White Chocolate Strawberry Almond Muffins

I am not spontaneous.  Ok, wait, that came out wrong, let me try again from the other side.  I am a planner.  Some may even call me a compulsive planner.  I want to know about things happening well in advance; I like to make schedules, menus, to-do lists, etc.

So when things happen that I don’t plan for, like say, you go to get your pork shoulder out of the fridge to get it ready to sit in the slow cooker for 8 hours because you’re making dinner for your fiancé’s boss and his wife that night, and even though the sell by date on the meat is today, the edges of the meat are turning green.  Yes, green….bleck.

It’s 9am, and you need a pork shoulder in your slow cooker fast.  You’re still in your pajamas, and halfway to tears over the money you lost on the first pork shoulder.  You manage to pull yourself together, but then trip over your rabbit going up the stairs to change and scrape your elbow.  You then head to the grocery store, thanking every god known to man you only live 3 mins from Stop & Shop.  You sprint to the meat section, select a new, very pink pork shoulder and rush back to the check out area like a wide receiver running for a game-winning touchdown, cradling your precious pork shoulder right in the crook of your arm.

And then you’re back home at 9:20, slapping some serious dry rub on that shoulder, crisis averted.  *whew* But then you realize you totally forgot to write a blog post the night before because you were too tired after your dancing lesson. *cringe*  I’m only human guys.

Lucky for me I had a fantastic breakfast that morning by way of these muffins.  They combine white chocolate, strawberries and almond meal together in one perfect little parcel; not too sweet, and full of flavor.

White Chocolate Strawberry Almond Muffins

Adapted from Honey & Jam

Makes 8-10 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup almond flour or almond meal
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda

2 large eggs
¼ cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup honey
½ cup chopped white chocolate
1 cup fresh strawberries, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.  Mix dry together ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine wet and dry until well incorporated. Gently fold in white chocolate and strawberries.  Divide batter into cups; you will most likely not need all 12.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes before removing muffins.



Peaches n’ Cream Cupcakes & A Move

Well, it was a process, but we made it.  Sorry for my absence from this blog, but moving was quite tiring.  The movers came in at 8am Saturday morning, and left the new house at noon.  My dad came up that day to bring me some goodies and help us move things around, install air conditioners, etc.  Then we went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant that I wanted to try.  I’m always looking to seek out authentic restaurants that either disregard the Chinese American food staples, or combine the authentic with the American.  I had scallion pancakes, steamed dumplings and tea smoked duck with steamed buns.  Amazing.  I can’t wait until I have an iPhone and can take pictures of restaurant food.  Ugh.

Anyway, before I continue, I wanted to share some pics of the new house with you all.  Check out this kitchen.  There’s so much space, and I love it.  I’m incredibly excited to start baking, and figuring out the best place for taking food photos.

Check out that pot rack and sweet storage table the previous owners left us.

And there’s an island.

Did I mention the gas stove?

Dining room into the living room where Luke is relaxing

Also, we think we have successfully converted Izzy into a true-r version of a house bunny.  When we first moved in, we had to keep her in her pen in different parts of the house.

First on the porch…

Then in the dining room…

But now, we have the dining and living rooms sectioned off via baby gates, and Izzy has access to the foyer and kitchen.  I have a kitchen buddy!  And she’s adorable!!!

OMG House bunny!!

Relaxing in the foyer.

I think that’s enough about the new house for now, and I know you’re all pardoning my excitement.  I am pretty excited about these cupcakes though.

I made a pledge to myself back at the apartment to make more cupcakes.  They’re just so great and I don’t make enough of them.  I opened a 29oz can of peaches to make these pancakes, so I had to find other ways to use them.

And so, when I saw these cupcakes, well, it was a done deal.

A light vanilla cupcake with peach pieces baked inside, covered with vanilla buttercream and milk crumbs.  Yeah, it has summer written all over it.  I’d love to make these again with fresh peaches, and if any of you try, please let me know how it goes.

Now excuse me, I have a kitchen to cover in flour and sugar!

Peaches n’ Cream Cupcakes

Adapted from Hummingbird on High

Makes 12 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup whole milk

1 egg, at room temperature

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 oz fresh (or canned) peaches, sliced

For the vanilla buttercream frosting:

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

5 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 Tbsp whole milk

¼ tsp vanilla extract

For the milk crumb topping:

(makes more than you’ll need, feel free to halve)

¾ cup milk powder

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp sugar

½ tsp salt

4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3 oz white chocolate, melted

Preheat oven 325 F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. Put flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and beat on slow speed with a hand mixer until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.  You could also use a wooden spoon or your fingers.  Your choice.  Gradually pour in half of the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.

Whisk egg, vanilla, and remaining milk together in a separate small bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated.

Scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and continue mixing for a couple more minutes until the batter is smooth, but do not overmix.

Divide the sliced peaches between the lined muffin cups so that the base of each is covered. Spoon the cupcake batter on top until two-thirds full and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden and the cake bounces back when touched. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Next, make the frosting.  Beat together the powdered sugar and butter in a large bowl until the mixture comes together.  Combine the milk and vanilla in a separate bowl. Then, add the milk-vanilla mixture to the powdered sugar-butter mixture a couple of teaspoons at a time, stirring carefully.  Once all the milk has been incorporated, continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes.  Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost as desired.

Lastly, make the milk crumb topping.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Divide your milk powder into two portions — one ½ cup portion, and one ¼ cup portion.  Combine the first ½ cup portion of milk powder with the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together until combined.  Add the melted butter and toss, using a rubber spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. The crumbs should be sandy at that point, and your kitchen should smell like buttery heaven. Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than 1/2 inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the second ¼ cup portion of milk crumbs and whisk together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour the 3 oz melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed. Continue tossing every 5 minutes until the white chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky. The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.  Top the frosted cupcakes with milk crumbs and enjoy!

White Chocolate Brownies with Meringue

We have officially acquired a house.  Though we crossed the threshold yesterday as its new owners, it doesn’t feel like ours yet.  Maybe it’s because it’s vacant, its open spaces like a daunting, gaping maw ready to swallow us whole and envelop us completely in adulthood responsibility.

I think once we put some of our stuff in there it’ll feel homier.  I’ll think about the black hole of adulthood later, when the plumbing backs up, or a tree falls down on the house. (Knock on wood.)

Even though we’re not moving out of our apartment until the 14th, there’re already two realtors coming by today to show the place to potential lessees.  Anyone ever had their place being shown while they were still in it?  Like physically there.  I’m going to sit in the dining room and pretend nobody is judging how messy I am.  Sigh.

I’ve heard that baking cookies before showing property is beneficial, as the smell is welcoming and inviting, making people feel at ease.  Since we don’t own this apartment though, I’m not baking cookies.  Maybe I’ll set out a plate of these brownies, or maybe having people look upon my adorable house bunny will suffice.

More brownies for me that way.  While these bars aren’t the most photogenic (yeah, my meringue is a little strange looking) they’re still mighty tasty.  Imagine a dense, chewy brownie flavored by white chocolate and ground almonds.  Plus a crispy, slightly sweetened meringue shell on top.  You know you want to.

White Chocolate Brownies with Meringue

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

Makes one 9×13” pan (about 30 brownies)

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup finely ground almonds or almond meal

½ tsp salt

1 stick (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 cup sugar

2 tsp grated orange zest (I used lemon zest)

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the meringue topping:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

pinch of salt

½ cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease a 9×13” pan and place the pan on a baking sheet; set aside.

Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, and salt.  Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of only-just simmering water.  Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolate and stir frequently until the ingredients are melted.  You don’t want them to get so hot that the butter and white chocolate separate, white chocolate can be finicky, so keep an eye on it.  Once melted, remove the bowl from the pan of water.

Working in another large bowl, rub the sugar and orange/lemon zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.  Add the eggs and beat for about 3 minutes, or until pale and fluffy.  Beat in vanilla.  Carefully blend in the melted butter and chocolate, then mix in the dry ingredients, stirring only until they disappear into the batter.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  Set aside while you make the meringue.  (Or skip that step if you wish.)

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with a hand mixer on medium speed until they are foamy and just turn opaque.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream.  Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks.  Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes (mine ended up in the oven for close to 50), or until the meringue is browned and crackly and the brownies pull away from the sides of the pan.  To make sure mine were done, I looked at the bottom of the pan to see if the bottom of the brownies were uniform.  This will obviously only work with a clear pan.  Once yours are done, transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan, then cut and serve!

White Chocolate Cashew Dulce de Leche Bars

In honor of Memorial Day, I’m posting about a certain dessert that I cannot stop thinking about.  I know it might not be the same concept as Memorial Day, but I felt that if I didn’t post about a dessert that I’ll remember forever (or at least a long time) I’d have no other way of acknowledging the holiday.

Besides saying Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and to thank the men and women who have served our nation.

So what makes these bars so darn good?  Well, it’s the flavor combination.  Three things I can’t get enough of (white chocolate, dulce de leche, and cashews) all in one delicious package?  Umm, yes please.

Yes please times a billion.  These bars are essentially a dulce de leche flavored blondie studded with chopped cashews and white chocolate chips.  Their texture is denser than that of a traditional blondie, and therefore even more dear to me.

I am one of those people who likes the gooey center pieces of brownie, not the firm, crispy edges, so to me, the soft chewiness the dulce de leche adds to these bars is ethereal.  Please excuse me, I’ve made myself hungry.  Time to hit the bars, if you catch my drift.

White Chocolate Cashew Dulce de Leche Bars

Adapted from The Capitol Baker

Makes one 8X8” pan

1/2 cup (1 stick)unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 cup Dulce de Leche (store-bought or homemade)
3/4 cup roasted salted cashews, roughly chopped

1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8 x 8” pan and set aside.

Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan.  Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Add the brown sugar to the saucepan and whisk until mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the egg then add the salt and flour and stir until fully combined.  Add the dulce de leche to the batter and stir until it is uniformly combined, then fold in the cashew pieces and white chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly in the greased pan and bake for 35 minutes or until set in the center and golden brown at the edges.  A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean.  Cool the bars completely in pan before cutting and serving.

White Chocolate Cherry Scones

It’s weird living in a suburb as a recent graduate.  As May pushes forward, I watch the town become repopulated by college students coming home for summer break and think about when that was happening in my life.  I can’t believe it’s almost been one year since I graduated.

Don’t worry though; I’m not wallowing in nostalgic pity.  I was happy to graduate.  Going to college in the same town I grew up in allowed to me be in school without forming any emotional attachments.  To me, it was the same it had always been, whether I was a student or not.  My family still lives there as well, so I can go back and visit whenever I want…if ever I want.

It was in college that this whole obsession with baking got started.  Five seniors sharing one kitchen, and I tried to get as much time in as I could.  Yes, I did set the oven on fire once when a cake I made overfilled its pan.  I handled it with grace and dignity, and thankfully, the fire department did not get involved.

I made scones for the first time in that kitchen too.  They were apple cheddar scones, and I couldn’t believe that I had made something so delicious.  These scones are pretty darn good too, definitely a close second in my opinion, but only because of how much I love the combination of green apples and sharp cheddar.

The tartness of the dried cherries and the sweetness of the white chocolate meeting in a flaky, but soft dough is heavenly.  You could also make these with dried cranberries or blueberries.

I also promise that they won’t overfill their cookie sheets and light your oven on fire.

White Chocolate Cherry Scones

Adapted from My Baking Addiction

Makes 8 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½” pieces
1/2 cup dried cherries; chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

turbinado sugar for topping (optional)

 Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter to flour mixture and use your fingers to work in butter (mixture should resemble coarse meal), then stir in dried cherries and white chocolate.
In a small bowl, whisk heavy cream and egg until smooth; whisk in vanilla.  Stir heavy cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball.  The dough may be sticky in places, and there may not seem to be enough liquid at first, but as you press, the dough will come together.

Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired.  Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Banana White Chocolate Mousse Cake

Today is a very special Hop Day with Izzy, because it’s somebody’s birthday!!

I’ll give you a hint: it’s the birthday of someone in the photo above…who isn’t a rabbit.

Yes, it’s my wonderful fiancée Luke’s birthday today!!  Happy Birthday darling!

I bet you’re all wondering what I got him.  Technically I got him a new keyboard and mouse for his computer.  Technically as in, he found what he wanted, and I pressed the “purchase now” button.

Better to get him something he really wants than some weird trinket he’ll smile at and put in a dusty corner.  Oh, and I gave him food.  Lots and lots of food.

Specifically a big cake.  I had been asking him for weeks leading up to the big day about what he envisioned his birthday cake to be this year.  At first he said he wanted the Bananarrot cake I made to bring into the office for his dad’s birthday.

But I wanted to make something new!  So I nudged him a little.  And this beautiful cake was the result.  A luscious banana layer cake filled with creamy white chocolate mousse and top topped with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

I was interested to see how the white chocolate and banana would work together, and it seems they complement each other quite nicely.  I am very pleased with this creation, and look forward to later today, when I bring in some other goodies to celebrate his birthday at the office.

Banana White Chocolate Mousse Cake

Mousse adapted from Evil Shenanigans

Cake adapted from The Pastry Affair

Makes a 2 layer 8” layer cake

 For the mousse:

1 cup milk, 2% or whole
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp butter
3 oz white chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 Tbsp cold water
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar

For the cake:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

8 oz cream cheese, softened

¼ cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 oz white chocolate, chopped

2 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

First make the mousse as it needs time to chill.  In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cornstarch, sugar, and egg yolk.  Whisk until well mixed.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until it thickens and comes to a simmer, about 5-10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the vanilla, butter, and white chocolate.  Stir until completely melted then pour the mixture through a strainer into a separate bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least four hours, or overnight.

In a small bowl combine the gelatin with the water.  Let stand for ten minutes to bloom.  Once bloomed melt in the microwave for ten seconds.  Let cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl combine the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Beat until it thickens.  Gradually pour in the gelatin while still beating.  Beat until it forms medium peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the white chocolate base in three additions.  Cover and chill for one hour.

To make the cake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease 2 8-inch round baking pans.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the bananas and vanilla extract.

Alternatively add and beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk in 5 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Pour batter evenly between prepared baking pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before removing from cake pans. Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter together until fluffy.  Melt the white chocolate either over a double boiler or in 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring between zapping.  Once the chocolate is melted, stir it into the cream cheese mixture and stir well to combine. Add in the powdered sugar in one cup intervals, mixing well between additions.  Finally, stir in the vanilla extract.

To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a serving plate.  Scoop out about two cups of the chilled mousse and spread it evenly over the layer.  You will have leftover mousse, and it’s quite tasty on its own.  Place second layer on top and press down slightly.  Frost the outside with the cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired.  Store cake in the refrigerator until serving time, then store leftovers, covered, in the fridge.

Pumpkin White Chocolate Blondies

Yesterday Luke and I attended our first and only wedding expo.  We were there for one specific reason: to sample the cake of a certain bakery so we could make a decision on where to get our wedding cake.

We accomplished this task about 10 minutes after the expo started.  Then we decided to nibble on a few of the provided hors d’oeurves and wander around carefully.  I say carefully because we just wanted to see what other kinds of booths there were, and not be assaulted by the salespeople attending them.  We already have all of our other vendors set, so we were just there to look.

 The woman at the front table was quite surprised to see us leave so early, but no reason to hang about needlessly since our decision was made.  With our extra time, we decided to go to the mall, looking for a new pair of corduroy pants for Luke.  I ended up getting a pair of jeans at the Gap for $7, but there were no corduroys to be found.  We also went to Trader Joe’s, to stock up on some of Luke’s favorite frozen food, as I’ll be away for a few days starting this coming weekend.

Ok, so that’s the life update, now onto the food.  I’m sure I must have proclaimed my love for pumpkin baked goods at some point, but here’s another out-of-season recipe to prove it.

These bars are thick and chewy, with just the right amount of pumpkin flavor.  I also like the pumpkin/white chocolate combination.  The original recipe called for semisweet chocolate, but I wanted to do something different.  Maybe next time I’ll use butterscotch morsels.  Oh goodness….to the kitchen!!!

Pumpkin White Chocolate Blondies

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Makes one 9X13” pan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp pumpkin-pie spice
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree

2 cups white chocolate chips

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Add pumpkin puree and mix well. The mixture will look somewhat curdled, but don’t worry about it.  Mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in white chocolate chips.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake bars for 35-40 minutes or until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool bars completely in pan. Cut into squares and serve.