They’re a little sticky so it takes some fiddling, but just clean your fingers off if the dough starts sticking to them too much and continue).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in pan before gently using the overhang of the foil sling to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board to slice. When ready to serve, heat each bar in the microwave for about 25-30 seconds. Store extras in an airtight container. Enjoy!

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Presenting . . . Your Amazing Cupcakes!

Well, color me impressed. One month ago I issued a challenge here on Willow Bird Baking. Because I know how inspiring it can be to create your own dish, I asked you to come up with a fun cupcake combination all your own.

Some of these fantastic bakers were mamas baking with their kids (Sarah let her son, Jonathan, help out) while some of them were kids themselves (Erica’s in 7th grade this year). Some of them went the decadent route — chocolate, peanut butter, and beer, oh dear! — while some of them stayed bright and fruity — summery strawberries, blackberries, and citrus. Across the board, though, the one thing you all have in common is kitchen creativity. You came up with plans for a fantastic dessert for your family and friends, and you made it happen! Now it’s time to show off your handiwork!




Faygie the Fantastic

Faygie Made: Chocolate Cupcakes with Guinness-Chocolate Pudding and Caramel Buttercream
Comments:“I had a lot of fun doing this challenge! It took a while to find a combination that was not only unique, but also complemented each other well. The chocolate cupcake recipe is fantastic. The pudding was also very good, […] and I really thought that the caramel buttercream complemented the chocolate and Guinness really well. Because it is a Swiss meringue buttercream, it’s not too sweet (even with the large amount I piped on). I brought these to a friend’s birthday party and they were a huge hit!” (see more on her blog!)




Just look at those mountains of delicious frosting! These sound so rich and decadent.



LeAndra the Lovely

LeAndra Made: Banana and Choco-Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter(cream) Filling and Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
Comments:“Thank you for hosting this cupcake challenge. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s creations. I baked banana cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream filling and marshmallow buttercream icing. The baking itself went well, but I was concerned the banana cake and the peanut butter filling were too similar in coloring. So, I mixed some cocoa powder into the remaining batter for chocolate-banana cupcakes.” (see more of her fun cupcakes on her blog!)




Peanut butter, banana, and marshmallow sound like a match made in fluffernutter heaven. Yum!



Erica the Energetic

Erica Made: Yellow Cupcakes with Lemon Filling and Orange Icing
Comments:Erica is my youngest challenge entrant this time around — she just started 7th grade (in my class)! Aren’t these citrusy cupcakes adorable? Way to go, Erica!




Erica came straight out of my cupcake camp this summer and completed the cupcake challenge! So impressive!




Corisa the Creative

Corisa Made: Tandy Kake Cupcakes
Comments: “I made a ‘Tandy Kake’ cupcake, because Tandy Kake is one of my most loved desserts. I enjoy the combination of peanut butter and chocolate a whole lot! I started with a butter cake and filled it with Ina Garten’s peanut butter frosting. Then I topped it off with a simple chocolate frosting! Thanks so much for this opportunity. I’m so excited to see all the fabulous cupcakes!”




It doesn’t get better than peanut butter and chocolate. I want about 5 of these!



Sophia the Sophisticated

Sophia Made: Butterbeer Cupcakes
Comments: Sophia took two of my cooking classes last year — we had so much fun! She says, “I made the Butterbeer cupcakes. They were awesome! I used some techniques that I learned in your class when I made them, so that was great! They tasted a lot like cream soda and butterscotch (surprise!) I had so much fun! I don’t think I would have been able to make them as well if it hadn’t been for your cooking class…so thanks again.” Aww, what a sweet thing to say. Those kids were naturals in the kitchen, though!




I love butterscotch, and these cute cupcakes make me want to drive my broom straight to Harry Potter world in Florida, licking my fingers all the way.




Diana the Daring

Diana Made: Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcakes
Comments: “I’m sending you my creation, a Chocolate-Covered Banana Cupcake. I was inspired by our trip to King’s Island (an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio) this summer. This was a fun challenge. Thanks for putting it together.”



These are so gorgeous, and I love that they’re a play off such a classic dessert.




Annie the Artistic

Annie Made: Red Velvet Cupcakes with Chocolate Monograms
Comments: “I love reading your blog for inspiration! Here’s a link to my red velvet cupcake with monograms recipe. It was quite a disaster the first two times — the recipe I had didn’t specify to add the vinegar and baking soda together before putting them in the mixture and, as I’m sure you know, red velvet cupcakes are a little tricky! Anyways, it was an overall success and the knitting ladies loved it.” Way to try, try, try again, Annie! (see more on her blog)



The monograms make these red velvet cupcakes unique and special.



Sarah the Sensational

Sarah Made: Champagne Cupcakes with Strawberry Puree Filling and Strawberry Buttercream
Comments: “I modified this Paula Deen recipe because my husband is crazy and doesn’t like peaches. I made a strawberry version.”



I love all things strawberry, and these cupcakes look like heaven. Look at the cute frosting squiggles!




Susan the Sweet

Susan Made: Blackberry Merlot Cupcakes
Comments: “This is my Blackberry Merlot Cupcake!
It’s a dark chocolate cupcake with blackberry preserve filling and a country buttercream made with a fresh blackberry & Merlot reduction. I came up with it when my niece was trying to decide which vice — chocolate, cake, or wine — to partake in. I decided to come up with a way for her to have all three at once!”
(see more on her website)




These sound so decadent and delicious — what a way to “have your cake and eat it too!




Erin the Elegant

Erin Made: Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes
Comments: “I couldn’t help but join in the fun and bake a cupcake! I’m an avid reader of your site and am always inspired to bake after looking at the delicious food you’ve made. Thanks for the opportunity to create something new! I baked a yummy Boston Creme Pie Cupcake with vanilla cake, vanilla cream filling, and dark chocolate ganache topping. To really make the cupcake shine, I added macaroon coconut as a garnish on top of the ganache.” (see more on her blog)




These came out so cute, and I love the addition of coconut! This is the perfect way to eat Boston creme pie — in adorable single portions.




Cathy and Kevin the Courageous

Erin Made: Bananas Foster Cupcakes
Comments: “We made Bananas Foster cupcakes! We used a banana cake recipe, caramel filling, and a cinnamon-madagascar bourbon vanilla bean cream cheese frosting (long enough for you?) topped with vanilla wafer crumbs and butterscotch caramel sauce. These babies were to die for!! (Not for the faint of heart-if you don’t like rich banana-y goodness these are not for you!) Thanks for a great challenge to make us come up with these goodies; we will be making these again.” (see more on their blog)




All I can say is oh my goodness, yum. I need to try these!


As always, I’ve been totally inspired by you — thank you for plunging in and taking the cupcake challenge! If you didn’t get to join in this time around, don’t worry — there are always more WBB challenges coming up to build your kitchen confidence.

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Gooey S’mores Bars

GUESS WHAT I JUST BOUGHT. Can you guess?! First, let me tell you a story. Maybe I’ll drop some hints here and there . . .

I got my first camera in high school. It was a Polaroid I-Zone, and I had no idea how cool it was. It took grainy, gorgeous photos full of unintentional auras and printed them instantly on adhesive-backed paper. You’ll have to forgive my poetic heart for the example below — a triptych (am I allowed to call it that?) of a goose that had been hit by a car. The middle frame is my hand full of its oversaturated feathers. Morbid, I know, but isn’t it pretty?

My next camera was a little Kodak film camera. I carried it everywhere with me, hoping to capture some gritty reality. I took photos of the outcast crowd at my high school (I wasn’t cool enough to fit in, even with them), of my feet, of neon lights. I filled rolls of film and convinced my parents to get them developed only to find, again and again, that my photos weren’t this or this or this. They were flat snapshots.

I gave up.

Fast forward to food blogging. I’m a baker and I’m a writer, so food blogging suits me nicely. But, I told everyone who asked, I am not a photographer.

Photography was the red-headed stepchild (what’s so bad about one of those, anyway?) of Willow Bird Baking. It was an ill-behaved upstart of a stepchild at that — one that I often had to drag along behind me as it kicked its tiny mismatched-stocking feet.

Since WBB’s inception in June 2009, I’ve used a Canon PowerShot A540 to shoot all of my photos. That faithful little point-and-shoot was powerful, don’t get me wrong, but the fiddling that went in to my hours-long photo shoots was extremely stressful. I shot in manual mode and it went something like this:

Make food for hours. Style food. Wait until the perfect time of day. Go out onto the balcony to freeze and/or sweat. Set up my camera on its tripod. Set all camera settings: manual mode, white balance, macro mode, exposure time, self-timer. Hold up white boards to bounce light in crazy directions. Change all settings repeatedly, taking photos with varying exposures, camera angles, and lighting setups. Run into the apartment to upload the photos every 50 or so snaps to see if I’m on the right track, usually to find that ALL of the photos were out of focus. Hours and hundreds of photos later, drag myself inside and clean up. Go through the hundreds of photos looking for the 6 or 7 acceptable ones. Edit them. Write my post.

Even while I loved my camera (so much so that I decided I’d stick with Canon whenever I upgraded), it’s not hard to see why photography stressed me out. There was a teensy (and sometimes nonexistent) yield for all the sweat I put into it.

When Willow Bird Baking was featured recently in the Davidson Journal, Meg Kimmel was kind enough to mention my “burgeoning skills as a food photographer.” They even printed my photo of my Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake for good measure. But oh, did I have a love-hate relationship with photography.

That is, until now.

Have you guessed yet? I think I set you up pretty well, and hopefully the photos were helpful hints. I bought a new camera!

A Canon Rebel T2i with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, to be exact. By no means did the camera make me an instant photographer extraordinaire, but when I styled and photographed these Gooey S’mores Bars (inside! with air conditioning!), I marveled at how fun and exciting and creative it felt!

I wasn’t doing acrobatics to get an acceptable shot in 100 degree heat — the camera was doing more than its fair share of work! I wasn’t forcing the photos — I was making artistic decisions! I wasn’t fretting and uploading a dozen times to check my shots — I was contentedly fiddling with various camera settings and enjoying the results! For the first time in years, I think I’ve almost recaptured the joy of snapping a photo with that old Polaroid I-Zone and sticking it in my poetry notebook surrounded by walls of messy handwriting.

. . . Almost.

P.S. Will you look at the number of exclamation points in that last paragraph? I must be in love.

P.S. 2 There’s just over a week left in the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge! Bake your creation and email photos to juruble ‘at’ gmail.com by Wednesday, September 7, 2011. I’ll feature your cupcake on WBB! Find more details and some cupcake inspiration here.

Gooey S’mores Bars



Recipe by: Adapted from Lovin’ From the Oven
Yield: 9-12 bars depending on your appetite

These Gooey S’mores Bars were more than worthy of being the first dish snapped by my new camera. They combine a chewy, graham cracker-flavored base with melty marshmallow creme and a hearty dose of chocolate. I heated each bar in the microwave for 25 seconds and then used a kitchen torch to toast the sides before serving, resulting in the perfect s’more flavor. Don’t worry if you don’t have the torch, though — they’d be delicious without.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan and create a foil sling: tear off 4, 16-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and fold them in half. Situate two side-by-side in the pan, covering the bottom of the pan to the edge (they will overlap). Situate the other two strips in the same manner, but perpendicular to the first. The overhanging foil of the sling will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after baking and cooling. Grease the foil as well.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy and pale yellow. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Divide the dough roughly in half.

Press half of the dough (using clean fingers is easiest) into the pan. Place the chocolate bars side by side (if they fit; if not, break them and arrange) over the dough such that you have a full single layer of chocolate (about 1/4 inch thick). Glop on marshmallow creme and use a greased offset spatula to spread it evenly across the chocolate. Place the remaining dough on top (to do so, take a small handful at a time and flatten it into a “shingle,” laying these side by side over the top). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in pan before gently using the overhang of the foil sling to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board to slice.

When ready to serve, heat each bar in the microwave for about 25-30 seconds and use a kitchen torch to lightly “toast” the exposed marshmallow (optional). Enjoy!

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Fauxstess Cupcakes

I recently saw a letter written by an experienced teacher to his first-year-teacher self, and it reminded me of all the times I’ve thought, “I wish I’d known this when I started teaching.” Tomorrow is my last teacher workday before the students come back on Monday. What better time than the beginning of a new school year to write my own letter to my past self? So here it goes.

Dear Julie of 2006 (or as you’re about to be known, Ms. Ruble!),

It’s the night before the first day of school. I know you’re scared. I would tell you to get a good night’s rest, but to be honest, you’re not going to sleep much tonight. It doesn’t matter, though. Well-rested or not, you’re about to meet around 150 students who will change your life forever.

You’ll meet D, who you’ll admire for his sense of humor and his dance moves, and who will ask you all year when you’re going to let his beloved mother do your hair. You’ll meet L, who will stand up in class and scream in your face, but who needs you to forgive her and love her about as much as she needs air. You’ll meet H and P, who you will never reach. You’ll meet M, who seems impervious but who will shed surprising tears when you speak to her in anger. You’ll meet D, whose artwork will take your breath away.

You’ll meet K, and Julie . . . K will break your heart. Nothing you do will rescue that little boy from his situation. What can I say? This is going to be a tough year. But you can make it one of the most important years of your life.

You don’t lack fervor. I’m not going to tell you to be fervent. You are meticulous. I’m not going to tell you to perfect your classroom management systems. You are fretting about how students will learn science. I’m not going to advise you on unit plans. I’ve been teaching for 3.5 years now and I’m not an expert, but I’m going to tell you the things I wish you’d known.

1. Teach your students to learn. There are so many standards and concepts that you’ll literally try to pack a new topic in every day this year. I know you can drag the kids along at that pace — you’re good at making things happen — but maybe you shouldn’t. You’re trying to cram little bits of application into a full day of lecturing, and that’s not really how they’re going to learn. Put the importance of teaching them every tiny fact about your subject matter into perspective.

Instead, present new information and then find resources, projects, labs, and other experiences that allow them to apply the information themselves. Let them take ownership in their learning and enjoy the process. Give them more time to read and problem-solve together. Let them come up with creative ways to study. They don’t need to remember every step of the rock cycle for the rest of their lives, but they do need to know how to gather and process information.

I know it will take too long. I know you’ll end up not being able to cover everything. But if they come out of your class with the ability to be a curious, driven learner, that’s more important than all the Earth science facts you could give them.

2. Be humble and open to new ideas. This is a lesson you’ve learned, but that you need to continue to wholeheartedly embrace. We all tend to grow up feeling like we have a good handle on how the world works. In a way, deep down, we believe we know everything and can do everything. Teachers especially can develop a superiority complex when they run their classroom well and start to have great ideas. Rather than being a vessel that accepts and pours out in equal measure, they become a faucet, spewing a thick, opaque blanket of know-it-all over their colleagues.

Apart from alienating the people who can be your greatest allies, you miss out on so much when you think you know everything. Remind yourself constantly that some of your most exciting moments in the classroom have come from trying someone else’s ideas, even when they were outside of your comfort zone. Remind yourself that others are competent professionals, too — indeed, when you move on to a different school after this year, you will be surrounded by some of the most intelligent, innovative people you’ve ever met. Remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for help.

Finally, teach your students that they don’t know everything, either. Model humility, and place them in situations that challenge their worldview.

3. Be an advocate for yourself so that you can be an advocate for your students. You’ve been lectured endlessly on being flexible, rolling with the punches, and sucking up the pain. Those things are important sometimes. But what no one’s told you yet, and what you really need to know to survive this year (and I’m not just being dramatic), is this: you are a valuable professional, and you do not have to let people take advantage of you.

You’re the sweet, young, impressionable, flexible new teacher and this year, others will try to steamroll you to further their own interests. Even if they have their students’ needs in mind, it is not okay for them to hurt you and your class. If someone tells you you have to do something unreasonable, say no. If someone tells you you have to do something that hurts your class, say no. If the administration says they won’t assist you, don’t stop insisting. This isn’t a crusade or a mission for which you have to allow yourself to be victimized. It’s your job — and it’s important for you and your students that you are treated professionally.

4. Let yourself fail, and teach your students that failing doesn’t make you a failure. You are a perfectionist, but masterfully handling dozens of unpredictable, unique children is kind of like orchestrating a synchronized swimming team . . . made up of cats. Some lessons and classroom management plans are going to flop. Someone is going to steal the popcorn you brought in as a reward for the students. Someone is going to cut every one of your students’ bean plants in half. You are going to be unnecessarily harsh to a student and regret it.

Show your students that it’s okay to make a mistake by owning your mistakes. Show them that it’s okay to apologize by apologizing to them. Show them that it’s okay to be disappointed in yourself while still loving yourself — that you can pick yourself up and move on.

There are kids who make a mistake and add it to a list in their brains called, “Reasons I Don’t Deserve to be Loved.” Show them that there’s nothing they can do to make themselves failures as long as they keep moving forward. Tell them to expect “excellence, not perfection,” as one of my coworkers said in a meeting today, and to forgive themselves when they miss the mark.

5. Most importantly, Julie, love your students. I know you think you understand how crucial this is, but you will lose sight of it. You will immerse yourself in creating classroom structure, creating lessons, developing systems. You will prioritize academic achievement without realizing that having a loving, secure environment is the bedrock on which achievement is built.

Your students may not remember the different kinds of earthquake faults, but they’ll remember that they had a 6th grade teacher who loved them. They’ll remember that even when they misbehaved, there was someone in their lives who would not give up on them. They will be changed by the fact that you listened to their ideas and treated them like valuable human beings. Stop and let yourself interact with them in a personal way that lets them know you care about them.

That’s all for now — no words of wisdom on how to organize your files or balance housework and schoolwork, because you’ll figure all of that out. You’re going to be great. And even when you’re not, you’re going to change lives and be changed. Thank God for a job where you can say that!

Love and #2 pencils,
Ms. Ruble of 2011

Fauxstess Cupcakes


Recipe by: Adapted from Annie’s Eats and Hershey’s
Yields: about 15 cupcakes

These “Fauxstess” Cupcakes are homemade knock-offs of the Hostess Cupcakes that might’ve shown up in your lunch boxes during your childhood. They were adorable additions to my elementary school throwback picnic. The tender chocolate cake is filled with a marshmallowy cream and topped with rich ganache. Apart from being cute, these things are seriously easy to make and seriously delicious!

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 cups sugar
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
3/8 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Filling Ingredients:
9 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/8 cup Marshmallow Fluff
2 tablespoons plus 1 3/4 teaspoon heavy cream

Ganache Ingredients:
3/4 cups heavy cream
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I love Ghirardelli’s 60% cacao chips)
5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:
Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two muffin pans with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat this mixture medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (this will make the batter thin). Fill each well about 2/3 full of batter (be careful to not to overfill them — these cupcakes always bake up a little wonky for me, and if you overfill them, they can overflow the pan). Bake 20 to 25 minutes (I check them early and often, starting around the 15 minute mark) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool completely.

Make the filling: Beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, marshmallow fluff and 2 1/4 tablespoons (I eyeballed this measurement) of the heavy cream together until fluffy. Transfer all but 3/4 cup of this mixture into a pastry bag with a narrow tip. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon of cream to the remaining 3/4 cup of the mixture and beat until smooth. Cover this and save it for decorating the top of the cupcakes later.

Make the ganache: Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan (or heat it for a couple of minutes in the microwave, keeping a watch that it doesn’t boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache forms.

Assemble the cupcakes: Insert the tip of the pastry bag full of cream into the bottom of each cupcake and gently squeeze cream out into the cake. It’s hard to tell how much to squeeze and for how long, but I tried to squeeze as much as possible without bursting the cupcake, and to the point where a small bead of the cream poked out of the bottom when I removed the pastry tip (I then scraped off the excess). Dip the top of each cupcake into the ganache (or, if they don’t rise above the cupcake paper, you can gently spoon the ganache on and spread it with the back of a spoon). Grab the reserved filling mixture with the extra cream and use a pastry bag with a small tip (or a plastic zip bag with a small corner cut off) to pipe curls across the top of each cupcake. Refrigerate the cupcakes to set the frosting. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

P.S. Are you thinking up your own filled cupcake for the Willow Bird Baking Cupcake Challenge? Bake your creation and email photos to juruble ‘at’ gmail.com by Wednesday, September 7, 2011. I’ll feature your cupcake on WBB! Find more details and some cupcake inspiration here.

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