Sunday, August 30, 2009

The last days of summer...

What a perfect way to end the summer at a wine festival. Headed to the Linganore Winery for the day
. They're known for their Berry Wines - if you like sweet wines, you will like it here. Each month in the summer they have a music wine festival - this month is was Blues. Kelly Bell Band was awesome! I don't care much for blues, but they make it fun and mix it up. I don't even really drink wine anymore, but it was a perfect day for a picnic with friends and good music.

For food, we all brought a little something to share. I'm tired of regular old sandwiches, so I made an Asian Chicken Salad. I added some ginger powder to the dressing. I also added shredded carrots and edamame. I plated them on 10 small paper plates so they would be ready for the picnic with the dressing on the side :) Aaron said it was one of my best salads I've made! For dessert, I had all that mexican chocolate left over so I made Mexican chocolate brownies :) I always need something sweet. I'm actually eating another one as I write this! I'm already planning to eat one with ice cream for dessert tomorrow night.

The day was beautiful! Could not have asked for a better day of weather. We just relaxed and hung out. My mom was there volunteering pouring wine which my friends enjoyed ;-)

I have one more summer "vacation" planned this coming weekend. Heading down to VA Beach to run in the Rockin Roll Half Marathon! Wish me luck! I don't think I will do much baking this week with classes starting also... but until next time .... Cara Lee

Friday, August 28, 2009

Food Pics: Asia

How I long to go travel again! My past two summers of '07 and '08 were spent in Asia. I taught English in China and then traveled around. I stayed in the States this summer and I am now officially suffering travel with drawl!! I am attempting to post some pics of the wonderful food I had during my travels in Asia. You may want to click on the image to view it clearer :)Countries I visited : China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

I have tons more pics... The more I keep looking through the more I want to go travel. I will do it again soon I know Cara Lee

Food Pics: Seattle

I love taking pics of food whenever I go out to eat or travel. Here are some from my trip to Seattle in April. And of course I had to check out the local cupcake scene! <3 Cara Lee

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"That's why they invented sprinkles..."

Tonight Ash and I decided to do some baking. I had been wanting to try to make How Sweet It Is bakery's Mexican Pudding Filled Cupcakes, and since I had a lot of the ingredients - including the Mexican chocolate, we figured why not??

Some highlights of the evening:
-I had almost put all the cupcake batter in the liners when I realized I had f
orgotten the egg yolks! (oops) Had to scrape all the liners back into the bowl and add the yolks.
-Over a dozen eggs later, we could not make the freakin chocolate butter cream icing the recipe called for!! 1st time, I added the butter too soon; 2nd time we beat the egg whites and sugar for almost 30 mins and NO peaks :( We think there might have been a little egg yolk mixed in as well as the extra humidity outside today which probably affected it. Ended up making a simple chocolate butter cream - not my best frosting I must say.
-Allie brought us Georgetown Cupcakes while we were baking cupcakes... I just want to learn how G-town makes their icing - its SO good! The cake is so good too... everything there is good!
-Ashley attempted to ice her half of the cupcakes... and that's why they invented sprinkles!
On a sugar high now!! Two days of baking back to back <3 Cara Lee

Cupcake cookies

So I decided to change it up a little and make cookies this week. I've always liked those Cookie Bouquet kind of artsy cookies, so I figured I would attempt to make these! I'm too poor right now to afford a baking class so google has been my BEST baking teacher. So keeping with my love of cupcakes, I really wanted to make cupcake shaped cookies - I've seen these before w/ some really cute designs, but I didn't have the cookie cutter shape, and I did not want to wait. I googled around my area for bakery supplies places, but no luck. I thought of Williams and Sonomoa, but they didn't have any.. then I remembered this store Sur La Table had a bunch of random cooking things - I had been in there a few times but never got anything or paid much attention. (It is now my new favorite store by the way!!) I looked it up online and sure enough they had the cupcake shaped cookie cutter I wanted. I called up the closest one and they had it :) Made my day!

So, for the sugar cookie I decided to stick to one of my favorite cookie recipes from Alton Brown. It's perfect for keeping the shape of the cookie cutter you choose. I would recommend adding either vanilla or almond extract (my fave) to the batter.

For icing, I looked up how to make royal icing and how to use it to color in and make designs. I'm not comfortable yet working with eggs and icing and I found an alternative which is to use meringue powder as substitute. It worked great by the way - at least I think it did, I didn't have anything to compare it to since it was my first time. Some tips about the royal icing: I added some almond extract, but I wish I had added some more for flavor. When I was researching stuff about royal icing, I read to keep it covered with a damp paper towel to avoid it hardening so fast - that helped out SO much! I also filled Ziploc baggies with the different colored royal icings - I'm the queen of improvising if I don't have a tool around or an icing bag. All you do is cut the corner a bit, when you are ready for it.
It was a long process - going to get the cookie cutters, making the dough, letting it chill, cutting them out, baking them, letting them cool, making the icing, icing them, decorating them, letting the icing harden, and finally wrapping them up for my friends. But it was worth it! And I learned a lot. The dough can be made ahead of time, the cookies keep for a few days in an air tight container and you can frost them when you are ready. I'm hoping to make some cookie favors my my aunt's engagement party in a few months, so I need the practice.

I'm to go bake with one of my best friends Ash... I'll post all about it next time. <3 Cara Lee

Friday, August 21, 2009

Strawberries and Chocolate

I wasn't sure if I wanted to make chocolate cupcakes with strawberry or strawberry with strawberry. So I decided on strawberry cupcakes with strawberry butter cream. I added a chocolate surprise int he middle - a Grand Marnier chocolate gnache. For garnish I cut out a heart shape strawberry and topped it with the green leaves of the strawberry. Overall I'm happy and everyone likes them. I think next time I will try a strawberry cream cheese butter cream and maybe a little strawberry extract in the cake to make it more strawberry tasting. I'm going to make chocolate cupcakes next week :) Enjoy!

Strawberry Cupcakes
(I used Sprinkle's bakery recipe)

Makes 1 dozen

  • 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
  2. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
  5. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
  6. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing. *When completely cool, cut out a cone shape in the center, remove, fill with gnache and put the cut out cake back in place. Then you may ice with the frosting
Strawberry Butter Cream
(I also used Sprinkle's bakery recipe)

Makes enough for 1 dozen cupcakes

  • 1/2 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners' sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not over mix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.
Chocolate Gnache
(Adapted from the Joy of Baking recipe)

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional) - You can use Grand Marnier or Amaretto for example
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. If desired, add the liqueur. *Note: I cut this recipe in half because it makes quite a lot. I let it cool down and firm up a bit, then put it in a small piping bag for easier filling into the center of the cupcakes :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Can't stop baking!

So I'm attempting to blog again lol. I have a lot of time on my hands recently since the restaurant I worked at decided to close. I'm jobless til fall or at least til I find another restaurant. Meanwhile, I'm taking advantage of my time off by baking! I'm still obsessed with cupcakes and I have been researching recipes and there are so many I want to make! I really would like to open my own cupcake shop or at least cater to weddings and events. Who knows...

Well, last week I used Magnolia's vanilla cupcake recipe to make vanilla bean cupcakes with two different frostings. One with a vanilla bean frosting and another with lemon frosting and a lavender glaze. I'm hooked on fresh vanilla beans and lavender right now! They were one of my best batches! I got rave reviews from all my friends and family who tried them. I posted the recipes I used below :)

(The cupcakes w/ heart sprinkles are the vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla bean frosting, the purple cupcakes are topped with lemon frosting and lavender glaze)

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
(adapted from Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes recipe)

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 of a fresh vanilla bean (this is the part I added)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. *Add half of the scooped out vanilla bean. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream
(adapted from Magnolia's Vanilla Buttercream)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 fresh vanilla bean (I added this part)

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes.

Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of a good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. *Scoop out the inside of half of a vanilla bean and incorporate it into the butter cream.

(Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Fresh Lemon Buttercream
Use the same recipe as above, but instead of the vanilla bean, juice 1/2 of a medium lemon. Strain out the seeds and pulp and add too the buttercream. Add lemon zest for even more flavor.

Lavender Glaze
(from Martha Stewart)

1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
3 cups confectioners' sugar
Violet gel-paste food coloring (regular food color worked fine for me)
*I cut this recipe in half - it makes alot

Bring milk and lavender just to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, and let steep 10 minutes. Strain, and discard lavender. Whisk in sugar until smooth. Add food coloring until desired shade. Use immediately. (I drizzled the glaze over the lemon frosting, and I think it would taste just as good on the vanilla or by itself)

I'm thinking I need to experiment with some chocolate this week. I'm feeling chocolate and strawberries :) <3 Cara