1. You should memorize all the songs from Free to Be You and Me, preferably by watching it over and over on an old VHS tape checked out from the library.
2. It is never okay for a professor to offer to give you a massage. Even if it’s your Theater professor.
3. Sometimes you need to embrace the crazy and just go for it–it could turn out to be really great. Like combining ice cream and flour and making cake out of it. Seriously!
Important, Oprah-esque Life Lessons aside, I am excited to share this totally kitschy recipe for Ice Cream Muffins with you guys. It’s another winner from my recipe scavenging at Gramma’s house back in June, and definitely one of the wackier ones I came across. Since finding it, I’ve discovered that there are several versions out there, some which literally are just ice cream mixed with flour and then baked. This recipe I’m sharing with you has the extra help of a bit of oil and an egg, which I imagine makes for a better flavor, texture and mouthfeel in the finished product than just ice cream and flour alone.
Another thing that will really make these crazy little muffin-cupcake hybrids the best they can possibly be is to use a really great ice cream, the more high-end, the better. I’d look for something that doesn’t have more ingredients than it needs to, not much beyond cream, milk, sugar and eggs. The cheaper the ice cream, the more air it will have incorporated into it (not to mention creepy stabilizers, gums and preservatives) and since we’re measuring by volume and not weight here, you want to make sure you have enough dairy and sugar in the mix with the flour for the best texture and taste. You’re already rocking the boat here with the amount of crazy in the recipe–set yourself up for success with the best ingredients you can get your hands on.
The finished product is a delight–lightly sweetened, great vanilla flavor, totally versatile. I understand that we’re sort of teetering on the edge of Sandra Lee territory with this one, but I was so pleasantly surprised and basically humored by the entire experience of this recipe that I think I’ll take a tablescape for the team and share it with you anyway. Enjoy!
Ice Cream Muffins
Adapted from an old strip of newsprint from an unknown Midwestern publication
The better quality ice cream you choose, the better your results here. Note that this recipe calls for self-rising flour–it will not work with any other flour. I imagine other flavors of ice cream can be substituted. These can have a crazy rise, so keep the muffin cups only about 1/2 full of batter.
2 cups premium vanilla ice cream, very soft
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the ice cream and flour until smooth. Beat in the egg, oil and vanilla until well-blended. Divide the batter equally among the muffin tins, each about 1/2 full. Bake until the muffins are risen, lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Because my recent trip to visit family back in Illinois has rendered me unable to eat anything but comfort foods and because there’s really nothing wrong with cake soaked in sweet, caramelized milk and covered in mounds of freshly whipped cream, I give you my favorite recipe for Tres Leches Cake. You can find more videos like this one on the POC Media page. Enjoy!
Continuing my spree of Happy Accident recipes, I bring you a cupcake that came out perfectly delicious but yet so unexpectedly bizarre that I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to even tell you about it. Like my habit of drinking wine while watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate episodes on Saturday nights, it was all just so Wild! And! Crazy! But in the end, because we’re friends and regardless of how wacky the whole thing seems, they’re really flippin’ good. And truly, I really can’t think of a more efficient cupcake making experience. I’m talking about a Self-Frosting Sweet Potato Cupcake, people. True story.
It all started out as an idea to riff on one of my favorite recipes, the Sweet Potato Pound Cake recipe from a darling cookbook that just feels like a big hug, Southern Cakes. Packed with earthy roasted sweet potato and gentle spice, it’s completely addictive.
I thought I’d mix it up a little and bake the batter into cupcakes, and then do it up black bottom cupcake-style with a toasted pecan and cream cheese filling. But instead of the filling sinking into the centers of the cupcakes as they rose and baked, it sort of just swirled about and settled on the surface, making for a sweet, tangy, almost cheesecake-like layer on top of the tender, moist, spicy cake. Not too many more crave-worthy combinations than that, now, hmmm?
The awesome flavor and texture match here is what makes these cupcakes so great that they overcame their crazy factor. I should know, I mowed about half a dozen trying to decide. And miraculously, they’re not bad to look at, either, with their pretty, swirly patterns. Self-frosting, self-decorating, basically automatic cupcakes. It’s like the internet meeting baked goods or something. Or another metaphor that I’m just too crazed with vacation preparations to think of at the moment. But since I shared this magical cupcake recipe with you, can one of you invent a way to make laundry clean, fold and pack itself? Or at least figure out a way to beam us to the Midwest and avoid a 4 1/2 hour flight with a 22-month-old? Please and thank you.
I like to roast the sweet potato for this recipe–you just can’t beat the flavor. Roast them in the skins at 350 for about an hour. During the last 10 minutes or so, throw in the pecans to toast them, then leave the oven on at 350 to bake the cupcakes, too.
Makes about 2 dozen
For the cakes:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup roasted, peeled and mashed sweet potato (about 1 large)
For the topping:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined–it will look curdled and funky, but press on, it will smooth out when the other ingredients are added. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture, beating just to incorporate. Add half of the milk mixture, beat to blend. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is smooth. Fill the cupcake liners equally with batter, no more than halfway full.
To make the topping, beat together the cream cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth. Fold in the pecans. Dollop the topping equally among the cupcakes, a very generous tablespoon on each.
Bake one muffin tin at a time until a toothpick comes out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs here and there, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a day, then refrigerate after that.
This gem of a cake is one of my favorites of all time, from deep in the archives–you can find the full recipe way back in the archives here. Its formal name is Chocolate Fondant Cake, a dreamboat of a dessert that features a perfect balance of salty and sweet, and it’s insanely chocolaty, almost criminally so. It’s for the real chocolate lovers out there, those who live by the bold motto, “If it’s not chocolate, it’s just not worth it”. With that in mind, I like to call it “So Worth It Cake”. Chocoholics of the world, raise your fists–this one’s for you.
Oh, White Chocolate. Poor, misunderstood, totally underestimated White Chocolate. Come here. I feel you. The awkward young teen in me (the one with the pointless “clear” braces and oddly shaped bangs, whose coltish gait made her fear all things athletic) pulls you to her AAA-cup breast to tell you it will be all right, that you have lots of wonderful qualities. And someday, even the most elite of the culinary community will come to embrace you and then wonder what took them so long. When that happens, don’t forget that I was always here, loving you all along, even when everyone was dissing you and saying you were so 80s.
In fact, I love you so much that I buy you in bulk, and sadly shake my head when I notice that the bins of your dark and bittersweet competition are always visited more than yours. But then, maybe that’s the problem right there. It’s sort of true what your haters say–you’re not really chocolate. You’re cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla, no actual chocolate in you to speak of. But you know what, White Chocolate? That’s not your fault. Your name is just a label. A label that some moron gave you as a way to categorize you for their own convenience. But one day you’ll graduate from high school and head off to college and be able to start fresh, and–wait, what? Oh.
So I was saying. Cocoa butter and vanilla is a lovely thing to be–at your best, you’re dreamy and creamy, a breath of sweet vanilla in every bite. I like to think of you as Vanilla Chips or Vanilla Bar, and use you in fabulous ways that break the monotony of having the dessert course be an endless cycle of chocolate and fruit-based desserts. And with recipes like White Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream to show off everything that’s great about you, well, you are a star.
Other than just being delicious, one of your most endearing qualities is your ability to play well with others. Like in this recipe, which satisfies my cupcake craving like none other. Coconut milk, of all things, is the secret, undetectable ingredient here that gives you even more sparkle in a cake that is so perfectly sweet, so moist, with a richness I’ve never experienced before in a white cake. Pairing you with cream cheese in a luscious buttercream is nothing short of White Chocolate Dynamite (which, coincidentally, would be an awesome moniker for me to use in a dance contest someday). I love you, White Chocolate. Thanks for being you.
The original recipe says this recipe yields 14 cupcakes–I easily got 18, using a leveled 1/4 cup of batter in each cup (I used a standard ice cream scoop). I’m sure the white chocolate called for in the original recipe is meant to be chopped bar chocolate, but I had tons of high-quality white chocolate chips on hand, so I used them instead and everything turned out delicious. I also opted to add some confectioners’ sugar to the frosting, to stiffen and sweeten it up a bit, but it’s not necessary–add it only to your taste.
The cakes and the icing keep beautifully, tightly covered and refrigerated, for up to 3-4 days so these are great make-ahead cupcakes. Unsweetened coconut milk can be found in nearly every supermarket under a few brand names, usually in the Asian foods aisle.
If you can find them, white chocolate vermicelli (thinner, crunchier and much tastier than regular jimmies) make the perfect finishing touch for these cupcakes, adding crunch and extra white chocolate flavor.
Makes 18 cupcakes
For the cakes:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
5 large egg whites
For the frosting:
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips
Up to 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, to taste (see note)
Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners, 12 in one and 6 in the other.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. When it’s just warm to the touch, stir it into the butter mixture on low speed, just until combined–it may separate a bit, but it will come back together. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the coconut milk in three batches until well-blended. Transfer the batter to a medium bowl.
Clean and dry the bowl of the mixer. Whip the egg whites on medium high speed until they reach soft peaks, about 4 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions.
Fill the muffin cups no more than 3/4 of the way full with the batter. Bake one tin at a time until a toothpick just comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a cooling rack, then turn them right side up and let them cool completely.
To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt together until light and smooth. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler and cool until it is just warm to the touch. Scrape the white chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and beat to combine. Taste the icing and check the texture–if you like your icing sweeter and with a bit more body, add in some confectioners’ sugar. If the frosting is too soft to spread, refrigerate it for about 20 minutes and then whip it for 30 seconds before using. Ice the cupcakes generously and decorate as you wish.
The iced cupcakes can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
I love the idea of taking something awesome and making it…awesomer. Like a good old-fashioned pound cake, for example. When done right—golden, buttery, a slight crust with a tender crumb—it doesn’t get much better. Unless you add peanut butter. And wee chocolate chips, because it’s a natural thing to do. All aboard! The awesomer train is leaving. Am I right? Well, you just hang on there a second.
Okay, so. Because we’re friends, I’ll start by saying that I really sort of messed up this recipe. The finished product didn’t really reach its full potential and I totally take responsibility for that. It all started with so much promise—lots of creamy peanut butter swirled into a billowy, silky batter? I mean, come on—but then, then!, I committed one of the Cardinal Sins of Baking. I didn’t read all the instructions carefully enough before I started. Was it due to a tiny person suddenly overturning something heavy onto herself in the other room? Did I suddenly realize I’d forgotten to put on deodorant AGAIN? I’ll never tell. Either way, it was a very straight-C student thing of me to do, glossing over the instructions like that. Thinks of high school, covers face, runs away.
I’d prepped my (properly-sized) pan with cooking spray and parchment, started with room temperature ingredients, and preheated my oven to the right temperature with my trusty oven thermometer inside to make sure the heat was on point. But! I was a crazy fool and didn’t place my oven rack to the right position within that perfectly heated oven. Wuh-wuuhhhh. So I’ll take one for the team here and be the example of why being a nitpicker about oven rack placement really does matter. I love you guys that much.
So you might be saying, “Really, Shauna? Does oven rack placement make THAT big of a difference, or are you just being all Type A on us again?” . Well. The answer is oh, yes (on both accounts, really), and it separates the just okay results from the stellar ones. Most baking recipes will indicate where you should place the oven rack, and most often this will be in the center of the oven, where the heat will hit both the top and bottom of the baking pans with the same intensity and give even browning and baking. I’ve found that in most recipes where oven rack placement isn’t indicated, it’s safe to assume that the center position will give good results (or for things like cookies when you can bake more than one sheet at a time, go for the upper and lower thirds of the oven).
But other recipes, like those for thick, dense cakes like Bundts, loaf cakes, and ahem, peanut butter pound cakes, call for the oven rack to be placed in the lower part of the oven. With more heat hitting the cake from the bottom of the oven, the center will bake thoroughly without the top getting overly browned or burnt during the long bake (usually an hour or more) that these sort of cakes require.
So if you’ve got a perfectly browned peanut butter pound cake that’s still crazy raw in the middle after an hour, making your total baking time ridiculously longer than what the recipes suggests (and rendering the finished product edible, but undeniably overbaked) then you, too, might be a victim of Oven Rack Placement Issues. Just like me. Sitting here, eating a hunk of peanut butter pound cake with so much potential and great flavor, but an overbrowned crust and “meh” texture due to overbaking. Thinking about how I’ve got to add Oven Rack Placement Issues to all my other issues. I-yi-yi.
And now that I’ve broadcast the error of my ways, I’m still going to pass this recipe on to you with great faith that you’ll do it the right way. And then report back with your success in the comments section to rub it in. Please and thank you.
Peanut Butter Pound Cake
Adapted from Flo Braker’s recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
Now, the original recipe didn’t include chocolate chips, but I literally could not hold myself back from adding them. It was a moral issue of sorts. You do what you like.
Room temperature ingredients are one of the pillars of great baking, but are seriously important here. With no leavening, all the lift in this cake with come from air incorporated into the batter—you’ll get the most air into the mix with truly room temperature butter and eggs.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (the commercial stuff, not natural)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
2/3 mini semisweet chocolate chips
Place an oven rack IN THE LOWER THIRD OF THE OVEN and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line it with a a strip of parchment paper to create a sling with a bit of overhang on the long sides of the pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until well-combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the flour in two additions. When just a few streaks of flour remain, pull the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chocolate chips by hand.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes. Let cool in the pan before slicing and serving.
When one gets the crazy idea to become a mother, people come out of the woodwork with tales of joy and woe and generally way, way too much information. Everyone has an opinion, everyone seems to give unsolicited advice. I definitely found this to be the case while expecting Little C, and it made me all stabby on more than one occasion. But on the plus side, a few of those nuggets of wisdom did manage to cling to my already deteriorating memory, and by the time the tiny being who had set up camp in my body for the better part of a year became an outside baby, I felt pretty ready for this motherhood thing. After all, millions had gone into it before me and millions more have chosen to do it multiple times, God bless ‘em. It couldn’t be altogether impossible, right? Right?
Well, it’s true–it’s certainly not impossible, though some days, especially early on, it absolutely felt that way. Never before had I ever had such an odd sensation, like laboriously wading through space, as though underwater, for weeks (months) on end. The long hours that my husband was at work and I was home alone with a strange newborn creature who was colicky, nursing on demand every 45 minutes and who refused to sleep at all, trying to keep her fed and clean and content on very little sleep myself were some of the most trying moments of my life. And I was more than a little depressed about the whole thing. Not. Awesome.
I’ve heard it said that you’re given the sort of child that you need in order to learn something from the experience. True. Even the very wee infant Baby C, so tiny and fragile, and yet so generally relentless, knocked my self-centered, poor time-managing behind so far down my personal totem pole, it took the better part of two years to even consider what I might like to do with the remainder of my life, outside of being a mother. This is something I’ve just started to mull in the past couple of months. And guys, it’s freaking me out.
Arriving at this point after so much time completely consumed with the day-to-day tasks of raising my baby has been sort of mind-blowing. I think about the next steps to move forward with personal goals and making long-held dreams come true and returning to projects I started before Little C, and I shake with anticipation, the thrill of doing something just for myself, and an incredible amount of fear. Because what if it’s too much? What if I drop the ball at home? Can I manage to shift focus without changing my priorities? And I feel such intense guilt, just thinking about focusing on something other than my family, before I’ve even done anything at all. I am convinced this is some kind of biological thing, because it’s a weight so heavy that it’s enough to hold a mother down in her nest, so that she’ll never go anywhere or see anything that might take her focus away from her brood. It’s a weight that is equal parts welcomed and wonderful, crazymaking and suffocating. The random well-wishers with all their fancy advice in the grocery checkout line never threw that one out at me while I was expecting. Would’ve been nice, randoms. Thanks.
But I keep returning to these ideas that I have brewing, these new opportunities I can create for myself, and think that maybe in the end, it would be about more than just me. If I can accomplish certain things on my Bucket List, even if they take me away from home here and there, I’m able to cross off the first thing on that list, which is to Be the Best Mother I Can Be. And I’m pretty sure part of that job description is to live by example. To show my little girl that anything worth having is worth working for, and that following dreams should be a lifelong journey. That the journey to realizing those dreams might slow down or get interrupted sometimes, but it should never stop altogether, no matter what circumstances come up. Even if those circumstances involve raising a beautiful, smart, funny, perfect baby girl who brings me more joy, more fulfillment on a level that I just can’t explain. The grocery store randoms did tell me about this bit, but I never could have imagined the depth of this love.
It’s a big deal, being a mother. I try to play it down sometimes to childless friends or other people I meet or even to my own mother, maybe to make it seem like I’ve Got This or to hide my own insecurities, but it’s a big, Biden-expletive deal. It’s why strangers feel like they can share war stories with pregnant people in grocery stores, why there’s a million blogs and books on motherhood, why we have our very own holiday and why you should make a beautiful, rustic, flavorful Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake for every mother you know, and then invite them for tea this Mothers’ Day. It’s so good, I made one for myself.
To make 1 cup of pistachio flour, grind 1 cup unsalted pistachios with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour in a food processor or clean coffee grinder until fine. Note that this recipe uses kosher salt, so for regular salt, halve the amount. The Demerara sugar is for sprinkling over the batter, and makes for the most delicious, slightly caramelized, crunchy layer that really makes this cake–so don’t skip it.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for the pan
2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup pistachio flour (see note)
3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
7 large egg whites
1 cup fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt and cook the butter over medium heat until it is browned and smells nutty, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, pistachio flour, cake flour, and salt. Whisk in the egg whites to combine. In a slow and steady stream, gradually whisk in the browned butter. Cover and chill the batter until thickened, about 1 hour (or up to 1 week ahead).
When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar generously and evenly over the batter. Bake until the edges of the cake are golden and the cake springs back slightly when touched, about 35-40 minutes (I needed more time here, about 45 minutes).
Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before removing the ring from the tart pan and letting it cool completely, or serve slightly warm. This cake is best eaten the day it is made, but can be wrapped tightly and stored for up to 2 days.
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