Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Apples to Apples!

Over this past holiday break, my family played the game Apples to Apples, which is one of the best games ever in my book.  My brother and sister-in-law got me this new cookbook called "What's New, Cupcake?" and I was dying to try something in there.  This book specializes in, shocker I know, cupcakes and teaches you how to decorate all of these amazing looking cupcakes from rubber duckies to walruses.  In honor of the game Apples to Apples, I decided to try to make the cupcakes that look like this great fruit.

Apple Cupcakes

Cupcake Recipe
1 Box White Cake Mix
1 Cup Buttermilk
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
4 Eggs
Red Cupcake Liners

This is one of the simplest recipes ever.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a box combine all of the ingredients and mix on medium speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Place the red cupcake liners in the cupcake tin, and fill each cupcake up 2/3 full.   Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool in tin for 5 minutes before transfering the cupcakes onto a wire rake.

Apple Decorating Tools

Chocolate covered Mini Doughnuts
1 Can of Vanilla Frosting
Red Food Coloring (the gel is better than the liquid!)
Red Decorating Sugar (at least a cup)
Tootsie Rolls
Green Taffy (you can use anything that you can shape into leaves)

First, you need to add the food coloring to the Vanilla frosting until it is to your desired color of red.  Set this aside, and take the doughnuts and cut the bottom part of the doughnut off so that it is even.  Next, take the cooled cupcakes (these must be cooled completely through!!!) and cut off the top most rounded part of the cupcake so that it is leveled out as well (don't level the cupcake with the liner though).  Take a dollop of the red frosting, and put it on the cupcake and smooth over the top of each cupcake.  Take the doughnuts and place them on top.  Next, frost the cupcakes completely until each one is fully covered by the frosting and smoothed out (use a frosting spatula to make it easier!).

Once you have frosted the cupcakes, pour your red decorating sugar into a bowl, and you can either roll the cupcakes into the frosting to cover them all or you can sprinkle the sugar on top.  I like the rolling technique because it gives you a very even distribution of the sugar as well as helping to smooth out the frosting.  Set the cupcakes aside.

Now it is time to get the leaves and stems ready.  For the stems, take the Tootsie Rolls and cut them in half.  Take each half and roll out until they are smooth and form them into a stem shape.  For the leaves, roll out the green taffy into flat pieces, cut out leaf shapes, and bend them until you have the shape you want (I didn't have many options for green taffy candy where I was at, so I bough the multi-colored sugared fruit slices, and used the green ones by cuting out small shapes). 

Take the stems and place them directly into the center of the cupcakes.  Take the leaves and place them as you like using two on some cupcakes and one on others.

Overall, this recipe is super easy and it makes for an awesome looking gift.  I brought these over to my Grandparent's house as well as to my aunt, uncle and cousins, and they were amazed by how pretty they were.  Want to boost the presentation?  Get a picnic basket and put down a checkered cloth in it and place the apples inside.  I really wish this "apple" was what the doctor was talking about with that old saying.....

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Nothing says the Holidays quite like Pecan Pie!

The holiday season is officially upon us.  All of us New Yorkers can tell this by a few indicators:  you can't leave your apartment without bundling up, we have already seen our first few flurries, and every single store front in Manhattan has been advertising their Holiday Sale since after Halloween.  My office is having our official "Non-Denominational Winter Month" Celebration (when you work for the government, it's all about being politically correct) complete with a turkey, different side dishes, and of course desserts.  I know it probably comes as a huge shocker that I requested to make a dessert, and there is no better dessert to make than a Pecan Pie.  Our party isn't until next Friday, but it being a little chilly outside, I decided to stay in and do a dry run.  I realized that the last Pecan Pie I made was before I left for Peace Corps over 4 years ago.  What does this mean?  It's been a long time let's get started!

Dough Ingredients:

1 1/4 C. Flour
2 tsp. Sugar
1/8 tsp. Salt
1 stick Butter (cold), diced
1 Egg, lightly beaten
Flour, for rolling the dough

5 tbsp. Butter
1 C. Light Brown Sugar, packed
3/4 C. Light Corn Syrup
1/2 tsp. Salt
2 C. Chopped Pecans
1-2 tbsp. Bourbon (I used Jim Beam)
2 tsp. Vanilla
3 Eggs, lightly beaten

So, start with the crust.  You are going to make the dough by hand with no mixer involved.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  With your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow cornmeal mixed with bean-sized bits of butter.  If the mixture gets too warm, just put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so to keep it cool.  Add the egg and stir the dough together with a for (or by hand if you want) in the bowl.  If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon of cold water over the mixture.

Take the mixture and form it into a disk, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (about an hour).

On the counter, flour the surface lightly and roll the dough with a rolling pin into a 12" circle about 1/8" thick.  Transfer the dough to a 9" pie pan and trim the edges, leaving about an extra inch hanging over the edge.  Tuck the overhanging dough underneath itself to form a thick edge even with the rim of the pan.  Put the pie shell in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Take the pie shell out of the freezer and using a fork, poke holes over the bottom of the pan (this helps the dough from bubbling up while baking).  Bake the pie shell until it is golden brown, about 9-11 minutes.  Take the shell out and set aside and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Now it is time for the filling: in a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt.  Bring to a boil over a medium heat, and while you stir constantly, let this boil for a minute.  Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts, bourbon, and the vanilla.  Set the mixture aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.  Whisk the beaten eggs into the filling until smooth, and then with the pie shell on a cookie sheet, pour the mixture into the pie shell and place it in the oven.  Bake on the lower oven rack until the edges are set but the center is still slightly loose (this should be about 40 minutes).  Cool on a rack and then serve it up!

This recipe is one of the better ones out there.  It is really simple to make and the flavor is amazing.  I over baked my pie by about 5 minutes (I baked it for 45 minutes), and so I will make sure to adjust this for my holiday party.  I am probably going to have to make 2 pies to make sure everyone gets a piece!