What Is It About Cupcakes & Summer?

We can’t help ourselves – we just keep making cupcakes this summer. Yesterday’s were Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and chocolate sprinkles. The cake recipe came from the wonderful cookbook More From Magnolia: Recipes from the World-Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey’s Home Kitchen. We improvised the frosting recipe and it was sooooo good. Chilled, the frosting is like peanut butter cheesecake. (Recipe below.)

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

(makes enough for 24 cupcakes)

20 oz. cream cheese, softened

12 oz. unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

approximately 12 oz. peanut butter (I use The Bee’s Knees Peanut Butter by Peanut Butter & Co.)

approximately 1 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar

(1) Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in peanut butter. Beat in sugar to taste.

(2) Decorate cupcakes (or other baked goods). Chill until serving.

Two Little Chefettes Monthly Cooking Challenge: Chocolate Chips

I was thrilled when I read that the theme for this month’s cooking challenge by Two Little Chefettes is Chocolate Chips. I have so many recipes that I love that call for chocolate chips. I considered entering one of my recent chocolate chip recipe posts (Bill’s Blondies, Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins, or Forgot Me Not Cookies); but since I have been writing about the heat lately (It’s Scorching Hot …, 96 and Going to Havana), I decided instead to use my recipe for Blondies Caliente. Yum!  Enjoy! Thanks Bebe and Ridha for putting together the monthly challenge! By the way, at the bottom of this post is my recipe for Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting which goes so well with these blondies.* So you get a 2-for-1 on this challenge!

Blondies Caliente

Makes about 16 blondies

Blondies with a kick. When used in baked goods Chipotle adds heat a little stronger than that of ginger, but with its own distinct flavor. These blondies are delightfully aromatic when warm.

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground chipotle pepper

1/4 t. ground nutmeg

1/4 t. salt

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

1 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 lg. egg

1/2 t. orange extract

1/2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 c. semisweet or dark chocolate chips

1/2 c. chopped honey-roasted peanuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8” square baking pan.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
  3. Place the butter in a medium size bowl. Stir in the sugar. Beat with a mixer on medium speed for 1 minute. Beat in the egg, orange and vanilla extracts until the mixture is light and fluffy. (This takes several minutes. Do not underbeat.) On lowest mixer speed, beat in dry ingredients and then chocolate chips and peanuts.
  4. Spread the batter evenly in the baking pan. Bake for about 24 to 26 minutes or until blondies start to pull back from the edge of the pan and the center feels almost firm to the touch. Do not overbake. Cool and then cut into squares.  If desired, chill before serving.

Variations: Substitute chopped Mexican chocolate for chocolate chips. Substitute peanut butter chips for honey-roasted peanuts.

Serving Suggestion: Frost with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting before serving. (Recipe below photo.)

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough to frost one 8″ or 9” square pan of baked goods.

This speckled pale brown frosting goes well with chocolate, orange, and nut flavorings.

6 oz. cream cheese softened

1/2 c. + 1 T. confectioner’s sugar

1 T. + 1 t. milk

1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. vanilla extract

  1. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in remaining ingredients until perfectly smooth again.
  2. Frosting can be spread on cooled brownies, blondies or cookies right away. If using frosting for piping decorations, chill for at least 4 hours first.

Be sure to refrigerate confections frosted with cream cheese frosting.

*Both of these are recipes that I developed for my cookbook Confectionately Yours: A Collection of Cookies, Candies & Yummy Confections.

I’ve Been Inspired by … Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea is rather exotic for this part of the country.  So before now, I have not tried growing it in Kansas. Through her gorgeous photographs of these plants, Sofi from Arabica really got me thinking about how much I miss tropical bougainvilleas. When I lived in California, I loved seeing these colorful plants climbing in all kinds of places. So last week I purchased a petite specimen called Bengal Orange at one of our local garden centers. Bengal Orange supposedly only gets to be 18 inches tall but  can grow up to 8 feet wide. I planted it in a terra cotta pot and am going to try to train it to grow along our “back porch” – a tiny space off my office where I do container gardening. The bougainvillea is a bright and cheerful addition. Thank you Sofi for the inspiration! I’ve since come across several other posts about bougainvilleas that I have “liked”: Smell the Flowers, Ramblings by Robin ScanlonGardening in the Lines, and The Make Shoppe. Here are a few photos of Bengal Orange. Oh, and since pretty Penny was keeping me company while I planted it, I had to include a picture of her too.

It’s Scorching Hot: Is it the Weather or the Peppers?

It is scorching hot in Manhattan, Kansas today. It was 97 degrees by noon and 107 in our yard at 5 pm (According to the weather service our official high was 101). So who could ask for a better day to write about hot peppers? In the little container garden on my “back porch”, I grow  Chenzo and Burning Bush Habañero peppers.  Chenzos have a rating of 45,000 scoville heat units (which is quite hot) while Habañeros are even hotter at 100,000 – 350,000 s.h.u. To put this in perspective, jalapeños rate  2,500 – 8,000 s.h.u.

Chenzo Peppers Ripening

Chenzo Peppers Ready to Pick

Burning Bush Habañero Peppers

When I picked my first bunch of Chenzos a few weeks ago, I tied them into a small ristra and hung them off the back porch to dry. It took about two and a half weeks for them to be ready to bring in. Of course, we were having cooler nights then. With our current temperatures, they would probably dry more quickly. I will use the dried peppers in chilis and rubs for grilling.

Chenzo Pepper Ristra

I decided to do  something different with the peppers that I picked today, so I made several bottles of Garlic Chili Lemon Oil. This can be used as a dipping oil with bread or tortillas, can be added to chilis, soups, pasta dishes, and salad dressing. If you decide to make your own flavored oils, be sure to sterilize fresh ingredients such as garlic either by heating them or acidifying them as the oil seals out oxygen and can easily lead to botulism growth. We want everyone to be able to eat safely!

What are your favorite ways to use hot chili peppers? It would be great to hear from you!

Getting Ready for the 4th: Wild Blueberry Cupcakes

I have very fond memories of the 4th of July from growing up. Every year the town – think very small town, here – would have a parade, followed by a variety show on the town beach, then fireworks over the lake. It was really something to look forward to. Even though I now live 1,800 miles from where I grew up, I still try to make the holiday special.

Wild Blueberry Cupcakes

makes 24

2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (stir before measuring)

2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 c. unsalted butter, softened

2 c. granulated white sugar

4 lg. eggs

1 1/2 t. lemon extract

1 c. whole milk

3/4 c. dried wild blueberries*

* If the blueberries seem hard, then place them in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over berries. Cover bowl with a plate. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain well. Liquid can be reserved for another use.

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 standard muffin cups with muffin papers or foils.

(2) Place flour in a medium bowl. Whisk in baking powder and salt. Set aside.

(3) Beat butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time and then lemon extract. Scrape down sides as needed.

(4) Gradually beat 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, then the remaining 1/3 of the flour into butter mixture.  Fold in berries.

(5) Carefully scoop batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean. Once done, place on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin cups and allow to cool completely before frosting. Decorate with your favorite lemon, almond, vanilla or cream cheese frosting recipe or with Nicole’s 2-Step Buttercream.

Nicole’s 2-Step Buttercream

requires a large food processor and a stand mixer

1 lb. unsalted butter, completely softened

5 c. confectioner’s sugar

3 c. heavy whipping cream

2 t. vanilla extract

1 t. almond extract

(1) Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a large food processor. Start to combine. While food processor is running, add cream and extracts. Process until completely smooth. You may need to pause your food processor now and then.

(2) Once completely smooth, transfer to a large stand mixer and beat until fluffy and white.

Thanks, Nicole, for letting me share your recipe!