St. Patrick’s Day Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosted Brownies

baileys brownie

My friend, Matt, is visiting from Cornell this weekend. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by making this AMAZING Guinness Chocolate Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. Seriously, check it out because that cake is delicious! We had the brilliant last-minute (read: poorly thought out) idea to add chocolate ganache in between cake layers… which oozed out everywhere, got all mixed up in the frosting, made the top layer slide, and rendered our delicious cake TUTP (“too ugly to post”). I still think a chocolate layer would take this cake over-the-top, so if you make the recipe, I recommend looking around for a good, thick ganache filling recipe (maybe this one?). Let me know if you can get it to work, because I’d love to successfully make this cake with a chocolate layer someday!

We were left with extra frosting from that adventure, so Matt whipped up this tasty, fudge-y brownie recipe from AllRecipes and we covered it with the leftover Baileys Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. This is quite a decadent pairing, and so perfect for St. Patrick’s Day. Cut small pieces because it’s insanely rich. If you’re just making the brownies and not the cake, only make a quarter of the frosting recipe. All recipes are provided at the links, so I won’t repeat them here. Enjoy!!

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Dennis the Cat Cake (Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Filling and Buttercream Frosting)

A puzzle for you today! One of these photos is a cat and the other is a cake in the likeness of the cat. Don’t worry if you struggle to tell the difference – I know my cake decorating skills are exceptional ;)Dennis cat and cake

Didn’t fool you one bit, did I? Trying to rapidly decorate a cat cake less than an hour before a potluck shouldn’t seem like a good idea. Ever. I’m not sure why I thought that would work out, but let me tell you: it was crazy! So, Dennis the Cat Cake looks a bit rugged because I was running around the kitchen frantically mixing colors, hastily putting them in ziplock bags, and hurriedly pushing frosting around with a toothpick, all while watching the clock tick down and debating the merits between being punctual and bringing a pretty cake. Punctuality won, as you can see.

Dennis is the sweetest “old man” cat that my friends recently adopted… who also kind of looks like he could be in the mafia. To celebrate and introduce him to everyone, they invited us all over for a potluck party. There were some seriously incredible dishes to enjoy: garlic knots, “ants on a log,” warm bread and brie, potato latkes, spring rolls with a spicy sauce, noodles, asian coleslaw, wine… I could barely move by the end of it all! And all this before we even touched the cake. UGH. Luckily this cake was delicious, so it was worth the uncomfortable stomach fullness. But goodness, it was quite the meal.

I had to keep this recipe relatively simple since I’ve never made a shaped cake before and didn’t have any directions to go off of, so I stuck to basics: one of the best chocolate cake recipes ever + a gooey salted caramel layer + buttercream frosting = simple and delicious! Definitely worth trying, even if you just make it a normal layer cake and don’t shape it into a cat’s face.

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CHOCOLATE CAKE

From: Smitten Kitchen, originally from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups water

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8 or 9-inch round cakepans. Cut out a circle of parchment or waxed paper and line the bottom of each pan; grease the paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the oil and sour cream; whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well-mixed. Pour into the prepared cake pans, dividing evenly among all three.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. Like Deb notes, these cakes are incredibly delicate. Put them in the freezer for half an hour to make your life infinitely easier. In fact, it’s going to be essentially impossible for you to make a layer cake (let alone a cat face) out of these cakes if you don’t firm them up in the freezer. They’ll defrost once assembled, don’t worry.

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SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE

Adapted from: Ree Drummond, on the Food Network

1 packed cup brown sugar

1/2 cup half-and-half

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the sauce:

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter, and salt. Cook while whisking gently for 5-7 minutes, until it gets thicker (mine started bubbling and turned lightly golden at this point). Add the vanilla and cook one minute more to thicken further. Turn off the heat and remove from the stove. Set aside for use when assembling the cake.

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BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Adapted from: Gale Gand, on the Food Network

6+ cups powdered sugar (add until you’re satisfied with the consistency)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. half-and-half (vary based on how much powdered sugar you have and what consistency you like)

Gel food coloring

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together half of the sugar and all of the butter. Start on low speed until well-blended and then gradually add in more sugar. Increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream or powdered sugar as necessary to reach spreading consistency. Gel food coloring should be beat or stirred in as desired (see directions below for details).

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Directions to assemble the cat cake (or a simple layer cake):

1. Remove the three cakes from the freezer. If they are not flat on top, level off the unevenness using a serrated knife. Place one cake down on your cake plate. Using the buttercream frosting, make a 1/2-inch tall and at least 1/2-inch wide “dam” all the way around the perimeter of this bottom cake. The dam will hold in your caramel, so make sure it’s tall and wide enough to prevent caramel from oozing out.

2. When you are confident in your dam’s ability to hold back the caramel, give your caramel a few stirs (at this point it should be a bit cool – don’t use it right off the stove or you’ll melt the buttercream frosting) and then gently pour it into the reservoir you’ve created in the center of your cake. *Note: if you are making a 3-layer cake (and not a cat face), only pour half the caramel in. Reserve the second half for the next layer, repeating this step.* Gently place a second cake circle on top of the buttercream and caramel.

3. Place the third cake on a flat surface, like a cutting board. From one of the edges, cut out a circle-ish shape for the mouth/nose area (use the edge of the cake as one of the “sides” of this shape, then line up this edge with the edge of your stacked cakes). Attach to the top of your stacked cake with buttercream frosting. From the remainder of the third cake, cut out four ears of the same size and attach them to the cake with buttercream frosting, stacking them two layers high so they are as tall as the cake.

4. Place the assembled cake in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, then remove and do a crumb coat. If you haven’t done one of these before, it’s basically a very thin layer of frosting that covers the entire cake and seals in crumbs. This way, when you frost “for real,” you don’t end up with cake bits mixing into your frosting and making it look ugly. Refrigerate for another 5-10 minutes to harden the crumb coat.

5. While your crumb coat is setting up in the refrigerator, tint your frosting with the gel food coloring. Think about how many colors you want and how much you need of each color, then mix up colors in different bowls. For this cake, I made a tiny bowl of pink and a tiny bowl of green, and saved a small bowl of white. I colored the rest of the frosting orange. When you’re ready to frost, remove your cake from the refrigerator and have at it! Frost with an offset spatula and decorate with piping bags. Small plastic bags with the tips cut off make for good piping bags if you don’t have any fancy ones. Toothpicks are very helpful for pushing frosting around to make small details. Finish off with chocolate chips for eyes (I used mini ones).

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This cake went over very, very well with everyone – even Dennis! (Notice the hand restraining him? Poor Dennis, we put a tasty buttercream frosting cake in front of him in his honor and we wouldn’t even let him have a lick. We’re cruel.)

Dennis the cat and his cake

And of course, an inside shot. See that caramel oozing out everywhere? Oh, my! And note the buttercream strip at the edge of the caramel – that’s the “dam” I talked about, holding all the caramel in. This isn’t a pretty cake by any means, but I promise you that no one will care about aesthetics after one bite of this cake!

Dennis cake slice

Pumpkin Butterscotch Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Glaze

pumpkin cake

Adam’s birthday is tomorrow, and he asked repeatedly asked for “those pumpkin ball amazing treat things” I brought in last semester. Actually, ever since I made those, he’s been bringing them up and requesting them again. It doesn’t matter what new treat I bring in, he just wants those pumpkin bread balls. Unfortunately for Adam, even though it’s his birthday, that still doesn’t change the fact that: 1) I prefer to try new recipes rather than repeat old ones, and 2) birthdays require birthday cake. Period. Very little room for negotiating here, folks.

Of course, with that said, I’d rather not be a total jerk who ruins birthdays by denying someone their lone, long-standing request. So for a few weeks now, I’ve been brainstorming how to capture all those magnificent flavors from the pumpkin bread balls (pumpkin, cream cheese, chocolate, butterscotch, walnut) and highlight them together in one glorious cake. And you know what? It worked. Really, really well. Even better than I anticipated. So please, for me, make this cake. Try this and share it with your friends and tell me it’s okay that this cake makes me want to run to the grocery store and hoard all the ingredients and never leave my kitchen and not care a single ounce about developing diabetes…

pumpkin cake slice

Give me details, you say; the pictures are nice and all, but what exactly is going on here? I’m so glad you asked! Start with a great pumpkin cake recipe and add more spices, pumpkin, vanilla, and butterscotch chips. Cover completely with my favorite fluffy cream cheese frosting recipe. Whip up a simple and rich chocolate glaze and pour it over the top so it runs over the edges in dreamy dribbles. Finish off with butterscotch drizzles and chopped walnuts, and say “hello” to your drool-inducing, prize-winning, bribe-fulfilling, love-inspiring, debt-erasing, happiness-spreading cake that is shockingly easy to make, though you’d never be able to tell from looking at it. It’s dense, moist, and oh-so-rich, with the most satisfying combination of flavors. Everyone loved it, and in addition to more “normal” accolades, it was described using some rather colorful language that I can’t repeat here. Care to join me at the grocery store? I need to purchase all the canned pumpkin they have in stock…

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PUMPKIN BUTTERSCOTCH CAKE

Adapted from: Diana Rattray at About.com

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

¼ tsp. clove

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cans (30 oz total) pumpkin puree or cooked mashed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix!)

3/4 bag butterscotch chips (save the other ¼ for the top)

Directions to make the cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans: grease the sides and bottom using baking spray or butter, cut out a circle of parchment or wax paper and place on the greased bottom, and grease the top of the paper as well. Dust bottom and sides lightly with flour. Set aside.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-mixed. Stir in the dry mixture until just incorporated. Gently stir in pumpkin puree, and finally stir in the butterscotch chips.

4. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine were perfect at 30), rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool completely in pans.

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

From: Southern Living (minus the pecans)

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1 (32 oz) package powdered sugar (or two 16 oz packages)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions to make the frosting:

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you freeze the cake before assembling, and do the crumb coat! This cake is very delicate.

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CHOCOLATE GLAZE

From: Smitten Kitchen

10 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or a bag of chocolate chips)

2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1/2 cup half-and-half

Directions to make the chocolate glaze:

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth.

Pour over the top of your frosted cake, and gently push small sections of the chocolate off the top so it drips down the sides in long lines.

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FINISHING TOUCHES

¼ bag butterscotch chips

1 tsp. light corn syrup

2 tsp. half-and-half

½ cup chopped walnuts

Directions to make your cake b-e-a-utiful:

Melt butterscotch chips and corn syrup in the microwave for 45 seconds and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake (which should already be frosted and glazed). Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Store in the refrigerator but remove at least 2 hours before you plan to serve it so everything can reach room temperature and bring out the flavors best.

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See, what did I tell you? So simple! The cake layers take ~15 minutes to make, 30 to bake, and 20 to cool (if you’re impatient and throw them in the freezer). The frosting takes ~10 to make and ~20 to put on the cake. The glaze takes ~10 total to make and pour on top, as do the finishing touches. Which clocks you in at well under 2 hours to make this delicious cake. I declare that totally do-able. And if you are anything like me and have an unhealthy obsession with pumpkin, butterscotch, cream cheese, and chocolate (walnuts are healthy – they don’t count), you will love it. Guaranteed.

pumpkin cake side view

B^3 Cake (Brown Sugar, Browned Butter, and Brownies)

side

side cut

In general, I’ll try to refrain from bragging on this blog because no one likes a bragger.

But can we make just one tiny exception for this cake? Because you guys. This cake. I DID IT. I turned Tosci’s best ice cream flavor into a cake. Do you understand what this means?? Toscanini’s is one of the greatest ice cream places in the world. It’s true – numerous national sources have touted the awesomeness of their frozen treats. And at Tosci’s (which is a dangerously short walk from my apartment…), you can get the greatest ice cream flavor known to humankind: B^3. AKA B cubed. AKA brown sugar, browned butter, and brownies. AKA taste bud bliss.

I had this ice cream during grad school visits and it just about sealed the deal. Forget the interesting research, fancy lab equipment, awesome department, the chance to try out the east coast… It’s really about Tosci’s and B^3. That is how good this ice cream is. And now you can have this trifecta of glorious flavor in your own home even if you can’t visit Tosci’s whenever you please, and all because I love you and am sharing this magical recipe with you. Try not to make this cake every week, okay? It’ll be hard, I know. But do your best. With great power comes great responsibility and all that jazz.

tosci ice cream

Because I am such a dedicated baker, I sacrificed my waistline for the greater good and bought a pint of Tosci’s B^3. Quality assurance taste testing and all that, right? I had to make sure I captured the flavors properly! Side-by-side, eating the cake batter and ice cream, the only discernible difference is the temperature. Oh my, what a success!

Ever since the idea popped into my head to turn B^3 into some form of baked good, I have been fixated on the thought for weeks. How to go about properly displaying all three glorious flavors of Tosci’s genius ice cream? Finally, inspired by Robin’s birthday today, I decided a cake would be the perfect medium. I developed the recipe by searching “brown sugar cake recipe” and combining multiple sites with my own ideas (notably: Adventures in the Kitchen, babycakes, and Plays With Food). The brownies I told you about in the previous post (didn’t I tell you I had something spectacular in store for them?). The frosting is from no attributable source; many folks have made browned butter frosting before, and this is my own take on the delicious frosting to tone down the “browned” flavor and bring it to just the right flavor strength. The result is a dessert bursting with all three fantastically paired flavors: the cake is a crumbly, tastes-just-like-a-cookie base, the brownies are deliciously unexpected surprises in each bite, and the frosting is a creamy, buttery finish. It took major will power not to eat all the batter raw because it tasted just like the ice cream

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my phenomenal pen pals, who generously sent me a gift card to Williams-Sonoma (fancy pants, right?!). I used it to get an offset spatula (among other to-be-shared goodies) and let me put it this way: if you don’t have an offset spatula and you plan on making more than one cake in the future, get yourself to any home goods store and buy one right now. It is magic. Seriously. I always figured it was just an extra tool to use but I could exist just fine with a normal knife/spatula… I can’t believe it took me this long to realize what I’ve been missing! Thanks a million, Lauren!! I was singing your praises the entire time I frosted (which was longer than usual because I was having so much fun), and it’ll make me think of you every time I make a cake from now on!

AND on top of that, I came into lab today only to discover that the amazing people in my department banded together to get me a super snazzy, just-what-I-needed cake and cupcake carrier so I no longer have to bring my treats to lab in questionable homemade covers. Plus they got me a gift card to the grocery store to keep buying supplies, since I’ve been essentially keeping the local baking supplies economy afloat lately. So in case you were wondering, the answer is yes, I do have the best lab/department-mates EVER!!! Goodness, all this generosity is overwhelming. How did I get so darn lucky?!

Okay, brag time over. Thanks for letting me get away with that. For your patience, I have the perfect reward for you: B^3 Cake. Il est fantastique!

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BETTER-THAN-BOX-MIX-BROWNIES

Use ingredients from my previous post or substitute any 8×8-inch brownie recipe.

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B^3 CAKE

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, browned

2 ½ cups brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 carton (8 oz) sour cream

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

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BROWNED BUTTER FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup  (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, browned

1/2 tsp. vanilla

5 tbsp. milk

6 cups powdered sugar

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Make the brownies:

1. Make according to my previously posted instructions, or use any brownie recipe you like (about 8×8-inch size).

2. Cut off the edges (hang onto these and eat with the leftover frosting), and crumble the middle into small pieces about the size of jelly beans. Set aside.

Make the cake: 

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides) with baking spray. Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.

2. Brown the butter, and put in fridge for about 20-30 minutes. (Instructions located in the Spiced Orange Cupcakes recipe if you need them.)

3. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

4. Using a hand mixer, cream the browned butter and granulated sugar together in a large bowl, then slowly add brown sugar. (Note: by the end, this mix will be dominantly sugar instead of the usual fluffy sugar-butter mix.)

5. Beat in eggs in pairs, until well-mixed. Add oil, sour cream, and vanilla and beat until smooth and well-mixed.

6. Add dry ingredients in thirds, beating just until each addition is incorporated.

7. Divide the batter between the three prepared pans. Reserve 1/2 cup of brownie crumbles and divide the remaining crumbles between the three pans and sprinkle over the top. Press the brownies down into the batter; try to cover them as best you can with batter.

8. Bake in the oven at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (they will get pretty brown on top). *Note: I did 30 minutes and thought it was a bit too dry for my liking, so I recommend removing them sooner. Alternately, follow the syrup suggestion in this article to add moisture back to your cake before you frost it.

9. Cool the cakes in their pans on wire racks for about half an hour then remove cakes (and paper circles) and place them in the fridge.

Make the frosting:

1. Place 1/2 cup unsalted butter (non-browned) in the bowl of a stand mixer.

2. Brown 3/4 cup unsalted butter. Let it settle for a few minutes, then pour the top (clear-ish) butter over top of the non-browned butter. Discard the last bit of butter that has all the brown flecks.

3. Stir the butters together until the non-browned sticks melt almost entirely. If you have time, let this mixture sit and harden for a little bit (the fridge can help).

4. Attach the bowl to your stand mixer. Alternate adding tablespoons of milk and cups of powdered sugar. Add the vanilla extract near the end. Cream the frosting until it’s soft, fluffy, and well-mixed.

Assemble:

1. Frost according to the instructions in my Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake. Make sure you do the crumb coat!

2. Decorate with the reserved brownie crumbles.

3. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat; remove at least 1 hour prior to serving. Cut small slices; this cake is rich, sugary, and decadent!

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Frosted Soft Sugar Cookies

sugar cookies

I made this recipe a while back, but it’s worth sharing because I know there are people out there who are addicted to those awful, cardboard-y sugar cookies they sell at the chain grocery stores. You know, the ones that come in the plastic trays and are there for every season and holiday, in different colors with different sprinkles? I hate those things! They’re so powdery and nasty. But these… These I can get on board with. These are soft, sugary, and oh-so-tasty. If you like those grocery store cookies, make these. If you despise those grocery store cookies but like the idea of soft sugar cookies, make these. Hostess with the Mostess hit a home run here. She’s been making them since she was in sixth grade and even goes so far as to say these are the best sugar cookies in the world, so think about that when you’re deciding whether to make these. (Hint: you should make them!)

Directions, as I made them, are provided here for ease, but check out the original link for some adorable pictures!

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FROSTED SOFT SUGAR COOKIES

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

FROSTING

1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tbsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. milk
5-6 cups powdered sugar (thicken to desired consistency)
food coloring
sprinkles

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1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a cookies sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

3. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar; beat until soft and fluffy (at least 2 minutes). Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well-mixed. Add the dry ingredients in slowly and mix until just incorporated. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour to stiffen the dough. Form dough balls (1/4 cup or less) and flatten into 1/2-inch-tall circles with your hands (you can also roll the dough out with a rolling pin and cut shapes with cookie cutters, if you want fun shapes).

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until just the edges of the cookies start to turn a very light golden brown. Don’t over-bake! These cookies taste much better when they are soft and just done. For an extra-doughy consistency, remove the cookies before the edges start to brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before decorating.

5. To make the frosting, whisk together the butter, vanilla, and milk. Slowly mix in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the frosting reaches your desired consistency (you want to be able to spread it on the cookies, but you also want it to hold it’s shape and not drip off the cookies). As you are decorating the cookies, the frosting with slowly harden. Simply add small amounts of milk (<1 tsp. at a time) to bring it back to a spreadable consistency. And of course, decorate with sprinkles as you go. So cute!

Spiced Orange Cupcakes

orange cupcake

Wow, I did not expect that… These are strangely good!

Just as I am terrible at eating bananas before they go ripe, I’m awful at eating oranges quickly. I usually eat two or three and then I’m sick of the peeling and the smell all over my hands and the white pith everywhere and maybe I’m just weird?! It’s perfectly fine. I can manage just fine. Except I had five oranges on the counter threatening to go bad and requiring some creative re-purposing, and the thought of peeling and eating them was enough to make me want to throw them away immediately.

Enter these orange cupcakes.

Yes, you read that right.

Orange cupcakes. Have you ever heard of anything like it before? Banana, sure. Lemon, of course. But orange? It’s certainly news to me! Except, when I went searching for a recipe, it started to seem like maybe this wasn’t such a novel idea after all. Plenty of people have made orange cupcakes, and they don’t seem to be too awed by the concept. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes because you eat orange cupcakes every day, but if this is news to you and you’re thinking, “Hmm I’m not so sure I’d like that…” then trust me on this: if you like oranges, you should like these cupcakes. I was a skeptic at first, but I was so intrigued by the idea that I tried it anyway. And I’m so glad I did! They’re moist, dense cupcakes with just the right amount of spices in them to make you smile. And the frosting (which is optional, because the cupcakes are fantastic on their own) is its own special breed of amazing.

Makes 16 cupcakes. (Or, 15 because you have to eat one right out of the oven because you’re totally shocked that it even worked because despite the internet seeming to be an expert on orange cupcakes, this is still totally foreign to you and you need to make sure they worked before you give them away to anyone and wow they sure do taste good – who would have thought!) They were inspired by this Beat and Bake Orange Cake Recipe on Allrecipes.com, which I changed up quite a bit to make sure the cupcakes stayed moist, were bursting with orange flavor, and had some extra spices to draw out the orange flavor and keep things interesting.

These were for a friend’s birthday. We had them in the department kitchen and I was so nervous when everyone started eating them, because what if my midnight taste buds misled me and these were actually awful?? Someone even had to remind me to take one for myself – I was so anxious that I just stood there, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. I can’t even begin to describe my relief when everyone really liked them. Succès!!

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SPICED ORANGE CUPCAKES

2 cups flour

½ tsp. salt

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground clove

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup sour cream

½ cup orange juice

½ cup vegetable oil

3 eggs, beaten

1 ½ tbsp. Grand Marnier (or Triple Sec)

2 tbsp. grated orange zest

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BROWNED BUTTER & ORANGE FROSTING

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (browned; instructions in recipe)

3-5 cups powdered sugar

2-3 tbsp. orange juice

2-3 tbsp. milk

2 tsp. grated orange zest

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a cupcake tray with cupcake liners.

2. In a large bowl, whisk/stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix in sugar and spices until well-combined, then set aside.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, orange juice, Grand Marnier, vegetable oil, eggs, and the 2 tbsp. orange zest. (Don’t stress when these won’t combine all the way; just get them mixed a bit.)

4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure that it mixes evenly.

5. Using a ¼-cup scoop, fill each cupcake liner to about ¾ full. Bake for 20-22 minutes (mine took 21), until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with just a few crumbs on it (but no liquid-y batter).

6. Cool the cupcakes before frosting. While the cupcakes are cooling, let’s brown some butter! Put the 1/2 cup butter in a small saucepan and turn to medium-low heat. Stir gently and continuously. The butter will melt, then start frothing and bubbling (don’t get splattered!), and finally go from a yellow color to a pretty amber. The whole process will take what feels like a few minutes (I honestly have no idea what it actually takes, as I wasn’t watching a clock) but the color switch happens very quickly. Once it’s amber, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. Photos are provided below for reference. Let this sit for a bit and small brown flecks will settle to the bottom. Slowly pour off the top, smooth butter and discard those brown flecks. Don’t worry about losing some butter – you’ll just add less powdered sugar in the next step. The browned butter needs to harden again before you use it, so unless you want to wait upwards of 2 hours for it to harden on the counter, pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

7. To make the frosting, cream the browned butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Gradually beat in 1/2-1 cup of powdered sugar and orange zest until well combined. Alternately beat in small amounts of orange juice, milk, and extra powdered sugar to bring to a fluffy consistency good for spreading on the cupcakes. The ranges in orange juice, milk, and powdered sugar are so you can keep adding bits of each until you’re satisfied with the amount and consistency of the frosting (liquids will thin and powdered sugar will thicken the frosting).

8. Use a knife or spatula to spread on frosting. Or, use a decorating bag or thick plastic bag with the tip cut off to pipe on frosting (what I did). If you have extra orange zest, sprinkle some on top and gently press it into the frosting so it stays in place. Merveilleux!

Keep the flame low or else you'll risk heating the butter too quickly and burning it.

Keep the flame low or else you’ll risk heating the butter too quickly and burning it.

As you heat the butter, it'll start to bubble. Keep stirring almost constantly and watch closely. When you stir, look at what color the butter is underneath - when it switches from yellow to amber, you're done!

As you heat the butter, it’ll start to bubble. Keep stirring and watch closely. When you stir, you’ll be able to see the butter below the bubbles. Look at what color it is – when it switches from yellow to amber, you’re done!

The butter will take a few minutes to change color, but once it does, it goes FAST. As soon as you see this amber color develop, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. (Another indication that it's done is when it smells almost nutty; you'll notice a difference in aroma once it's "browned.")

The butter will take a few minutes to change color, but once it does, it goes FAST. As soon as you see this amber color develop, turn off the stove and move the pot away from the heat. (Another indication that it’s done is when it smells almost nutty; you’ll notice a difference in aroma once it’s “browned.”)

Save some of the orange zest to decorate the tops of the cupcakes. So cute & fragrant!

Save some of the orange zest to decorate the tops of the cupcakes. So cute & fragrant!

*Note: In researching ideas for using oranges, I came across this impressive post all about oranges. If you ever wanted to know anything about oranges, I’m sure you could find it here!

Cinnamon-Swirled Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Aka: YOU SURVIVED!

I always think I’m going to eat bananas, and pick up a half dozen from the grocery store each time I go. Clearly I never learn: every time, I end up with overripe, brown bananas staring me in the face and mocking my inability to consume them fast enough. If we were in a race, my eating vs. their ripening, they’d win every time.

Except when I think of a delicious recipe to put them in. Then I win. Take that, bananas! And somehow, it seems much easier to eat banana cake than bananas…

This cake is good. Really good. As in, you take a bite and you think, “Yeah, that’s yummy” and then the second bite is, “Wow, this is pretty good” and then the rest is gobbled up with mouth-full exclamations of, “Could a banana cake really taste this good? Do I even like bananas?! Who cares, this is delicious!” (This evolution was determined scientifically, through careful observation of my own opinions and the compliments that others gave as their eating progressed.) It started as a honeybun cake recipe that I changed up quite a bit, adding vanilla extract, baking soda, flour, and bananas and baking in round cake pans so I could make a proper cake with layers and lots of frosting.  The result is a not-quite-dense-but-definitely-not-airy cake laced with small chunks of banana and ribbons of cinnamon and brown sugar, topped with my newest favorite cream cheese frosting (it holds its shape really well and has tons of sugar, but still tastes like cream cheese).

Cake inspiration: Michelle’s Honeybun Cake on AllRecipes

Frosting (minus the pecans): Cream Cheese Butter Pecan Frosting on MyRecipes

As you can see by the writing, quals are finally over! The grad students all survived (a bit brain-dead by the end, but they made it) and now get to wait one anxious month to find out if they passed. Now, what to make when that time rolls around? Decisions, decisions…

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CINNAMON-SWIRLED BANANA CAKE

1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 (8oz) carton sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup flour
3 ripe bananas, peeled & mashed

Cinnamon Swirl:

1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (32oz) package powdered sugar (or 2-16oz packages)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

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1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans well (bottom and sides). Cut parchment or wax paper in a circle to fit the bottom of the cake pan, place on top of the greased bottom, and grease the paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk/stir together the cake mix, baking soda, and flour until well-mixed. Using an electric hand mixer, beat in eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil, water, and vanilla extract to make a smooth batter. Beat in mashed bananas for ~30 seconds (there will still be some lumps). In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour 1/4 of the cake batter into one prepared cake pan and 1/4 of the cake batter into the other pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the batters (divide between the two pans). Pour the remaining batter over the cinnamon mixture (divide between the two pans), and gently swirl the batter ~15 times with a butter knife.

3. Put both cake pans in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the cake pans for ~20 minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack (place your (clean) hand on top of the cake, flip the pan over, lift the pan off, remove the parchment/wax paper, place a cooling rack on top of the cake where the paper just was, and gently flip the whole thing back over and set the cooling rack down).

4. Place the cakes in the freezer for 15-30 minutes (depends on how much time you have) to make them easier to frost later. While they firm up, make the frosting. Beat the softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar gradually, stopping when you like the consistency/flavor of the frosting (I always add the full 32 ounces).

5. Prepare your cake plate by placing small strips of wax paper in a circle about the size of your cake (this will catch the frosting spills and keep your plate looking pretty).

6. Remove the cakes from the freezer. Use a serrated knife to level off the rounded tops of each cake (someone really ought to eat these scraps, don’t you think? And there’s a very large bowl of frosting sitting on the counter; no one would notice if some were missing…). Place one of the cake rounds on the wax paper circle (the wax paper should be partially under the cake), with the serrated side facing up. Put a generous amount of frosting on top and smooth it out to an even layer, then put the second cake round on top with the serrated side facing down.

7. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the sides and top of the cake. This is called a “crumb coat” and will effectively seal in all the crumbs, so when we frost “for real” later, it’ll look magnifique! Put the cake in the fridge this time (not the freezer), for 10 minutes.

8. Frost the cake with generous scoops of frosting, spreading it all over the sides and top. Reserve some of the frosting if you wish to add writing and/or decorations. You can tint this frosting with gel food coloring (which won’t change the consistency) or liquid food coloring (which will require the addition of more powdered sugar to counteract the extra liquid). Use a frosting bag and fancy tip or a plastic bag with the end snipped off to pipe anything you want on your cake.

9. Eat. Share. Smile. Repeat.

It's important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

It’s important to line the bottoms of your pans with parchment/wax paper, because this will make it a LOT easier to remove the cakes later. (Be sure to grease both the bottom of the pan AND the paper.)

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

When you swirl the batter + cinnamon/brown sugar + batter layers together, use big, cross-pan sweeps.

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it's level with the cake's average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being "messy" before).

Stick your (clean) finger against the side of the pan until it’s level with the cake’s average height and turn the pan slowly, so that your finger sweeps the edges clean (check out the previous picture to see what I mean about it being “messy” before).

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/plate/cake stand clean when you frost. When you're done, you'll gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator! (How else could you keep that plate so clean?!)

The wax paper circle, which you will place your cake on, keeps the tray/platter/cake stand/plate clean while you frost. When you’re done, gently remove these strips of wax paper and everyone will think you are a professional cake decorator for keeping the plate so clean. Shh, it’ll be our secret!

Carefully cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don't cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it's not that I'm too impatient to wait...)

Use a serrated knife to cut off the rounded tops of the cakes. Be careful you don’t cut too deep! Some people have methods to keep the cake from rounding up in the center, which means you can skip this leveling step. But I prefer this way, because then you get to taste the cake before you give it to anyone else. (For quality assurance purposes, of course; it’s definitely not that I love rewarding myself with a bowl of cake scraps and leftover frosting…)

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

First cake goes on bottom down, serrated side up. Big glob of frosting. Second cake goes on serrated side down, bottom side up. Putting the serrated sides on the inside prevents pesky crumbs from jumping into the beautiful frosting outside.

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids do it...

Applying the crumb coat (initial thin layer of frosting) will seal in any rouge crumbs, make it a lot easier to frost later, and dramatically improve the appearance of your final cake. All the cool kids are doing it…

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back - you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Once you have the crumb coat, you can spread the top (thick!) layer of frosting on with ease. Pat yourself on the back – you just mastered one of the biggest tricks in cake decorating!

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean!) tweezers.

Reserve some frosting for decorating (I recommend gel food coloring to achieve vibrant colors while preserving the frosting consistency). To easily place sprinkles, use (clean) tweezers. Magnifique, indeed!!

Gingerbread Cookies

Run, run as fast as you can... Because I'm going to eat you, and I'm going to have so much fun doing so!
This was my last chance to bake with Christmas flavors and sprinkles at school for the year. Now that it’s January, I have to switch back to more season-neutral treats. But as I’m posting old recipes, you get these wonderful treats! I made some classic gingerbread cookies to celebrate surviving my first semester of grad school, the approaching holidays, and the amazing people I’ve met here. That final reason is one of my favorite parts of baking: in return for passing out cookies, I received two hours of great conversations. Worth every second of baking for sure! And one shamelessly proud moment: my professor emailed me over break to request this recipe for his family baking. Are you tempted to make them yet?!

Okay, enough babbling: what you really want is this recipe. These cookies are great. Flavorful, crunchy on the edges, and soft in the middle – classic goodness. I combined two different recipes with my own ideas and this was the result. If you want to make gingerbread cookies (and don’t have a family recipe that you could never bear to abandon), then definitely try these!

I drew from two of my favorite blogs:
Annie’s Eats – Gingerbread Cookies
Smitten Kitchen – Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

Follow the instructions on Annie’s Eats, but use these ingredients (I changed/added a few things):

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GINGERBREAD COOKIES

5 cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. black pepper (seriously – weird, I know, but it’s good!)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used ½ cup unsalted butter + ½ cup butter flavored shortening because I ran out of butter)
1 cup dark brown sugar (you could also use white, but brown sugar will make it more flavorful and chewy)
1 cup molasses
1 large egg
1 tsp. orange juice (water if you don’t have OJ)*

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*Orange juice is the secret to making really awesome gingerbread. If you have a different recipe that you insist on using instead of mine, I won’t mind – but please trust me and substitute orange juice if your recipe calls for water! Or, do what I do: add the orange juice to the recipe and bump up the flour & spices to make up for the additional liquid. Orange juice brings out the flavors and will make your gingerbread extra awesome. I promise.

The instructions are very clear on Annie’s website, so I won’t replicate them here. I’ll just give you my tips:

1. Divide the dough into thirds, wrap with cling wrap, and then refrigerate for an hour before rolling the dough out.

2. Refrigerate the cookies again for 5 minutes (or more) before baking them. Then you won’t need to leave 2 inches between each cookie when you bake them, because they will retain their shape better.

3. If you don’t have parchment paper (darn you, Shaws, for running out!), coat your pans with baking spray and your cookies will be fine (just a bit darker on the bottom).

4. 10 minutes is key! Don’t bake them any longer! 9 minutes might even be enough. Or 8. Find out how your oven cooks and be careful not to overcook these or they’ll be crunchy all the way through.

5. If you’re impatient like me, you don’t have to let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. They’ll be fine being transferred immediately to the cooling racks (they’re just soft, so be careful – they’ll harden up later).

6. Decorate with frosting! A very simple recipe that I used = 1 cup powdered sugar for every 1 tablespoon water (I ended up using about 5 cups of powdered sugar to decorate them all). Add water as needed, in very small amounts, to keep it smooth enough to spread. Too runny, though, and it will not stay on your cookies! Find that sweet spot that allows you to spread it with a knife (like on the gingerbread men) or pipe it out with a frosting bag (like on the snowflakes).

7. Use the crystalized sugar sprinkles instead of crunchy/harder sprinkles. The crunchy ones will distract from the gingerbread’s texture. Put the sprinkles on immediately after you frost each cookie, or else it’ll harden and the sprinkles won’t stick.

8. Let the frosting harden overnight. Store the cookies with wax paper between each layer. The less stacking you have to do, the better, because they’ll get a bit smashed if you stack them too high.

Chocolate Oreo Buttercream Cups

Diabetes, anyone?
These are basically candy. Sugary, delicious candy. Like a chocolate bar. With Oreos and buttercream frosting. Yum. I made about 40 cups and went through four bags of chocolate chips. FOUR. Seriously! The original recipe is only designed to make four individual cups, which is great if you just want to make a few for yourself. But if you’re trying to feed a large group, get the following:

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1 pack of Oreo cookies (this will make 30; if you want more, get 2 packs)
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
~6 cups of powdered sugar
3 bags semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Sprinkles!

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Scaled up from: Picky Palate

Prepare according to instructions in the link. I used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean seeds because, while I do have a vanilla bean, it was expensive and I’m saving it for something special. I also don’t have those cute little short cups she uses, so I made them in regular muffin cups spread out on a baking sheet. Which made them a lot bulkier with a lot more sugar… hence the label as “candy” far more than “baked good” (there also wasn’t any baking, so there’s that!).

A few things:
~I would use less chocolate next time. As they are in the picture, these basically are pure sugar. Go easy on the chocolate!
~Be generous with the buttercream frosting. It’s fantastic.
~Personalize this! For the holidays, use red/green Oreos. Also, dye the buttercream frosting red or green (I meant to do this but forgot; add ~5 drops of coloring when you’re creaming the butter and keep in mind that the color will dilute as you add the powdered sugar). Since the green Oreos are mint flavored, I’d put crushed candy canes on top instead of sprinkles!