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Churro Cupcakes for a Surprise 60th Birthday Fiesta!

4 Feb

I threw my mom a surprise party to celebrate her big 6-0 last month with my extended family – about 20-25 of us in all.  Given her East Los Angeles roots and inherent love for Mexican food, I decided to give it a fiesta theme.  I ordered a taco bar style set-up from a fantastic family-owned Mexican restaurant near us and of course a portion of their fantastic mole (mom’s favorite).  I made Tomatillo Salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and three desserts for the party – Key Lime Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust (sans compote), Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican Chocolate Brownies, and these Churro Cupcakes.

Taco Bar - Who's Hungry?

Taco Bar – Who’s Hungry?

It’s been crazy busy at work the last few months, so I parceled out my time spent on crafting/planning over the course of about six weeks. For decorations, I found a few fun colorful pieces on Amazon that livened up our otherwise intentionally monochromatic home – paper buntings, serapes, festive patterned tablecloths, and pom poms.

Photo Backdrop

Photo Backdrop

Kevin and I also ended up hosting Christmas dinner which was two weeks before the party, so we had to hide everything away before she came over.  All of the streamers, party utensils, napkins, and plates were from Party City in every sort of bright color. I also bought a couple of cute craft kits from Paper Source – a mini pineapple pinata and a DIY set of six paper cacti. I used a white gel pen to add some “texture” to each cactus as well!

Cactus Kit

Cactus Kit

Jamie let me borrow her set of acrylic paints so I could add some color to the terra cotta pots I bought for the party favors.  They held the miniature cactus candles.  I also found some colorful candies to fluff up the favor bags.

Painting Pots for Favors

Painting Pots for Favors

Since Kevin and I had to go to a family wedding the morning of the party and with how long it takes to make cupcakes, I made these late the night before.  I was worried the crunchy topping that the original recipe suggested would get soggy overnight, so I skipped that component completely. Here is the recipe as adapted from Lady Behind the Curtain, without the crunchy topping!

INGREDIENTS:

For Cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

For Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla, and reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.  Fill each cupcake liner three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes.

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

  5. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

    Cupcakes

    Cupcakes

  6. Top with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Set out 20 minutes before serving
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until light.
  2. Mix in vanilla and cinnamon; add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time until all is incorporated.

    Churro Cupcakes

    Churro Cupcakes

Not having the time to actually paint anything, I searched online for some watercolor pieces to incorporate into the DIY dessert toppers, the invitation, favors, and more.

Dessert Trio

Dessert Trio

I had to keep the surprise from my brother as well until he came over, since he cannot keep secrets.  My mom thought she was meeting at my place and carpooling with me to a restaurant nearby.  I wanted to make sure I recorded her entrance, so I had my brother let her in the community gate when she arrived.  Right before she walked in, he asked, “Are you ready?”  Good thing she wasn’t already suspecting anything!

"Which dessert do you want?" "ALL THREE!"

“Which dessert do you want?”
“ALL THREE!”

My mom was really surprised and had a wonderful time, and it’s always great to spend time with my rambunctious family!

The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

21 Jan

A long time fan of ispahan and admirer of French pastries, I had to take advantage of being in Paris a few months ago and try one of Pierre Hermé’s famous ispahan macarons!

Ispahan Macaron

Ispahan Macaron

Here are a couple more fun snaps from our time in Paris.  Italy photos to come soon!  The Palace of Versailles was one of our favorite stops on this trip.

Jardin de Versailles

Jardin de Versailles

We’re standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe below, on the outside of what Kevin and I coined the “Frogger Roundabout”.  A lot of tourists didn’t realize there was a tunnel that led you from where we are standing underneath the roundabout and right under the gorgeous monument.  People were nuts and played frogger, dodging cars to get to the Arc!

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

And of course – Le Tour Eiffel!

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Shirley gave me the Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook for Christmas this past year, and feeling inspired from our trip, the first recipe (of many) that caught my eye was of course Pierre Hermé’s lemon cream.  The “Most Exquisite” in the title was enough of a sell to pique my interest! This is way different from lemon curd, though they both use the same ingredients. With lemon curd, you cook everything together til it thickens and then strain it.  With this lemon cream recipe, you cook everything but the butter til it thickens and then whip the butter into it until it’s fluffy.  Even though the only dairy in it is butter, it really does feel more like a cream. Truly remarkable!

Here’s the recipe as adapted from the book.  I recommend reading through the entire recipe first before starting, as paying attention to the details are important for this one.

INGREDIENTS:

DIRECTIONS:

Getting ready: Have a thermometer, preferably an instant-read, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor by your side. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

  1. Put the sugar and zest in a large metal bowl that can be fitted into the pan of simmering water. Off heat, work the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs followed by the lemon juice.

    Zest and Sugar

    Zest and Sugar

  2. Fit the bowl into the pan (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels slightly warm to the touch. Cook the cream until it reaches 180°F. As you whisk, you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. The cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as the cream is getting closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. At this point, the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don’t stop whisking and don’t stop checking the temperature. And have patience – depending on how much heat you’re giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.  [NOTE: I whisked for exactly 10 minutes on the dot before the temp hit 180 degrees.  Also, if you happen to take your eyes off of the cream for just enough time to let the cream get a few traces of scrambled eggs in it, fear not. You’ll strain the cream later anyway.]

    Whisk Cream Mixture Over Double Boiler

    Whisk Cream Mixture Over Double Boiler

  3. As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

    Strain the Lemon Cream

    Strain the Lemon Cream

  4. Turn the blender to high or turn the processor and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going – to get the perfect light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
  5. Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. [NOTE: The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 day or, tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.]

    Pre-Plastic Wrap

    Pre-Plastic Wrap

  6. When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell.  Serve the tart, or refrigerate until needed.

    The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

    The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

I brought this to a holiday potluck at Leslie and Tri’s so that Shirley and Spencer could try it as well.  In hindsight when I make this again, I’ll definitely make some whipped cream to go with it.  The lemon cream is SO silky and delicate, but very tart.  I think a dollop of whipped cream would have been perfect complement.

A Tart Little Slice of Heaven

A Tart Little Slice of Heaven

Thanks again, Shirley!  Looking forward to seeing what other goodies will come from this amazing book!

Sweet Tart Crust (Pâte Sablée)

16 Jan

I failed at making a chocolate caramel pretzel tart a couple of months ago, and, while tasty, it might be the second ugliest thing I’ve ever made, just after those Apricot Pistachio Squares.  I had extra ingredients so I made minis of the tart (as shown below), and it’s not so noticeable.

But once I took the tarts out of their pants, the crust completely fell apart.  Leslie, Shirley, Tri, and Spencer came over for a little Middle Eastern potluck back in November.  You can see my crumbly hot mess of the tart at the top of the photo below.

Middle-Eastern Potluck!

Middle-Eastern Potluck!

On top of the fact that the crust fell apart, the caramel didn’t come out creamy enough so it hardened.  This all made the tart nearly impossible to cut with a fork without a messy explosion. Case in point below:

Can't Take Tri Anywhere

Can’t Take Tri Anywhere

I recently had an opportunity to redeem myself with another tart crust that doesn’t fall apart, when I came across a recipe for a deliciously buttery pâte sablée.  The flavor is rich and texture is similar to shortbread. I’m super excited to share the filling recipe soon, but I wanted to separate this recipe out since it’s versatile enough to be something I’ll definitely refer to again in the future.

Here is the recipe from a new cookbook I recently got, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Put the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in – you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.

    Pulsed Dough

    Pulsed Dough

  2. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses – egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
  4. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

    Dough Pressed Into Pan

    Dough Pressed Into Pan

  5. FOR A PARTIALLY BAKED OR FULLY BAKED CRUST:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the crust. Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes.

    Tightly Fit Foil Around Tart

    Tightly Fit Foil Around Tart

  6. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

    Partially Baked Crust

    Partially Baked Crust

  7. FOR A FULLY BAKED CRUST: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. If you want a more browned crust, continue baking for another minute or two, but keep a very close eye on the crust as it can go from golden to too dark quickly. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

    Sweet Tart Crust

    Sweet Tart Crust

  8. TO PATCH A CRUST IF NECESSARY: If there are any cracks int he baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

If you want to try a sweet tart dough with nuts, reduce the amount of flour to 1 1/4 cups and add 1/4 cup finely ground almonds or walnuts, pecans, or pistachios).

Storing tip: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer – it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

Instagram Lately – Holiday Delectables

3 Jan

I have been posting a ton of recipes made in our new kitchen lately, and have been hit or miss with including links to the recipes, so here they all are!

My round-up from Thanksgiving this year:

 

This year, instead of using all chicken apple sausage, I used half hot Italian and half chicken apple sausage to try and balance the sweetness of the cornbread.

Butternut Squash Soup with Scallops and Garlicky Swiss Chard

Butternut Squash Soup with Scallops and Garlicky Swiss Chard

I made the soup this time without the apple, and double the carrots and celery.

And here’s my December round-up:

Erica's Birthday Cupcakes - Chocolate Stout Cupcake with Salted Caramel Frosting

Erica’s Birthday Cupcakes – Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

I used the cupcake recipe from the Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes.  Being the practical baker that I am, I didn’t want to buy a whole 6-pack of Guinness since we’re not Guinness drinkers at home. So I bought a bottle of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, which worked great except I didn’t realize the bottle was 9% ABV which is over twice what Guinness is.  The cupcake was a teensy bit more beer flavored than the Guinness Cupake usually is, but it still tasted fine.  I used the frosting recipe from the Samoas Cupcakes, and added 1 cup extra powdered sugar to thick it a bit. Since I wasn’t dipping the cupcake in coconut flakes, I wanted to make the frosting a bit more substantial. It still wasn’t thick enough to pipe but it was delicious nonetheless.

 

Apple-and-Pear Galette with Walnut Streusel

2 Jan

I made mini brown sugar pumpkin cheesecakes with oreo crust this past Thanksgiving as one dessert per my uncle’s request for something with pumpkin. And my mom wanted something fruity, so I figured it would be great to take advantage of pears being in season.  However, I don’t like it when cooked pears get mushy.  I came across this recipe on Food & Wine magazine, and thought the addition of the apple and streusel would keep the galette’s texture interesting.

I was also super excited to roll out the dough on our gorgeous new countertop!  Thanks Johnny and the Expert Hardwood Flooring team!  These small joys are what life is all about.  At our old apartment, Kev and I didn’t have a lot of kitchen counter space and what little we had was right next to the sink and really the only prep space we had.

On the New Countertop!

On the New Countertop!

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2  cup ice water

    Crust Ingredients

    Crust Ingredients

Streusel:
  • 2/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
Filling:
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, halved, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 firm Bartlett pears, halved, cored and sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. MAKE THE CRUST In a food processor, pulse the 2 cups of flour with the salt. Add the butter and pulse until the pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle the water on top and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and pat into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, 1 hour.

    Crumbly with Pea Size Clumps of Butter

    Crumbly with Pea Size Clumps of Butter

  2. MEANWHILE, MAKE THE STREUSEL Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and bake for about 8 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool, then chop.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the brown sugar and salt. Add the butter and, using your fingers, pinch it into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the walnuts and pinch the streusel into clumps. Refrigerate until chilled, about 15 minutes.
  4. MAKE THE FILLING Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the pears, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, the salt and lemon juice. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 19-by-13-inch oval. Ease the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Mound the filling in the center of the oval, leaving a 2-inch border. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the fruit and fold the edge of the dough up and over the filling.

    Ready for the Oven

    Ready for the Oven

  5. Brush the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle evenly with granulated sugar. Bake the galette for 45 to 50 minutes, until the fruit is tender and the streusel and crust are golden brown. Let the galette cool. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if using, before serving.
    Apple-and-Pear Galette with Walnut Streusel

    Apple-and-Pear Galette with Walnut Streusel

     

Sliced!

Sliced!

This was a big hit at Thanksgiving.  The tart crispness of the apple really complimented the sweet pear. My aunt hosted this year, so I had to let it cool and bring it over at room temp, but I would definitely recommend serving it a little warm with ice cream if you make it at home!