Tag Archives: peanut butter

Quick Dinner: Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables

I was a mess of elbows and ankles today as I ran around school, the grocery store, the bank, and my apartment desperately trying to tug loose ends together.

In the store, I deftly ran over my own foot with a grocery cart just minutes before dropping not one but two 12-packs of diet Sunkist.

People stared. I acted nonchalant: Whatever, don’t act like you’ve never thrown some soda around. Totally under control over here.

I’m now doing laundry, packing Byrd’s things, packing my things, fixing up lesson plans, adjusting my budget, wrestling with Squirt’s stupid filter, and trying to find a moment to shave my legs. Oh, and writing a blog post, naturally.

All of this craziness came about because tomorrow I’m waking up at 3 in the flippin’ morning, collecting my mountain of luggage, and heading to San Francisco (with flowers in my hair! Except not really.) The 3rd annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival is this weekend, and I can’t wait to eat lots of good food and see some sweet people.

Well, I can totally wait for the airplane part, though. In fact, can we just delete that part altogether? I’m one of those hyperventilating-just-a-little, having-occasional-panic-attacks, making-weird-faces people you hope you don’t have to sit next to on the plane. It’s cool; as long as I take my pills I should be able to limit the panic to some periodic weeping in the window seat.

I kid, I kid. The pills actually knock me straight out. I may snore, but at least I won’t be convulsing?

Anyway, back to the current chaos. Even with all the hubbub tonight, I threw together a homemade dinner. I’ve been eating this quick, 15 minute pasta dish like it’s goin’ out of style since I saw it on Not Without Salt. It checks all of my most important boxes for a weekday meal: it’s low calorie, it’s almost effortless, it’s tasty, and it’s piled sky-high with fun toppings.

The peanut butter and soy sauce together form a hearty, savory sauce that’s saved from straight-up bitterness by a few glugs of white wine and some gorgeous carrot curls. I threw on some green onions, chopped peanuts, lime juice, and tons and tons of bean sprouts before mixing the whole dish together and digging in. I love that gorgeous salty soy sauce flavor in every bite.


crunch.

All right, my loves. On that crunchy, delicious note, I’m off to ‘Frisco (I know, don’t worry. I’ve already read all the blogs about how much locals hate it when tourists call it that) for a food adventure. Stay safe, and stay off airplanes, you crazies! If people were meant to fly, God would’ve given us jet engine biceps. Or helium-filled love handles. Or, like, wings or something.

P.S.: My apartment will be occupied and supervised while I’m gone. Probably by robots that throw themselves into bonfires so they can incinerate you in a fiery embrace. Nice try, thieves of the interwebz!

P.S. 2: AHHHHHHHH AIRPLANES.

Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables



Recipe by: Adapted from Not Without Salt‘s recipe inspired by Nigel Slater
Yields: 4 servings

These noodles are bathed in a salty, garlicky peanut sauce before being topped with an array of crunchy toppings: carrot curls, bean sprouts, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds. A spritz of lime juice and a good toss finishes the dish in just 15 minutes. I love simple weekday meals.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons peanut butter (or tahini if you’d rather, but I haven’t tried it)
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine (or dry white wine)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
4 servings’ worth of spaghetti (or other long noodle)

Optional Toppings:
carrot curls (just take a vegetable peeler to a peeled carrot to get these)
bean sprouts (boil these for a few minutes and then rinse in cold water for safety)
chopped green onions
chopped peanuts
sesame seeds
squeeze of lime

Directions:
Boil salted water over medium-high heat and cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain, return to pan, and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the garlic and shallots and process until fine. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula and then add the peanut butter, soy sauce, wine, vinegar, and sesame oil and process until combined. Add this sauce to pasta in pan and toss to coat.

Serve pasta on plate topped with shredded carrots, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, and a slice of lime.

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Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey, and for Dad

I was a little girl, maybe 8 years old. My sisters and I were sitting at the breakfast table, bowls of cereal in front of each of us. My dad sat across from us waiting to brush my hair into a tail and clip one of my bows on it before shepherding us off to school.

I’d slept the whole night enveloped in my pink-and-blue quilt under pink-and-white striped wallpaper with a rose border halfway up, unaware of anything wrong in the world. None of my army of teddy bears and dolls had murmured a warning of danger. I didn’t have a gut feeling worthy of a sappy novel. But at breakfast, Dad surprised us all by saying, “I went to the emergency room last night; I thought I was having a heart attack.”

You would have to know me — like, really, really know me — to understand how I reacted. You’d have to know that I firmly believe that my dad is the best man besides Jesus Himself to have ever lived. You’d have to know that by the time I was 8, I’d already started fretting about his mortality. That I’d already started praying that he’d live forever — and not just in the spiritual sense that I now recognize is more valuable. His soul living forever didn’t amount to enough to my 8-year-old heart.

If you knew all that, you wouldn’t be surprised that I cried tears of shock and asked every question I could think to ask. It turns out that Dad (who has always worked two or three jobs to take care of our family) was actually feeling pains from an ulcer, not from a heart attack. I thanked God.

I also thanked God years later when my dad was safely out of surgery for prostate cancer. I also thanked God when my dad finished the radiation treatments for said cancer. I can’t even tell you how I thanked God when we found that, finally, his cancer was gone completely. And I thank God on my knees every time we get new tests that show that, yes, it’s still gone.

Last week I read Jennie’s post, as so many of us did, and saw that she had suddenly lost her husband of 16 years. Just like that. One morning everything’s as it should be and the next, the world has a surreal, devastating new landscape. My heart was crushed for her and her little girls.

This week, when I thanked God to celebrate my Dad’s 60th year in the world, I knew I wanted to make a peanut butter pie. I wanted to make a virtual hug for Jennie and her family, a memorial pie for Mikey, a token of love for my family, a birthday pie for my dad.

Remember what’s important, y’all.

Almost No-Bake Peanut Butter Pie


Recipe by: Adapted from All-Recipes
Yields: about 8-10 slices

Pie Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (just grind ’em up, cream and all)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
peanuts and/or mini peanut butter cups for garnish (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter with a fork and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Spend a few minutes working on it to make sure there aren’t gaps and that it’s a thin layer (I had to discard some of my cookie crumbs because 1 1/4 cups turned out to be a bit too much for my pie plate). Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Stir 1/3 of the cream into the peanut butter mixture to lighten it up, then gently fold the rest of it in. Gently spoon the filling into your crust and use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth it out. Chill this for a few hours.

To make whipped cream, whip cream and confectioners’ sugar together until you reach soft peaks. Spoon this over your peanut butter pie and top with peanuts and mini peanut butter cups for garnish, if desired. Serve immediately.

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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Celebrating Cheesecake — and a challenge for you!

Taylor from Taylor Takes a Taste tweeted me yesterday with a very, very important message: Today is National Cheesecake Day! Well, okay, it’s actually National White Chocolate Cheesecake Day, but I’ve never made a white chocolate cheesecake, so just ignore that part. I’ll add it to my to-do list.

In order to celebrate, I thought I’d compile Willow Bird Baking’s many cheesecake recipes and issue a challenge for you!

My goal is to inspire kitchen confidence in home cooks by encouraging them to tackle fun, challenging new recipes. So I’m challenging you this month! Here’s what you do:

Choose one of the cheesecake recipes below that feels like a challenge to you and make it for friends, family, or coworkers.

– Take a photo and email it to me at juruble ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com with a few comments about how it went and a link to your blog (if you have one — if you don’t, that’s okay too!).

– Do this before April 5, 2011. In exactly a month, I’ll post all of your cheesecake masterpieces here on Willow Bird Baking!

– You can also grab the badge at the bottom of this post if you’d like to let your readers know that you’re participating in the Cheesecake Challenge, but it’s optional.

If you’d like to participate, leave me a comment below and let me know! If you’ve already made one of the recipes below, that counts too! Just send me a photo!

Willow Bird Baking’s Cheesecake Recipes:

1. Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake



2. Red Velvet Cheesecake



3. Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake



4. Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake



5. Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes



6. Chocolate Cheesecake-Stuffed Cupcakes with Ganache



7. Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Squares with Shortbread Crust



8. Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies



9. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bread Pudding

And don’t forget to watch my (slightly embarrassing) cheesecake tutorial for great cheesecake pointers!

Finally, here’s the Cheesecake Challenge badge if you want to grab it:

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How to Make 27+ Cheesecakes and Look Awesome While Doing It

…or at least, feel like you look awesome while doing it?

Thank you so much for voting me into Project Food Blog Round 7 — I’m so grateful for your support! Challenge #7 was to create a video tutorial. I think you guys know by now that I’m a little obsessed with soupedup cheesecakes, so without further ado (okay, with a little more further ado), I’m about to show you how to create flippin’ awesome cheesecakes.

LIGHTS

What went into creating this video? Lots and lots of planning — dozens of pages worth! Lots and lots of time — 35+ hours worth! And lots and lots of fun — probably more than I should’ve had. Ahem. You’ll see.

CAMERA

Cheesecakes are incredibly customizable. In the video below, I’ll show you 3 different crusts, 3 different fillings, and 3 different toppings. By mixing and matching these components, you can feasibly create over 27 different cheesecakes! So, um, if you ever need 27 different cheesecakes . . . I got ya covered.

ACTION

Enough of the suspense! What do you get when you combine stop-motion animation, a music video, some ridiculousness, and a whole lotta cheesecake? Watch and see.

(please click here to see bigger version)

You can print the recipes for these cheesecakes here: Coffee Cookie Dough Fudge Cheesecake, Caramel Fudge Brownie Cheesecake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake.

(Note: Voting is now open! I would so appreciate if you’d take a moment to pop over and vote for me by clicking the heart on this page once you’re signed into your Foodbuzz account. Registering for a Foodbuzz account is quick, easy, and free if you don’t have one already! Thanks, y’all!)

THE BLOOPER REEL

…wherein I prove that I’m basically tone deaf, drop my brownie layer in the floor, yell a lot at my piece-of-crap hand mixer, and eat bacon.

(please click here to see bigger version)

STRIKE THE SET

After the video camera was tucked away, the tripods were folded up, and my smudgy lipstick had faded, there was still one itty bitty order of business to attend to. What the heck does one do with three cheesecakes?! Turns out there was something awesome to do with them!

My friend Carol has a heart the size of Jupiter. She’s worked with children with special needs for several years now, and recently, while browsing Reece’s Rainbow, a website that connects orphans with special needs to adoptive homes, she laid eyes on Quinton. Quinton is a tiny, precious baby boy in Eastern Europe with Downs Syndrome. At first, Carol half-jokingly asked her husband if they could adopt him. As time went on, though, it became clear that neither she nor her husband could stop thinking about Quinton.

They posted his picture on her refrigerator and decided they were going for it. They’re currently beginning the process to bring him home! This miracle is not without a cost — it will take thousands of dollars. I decided my huge, decadent cheesecakes were perfect for a little fundraising. I gave two of them away in return for donations to Quinton’s fund. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be a tiny part of Carol’s journey — and how humbling it is to see other friends donating their time, goods, services, energy, and love to them! Little Quinton is already changing our lives. Would you like to help as well? You can see Quinton and donate to his adoption fund here.

ROLL THE CREDITS

A big thank you to: ALL Willow Bird Baking readers who have been so supportive, Sarah for the use of her camera, Kim for loaning me a second tripod, Byrd for being willing to hang out with me while I edited video for about a decade, Royalty-Free Music, Carol for already being an amazing mommy even though her little one is still across the world, my 7th grade students for inspiring my stop-motion animation, and everyone who helped me eat cheesecake!

P.S. – Did you have a chance to see my Teaser Video?
P.S. 2 – Dear Coworkers, if you make fun of me about this, no more cheesecake for you!

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake and Project Food Blog

I have something important to tell you.

In a world that boasts thousands upon thousands of food blogs, I have to tell you what makes my little corner of the web something special.

Foodbuzz is hosting Project Food Blog, a competition to crown the next food blog star. Willow Bird Baking is a contestant, and the first challenge isn’t a challenge for me at all. It’s simply to tell you why I’m here, and what I stand for — something I’ve been convicted of over and over again.

Listen, I cook accessible food. I try to take lovely photos. I write in tune with my personal life — sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, always eating. Those things are special, but they’re not what makes me unique.

What really makes me unique are two things: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake, and a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather.

This rich cheesecake was more than just a cheesecake. It was an experiment. It was a gift. It was an experience. It embodies what makes Willow Bird Baking unique:

1. I believe in creativity. I dream of combining individual desserts into super desserts, mixing dessert with breakfast, and drizzling caramel all over everything. Maybe a few dollops of cookie dough, too? I’m constantly creating and improving food. Over the past year, it’s been so rewarding to see photos and read accounts of how your creativity was sparked by a recipe here!

This cheesecake was born of my desire to innovate. A peanut butter sandwich cookie crust instead of an chocolate sandwich cookie crust? Sure! I’m smitten with fun ideas. Sure enough, with a creamy chocolate cheesecake slapped into that crust and a cool, soft peanut butter mousse spread on top, it was the best peanut butter and chocolate dessert combo I’d ever tasted.

2. I believe in challenging yourself. Like any home cook, I have family recipes I love to make, but I’m also adamant about the value of trying new things. Especially fancy things that make you want to say, “Oh, that’s lovely, but I could never do that.”

My culinary journey was one of continually tackling challenging recipes, and with every puffy puff pastry or foot-ed macaron, I felt proud of myself. It’s an incredible feeling to know that by encouraging you to take on these challenges as well, I can give you that sense of pride and accomplishment. For instance, the Croissant Challenge on Willow Bird Baking inspired 17 readers to make homemade croissants in their own kitchens for the very first time — and many more have committed to do so! I have never had a prouder blogging experience than seeing those beautiful croissant pictures roll in.

3. I believe in cooking impressive meals for those you love. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake was made on a whim. Mike was coming to visit and I knew I wanted to make him dessert, but having just started teaching with a heavier load than usual, I was exhausted. I decided to make some simple bar cookies and began gathering supplies in the grocery store.

Somewhere near the butter aisle, though, I realized that we only get so much time to show our love to the special people in our lives. After imagining his face upon seeing a ridiculous surprise cheesecake in the fridge, I replaced the bar cookie ingredients and set about gathering cheesecake supplies. I worked all evening to create this recipe for him. It was so worth the effort to see him enjoying each bite, and I think it did more for my heart than it did for his.

You can have take-out days. We all do that. But every now and then, you need a recipe that you can set in front of your family to say, you are so important to me. I’ve got those for you.

Speaking of sharing love through food, there’s one last story to tell: the story of how a stranger’s 91-year-old grandfather reminded me of my blogging purpose.

Almost a month ago, I went to explore a blog post that had linked to my Peach Cobbler Cupcakes.

What I found was Songs of the Self, a blog by Jessica, a mom from Georgia. The post recounted how she’d made the Peach Cobbler Cupcakes for her grandfather’s 91st birthday party. As I read about her experience, I saw a photo that gave me pause — one of her husband helping her to sprinkle streusel on each cupcake and smiling for the camera.


photos used with permission by Jessica

I don’t know why it hit me like it did, but suddenly I was reading through tears. I realized that this was a family somewhere, working together to make a recipe that I created, following each little direction. The post from the next day shows the birthday party: her sweet grandfather in a silly party hat blowing out candles, her grandmother laughing, her tiny daughter Olivia representing the youngest generation.

At the end of her post, Jessica noted, “My cupcakes were beyond a hit! Everyone ranted and raved about them! …Yippee for crafty me!” Being able to participate in her special occasion in some meaningful way, and especially knowing that my recipe had a part in making her feel proud of herself reminded me of why I blog. As I closed her post with a filled heart, I thought of my friend Maranda’s proud post after making her first batch of homemade croissants — a post that inspired a similar effect in me.

The truth is, I blog to create a virtual communal table. Come sit, bake, eat, learn, and enjoy. Come try new things within a comfortable web of support. Come forgive yourself for your flaws, laugh at your kitchen flops, and ponder your life with a popsicle in hand.

Perhaps most of all, come and eat some Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake. I saved a piece just for you.

Please take a look at my Project Food Blog profile and consider voting for Willow Bird Baking on September 20, 2010. Thank you so much for your support — you are precious to me!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss Cheesecake



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking, pieced together from Jerome Chang (peanut butter mousse), Joelen (chocolate cheesecake)
Yields: 15-20 pieces

Crust Ingredients:
1 pack (32) of peanut butter sandwich cookies, processed into crumbs
5 and 1/3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake Ingredients:
4 packages (8 oz. each) of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
4 eggs, room temperature
3 (1oz) squares semisweet bakers chocolate (melted and cooled)

Peanut Butter Mousse Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salted smooth peanut butter

Optional decorations:
Reese’s cups
melted chocolate
whipped cream

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, mix the crust ingredients together and press into bottom and up the sides (about 3 inches) of a springform pan. Set aside.

For the cheesecake: Mix cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs and continue mixing until combined. Add chocolate and continue mixing until combined. Pour mixture into prepared crust and smooth top with a spatula.

Bake for 55 minutes or until center of cake is almost set. The top may crack, but it doesn’t particularly matter, since you’ll be covering it anyway. Let the cake fully cool. When almost cool, place it in refrigerator to chill while you prepare peanut butter mousse.

For peanut butter mousse, dissolve the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. In a saucepan over moderate heat, cook the cream until it bubbles around the edges. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Temper the eggs: pour about 1/2 cup hot cream into the egg yolks slowly while whisking vigorously. Then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan of cream (whisking constantly). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter and the gelatin. Place mixture into a wide bowl to allow it to cool for a bit, then chill it for just a little while — not until set, but until it’s not so runny. Pour the mixture onto the top of the pie and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. You can pipe on melted chocolate and decorate with chopped Reese’s cups, if desired.

When completely chilled, loosen the cake from rim of springform pan by wrapping the pan in warm dishtowels. The remove the springform pan. Refrigerate the cheesecake for one day or overnight before serving. Garnish with fresh whipped cream if desired.

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Wacky Candy Cupcakes: Ferrero Rocher and Reese’s Cup

When my sister called and asked me to make a dessert for her office party, I jumped at the chance to recreate an old favorite. Way back toward the beginning of Willow Bird Baking, I made some fun Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes in which I stuck a whole frozen candy into each cupcake prior to baking. I enjoyed those (despite the candy losing a bit of crunch), but always wanted to find the time to tweak the concept a bit.

This was my chance! I wanted to take a moist chocolate cupcake, fill it with a giant dollop of the hazelnut-chocolate spread Nutella, ice it with rich chocolate frosting, and crown the whole thing with a Ferrero Rocher. The entire cupcake was designed to imitate the flavors in the candies themselves.

And why stop there? How easy would it be to fill some of the cupcakes with peanut butter instead, topping them with a huge Reese’s Cup? Hurray for candy cupcakes!

I could have gotten even more carried away (cupcakes filled with coconut pastry cream and topped with Mounds? Cupcakes filled with caramel and topped with Snickers?), but I reeled it in. That doesn’t mean we have to turn our imaginations off, though. What Candy Cupcake would you make?

Now, I am Wacky McWackerson. I’m as silly as they come. But that’s not why these cupcakes are called Wacky Candy Cupcakes instead of just regular ol’ Candy Cupcakes. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Wacky Cake! Anyone?

Wacky Cake is NOT what you call the 2nd batch of cupcakes you make after ruining the previous batch and just barely convincing yourself not to throw your muffin pan across the apartment, spewing chocolate lava on your roommate’s couch (hey Barb!), but good guess. I did make these Wacky Cakes after a first batch of chocolate cupcakes flopped, but that’s not why they’re wacky.

Wacky Cake is actually just a vegan chocolate cake — no eggs, no milk — and is probably called “Wacky” ’cause vegans are just a little nutty sometimes . . . just kidding, just kidding! I love you, vegans! The truth is, no one really knows why it’s called wacky. Some say it’s because it’s a little wacky to make a cake with no eggs, which is just as good a reason as any, I guess. Regardless, Wacky Cake happens to be the perfect recipe to resort to after a flop that uses most of your eggs. Just call me MacGyver.

Turns out, Wacky Cake is also yummy and rich — the perfect cupcake base for my creation. I went and added un-vegan ingredients to complete the recipe, but if you’re a vegan looking for a great chocolate cupcake, the base recipe here is perfect for you. It’s also just plain easy to make.

The frosting, on the other hand, was a bit of a hassle. It doesn’t whip up very firm, so I had to refrigerate it for a bit and re-whip before frosting the cupcakes and sticking them in the fridge in a hurry. After sitting in the fridge overnight, though, the frosting is firm — and very chocolatey and delicious. I’d use it again for the taste, but I’d make sure to have refrigerator space cleared out ahead of time to chill the cakes immediately.

Speaking of refrigerating these cupcakes, the Nutella jar expressly says not to refrigerate Nutella. Don’t worry — it’s not because the product turns toxic or anything, but actually because it firms up into almost a nougat texture, which for our purposes, is awesome. The center of the Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes was a hunk of hazelnut-chocolate love.

Overall, these cupcakes were tremendous! I greedily devoured the few I kept to sample, and Sarah says her coworkers were enthusiastic about them as well! Both varieties are the perfect imitations of their respective candies, incredibly indulgent, and simple to make. If you’re used to making a plain cupcake-n-frosting combo, why not get a little feisty, add a sweet filling and a candy topping, and pump up your cupcakes? It’s a quick and easy way to turn a dull dessert into something special.

Now it’s your turn: Think up a cupcake-version of your own favorite candy. Tell me about how you’d make it in the comments section — and bonus points for ACTUALLY DOING IT! Send me photos of your candy cupcake creations to post on Willow Bird Baking!

Ferrero Rocher and Reese’s Cup Cupcakes



Recipe by: Adapted Wacky Cake recipe from Being Wife and frosting from Hershey’s
Yields: about 30 cupcakes

Wacky Cake Ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vinegar
12 tablespoons of mazola or vegetable oil
2 cups water

“Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting Ingredients:
1 cup (2 stick) butter
1 1/3 cup cocoa powder
6 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Candy supplies needed:
Creamy peanut butter (I don’t use the natural sort for this because I kind of want a processed, sweet flavor)
Nutella
15 Ferrero Rocher candies
15 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I use the big sort!)

Directions:
NOTE: You may want to make these cupcakes the night before you intend to serve them, since the frosting needs time to set in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 30 cupcake wells with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda.

Add vanilla, vinegar and oil, stirring until smooth. It’s normal for the mixture to seem thick and pasty right now. Add the water and mix (carefully to avoid splattering) until there are no lumps in the batter.

Pour mixture into prepared cupcake pans. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

Carefully hollow out each cupcake using a table knife, and reserving the scraps for another use (maybe cake balls?). Using a piping bag or a ziplock with the corner cut off, fill half the cupcakes with peanut butter and the other half with nutella.

Make frosting: Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa. Alternate adding powdered sugar and milk, and beat to spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla. I refrigerated my frosting after beating to give it a thicker consistency, since it wasn’t as firm as I’d like. Unwrap all your candies while it refrigerates, because you’ll have to work quickly.

Have a platter ready in the fridge to receive finished cupcakes (the frosting is not very secure until it’s been refrigerated for at least a few hours). Pipe a big rosette onto each cupcake, covering your filling, and plop the appropriate candy onto the middle. Place finished cupcakes directly in the fridge to sit for a few hours, and take out immediately before serving.

Other fun candy cupcakes around the internet: 100 Grand Cupcakes, Snickers Cupcakes, another version of Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes.

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Cannoli

If there were ever a hard month to work a Daring Bakers challenge into the schedule, November would be it! This past week has been filled to the brim with cooking pies, cakes, enchiladas (no one ever said I was normal). And I was only responsible for a small part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal — I don’t know how folks responsible for the entire dinner manage to get everything finished!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it was grand — lovely food and a lovely time with family. The yeast rolls, as always, were my favorite part, but the turkey made a fine showing:


The juicy stuffed bird my parents made. That’s my mother’s china in the background, which I promised her I would not sell on eBay after she dies (isn’t this the sort of discussion everyone has over Thanksgiving dinner?)

Back to the Daring Bakers Challenge, though!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

What’s funny about this challenge is that just a couple of days prior to Lisa’s announcement, I was walking through the grocery store pondering cooking techniques I wanted to try. I settled on deep frying as one thing that still really mystified me. When this challenge was issued, it just confirmed for me what I’ve remarked every month about the Daring Bakers; that is, that the group helps me stretch my skills with each new “daring” recipe.

I enthusiastically shopped around online for some cannoli forms, though other daring bakers got inventive with tinfoil. Look, he even has a little blueprint drawn out! Leave it to an engineer, right? Other than the forms, I was all set: big heavy saucepan, candy/fry thermometer, big round cookie cutter, and bottle after bottle of vegetable oil.

Turns out cannoli are quite simple! After mixing and chilling the dough, I rolled it out (springy, but otherwise nice to work with), cut some circles, and rolled them out until they were extremely thin. While my first shell turned out a little dark (you really have to remove them a touch before you think they’re done), overall, they were a success!


Three topping selections and some chocolate-dipped edges!

I filled my shells three ways. All started with the same traditional sweetened ricotta base, but one group was then covered in chopped hazelnuts and hunks of dark Ghirardelli chocolate. The next batch was covered with chopped peanuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. Finally, the last group of cannoli were coated with a big handful of Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips. These were my favorite; the cinnamon chips amplified the subtle cinnamon flavor of the shells. No matter which way we ate them, though, they were delectable little three-bite desserts, with the perfect ratio of crunch to cream.

No need to be intimidated by this Daring Bakers Challenge. While it pushed me out of my comfort zone, it was relatively simple and definitely a lot of fun. Thanks to Lisa for a delicious mission!


My favorite topping: cinnamon chips!

Cannoli



Recipe by: adapted from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Allen Rucker, Michelle Scicolone
Yields: 22-24 4″ cannoli
Printable version of this recipe

Cannoli Shells Ingredients:
2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar
*Note – If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax Artifex).

Cannoli Filling Ingredients:
2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios
*Note – If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS:
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING:
1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

ASSEMBLE THE CANNOLI:
1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

LISA’S TIPS AND NOTES:
– Dough must be stiff and well kneaded
– Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.
– Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.
– Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.
– Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F – 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.
– If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.
– DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.
– When the cannoli turns light brown – uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.
– Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.
– Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.
– When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling, TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.
– Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.
– If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.
– Practice makes perfect. My first batch of shells came out less than spectacular, and that’s an understatement. As you go along, you’ll see what will make them more aesthetically pleasing, and adjust accordingly when rolling. My next several batches turned out great. Don’t give up!!


Cutting out cannoli and getting ready to fry.



My first little cannoli! Then all the cannoli ready for dipping and filling.


Don’t forget to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll for other fantastic cannoli!

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