Friday, January 27, 2012



It's hard to find the time to blog when you're planning a wedding. Truth be told, I haven't been baking much lately, either. But when I found this recipe in a recent issue of "Cooks Illustrated," I had to make it, especially when I found out that my fiancé had never had gingersnaps. Really? Never? No, never. He never had the experience of sitting in front of the TV after school, dunking gingersnaps into a glass of milk until they go all soft, but timing it so that you don't leave them in that one extra second that makes the dunked part fall off into the milk.

We had to fix that, of course. :) And these came out just as good as, if not better than, the ones in a box that I grew up eating. I will warn you, though, that this recipe makes a ton of cookies, so you might want to think about who's going to get a gift of gingery goodness before you make them. :)

From "Cooks Illustrated"

2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp butter
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 c dark brown sugar
1/4 c molasses
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
1/2 c sugar

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. Heat the butter in a skillet or saucepan until melted, then continue to cook on medium-low heat until foaming subsides and butter is just beginning to brown.
3. Pour butter into a large bowl and whisk in the ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and cayenne pepper. Cool slightly, then add the brown sugar, molasses and fresh ginger. Then, whisk in the egg and yolk.
4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined.
5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill until firm.
6. Roll into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 20 per sheet.
7. Bake at 300 degrees on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes. Then, move to the lower rack, place the next sheet of dough balls on the top rack and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies on the lower rack just begin to darken around the edges. Remove the lower sheet and move the top sheet to the bottom for about 15 to 17 minutes, until done. Repeat with remaining pans of dough balls.
8. Cool completely on a rack before serving. (Cookies are best enjoyed with a cup of milk or hot tea.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Vanilla cupcakes

Vanilla cupcake

Cupcake, where have you been all my life?

I've been looking for ages for a cake like this. You'd think that a basic vanilla cake would be easy, but no, it's the simple things that are the hardest -- every recipe I've ever tried either came out heavy and flavorless or tasted like chemicals. (Any recipe that uses cake flour is a non-starter for me, 'cause it just tastes bad.) Every attempt gave me another moment of weakness, another time when I thought that maybe I should just stick with boxed mixes -- somehow, they get it right, flavor-wise at least.

Fast-forward to this June, and I found myself in New York City on my birthday, in need of some cake, 'cause hey, what's a birthday without cake? I decided to try the much-talked-about Magnolia Bakery, and I got a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting. And it was awesome. Well, great, it's easy enough to like someone else's cake, but what about mine? Well, lucky me, Magnolia has a cookbook (multiple ones, in fact). And lucky me, my then-boyfriend's sister (we're engaged now, eeeee! :) ) got me one of those cookbooks as a belated birthday present. :)

And yet somehow, amid all of the cookie-baking, I didn't find a good opportunity for cupcake-baking until right before Christmas, when I was supposed to be bringing a desert to a Christmas party, and I'd decided to bring chocolate cupcakes, 'cause my honey's nephew had asked for them and I'd promised. The more I thought about it, the more I saw this as an opportunity to try out the Magnolia recipe and please the non-chocolate-lovers (there are always a few) at the same time.

The results were promising. In my opinion, the frosting was too sweet, overpowering the cake. But the cake itself, eaten alone, was delicious Yay, vanilla cake win! I'll definitely make this cake again, but next time, I'll probably use the chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream from the chocolate cupcakes. I always like yellow cake with chocolate frosting better, anyway. :)

Vanilla Cupcakes
From "The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook"

1 1/2 c self-rising flour (I doubled this recipe, rather than buy a special flour)
1 1/4 c regular all-purpose flour
1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 c milk
1 tsp vanilla

1 c butter, softened
6-8 c confectioners' sugar
1/2 c milk
2 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together the flours and set aside.
2. Pour the milk and vanilla together in a large cup.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then, beat in the dry ingredients and the milk mixture, alternating between them, until just combined.
4. Spoon into 24 cupcake papers. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in the pans, then remove and cool on a rack.
5. Beat together the butter, 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar and the milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar. Frost cupcakes.