Halo Halo Cupcakes

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I am helping out with a fundraiser for ARK, a local group who helps raise funds to allow Filipino children to continue their education. The organization is having a poker night, to celebrate the progress that has been made so far, and to continue to raise money for the upcoming school year. The group wanted the food of the evening to highlight the Filipino culture, and I wanted to make a cupcake inspired by a traditional Filipino dessert. So I am testing out the recipe I plan to use for the event! I have to admit, I only recently discovered the cold, tropical deliciousness of Halo Halo. It can be made with a million different things, including a variety of savory and sweet ingredients. These include boiled kidney beans, garbanzos, sugar palm fruit, coconut sport,  caramelized plantains, jackfruit, gulaman, tapioca, and pounded crushed young rice. Most of these ingredients (fruits, beans, and other sweets) are first placed inside the tall glass, topped with shaved ice, and then sprinkled with sugar, and either (or a combination of) leche flan, purple yam (ube), ice cream, and/or evaporated milk. I obviously couldn’t fit all of these ingredients into one cupcake, but I did my best to capture the essence of Halo Halo.

Serving: 15 cupcakes

Prep Time: 1 hour

Bake Time: 12-14 minutes

Cupcake Base:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 eggs, room temperature

Coconut Curd:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 
1 cup Sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 
2 whole Eggs
  • 
2 Egg Whites
  • 
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Ube Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. ube extract
  • 1/8 tsp. purple gel food coloring

Cupcake Toppings:

  • 1 mango, cubed
  • 2 kiwis, cubed
  • 1/2 cup toasted coconut
  • 1/2 cup toasted rice cereal
  • 15 banana chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1¼ cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, quickly beat together the 2 eggs on medium speed. Add sugar, and continue to beat on medium speed (about 30 seconds). Add vanilla and oil, and beat on medium speed. Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add about half of the flour mixture. Add half of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour mix, followed by the rest of the milk. Beat until just combined and smooth, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl. The batter should be thin. Pour batter into a lined muffin pan filling the cups about ½ full. Bake for 12 -14 minutes. Let them cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then place on a wire rack to finish cooling.
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As the cupcakes bake, prepare the coconut curd. With a hand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in each egg one at a time, allowing them to mix completely before beating in another egg. Beat in coconut milk, until incorporated. Over medium heat, in a double boiler, stir the mixture. Add in vanilla, and stir mixture frequently until the mixture begins to thicken (about 10 minutes). Pour into bowl and let cool in fridge. If you have any left overs, place them in an air tight container, and use within a week.
For the frosting, beat the butter until it is fluffy, then slowly incorporate the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Add in ube extract, purple food coloring, vanilla, and salt, and continue to mix until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Add cream as needed, until the appropriate consistency is reached.
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When the cupcakes have fully cooled, cut out the center of the cupcakes, and fill them with the cooled coconut curd. Pipe on the ube frosting with a large, round tip, creating a sort of a frosting bowl. Top the cupcake with chopped, fresh mango, kiwi, jack fruit, and a banana chip. Sprinkle with toasted, shredded coconut, and brown toasted rice cereal. I think that the cupcake has a great tropical vibe, and I like the contrast between the smooth coconut curd and fresh fruit, and the crunch of the rice cereal and toasted coconut.
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Banana Chips

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Bananas, such a wonderful fruit. They are delicious, a great snack, fun to bake with, and are cheap! I am always looking for new recipes for bananas, and when a cupcake recipe of mine called for banana chips, I decided to make my own. It’s actually incredibly easy, they just take a while to cook down. They make a tasty snack, or garnish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Slice the bananas very thin (about 1/8″).  Place slices on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Mix together the lemon juice, water, and salt, and brush over the banana slices. This coating will give the banana slices a crisp, “chip” texture.

Bake at 250 for approximately 1 1/2 hours, flipping the banana chips over halfway through. The long baking time is necessary, because at this temperature, the oven will act more as a dehydrator than an oven. Baking times will vary depending on how thick you slice your bananas, and how crispy you prefer your banana chips to be. Keep an eye on them, and remove them from the oven when they are crisp.

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The Snickers Cake

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In my mind, the Snickers candy bar is the king of all candy. It has a perfect balance of nougat, caramel, peanuts, and chocolate. Luckily, Brendan also loves snickers, and asked for a snickers inspired birthday cake! The twist? He also wanted some cookie dough in there. So I made it happen….this cake has two peanut butter chocolate chip cookie layered between three, decadent chocolate cake layers. It’s a lot to take in…but I swear it all comes together when you take a bite 😀

Cake Layer:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup strong black coffee, hot
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer:

  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup all-vegetable Shortening
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Nougat Filling:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 cups marshmallow fluff
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups salted peanuts, roughly chopped

Salted Caramel Sauce:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fleur de sel (or any other flaky sea salt)

Salted Caramel Buttercream:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce (above)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Milk Chocolate Ganache:

  • 8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) heavy cream

Garnish:

  • Candied Peanuts, chopped snickers, and caramel drizzle

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Bake Time: 48 minutes

Cool Time: 1 Hour

Assembly Time: 1 hour (30 minutes of cooling for crumb coat)

Servings: 14

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans, and line/grease the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Begin by making the chocolate cake batter. In a very large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix for an additional 20 seconds (the batter will be very thin).

Divide the batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 16 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cakes comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs). Cool the cakes (in the pans) on wire racks for 20 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

Next make the peanut butter cookie layers. Beat together the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add all other ingredients (excluding the chocolate chips), and mix until fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips last. Divide batter evenly between two, greased, nine in cake pans. Bake until the edges are just golden, about 15 minutes. Remove, and let the cookie cool in the pan for 20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to fully cool.

For the Nougat Filling, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and evaporated milk, stirring until dissolved, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat and add the marshmallow fluff, peanut butter, peanuts, and vanilla extract, stirring until completely smooth. Let the nougat mixture cool to room temperature before using it in the cake. You can do this leaving it at room temperature or you can pop it into the refrigerator to speed up the process. Be sure to give a stir occasionally as it cools.

For the salted caramel sauce, add the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a heavy saucepan (with a capacity of at least 2 or 3 quarts). Heat the sugar over medium-high heat, whisking it as it begins to melt. You’ll see that the sugar will begin to form clumps, and that’s okay. Keep whisking and as it continues to cook, and they will melt back down. Stop whisking once all of the sugar has melted, and swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar cooks.Continue cooking until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should look almost a reddish-brown, and have a slight toasted aroma. This is the point where caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds, so keep a close eye. Add the butter all at once. Be careful, as the caramel will bubble up when the butter is added. Whisk the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, be careful because the mixture will once again bubble up ferociously.Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add the fleur de sel and whisk to incorporate. Set the sauce aside to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and then pour into your favorite glass jar, and let cool to room temperature. (You can refrigerate any left over sauce for up to 2 weeks).

While the cakes cool, make the frosting. Beat the butter on medium-high speed until fluffy. Pour in the salted caramel, and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low and slowly add the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it has all been incorporated. Add the salt and vanilla. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional two to three minutes, until light and fluffy. Add cream as needed.

For the cake assembly, place one cake layer on a serving plate. Cover with half of the nougat filling and then spread a couple spoonfuls of the salted caramel sauce over top to evenly cover the nougat filling. Alternate cake and cookie layers, and cover with the remaining nougat filling and top with caramel sauce. Frost the cake with the salted caramel frosting, finishing it as smoothly as possible. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes, until the frosting is set.

While the frosting sets, prepare the chocolate ganache. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl; set aside. Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and warm until it just comes to a boil. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes. Begin whisking the mixture in the center, gradually working your way outward until the ganache is completely smooth. Set aside to cool, whisking occasionally, until it has thickened slightly, but is still a pourable consistency.

If you want to make the exterior of your cake smoother, you can add an additional layer of frosting on top of the crumb coat. The garnish is the final step. Drizzle caramel over the top and edges of the cake. Slowly pour the chocolate ganache into the center of the cake, letting it push itself outward, just to the edge of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes, giving the ganache a chance to set up. Drizzle some additional salted caramel sauce over the top of the cake, and top with peanuts and cut up snickers. I also piped on additional frosting swirls with a star tip.

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20140326-013812.jpgI had some left over cookie and chocolate batter, so I decided to experiment with a deconstructed snickers tower. It basically is a mini square tower of the cake 😀 It tasted wonderful. There is a great textural component from the nougat and peanuts, and the peanut butter cookie was a pleasant surprise. The star of the show is definitely the salted caramel sauce, and the caramel buttercream. I love the hint of salt from the caramel and peanuts, it really balances out the sweetness of this cake. I was really happy with the way this cake turned out, and loved the final product. If I were to make this cake again, I would consider toasting or candying the peanuts, just to add a little more pizzazz.

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The Secrets Behind a Perfect Macaron

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In honor of Macaron Day NYC 2014, I decided to whip up a batch of these delicious little treats. This holiday of sorts began in 2010 by François Payard, chef and owner of François Payard Bakery and FP Patisserie in Manhattan, NY. The day was created in honor of the Jour du Macaron (Macaron Day) in France, and falls on the same day.

Macarons are incredibly finicky. Sometimes, they develop those cute little feet and are just perfect. Other times, the feet are all over the place! I’ve tested out a few different recipes, and while some tips do help, some of the common “rules” around making macarons can be disregarded. The ideal macaron should be a perfect circle, with “feet” along the edges, where it has risen in the oven. They should comfortably slip off your baking mat. They also should be slightly chewy, yet crunchy, and they should taste like heaven.

Here is what I believe is most important during the baking process:

  • Kitchen scales are very useful for making macarons, as proper measurement of the ingredients ensures the best results. They’re also relatively cheap. That being said, I usually make macarons with cup measurements, and have been successful , so it is not a necessity!
  • I highly recommend buying a silicone baking mat, they’re amazingly useful, easy to clean, and last forever.
  • Use almond meal (finely ground almonds)! It’s not worth grinding up your own almonds. This will save you quite a bit of time, and clearning. Random note, if you do chose to grind  your own nuts, you can use different types of nuts! Common replacements include pistachios and hazelnuts.
  • Most recipes tell you to add the granulated sugar into the egg white gradually, but it’s a LIE! I’ve gradually added, and dumped all the sugar in at once, with no difference in my end product.
  • Aged egg whites are not a must. I’ve made macarons with egg whites at room temperature for about an hour or two and they have turned out just fine
  • Double stack your baking sheets to ensure that the pans heat evenly.
  • Use a piping bag with a round tip. I already have these on hand because of the cakes I bake, but they are pretty cheap to buy if you don’t! Piping bags and tips allow better control when piping the circles onto the mat for baking. You can use plastic bags, as long as they are the sturdier, freezer-type bag. Just cut a hole in the corner about 1 inch wide.
  • If you are going to color your macarons, use gel food coloring instead of liquid. Liquids can mess with the consistency of the macarons, and ruin the texture. Also, make sure you add the coloring  to the egg mixture while beating in the sugar, to ensure even distribution of the color.
  • When you are beating the egg whites, most instructions tell you to beat until glossy/stiff. I’ve found you should take it one step further, and beat them until they literally don’t move when you turn your bowl over. You should be able to hold the bowl over your head, and have NOTHING move. That’s when you know the egg whites are ready!
  • When folding the egg whites with the almond meal and sugar, use a flexible spatula. Make sure you’re folding motion is gentle, and that you repeatedly scrape around the bowl and move batter towards the middle. DO NOT OVERMIX. You should make no more than 50 folds. Many recipes say the consistency should be of lava, but if your mixture resembles runny pancake batter, you’ve gone too far.
  • After piping the macarons, tap the tray against your countertop on the sides of the tray, to make sure any air bubbles are released.
  • After piping the macarons, let the tray sit out for at least 25 minutes, until the tops of the macarons look dried out and are no longer spreading. This is the skin that needs to form in order for the “feet” of the macaron to properly develop.
  • When the weather is humid or rainy, it can negatively affect the macaron shells. The extra moisture can interfere with the development of the skin that should form during the resting stage.
  • Halfway through baking, rotate the pans in the oven. In my experience, my oven heats a bit more on one side more than the other. Most ovens do not bake perfectly even, and this will help ensure consistency throughout your final product.

I  have tried out a lot of online recipes for macarons, and this one has worked the best for me. I have continued using this recipe as a base, altering it to test out different flavors.

Lavender Macaron Base:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups almond meal
  • 1  cup powdered sugar
  • purple gel food coloring, if desired

Honey Lavender Buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lavender milk (milk steeped with lavender)
Chocolate Macaron Base:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups almond meal
  • 1  cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa

Chocolate Cookie Dough Filling:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2   cup brown sugar
  • 1 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (or finely chopped chocolate)
Begin by preheat the oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone mat.
The batters and baking process the exact same for both flavors. To make the macaron batter, place the sugar and water into a saucepan and heat until the sugar melts. Let this boil for about 4 minutes, and occasionally brush the sugar down from the sides with a wet brush (so the sugar doesn’t crystallize). In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an hand mixer until they form peaks. Slowly add the hot sugar syrup while constantly whisking. Whisk until the mixture becomes glossy, and is very stiff.
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Sift the powdered sugar, cocoa, and almond meal into a bowl. Gently fold this mixture into the meringue mixture, until everything is just incorporated.Pour the batter into a piping bag with a 1cm opening (I used a plastic bag and cut off the corner) and pipe 1 inch rounds onto a lined baking tray. Pipe from one side, at a 45 degree angle. Tap the tray firmly against the table, to remove any large air bubbles. Set these aside until the the tops of the macarons have developed a skin (about  30 minutes). Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the macarons are firm. Feet should have developed around the base of each cookie.
In a small sauce pan over medium add butter and brown sugar. Heat until it  has all melted and starts to boil. Remove from heat, and allow to cool to room temperature.Mix butter and sugar mixture, with salt and vanilla extract, until light and fluffy. Turn mixer to low, and mix in flour (1/2 cup at a time), until the dough comes together. The texture should be similar to frosting.  Slightly sticky, thick but soft enough that you could pipe it. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes, or until it stiffens up.
For the honey lavender buttercream, beat the butter with a hand mixer until it is light and fluffy. Slowly mix in the powdered sugar (1/2 cup at a time). Alternate the honey and lavender milk (use a tea bag or tied coffee filter, and let the dried lavendar steep in to the milk over a low heat for about 10 minutes) between powdered sugar installments.
Once the macaron shells and the ganache have cooled, combine the shells using the fillings. You can also use a buttercream, or jelly. The options of fillings, flavors, and colors are endless 😀

If I were to make the cookie dough macarons again, I would make the macaron with more cocoa (or add brown good coloring) to darken the shells, and add more visual contrast between the filling and the shells. The taste was on point though, I wouldn’t change a thing regarding the taste 😀

Raspberry Chocolate Fudge Cake

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Many wonderful things happen in March…. Day Light Savings Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and my good friend SIJIA’S BIRTHDAY!! SJ is near and dear to me, and I wanted to make her a birthday cake that is as wonderful as she is. This chocolate fudge cake, with a rich chocolate buttercream, and raspberry filling seemed perfect for the occasion.

Chocolate Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cup boiling water

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  • 1½ cups butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon espresso powder

Raspberry Filling:

  • 24 oz frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring. For the cake batter, add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute (to add air to the batter). Distribute cake batter evenly between the four prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely.

While the cake is baking, prepare the chocolate frosting. Add cocoa to a large bowl. Cream together butter and cocoa powder, until combined. Add the sugar and milk to cocoa mixture, alternating between 1 cup of sugar, and about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added. Mix in the vanilla extract and espresso powder. If the frosting appears too dry,  add more milk until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet, or does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

The last step is the raspberry filling, which will be layered on top of the chocolate buttercream between layers. Thaw the raspberries and strain juice from berries, reserve half the berries in a separate bowl.  Add enough water to the juice to get 3/4 cup of liquid. In a small saucepan, combine raspberry juice/water, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture bubbles and thickens.  Remove from heat, set aside.

To assemble the cake, alternate between cake layer, chocolate  buttercream, raspberry filling, and thawed raspberries. Repeat until you reach the top cake layer, then apply a thin crumb coat of frosting. Let the cake chill in the fridge for 30 minutes until the crumb coat is firm, then apply a thicker layer of frosting.I decided to do elegant pulls of chocolate frosting up the sides the cake, and then top the entire top of the cake with fresh raspberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. The end result? An elegant cake that perfectly matches the birthday girl 😀

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Cayenne Carrot Cake with Maple Bourbon Cream Cheese Frosting

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I have a go-to, traditional southern carrot cake recipe that I would stake my life on. It’s moist, has great texture, and has a wonderful balance of flavors. But there are only so many times a girl can make the same recipe in a month! This is the third request I’ve gotten for carrot cake, and I needed to mix things up. So I decided to spice up my favorite recipe. I experimented with a little cayenne, and made a spicy carrot cake with a bourbon maple cream cheese frosting.

Yield: 24 slices

Calories Per Slice: 377

Cake Base:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups finely grated carrot
  • 1 (12-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp maple bourbon
  • 1 Tbsp Pure Maple Syrup

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Begin by lining and lightly greasing three nine-inch, round, cake pans. Set the pans aside. Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon. Mix in the eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla at a medium speed, until fully incorporated. Fold in the carrots, pineapple, coconut, and walnuts.

Pour the batter in to prepare cupcake trays, filling them 2/3 full. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from pans immediately, and cool completely on wire racks.

While the cupcakes cool, prepare both types of frosting. For the cream cheese frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy (about 2 minutes), then add in the powdered sugar in several installments, adding a splash of cream and bourbon between installments. Add in vanilla and salt last, and beat until fully incorporated. Divide the frosting evenly, and mix the maple syrup into one of the frosting bowls.

Once the cake layers are fully cooled, frost each layer, and decorate as desired. I decided to make a walnut dirt garden, with orange and green gel colored, frosting carrot tops.

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Baking Tips and Tricks

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Below is a list of tips and tricks that I have either learned from the pros (which really means from watching the food network), read in books, or figured out through trial and error (this is an ongoing process). I can say that following these guidelines has drastically improved my baking, and I thought it would be nice to share. I hope that some of these will help you too 😀

Recipe and Ingredients:         

  • Ingredients for cakes should be room temperature (take out of refrigerator approximately an hour before using), it allows the butter and eggs to be properly incorporated into the batter.
  • To check freshness of eggs, put in a bowl of water–if they sink, they’re fresh. If they float and stand on one end, they’re not.
  • ”Eggs” typically means Grade A, large eggs.
  • “Milk” typically means homogenized.
  • You can substitute milk with yogurt or sour cream, to experiment with different textures.
  • To create a replacement for buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar for every cup of homogenized milk and stir
  • Weighing ingredients with a digital kitchen scale is the most accurate method of baking.
  • 1 large egg white = 37 grams, 1 large egg yolk = 20 grams. Eggs separate best when cold, but whites whip best when room temperature or warm.
  • Egg whites can actually be frozen–just pull them out of freezer night before you need them.
  • For best results, use pure vanilla extract  – it makes a difference (you can make it yourself! All you need is plain vodka and vanilla beans).
  • To bring cold eggs to room temperature quickly, you can put the whole eggs into a bowl of lukewarm water for 30 minutes.
  • To bring butter to room temperature quickly, you can cut into small cubes on a plate for about 15 minutes.
  • Semisweet Chocolate = Dark Chocolate.  Bittersweet Chocolate = Extra Dark Chocolate.
  • Semisweet & Bittersweet Chocolate are interchangeable.
  • Unless otherwise listed, use unsalted butter for cake recipes. That way you can be sure of the amount of salt you are adding to your batter (different brands of butter use different amounts of salt).

Mixing:

  • Incorporate dry ingredients together with whisk before adding to wet ingredients.
  • When creaming butter and sugar, get the mixture very pale yellow and fluffy. It will add small air pockets into the mixture and help develop a wonderful, light texture.
  • Always start and end with dry ingredients when alternating with wet ingredients (3 dry additions, 2 wet).
  • Don’t over-mix once dry ingredients are added. Just mix on low speed until incorporated.
  • Too much sugar can cause a dark crust, too little can cause too light a crust or tough texture.
  • Beat egg yolks with fork before adding to batter.
  • To retrieve stray eggshells in mixture, use the emptied half-shell–eggshell sticks to eggshell. If you don’t get them all, they will sink during baking…you can turn baked cake over when cool and retrieve them. I’d recommend fishing them out beforehand though.
  • A pinch of salt brings out the flavors in sweet baked goods.
  • When folding, you should always add the lighter of the two mixtures on top, using a gentle folding motion, to avoid deflating batter.
  • When mixing egg whites for meringue, wipe all utensils and bowl with vinegar or lemon juice on a paper towel before they come in contact with the egg whites (including the mixer whisk attachment). Any trace of grease can jeopardize your meringue!
  • If incorporating more than one flavor into a batter or icing, always start with the vanilla; vanilla enhances most flavors.

Baking Cakes:

  • For evenly-baked cakes, no domed tops, and no-fuss assembly, bake layer-by-layer.  This means if you’re baking a 3-layer cake, use 3 of the same size/shape pan, and bake 3 shorter layers at same time.
  • Use a small offset palette knife to spread batter evenly in pans. Don’t fill more than 1/2 full–2/3, at the most.
  • Always wait for oven to reach necessary temperature before putting cakes in oven.
  • Keep cakes away from sides of oven, and if possible a few inches from each other (when more than 1 baking at once).
  • Rotate cakes after 20  minutes in oven (don’t disturb before 20 minutes).
  • If baking a chocolate cake, make sure you chose a recipe that includes boiling water, or hot coffee. The heat from the liquid will help elevate the flavor of the cocoa.
  • Use middle rack, unless otherwise stated in recipe.
  • Typically, when in oven, cakes are almost done when you can smell the cake in the kitchen. Sounds weird, but you’ll see! Follow your nose.
  • Leave cakes in oven when testing for doneness. When a skewer comes clean from center of cake (or with very few crumbs), it’s done.
  • Don’t overbake! This is one sure way to end up with a dry cake.

Cooling & Frosting:

  • Let full cakes cool in pans on wire racks for 20 minutes before removing from pans.
  • Remove cupcakes from pan immediately, placing individual cupcakes on wire rack to cool.
  • Before piping frosting, massage the frosting bag a bit. The heat from your hands will warm the butter in the frosting, and make it easier to work with.
  • Brush away any stray cake crumbs with silicone pastry brush before icing.
  • Apply even layers of filling using an 18″ pastry bag and large round tip.
  • Apply thin layer of icing to seal in crumbs, then place in refrigerator for 30 minutes before second layer of icing.
  • Use an offset palette knife/icing spatula for frosting top of cake, and straight palette knife/icing spatula for sides of cake. Use a bench scraper for super-smooth edges.
  • If you don’t have time for frosting your cake, a good sprinkling of powdered sugar does wonders. Tastes and looks great on most cakes.
  • For clean cut cake pieces and minimal crumbs, run your cutting knife under hot water (and dry) right before cutting.
  • To give your frosted cake a glossy finish, you can use a hair-dryer on medium heat over the outside of the cake (right before serving).

Happy Baking!