Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cupcake Palooza: Tropical Carrot Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Angela from Spinach Tiger asked if I would be interested in participating in Cupcake Palooza. At the time I had never heard of the event, but since it obviously involved cupcakes, I was intrigued. Who doesn't love cupcakes, right? The event invited professional cupcakers, as well as home bakers, to donate ten to twenty dozen cupcakes. Guests could purchase a $15 ticket, which entitled them to ten cupcakes of their choosing. A little more investigation revealed that the event would benefit Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee, an organization that is focused on increasing literacy and school readiness, which is an important and worthwhile cause.

Angela, Grishma from Zaika Zabardast, and I decided to share a table to lighten our individual baking loads. We each wanted to make different flavored cupcakes, but we wanted to stick to a theme. Since it's springtime and Easter is just around the corner, that seemed like an appropriate jumping off point. Angela made Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting. Grishma brought Pina Colada Cupcakes filled with pineapple curd. I shared Tropical Carrot Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting.

As I mentioned in my "Blue Ribbon" Peppermint Patty Brownie post, I won several ribbons at the Tennessee State Fair last year. One of them was in the "Vegetable Cake" category for my Tropical Carrot Cake with White Cream Cheese Frosting. Prior to Cupcake Palooza I had only ever made this recipe as a layer-cake, never cupcakes. I was a little concerned that the recipe may not translate as well in cupcake form, but fortunately they turned out great! As an additional challenge, I made a small batch of eggless cupcakes to share with Grishma and her husband, as they are lacto-vegetarians. For my first foray into eggless cake baking, I would say they were a smashing success. In fact, I could barely tell a difference between the two.

Tropical Carrot Cupcakes

Original Version
adapted from: King Arthur Flour and inspired by: Annie's Eats
Yield - approximately 70 mini cupcakes, 22-24 standard cupcakes, or one 2 layer 9-inch cake

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
14 ounces (2 cups) sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 1/2 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pineapple tidbits
3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, diced
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
2. Beat oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
3. With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until just incorporated. Stir in carrots, coconut, pineapple, and ginger.
4. Fill liner 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes for mini cupcakes (longer for regular cupcakes), or until they test done using a toothpick.

Eggless Version
adapted from Renu's Kitchen
Yield - approximately 36 mini cupcakes

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/4 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely grated carrot
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup pineapple tidbits
1 1/2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, diced
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.
2. Beat oil, yogurt, sugar, and vanilla extract together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.
3. With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients until just incorporated. Stir in carrots, coconut, pineapple, and ginger.
4. Fill liner 2/3 full with batter. Bake for 15-20 minutes for mini cupcakes (longer for regular cupcakes), or until they test done using a toothpick.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces white chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar

1. Melt white chocolate together with heavy cream in either a double boiler or in the microwave in 15 second increments. Set aside to cool.
2. Beat together cream cheese and butter until thoroughly combined. Beat in melted white chocolate. Add powdered sugar in batches, beating with each addition. If a stiffer frosting is desired, add additional powdered sugar.

Linked to: Ingredient Spotlight, Mrs. Fox's Sweet Party, Midweek Fiesta

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Samoas Cheesecake Bites

People tend to have very strong opinions about which Girl Scout cookie variety is the best. I've heard that Thin Mints are the best selling variety year after year. I can certainly see why. It's chocolate. It's peppermint. It's delicious. It's very refreshing. Kudos to those that get the Seinfeld Junior Mint reference; those that don't, well thanks for making me feel old. Anyway, Thin Mints are definitely one of my favorites, but they don't hold the top spot on my list. No, that spot is reserved for Samoas (or Caramel Delites, depending on your geographic location).

Samoas represent everything that is good in the world: chocolate, caramel, and toasted coconut all nestled together on a shortbread cookie. I'm pretty sure I could easily polish off an entire box (or maybe three) in one sitting. This year I exercised a little self-restraint and didn't immediately inhale the two boxes I ordered from a friend's daughter. Instead, I used about half of a box to make these cheesecake bites. Because, apparently, I like to turn things into cheesecake (exhibits A, B, C, D, and E). I'm actually kind of obsessed with creating new cheesecake flavors, or at least tweaking old ones. I hope you don't mind.

When I was initially struck with the idea of making Samoas cheesecake bites, I knew I didn't want to just make a plain cheesecake with some Samoas thrown in and call it a day. No way. I wanted to make mini cheesecakes that actually looked like Samoas. I started by making a shortbread cookie crumb crust, then I topped that with a Samoas laced cheesecake filling. Once the filling was baked and cooled, I spread a mixture of caramel and toasted coconut on top, then I dipped the bases in melted dark chocolate, and finally drizzled melted chocolate over the top. The results absolutely exceeded my wildest expectations. These were amazing. I would venture to say these are my favorite cheesecake creation ever (so far, at least). Coming from me, that is saying a lot. Seriously, if you still have a box of Samoas at your house, make these. You can thank me later.

Samoas Cheesecake Bites
yield: 9 mini cheesecakes

4 ounces shortbread cookies, finely crushed (I used these; feel free to use Trefoils or other purchased shortbreads)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the wells of a mini-cheesecake pan with non-stick spray.
2. Toss together cookie crumbs and sugar. Stir in melted butter. Press approximately one tablespoon of crumbs into nine of the wells in the cheesecake pan.
3. Bake crust for approximately 10 minutes, or just until it begins to brown.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Cheesecake Filling
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 Samoas cookies, roughly chopped

1. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Beat cream cheese and sugar together on medium until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl and beater blades periodically.
2. Lower mixer speed to low and mix egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Continue to mix until smooth. (Helpful hint: if your cheesecake batter is lumpy, your ingredients were probably too cold. To remedy this, I use my immersion blender to smooth out the batter).
3. Stir in the chopped cookies. Pour batter over crust, filling to within a 1/2 inch of the top of each well. Bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until just set. Turn oven off and slightly crack door. Allow cheesecakes to cool in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Topping (and Bottom) - adapted from Baking Bites
1 cup shredded coconut
4 ounces chewy caramels
1 tablespoon milk or cream
Pinch of salt
3 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Spread coconut over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 5 minutes, until toasted. Keep a very close watch when the coconut begins to brown, as it can go from nicely toasted to burned very quickly.
2. Melt together caramels, milk, and salt either over a double boiler or in the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes. Stir periodically while heating. (I used some leftover homemade salted caramel sauce that I had in the fridge in place of the caramels and milk.) Once the mixture is smooth, stir in toasted coconut.
3. Spread about 2 teaspoons of the coconut-caramel topping over each cheesecake, and allow to set for a few minutes.
4. In the meantime, melt chocolate in 30 second intervals in the microwave on medium heat, stirring after each interval. Carefully dip the bottom of each cheesecake into the chocolate and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
5. Once all cheesecake bottoms have been dipped, transfer remaining chocolate to a zip-lock bag with a very small corner snipped off. Drizzle chocolate over coconut-caramel topping. Place cookies in the refrigerator until chocolate covered bottoms have set. Enjoy.

Linked to: Make it Cute, Creative Me, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, Tea Party Tuesday, Trick or Treat Tuesday, Midweek Fiesta, Mrs. Fox's Sweet Party, What I Whipped Up Wednesday, It's A Keeper Thursday, Ingredient Spotlight

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Adventures in Coffee Cupping at Roast, Inc.

A couple of weeks ago, David and I had the pleasure of joining a group of Nashville food bloggers for a coffee cupping event at Roast, Inc., a locally owned coffee roaster that hand selects their coffee from up to sixteen different countries. The owners of Roast, Inc., Brad and Lesa Wood, are slightly obsessed with their coffee. They can tell you where it was grown, who grew it, how and where it was processed, and precisely when it was brought into the US.

In addition to offering extraordinary coffee for purchase by the pound, Roast, Inc.'s coffeehouse, located at 4825 Trousdale Drive, prides itself as being Nashville's only single-cup brewer. Prior to this event I was really only aware of two single cup brewing methods: French press and Keurig. Turns out, there are many others, including:

                               Chemex                                                         Clever Coffee Dripper

  Aeropress                                                      Siphon pot

Each method yields a cup of coffee with subtle yet distinct characteristics, from the clean and crisp product of the Yama Siphon Pot to the full-bodied, full-flavored product of the Clever Coffee Dripper. My favorite methods were the siphon pot, mainly because I'm kind of a science nerd, and it's super cool, and the Clever because of its simplicity and ease of use.

Roast, Inc. also offers all of the typical espresso based drinks made on a hand-rebuilt Rancilio Millennium Two Group Machine.

I'm sure it was some combination of the exceptional quality of the coffee, Lesa's expertise in roasting and brewing, and the use of milk from Hatcher's Family Dairy, but the cappuccino I had at Roast, Inc. was hands down the best I have ever had.

I almost always add some sort of sweetener when I have a cappuccino or latte, but this was perfect all on its own: wonderfully bold with no hints of bitter or burnt flavors.

Another important note: Roast, Inc. uses only natural sweeteners and flavorings in their specialty coffee drinks, including maple syrup and agave nectar. They even make a Nutella latte with nothing but espresso, steamed milk, and Nutella. It was pretty amazing.

Of course this wouldn't have been a proper food blogger meetup without food. We had quite a spread, including a couple of types of quiche, scones, muffins, doughnuts, and my contribution, sausage and biscuits, with sausage from Peaceful Pastures and biscuits made with buttermilk from Hatcher's Family Dairy (and lard from Peaceful Pastures). I'll be sharing my recipe for biscuits in an upcoming post.

I also had the opportunity to get to know a couple of my fellow Nashville food bloggers a little better, particularly Angela from Spinach Tiger (pictured below) and Lisa from Wine with Lisa. During the event we discovered that we all live in the same area, and that Angela and I actually live in the same neighborhood. It was great to meet you ladies, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

For anyone in Nashville looking for exceptional coffee by the pound, I highly recommend stopping by Roast, Inc. In addition to coffee by the pound and fresh brewed coffee and espresso, they also carry a full line of single-cup brewing gadgets for your home collection, including Chemex, Clever, Aeropress, and siphon pots. If you're a novice coffee brewer like me, be sure to ask for advice on which methods work best for which coffees. They will be more than happy to help you recreate the perfect cup of coffee at home. Thanks again to Brad, Lesa, and Tim for coming in on their day off to share the passion for great coffee with our group!