Margaux says…

You can’t have Halloween without sugar cookie cut-outs.  Actually, you can’t have Christmas or Valentine’s Day without them either, if you ask me.  This sugar cookie recipe is my absolute favorite.  Aunt Suzy gave it to me when I was 11 years old…it came along with a bunch of other “must have” recipes, a recipe box (that I still use, by the way), a large pot for steaming or cooking pasta (which I also still have, and still use), and “how to cook” tapes made by her.  Other than the pasta cooker and the recipe box, this recipe is what I have used the most out of that gift. I love that she was the first person to get me interested in cooking! It was like we were destined to have a blog together someday (although, that word didn’t even exist in 1988).

I think this recipe is my favorite because of the addition of sour cream and nutmeg.  The cookies turn out crisp, but not too crisp, and have great flavor.  They’re perfect with vanilla frosting, which is what I prefer to use over royal icing or a powdered sugar and milk glaze-type icing.  They may not look as perfect with the frosting over the icing that turns hard and smooth, but they sure taste better!

Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Set aside. Cream together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add flour alternately with sour cream. Form dough into ball. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours to overnight. Divide dough into 4 parts. Preheat oven at 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper, or grease them. Roll out dough to 1/4″ thick. Cut with cookie cutter. Bake plain or with sugar on top (if you’re not icing), 10-12 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on cooling rack. Frost.

Vanilla Frosting

4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2-4 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter in stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar, beat until mixture is starting to clump together in pea-sized clumps. Add vanilla and 2 tbsp milk, beat on high speed until creamy and uniform (scrape down sides of bowl as needed). Add more milk if needed, and food coloring if desired. Frost cookies, let sit for about an hour so that the frosting will set (but it won’t get completely hard because of the butter). If adding sanding sugar or sprinkles, do so right away before the frosting gets a hard crust on top.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

October 30, 2011

Margaux says . . .

We have a real problem of loving things that we know are bad for us.  There really doesn’t need to be 3 oz. of red food dye in these cupcakes….they would be just as wonderful without it.  But we still do it, and it’s still one of the most popular cupcake flavors out there.  Every bakery I go to has red velvet, front and center, and I’m willing to bet they’re a best seller.  We taste with our eyes first, and that’s what makes these so tempting (and knowing that yummy cream cheese frosting is on top helps, too).

I’ve tried several different red velvet recipes, and I think this one is the best.  It has more cocoa in it than other recipes, which I prefer.  Because of the extra cocoa, it also has more dye, though, but you could definitely use less if you want.

I think red velvet is a perfect Halloween cupcake flavor…you’re biting into bloody cake, and the topping is white, so there are all kinds of decorating options.  I decided on skeletons this year, to match my son’s costume.  They turned out pretty cute, thanks to my mom, and with the help of Desi.  🙂

Red Velvet Cupcakes

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 36 cupcakes

3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups superfine sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of room temp. water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with cupcake papers.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

5. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 18 to 24 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Then remove from pans, and cool completely on cooling racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

October 29, 2010

I’m totally in love with the cookbook Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Every page is filled with gorgeous photos of delicious, rich looking cakes.  This recipe is just that…gorgeous, rich, delicious and heavenly.  It’s a perfect dessert for an autumn dinner party, or a new tradition for the holidays.

Ms. Beranbaum created this cake for Fine Cooking magazine, despite her fears that the spices you usually add with pumpkin recipes would over power the cream cheese flavor.  But she used turbinado sugar instead of regular, which has mild overtones of molasses, instead of the spices, and it works extremely well.  The crust is so delicious also…I almost made a traditional graham cracker crust so that I wouldn’t have to buy gingersnaps and pecans for the recipe, and I am SO glad I changed my mind at the last minute.  It is a perfect complement to the pumpkin, and so good that I may use it in other cheesecake recipes as well.  I also almost didn’t make the caramel glaze.  I ruined the first batch (make sure you keep a close eye on it while it’s cooking!!), and contemplated nixing it all together, but decided to try again, and I am very happy with that decision as well.  It really finishes the cake.  Plus, you can use the extra leftovers for ice cream topping!  🙂

Plan ahead!!!  This must be made one day ahead of time.  (Another reason it’s perfect for the holidays!)

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Coat one 9×2 1/2-3 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set in a slightly larger silicone pan or wrap with a double layer (I did a triple layer) or heavy-duty aluminum foil to prevent seepage. Then set in a 12×2 inch round cake pan or roasting pan to serve as a water bath. Set oven rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 350.

Gingersnap Crust

1/2 cup pecan halves
1 cup gingersnap crumbs, lightly packed
1 tbsp sugar
2 pinches salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter

Toast pecans by spreading the pecans evenly on a baking sheet and baking for about 7 minutes to enhance their flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Place the gingersnap crumbs in a food processor. Add the pecans, sugar and salt and process until fine crumbs, about 20 seconds. Add the melted butter and pulse ten times just until incorporated. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, begin by pressing the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan and partway up the sides. To keep the crumbs from sticking to your fingers, it helps to place a piece of plastic wrap over the crumbs and to press them through the wrap. With a 6-inch round cake pan or a flat-bottomed straight-sided measuring cup, smooth the crumbs over bottom and at least 1 1/2 inches up the sides. Be sure to press the bottom thoroughly so that the crumbs are evenly distributed.

Pumpkin filling

1 cup unsweetened pumpkin
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1 lb cream cheese, softened and cut into several pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks (2 tbsp), at room temperature

In a small heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin and sugar over medium heat and bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, until thick and shiny. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the mixture into a large food processor and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.

With the motor of the food processor running, add the cold cream. Add the cream cheese in several pieces and process for 30 seconds, or until smoothly incorporated, scraping down the sides 2 or 3 times. Add the eggs and yolks and process for about 5 seconds, or just until incorporated. Using the silicone spatula, scrape the filling into the prepared pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small offset spatula. Set the pan in the larger pan and surround it with 1 inch of very hot water.

Bake for 45 minutes, turning the pan halfway around in the oven after the first 25 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour.

Remove the pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover with a large bowl or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. To unmold, use a small propane torch to heat the outside of the pan or wipe the sides of the pan with a dish towel run under hot water and wrung out.

Caramel Piping Glaze
(makes a full 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp water
1/4 cup heavy cream, heated
1 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla

Have ready a 1-cup heatproof glass measure, coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until all the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring completely and allow the mixture to boil undisturbed until the mixture turns a deep amber (360 degrees F/180 degrees C or a few degrees lower because its temperature will continue to rise). Remove it from the heat and as soon as it reaches temperature, slowly and carefully pour the hot cream (I added a pinch of salt to the hot cream before adding to the caramel)  into the caramel. It will bubble up furiously. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to stir the mixture gently, scraping the thicker part that settles on the bottom.

Return the pan to very low heat, continuing to stir gently for 1 minute, until the mixture is uniform in color and the caramel is fully dissolved. Remove it from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. The mixture will be a little streaky but becomes uniform in color once cooled and stirred.

Pour the caramel into the prepared glass measure and allow it to cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla and allow the caramel to cool until no longer warm to the touch, stirring gently three to four times.

The glaze keeps covered for up to 3 days at room temperature and for at least three months refrigerated. To reheat: If the caramel is in a heatproof glass container at room temperature, microwave it on high for 1 minute, stirring twice. Alternatively, place the container in a pan of simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until warm, about 7 minutes.

For a decorative lacing effect, you can pour the caramel glaze from the glass measure, but for the greatest precision, use a pastry bag fitted with a small decorating tip.