Half-Baked Turtle Brownie Cheesecake

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While I was waiting for the kid to show up I was getting pretty bored and pretty desperate, but I didn’t have a lot of energy. One of my former colleagues recommended cheesecake as a way to start labour and I figured, why not? I had nothing to do, and an easy cheesecake recipe would be doable given my lack of energy. This one from Sprinkle Some Sugar seemed to fit the bill. It involves using store-bought brownie mix, fudge sauce, AND COOL WHIP, so it’s the ultimate in cheater recipes for me. And given that the day I baked it the temperatures skyrocketed again for a roller coaster June, I was happy to be able to chuck this in the fridge instead of hanging over a hot oven.

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The belly bump may have accidentally encountered some caramel during the making of this recipe.

The original recipe is a bit of a misnomer, as it states that there is no baking involved whatsoever with this recipe. That is a bold-faced lie – you gotta bake the brownie bottom. But it’s worth it.

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Find a round springform pan, about 8″ or 9″ (this one is 9″ I think), spray it with cooking spray, and whip up some brownie batter. You can use your favourite recipe but I used this boxed stuff (hey man, I was really pregnant at the time, gimme a break).

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I figured the salted caramel would add more panache to the finished product.

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Plus I love the ridiculous measurements of the wet ingredients. So simplistic!

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While this is baking, work on your caramel sauce (you can buy caramel sauce, of course, but this one is easy and a good way for caramel newbs to get started).

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In a small pot over medium-high heat, whisk together 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water. Whisk and swirl the pot until the sugar is all dissolved, then keep swirling the pot (but no stirring or whisking!) frequently until the liquid turns a nice dark amber colour.

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When you get the colour you like, carefully pour in 3/4 cup heavy cream – watch out, because it will fizz up like crazy – and whisk that until smooth. Then tip in 3 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla and stir until those are all melted away. Set the finished caramel sauce aside to thicken up and cool completely.

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Once the brownie bottom is ready and baked according to whatever instructions you have, remove the outer ring and let it cool completely as well and start working on your filling.

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In the bowl of a mixer, beat together 16oz softened plain cream cheese, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar until smooth and creamy. I mean, it’s gonna be creamy anyway because it’s cream cheese but you get what I mean about the texture, right? Man I need more sleep …

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Stir in about 3/4 cup of that lovely caramel sauce you made (or squeeze it from the bottle you purchased you philistine) and add in as well 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.

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Then I want you to do something totally foreign to me: grab 4oz Cool Whip and fold that in as well.

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Put the outer ring of your springform pan back on and smush all that Cool-Whipped creaminess into the pan.

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Give it some smoothing out so it *kind* of looks like you baked it, then chuck that in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

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Before serving, crush a bunch of pecans and spread them over top.

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Grab some fudge sauce (I bought it, don’t judge) and whatever’s left of your caramel.

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Pop off the outer ring and drizzle liberally with fudge and caramel. The fudge I bought didn’t drizzle, so I have fudge poops drizzled with caramel but you get the general intention here, at least. Keep the leftover cheesecake wrapped up in the fridge for up to a week. Enjoy!

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Pillow-Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

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I’ve made peanut butter cookies before. But I had yet to find the IDEAL peanut butter cookie, the one that stayed soft and fluffy no matter what. UNTIL NOW. This one, adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, IS that cookie. These things are like memory foam for your taste buds, and the cookies just melt away on the first bite. I made them for Krystopf for his birthday and quadrupled the batch so I’d have some to shove in the freezer for later and now I think I’ve found a new favourite.

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Start with 1/2 cup butter that is nice and soft and chuck that in the bowl of your electric mixer. Tip in as well 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and start beating that.

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Beat it for like five minutes. Honestly, it makes all the difference.

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Next, whip in 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter.

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Then crack in an egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix it all up until it’s beautiful and smooth.

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I took the time here to grab a package of Skor bits and I tipped in the whole package (for my quadrupled recipe – you might want to use less).

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You can skip this if you’d prefer your cookies unadulterated.

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In another bowl, whisk together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour.

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Slowly mix that in with your dough until fully combined – it won’t take long because your dough is already beautifully soft and fluffy. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes so that you can handle it easily.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment (though I recommend baking these one sheet at a time).  Spread some granulated sugar onto a plate. Grab a pinch of cookie and roll it into a ball.

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Plop it on the plate of sugar and roll to coat.

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Shove it onto the baking sheet and flatten it with a fork.

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Do that with all the rest – you will likely end up with about 24 cookies.

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Bake for 8-9 minutes, one baking sheet at a time. The cookies will look totally underdone when you pull them out but resist the urge to continue baking.  Let the cookies firm up on the baking sheet for about 5-10 minutes before letting them cool on a rack and they’ll be just fine.

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These puppies will stay soft in an airtight container for about 10 days. But they haven’t lasted that long here so I can’t say that for sure.

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Dulce de Leche Cookies

I told you it would be sticky.

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I made these for a coworker’s birthday (oh how quickly I have fallen yet again into the baking trap!) and they were very well-received.

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If you already have dulce de leche on hand, good on you (I’m especially amazed that you didn’t use it all up pouring it into your mouth because that’s kind of what I do). If you don’t, I’ll show you a super easy and pretty much fool-proof way to make it. Grab a can or two of condensed milk. For this recipe you will barely use half a can but if you want some more on hand for other things, you might as well make it all at once because it takes for ever.

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Peel off the paper. You’re going to be boiling these so you don’t want that paper in there getting all gummy.

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Grab a large pot and fill it with water. Plop the can(s) in on their sides (so they can roll around and cook evenly). Ensure that they are covered completely with at least an inch of water. Bring the water to a boil and then let it simmer for 3 hours. You will likely need to top up the water occasionally so it’s always covering the cans. If the cans become expose then the whole convection element of the water stops working and the cans could explode. You don’t want that.

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After three hours, carefully remove the cans from the boiling water and set them upright on a rack to cool completely. Do not under any circumstances attempt to open a can while it is hot. You will be covered in horrible caramel burns as a result and that is a good way to ruin a nice day.

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Once it’s cool, you can make some amazing cookies, which I actually found on the Land o’ Lakes site. Those people know things about butter, which makes them my kind of people.

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Start by stirring up a bowl with 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom. Set that aside. Your cookies are going to wear that later.

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Now, in the bowl of a mixer, beat up 1/2 cup softened butter with 3/4 cup packed brown sugar.

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Tip in 1 egg and 2 teaspoons vanilla and keep beating until smooth.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

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While mixing the egg/butter/sugar madness, slowly add in the flour and stir until fully combined.

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Separate about 1/4 of the cookie dough from the bowl. Chill both blobs of dough for about 30 minutes.

When you’re ready, preheat your oven to 375°F and line some baking sheets with parchment paper. Grab from the larger blob and make 24 balls of dough. Set the balls onto the baking sheet at least 2 inches apart, because they do spread.

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Dip the handle of a wooden spoon into flour and drive it into the center of each ball so that there’s a good-sized divot in each.

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Pile about 1/4 cup dulce de leche into a small resealable plastic bag and snip off a bit of one of the bottom corners.

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Pipe the caramel into each divot until the caramel comes level with the top of the hole.

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Now grab your smaller blob of dough and divide it into 24 equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a patty and use it to seal over the top of the caramel hole.

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Smooth down the edges to get a good seal.

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Bake, rotating halfway through, for 9-11 minutes, until the edges are slightly browned.

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Let the cookies stand on the sheet for 1 minute, then dip them in the sugar until thoroughly covered and leave them to cool completely on a wire rack.

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I don’t know how well these store because they didn’t last that long …

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Salted Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread

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Banana bread freezes really well, and so it’s a great thing to make in advance for something like my upcoming shindig. Because it’s a fancy shindig, I wanted to make it with a bit of a twist on my traditional recipe. And while I’m on the bourbon caramel theme this week, I figured I might as well make me some fancy banana bread! I used my original recipe (see link above), but instead of using very ripe (pre-frozen) bananas I used yellow ones, because I wanted a few chunks in my banana bread. And of course I made up a bourbon caramel sauce, which I borrowed from the Minimalist Baker. So first we’ll make up the sauce, and then we’ll re-make our old classic banana bread.

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This caramel sauce! I’m definitely of the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of thought, so I love the 4-ingredient easiness of this recipe. And now I want to drink the stuff. It’s amazing. I doubled the original recipe because I anticipated loving it and wanting to drink it, but it makes a decent amount for a generous swirl of caramel throughout the banana bread (if you leave like half a cup leftover for yourself to eat with a spoon).

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 19Start with 2 cups granulated sugar and plop that in a medium saucepan together with 1/2 cup water (in this 4-ingredient recipe, water does not count as an ingredient. It evaporates so technically it doesn’t exist!). Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 1

Heat that on medium high for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t stir: just swirl the pot occasionally.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 5You’ll get bored, but you can’t leave. So enjoy a glass of bourbon while you’re waiting. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 4

The sugar will begin to boil, and then, as the water evaporates, the bubbles will get smaller and smaller.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 12Eventually the mixture will turn a lovely amber colour and will only be kind of fizzy. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 13

At this point, remove it from the heat (turn off the burner) and, whisking the whole time, drizzle in 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream. Don’t freak out as it fizzes and foams up around you. Just keep whisking. I usually sing a song to a volcano god while I do this. I always feel like I’m summoning a creature from the depths when I do science-y things like make caramel.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 14When you’ve got the cream all whisked in and the whole thing has calmed down, put the pot back on the still-warm burner and tip in 2 tablespoons bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark). This time it will only fizz a little bit. Add in as well a few pinches of salt – I used fleur de sel. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 15

Pour into a heat-safe container and let cool before storing in the fridge. If you want to use this for other things then just warm it up a bit and then it will become pour-able again. I kind of like the finger-scoop-y texture of it when it’s cold though.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 17I’m having a hard time giving up even a little bit of this for banana bread. But I gotta do what I gotta do. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 18

So. Let’s do some banana bread. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two loaf pans with parchment paper.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 25Grab 5 bananas. You can use overripe or frozen bananas but this time I decided to use ones with a bit more substance to them – of course I waited too long to do the recipe and they’re a little spotty but whatever. Nobody ever said I was the proactive blogger. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 22

Mush, mush, mush ’em into a small bowl together with 1 tablespoon baking soda that has been “dissolved” in 3 tablespoons hot water. Put that bowl to one side for a minute.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 23Grab another, medium bowl and plop in 1 cup room temperature butter. Beat that silly with 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar until you get a serious case of the fluffy butters. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 24

Then crack in 2 eggs and beat that until it’s a coagulated mess. Mmmm … Line this bowl up with the banana bowl and leave those for a few minutes.

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In ANOTHER bowl (this time a decent-sized one), sift together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 29Now we put it all together. Beat the banana mixture into the egg mixture and then tip it into the flour mixture. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 31

Fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture until it’s all combined.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 33NOW, glop a bunch of your caramel sauce into the batter and kind of swirl it through gently. Don’t let it get too mixed in – you want streaks. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 34

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 35Tip the batter between the two loaf pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the loaves are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 36

Use the parchment paper to lift the loaves out of the pans and let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Bourbon Caramel Banana Bread 39Freeze or cut and serve with butter. MMMMMMM!

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Quick Caramel Custard Croissant Bake

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 18This is yet another one of those I-bought-pastry-on-sale-and-the-Pie-bought-some-at-the-same-time-and-we-didn’t-eat-them-soon-enough-and-they-went-stale-so-what-can-I-do-with-them-rather-than-chucking-them-in-the-compost kind of situations. I’m sure you’re familiar with those. And I HATE throwing food away. I’m very proud of the fact that the Pie and I produce one box of recycling, half a small kitchen bag of garbage (mostly plastic and styrofoam), and two 1L bags of compost (this includes used tissues and meat bones) a week. My luxury is the paper newspaper, which I know I should give up, but I just can’t, and I can always find uses for old newspaper. But I digress. Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 5

Trav was over concocting the most recent SideBar and the Pie was stirring up some of our famous meatballs so I decided to take a moment to chuck some things together. I had 9 stale chocolatines that needed taking care of.

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 2So I buttered up a baking dish and crumbled them in. Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 7

Then I grabbed a small pot and filled it with 1 cup granulated sugar and 4 tablespoons water. I put that on medium high heat and resisted the very real urge to stir it.

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 4Eventually it started to bubble. Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 8

And then turned golden. You can swirl the pot around but avoid stirring.

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 10When it was this lovely caramel colour I removed it from the heat and tipped in, whisking all the while, 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons bourbon (you can use whisky too). Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 11

Don’t freak out when it fizzes up and you feel like it’s going to explode.

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 12Just keep whisking, and when it calms down you’ll have a lovely caramel. Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 13

Beat up 4 eggs.

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 3Then whisk those eggs slowly into your caramel and pour the whole thing over your crusty baked goods. Let that stand for 10 minutes and preheat your oven to 350°F. Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 14

Shove the dish in your oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the egg mix is solid (perhaps slightly less time than I did it as you can see it’s a little more than brown).

Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 17Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream or caramel sauce or chocolate sauce or custard … Caramel Chocolate Custard Bake 19

Caramel Corn

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I’ve been experimenting quite a bit recently with caramel (not “carmel”, like Newfoundlanders and many Americans call it, that drives me bonkers) corn — something to which I am entirely addicted, but usually too lazy to make.  I think I’ve finally come up with a recipe I like, however, so now you can have it.  This version is plain jane, but feel free to jazz it up with chopped salted nuts for extra pizzazz.

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First, start with 10 cups popped popcorn.  This is generally about 1 cup of the unpopped stuff.  We don’t have an air popper here, and I’m afraid of the chemicals in microwave packets, so I’ll let you in on how I make my own popcorn (when I’m not doing it this way).  Take about 1/3 cup of popcorn and plop it in the bottom of a brown paper lunch bag.

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Fold the top edge down once and then again, over itself.

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Put that on its side in your microwave and cook away.  Every microwave is different when it comes to popcorn, but I’ve found that on mine, cooking it for 2 minutes and 35 seconds on power level 9 (out of 10) pops nearly every kernel, every time, without burning anything.  Make sure to save people’s teeth by sifting out all the unpopped kernels before you use this stuff.

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Now, preheat your oven to 250°F and spray a large roasting pan.  I used the one I save for turkey time.  You could also use a large metal bowl if that’s all you have. Plop your popcorn in the roasting pan for now.

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Scrounge around and find yourself a wooden spoon (always preferable to metal in candy making), a spatula, a whisk, and a candy thermometer.  Keep those all handy.

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Find a large pot, too, and plop in 1 cup butter, 2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup corn syrup (any colour, doesn’t matter), and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

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On the side, have two small dishes ready with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

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Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, stirring often, and clip the candy thermometer to the side. The reason you use the wooden spoon here is because sugar crystallizes more quickly on metal than wood, and crystallization is not what you want at this particular juncture.

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Once the mixture starts boiling, stir it constantly for 1 minute.

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Then take the spoon out and let it boil on its own for 5 minutes.  It’s going to boil up pretty high, so make sure you use a large pot for this. At this point, your candy thermometer should be reading 250°F, which is the magic number for the hard ball stage — exactly what we want.

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Turn off the heat and stir your mixture for about a minute.  Then remove it entirely from the heat.

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Whisk in your vanilla and baking soda.  It will fizz up, so be careful.  See how the texture and colour has changed?  Well, you can’t in that photo because it’s a terrible photo, but it will become smooth and a light opaque brown almost immediately. Keep whisking until it more or less stops fizzing.

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Slowly and in a controlled stream, pour your caramel over your waiting popcorn, mixing with a spatula.  Don’t worry if you don’t get it entirely incorporated.

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I suggest leaving all your caramel tools soaking in hot water for a few minutes.  It makes cleanup so much easier.

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Pop the roasting pan filled with popcorn in the oven and bake it for an hour, stirring it all over every 15 minutes.  While the caramel had started to harden on you before you stuck it in there, baking it at this low heat enables it to ooze all over the place and cover everything evenly.

So when you’re stirring, make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, because you will always find a nice puddle of caramel down there.

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Spread a counter with waxed paper and spray it, too.  Once the hour is up, take the pan from the oven and spread the popcorn in a thin layer on the waxed paper to cool. Squish it down with your spatula to spread it out. Doing that now will make it both cool faster and be easier to separate after it’s cooled.

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Once it has fully cooled, break it up into pieces and store it in a sealed container for up to a few days.

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Or package it in wee bags for a bake sale, which is what I did.

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I found the “Hello” stickers lying around in my office supply cupboard.  I figured what the heck, eh?

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MUGS Bake Sale 1

Chocolate Caramel Cookies

For my last round of interviews with research participants, I decided to err on the side of sweetness.  And boy are these babies SWEET! 

They are adapted from Easy-Cookies.com and of course, I multiplied the recipe.  In fact, I made a quadruple batch.  Many cookies were had.

First, preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, softened, 1 cup granulated (white) sugar, and 1 cup brown sugar.

Add in 2 eggs

You know, the eggy kind of egg.

Plop in 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa and mix that stuff in good.

Then pour in 2 1/2 cups flour and mix thoroughly.  This stuff gave my industrial-strength beaters a run for their money.

Lastly, pour in 1 cup white chocolate chips.Take yer dough, then, about a tablespoon’s worth, and wrap it around a Rolo candy (I thought about trying this with Caramilk, too, and may still try it). 

I went through several bulk packages of Rolos so I’m not sure how many you will need.  Each roll has 10, if that helps.

Make sure to seal the dough all the way around or things could get messy in the oven.

Plop the dough balls on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for about 7 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until set.  Allow to cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet before removing the cookies to a cooling rack.

EEEEEEAT!

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.

The Great Wedding Cupcake Experiment of 2009

The Pie and I were married on 22 August 2009.  We wanted to do our wedding on the cheap, because we are stone broke, and we also wanted to give our guests a little taste of our personality.  With that in mind, we turned down my parents’ repeated offers to make fruitcakes (‘but it’s a traditional Scottish wedding cake’) and decided to make cupcakes instead of buying a tiered and costly confection.

Which flavours were we to pick?  The choices were almost endless and we didn’t know where to begin.  My mother gave me Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake as a Christmas present, and we decided to start there.  With one exception, all the recipes we tried are from there.

I chose a panel of a dozen people at work to help us to test our cupcakes, and every one of them looked forward to Cupcake Friday.  By the time I was finished the experiment (which ran from the beginning of March to the end of June 2009), my panel had doubled in size and I was a very popular lady at work.

A crucial piece of machinery without which I would have gone MAD is the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who does a lot of baking.  Also my camera, of course.  I took a lot of pictures during this period.  You can see the rest of them on my Flickr site here.

Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Cupcakes

#1 Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream

These were extremely tasty but not particularly attractive, texture-wise.  Aesthetically they weren’t much to go on either.  The icing was also quite runny and very sticky, but also very good.  The sour cream mixed with the lemon and the icing sugar made a tangy topping.  The Committee thought it would make a good brunch baked good.

One thing to note about these is that I had to re-cup the cupcakes after they were baked, because the bottoms had burned a bit in my antiquated oven and I wanted to hide that.  Fun fact: if you re-cup a cupcake, the cupcake will not stick to the paper cup anymore, as you can see in the photograph.

 

#2 Carrot Cardamom

I really like the word ‘cardamom.’  These ones turned out exactly like the picture in the book, which was gratifying, and they had a much smoother texture than the Apple Cinnamon, which was reassuring.

I’m not a huge fan of walnuts, however; they have a bitter after taste that I am not fond of – I much prefer pecans.  The mascarpone icing, however, was incredible and there was an enormous amount of it.  If these cupcake experiments taught me anything (and to quote one of the Committee members), ‘there is no such thing as too much icing.’

Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

#3 Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

These little boogers were a spectacular failure on my part.  The recipe involved putting half the batter into the cup, then sprinkling it with grated marzipan, then putting the other half of the dough on top.  Silly me, I did all the bottom halves first, then all the marzipan, and by the time I got around to the tops, I had run out of batter.

In addition, I had to deal with runny icing and artificial cherries, and that’s never a good combination.  Let us not forget as well that I had to face the inevitable comments at work that these strongly resembled boobs.  So much for professionalism.

Overall, they were too sweet, and too much of a pain to make.  Vetoed.

… then something magic happened …

… my oven exploded!

I’m totally serious.  The Pie was making dinner one night and I heard this loud thrumming noise coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a yell that I should probably get in there.  I ran in and saw bright white light coming from the oven window – element was arcing and sending off sparks.  It was making the thrumming noise.  We turned off the oven and got the hell out of there.  Two days later my landlord bought us a new oven.  It’s so low tech that it has no interior light and you have to shine a flashlight in to see if your stuff is done, but it works really well, I will give it that.

The Perfect Cupcake was born.
Creamy Coconut Lime

#4 Creamy Coconut Lime

It was from this new oven that a new generation of cupcake was born.  I could now actually follow the recipe when it came to temperature and cooking time.  Nothing burned, or exploded.  It was inspiring, actually.  The first experiment to come out of the new oven, or ‘tailgate special’ as I like to refer to it, was this perfect confection.  It was unanimously voted by the Committee as the perfect cupcake for a wedding.  Nothing I made after this counted for much in their opinions.  I was, however, undaunted, and continued on with my experiments.  I couldn’t stop now – things were just getting good.

Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

#5 Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

In these, I substituted canned mandarin slices for regular orange segments.  Other than the fact that I am truly lazy and did not want to segment several oranges, the canned pieces meant that my cupcakes would be uniform and also that the quality of the fruit would be good.  Living in Newfoundland, especially during the winter, means that produce quality is always a guessing game.

These cakes were popular with those who liked poppyseeds.  I liked them, but the Pie was not a huge fan.

As you can see, I was really getting into my groove here.  My photographic cupcake record had turned more artistic now that my appliances were cooperating.

#6 Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal

These little beauties contained fresh Newfoundland blueberries stuck right into the batter, and were made with cornmeal, which made the batter a sunshiny yellow but which created a texture many were not expecting.

Blueberries directly in the batter!

I thought they were great but most people were unconvinced.  In any case, I had  a lot of fun with my new zester, creating and photographing my confections.

Martha Stewart eat your heart out:

Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal
Maple and Pecan Cupcakes

#7 Maple and Pecan

I had a lot of fun making these – and burned myself severely in the process.  They were one of my favourite cupcakes, taste-wise, but many people found the hard caramelized sugar too sharp or tough to bite into, the Pie included, so they were eventually scrapped.

Playing with melted sugar is a lot of fun.  If I ever made these again, however, I would let the sugar cool a bit more before pouring it, to keep the fluid from spreading too much – I think that was my major failing here.

Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

#8 Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

I ended up renaming these bad beauties Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, because that’s pretty much what they tasted like, and that’s pretty much all the ‘icing’ really was: hot whipping cream poured over dark and bittersweet chocolate and then whipped into a light foam.  They are truly divine.  The batter itself was a little bland, however, so I thought I could improve somewhat.

You can see at this time that spring was coming, and my seedlings were on the sprout.  But spring comes late to Newfoundland, and we had a while yet to wait.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

#9 Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

I can pretty much guarantee that I will never make these again.  I have never been so disappointed with myself.  I didn’t want to serve them to the Committee, and some Committee members refused to even finish them.  They were dry and tasteless and the crystallized ginger on top was too strong.  It was supposed to be stem ginger in syrup but this being Newfoundland I couldn’t find any.

EPIC FAIL.

I had to redeem myself.

Experiment #10
Marble Cupcakes

#10 Marble Cupcakes

When these were finished they looked nothing like the photograph but boy were they tasty.  Inside was a chocolate-vanilla swirl cake that really wasn’t visible unless there was no icing but which was nice and moist and light.

The icing was cream cheese mixed with cream and icing sugar.  You can’t really top that, but of course that would mean leaving out the caramel.

I used Smucker’s caramel ice cream topping, but had I been thinking I would have used real dulce de leche, because it would have held its shape better and not oozed everywhere.  These cupcakes certainly entailed sticky fingers.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

#11 Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

The Pie and I wanted to experiment with a few lower-fat options, and this was one of them, containing no butter at all, and of course using ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for icing.

They turned out really well but weren’t quite what we were looking for.

Chocolate Fireworks

#12 Chocolate Fireworks

These were meant to be served with lit sparklers in them, but I wasn’t sure how I would get them into the office.

I settled for the little silver balls instead.  Did you know they are called ‘dragees’?

The icing was rather unimaginative and runny, but the batter had some orange in it that kept in moist and gave it a nice tart tang.

Raspberry Trifle

#13 Raspberry Trifle

Unlucky number 13.  We were drawing to the close of our experiment here, with only three more recipes to try, and I was pretty tired of making cupcakes at this time.  It seemed every week I was adding someone new to the Cupcake Committee email distribution list.

I made these while watching Detroit lose to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I was cheering for the Red Wings (my beloved Senators didn’t even make the post-season) because I hate Crosby, but alas, I was out of luck.

This cake was really good, though, because it was chock-full of raspberries.  I thought the custardy topping could have had more flavour, but that might have had something to do with me failing at making custard.

Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

#14 Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

I left the picture of this one small because it’s blurry.  It was late, I was tired, and these were such a hassle that I forgot to take a picture until super late at night.

The recipe called for slicing off the top of the cupcake so the cream cheese topping would set, smooth and flat, like a real cheesecake.  I cut off the tops, which was a pain, considering I then had to re-cup the cakes, and then topped them.  And discovered that the topping wasn’t going to lie smooth and flat anyway.

There was some swearing.

In the end, these were one of my favourites: a fine vanilla cake with vanilla cream-cheesy ‘icing’ and sliced strawberries on top.  The fanning of the berry was my idea, as the berries I got weren’t of the quality that they would stand up on their own, like they were in the book.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

#15 Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

Another cheesecake-y recipe that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.  The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac, as is one of my former coworkers, and both of them were coming to the wedding.  I didn’t want them to feel excluded from the cake part of the festivities, so I experimented with a gluten-free recipe.

It was an all right cupcake, but it wasn’t light or fluffy, the potato flour I used made the texture a little grainy, and, all in all, it was rather bland.

Coconut Cream from the Barefoot Contessa

#16 Coconut Cream

This was my final cupcake, and it wasn’t really an experiment.

One of the people in the Cupcake Committee had been talking about the Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut and Cream cupcakes for a while so as a final treat I decided to make them.  You can get the recipe from the Food Network here.

The cupcakes were huge, and I knew I wasn’t going to make them for the wedding – they were pretty time-consuming.  But everyone on the Committee had been talking about that other coconut recipe for ages, so I thought I would end it with an echo of the earlier recipe.

They were fabulous and if you ate more than one you felt ill.  We had wayyy too many leftovers and I think we ate them for three weeks straight.  Or at least it felt like that.  They were good though.  I recommend giving them a shot.

And that’s it.  Sixteen cupcakes in seventeen weeks.

Which ones did we eventually choose: Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake, Fireworks (but with the icing from the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse), and the Raspberry Trifle (but with a lemon cream cheese icing instead of the custard.  They were a hit.