Brown Sugar Mini Cakes

Do you ever just want to eat cake?  It is so delicious.  But then there’s that annoying problem of having a whole cake laying around for a week and snagging a bit off it every time you go into the kitchen.  Before you know it, you’re three pounds heavier.

This is where my solution comes in, and I think it is brilliant.  Insert the mini cakes! I love these.  They are really sophisticated and adorable, but you can control how much cake is actually made.  When you make mini cakes, you can have your cake, eat it too, and then not have to worry about it the next day. It’s perfect!

I have this current obsession with brown sugar cake.  It’s so delicious.  It’s very heavy and dense, more like a pound cake, but it has this beautiful carmel flavor.  By no means do I recommend this to people on a diet.  Which brings me to my next point…

I have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  This was pretty difficult for me to imagine because, as a food-lover, I hate carb moderation of all kinds.  My meal of preference is a giant bowl of pasta…yummmmmy.

But this is one of the things I’m learning about motherhood.  You have to make sacrifices for the health of your baby, and when I think about little Piper getting sick or having diabetes because I wouldn’t moderate my diet, it’s a terrifying thought.  So onto the paleo lifestyle for the next six weeks!

I’m actually really excited about it because I’ve been reading a lot about nutrition, and I think this is going to be really educational for Drew and me.  Basically, the next phase of the blog is going to be savory dishes and probably all low-carb.  Maybe that will be helpful for you all too!

But we couldn’t go low-carb without one final homage to sweets.  Thus the brown sugar cakes.  I made these a few weeks ago, and they’ve been just dying to hit the media.

I took the Brown Sugar Cupcake recipe from How Sweet It Is (I seriously love love love that blog), and adapted it to a cake format.

Disclaimer: I was really, really sloppy on the pictures. No judgment! I still can’t frost a cake. It’s pretty much the bane of my existence.  Tips, anyone?

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YUM!!!! This cake is so delicious.  And who doesn’t love their own personal cake?  I simply made the cupcake batter version and divided into four ramekins.

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Then I baked those off for about twenty minutes at 350 degrees.  They cooled on a rack and then I sliced them in half.  I iced between each layer using a vanilla buttercream, and voila! Magnificent little towers of goodness!

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Please trust me when I tell you to make these cakes.  They take no time at all, they are so delicious, and they’re a super fun way to change up dessert.

Brown Sugar Cupcakes (Adapted from How Sweet It Is)

1 cup loosely packed brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Then combine the wet ingredients and mix.  In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together (yes, do sift your flour! I think it makes a big difference). Mix the dry ingredients into the wet by hand (I think it keeps the batter light).

Divide batter evenly among four prepared ramekins.  Line the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about twenty minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow them to rest in the ramekins on a wire cooling sheet (not the pan) for about ten minutes, then remove them and let them cool on the wire rack.

Slice in half and layer to make little individual cakes (how many layers you decide to do is up to you! I did three little cakes with three layers each).  Cool the layers in the fridge before frosting (it helps with the crumbs!)

Vanilla Buttercream

2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temp, please!)

4 cups (may need more depending on thickness) of powdered sugar

2 tablespoons of milk (use sparingly, judge by consistency)

1 tsp of vanilla

Whip together at high speed so the frosting is fluffy and light.  Frost the layers and have your cake!

Going Home and the New World Symphony

Do you have a piece of music that makes you want to weep?

I’m not talking some fru-fru melody that makes you feel happy or sad.  I’m talking gut-wrenchingly beautiful music that fills you with so much longing that you’re crawling out of your skin, and the only visceral reaction you can afford to express is tears.

For me, that music is Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, or Symphony No. 9.  Specifically, I mean the second movement, the largo movement.  It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and fascinating pieces of music I have ever heard.  In high school I had a very beloved teacher who began every single history class with music.  It was mostly classical, although he was known to throw an occasional pop or country song in there.

For him, classical music expressed inward longings of the soul toward God.  It is evidence, data-gathering, of our need for God, or rather our craving of Him.

Dvorak wrote this symphony based on Native American and African American spirituals.  He wrote it because America inspired him.  I was thinking about this country, specifically after the observance of 9/11 yesterday, and I was thinking about all the love and passion and freedom we have here.  And so this symphony makes sense when you listen to it and think of America.

This movement is called the “Going home” song, and it is often played for funerals and memorials.  Both my grandparents requested this song to be played at their funerals.  And it is achingly perfect for a home-going.  It reminds the listener both that this world is not home and that home awaits us.  Thus the longing in it…

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins and Gift-Giving

Before I moved to Michigan and became a real, bill-paying adult, I didn’t care at all about the weather.  I mean not at all!  It is what is is.  Since the Snowpocalypse of 2013-2014 and then being pregnant this summer, I have decide the weather actually means quite a lot to me.  Which is why I have religiously been checking weather.com every day to see when it will turn cold.

Which happens to be this week.  And I don’t know about you, but the first sign of cooler weather means busting out the fall recipes.  Which of course means…PUMPKIN!!!!!! Pumpkin everything, here we come!

This brings me to the one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever gotten: a cookbook.

This is no ordinary cookbook.  A few Christmases ago, my two sisters and I opened similar-looking packages.  Usually, that’s a pretty fair indicator we are all getting variations of the same thing.  This used to trouble me a great deal as a child, but one of the perks of growing up means that matching things get way cooler, such as the Alex and Ani bracelets we got last Christmas (definitely check these beautiful charm bracelets out they’re awesome).

But this time, the packages revealed something which has become very precious to me: a family cookbook.  My mom had spent hours and hours finding our favorite recipes, as well as those from our grandmothers and aunts, to put in a “Weiland Family Cookbook.”  All the things I remember loving as a kid, from cheesy potatoes to Weiland Family Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies (those have yet to make an appearance on here…) were all lovingly typed out and categorized into one book.

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From the depths of this amazing treasure, I am bringing you one of my all-time fall favorites: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.

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Hands down, my mom makes the best pumpkin chocolate chip muffins in the ENTIRE world.  They are somehow so soft and gooey yet filling and delicious.  I have made them not once but twice this week alone (yes, I know it’s only Wednesday).  The shocking thing to me is it takes me less than ten minutes to assemble these heavenly muffins and get them in the oven.  Plus 18 minutes on the dot of baking means you can have insanely wonderful pumpkiny goodness in your mouth in under half an hour. So strap on your seatbelts and prepare to be blown away.

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Recipe makes 12 delicious muffins

Ingredients

1/2 can of pumpkin

1 egg

1/4 cup of melted butter

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup of white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp of cinnamon (you can add 1 tsp if you love cinnamon)

2 tsp of baking powder

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 cup (approx.) of chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)

Instructions

1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F

2. Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your mixer

3. In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, butter, egg, and milk and stir to combine

4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined

5. Pour in cup of chocolate chips (I never measure…) and hand mix with a whisk (I find this keeps the muffins from being over-beaten)

6. Using a cookie scoop, drop two scoops of muffin batter into a prepared muffin tray

7. Bake for 18 minutes.  The muffins may feel a bit soft when you take them out, but take them out anyway let them cool in the pan on the stove.

8. Consume immediately!!!

 

Piper Mae and Ricotta, Brown Sugar Peaches

Since becoming pregnant, it seems like the world is speeding up.  This summer has been so fast-paced.  By the first week of september, I will have been gone for about 6 weeks of the summer traveling.  Really, this is all just an excuse to say why I’m posting three posts at a time…

I’ve spent a lot of this summer reading reviews on car seats, strollers, pacifiers, and cribs.  For a little baby, she sure has a lot of gear!  By the way, anyone have a favorite stroller or car seat?  That’s the last item I need to register for!  It’s so much fun to pick out all these things she’ll get to use when she gets here.  And I feel like I should get a whole degree for this research!  I’m learning everything from breastfeeding to babywise sleep methods to making my own baby food!

Her nursery is coming along – can’t wait to post pictures for you all!  Our apartment feels like it’s getting smaller as we shuffle furniture around to try to make more space for her.

By the way, if you haven’t heard already, we have a name!  Our baby girl is Piper Mae French.

We chose Piper because of Pastor John Piper.  He was a strong influence on both mine and Drew’s conversions, and we felt that each time we explain her name, because of his work, we also have an opportunity to share the Gospel.  Plus, she seems like a pretty feisty baby, and we wanted a spunky name.  She is continually kicking and rolling around.

When we had our ultrasound to find out the gender, it took the tech two hours to get all her pictures.  She said our baby was one of the most active she’d ever seen.  That’s Drew’s baby for you!  She has all his energy.

Because of all the craziness, cooking has taken a different direction for me.  I haven’t been able to put all the hours into it that I normally like, researching and cooking slowly, so these next few posts will be quick and easy meals.

One thing I’ve made all the time this summer is ricotta.   I am extremely passionate about all the things you can do with it.  This is a quick and fun summer dessert, and it’s also an ode to my dad, Jeff, who is always looking to get away from chocolate in desserts (which is basically all I make…).

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Tips on making your own ricotta:

1. Don’t be afraid! It sounds daunting, but it’s so incredibly easy!

2. Don’t skimp on buying cheesecloth – use it!  It’s worth the result.

3. Stir the milk constantly to avoid scalding and burning.

 

Ingredients  (Makes two dessert portions)

1. 2 fresh peaches, halved with pitt removed  (I use a whole peach per person so figure accordingly)

2. 1 cup fresh ricotta (recipe below)

3. 1 1/2 tbsp honey

4. Balsamic vinegar (to drizzle on top at the end)

5. 1/2 cup brown sugar

6. 4 tbsp unsalted butter (plus 2 tbsp at room temp for rubbing the peaches)

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Recipe for peaches:

1. Melt 4 tbsp of butter into a medium-sized skillet over medium-low heat.

2. Rub the peaches down all over with the room temp butter

3. Coat the top of the peaches with brown sugar to create a firm layer

4. Place peaches face down in pan so brown sugar side is down

5. Leave the peaches for about 1 1/2 minutes, then carefully check one.  The brown sugar should be caramelizing.

6. Once skin is caramelize, flip peaches to let the bottom cook in the pan

7. Tilt the pan toward you and, using a spoon, baste the top of the peaches in the excess butter.  Repeat till browned.

8. Remove from the pan and top with honey ricotta and balsamic vinegar.

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Honey Ricotta Ingriedients:

1. 4 cups whole milk

2. 1 cup heavy whipping cream

3. 1 tsp of salt

4. 2 tablespoons of lemon (for a more lemony flavor, you can increase to 3 or 4 tbsp)

*5. 2 tbsp of honey (this is for the honey part of the honey ricotta peaches recipe)

*Cheesecloth, strainer, and medium-sized bowl

Recipe:

1. Heat milk and heavy cream in a heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat.  Add salt when the milk begins to steam.

2. Stir continually to avoid scalding.

3. When the milk mixture begins to boil (a low boil), remove from heat and add the lemon juice

4. Allow the mixture to sit off the heat for ten minutes.

5. Pour the mixture into your cheesecloth strainer and allow to sit for 1 hour

6. Move to air-tight container and refrigerate.

*The ricotta will keep for up to a week.

 

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Raspberry Shortbread, Nutella, and DIY Wedding Crafts

Mom and I have locked ourselves in the house today….for wedding planning….

It can’t be avoided.  It has to get done.  Something DIY post-brides should tell other DIY pre-brides is that DIY really means…DIY.  You do it all yourself.  Every last bit.  And it’s a lot of work.

The last three months of college, when Drew was still out of the country studying, I told Mom we were going to stop until all planning until May.  It’s now May 31, 2013.  Sixty-five days to go.  So much work to do.  All for one day.  One beautiful, blessed, glorious, God-given day.  I cannot wait for that day 🙂

The nice thing about Mom is that she is so in to DIY. And she’s good at it.  And she has great friends.  One of them, Cynthia, is coming over today to help.  The agenda?  54 tissue paper flowers, 40 sheet music wheels for centerpieces, if we’re lucky.  I’ll post pics if we actually make our goal.

It’s such a blessing to have Mom and Cynthia wanting to help out, especially when that means sitting for hours at our dining room table getting calloused fingers from tissue paper, tulle, and wire.  Not to mention burying ourselves in the inevitable twine and burlap that is parading boldly in this year’s wedding styles.

To thank them, I put together a little treat, using the homemade Nutella I made the other night and the new shortbread recipe I’ve been practicing.  Mom threw in some delicious lemon-mint iced tea to boot!

Shortbread is actually quite easy to make and fun to play with.  It’s basically flour, baking powder, butter, eggs, heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla.

Here are your wet ingredients.  Keep them fairly cold.  The butter should be soft enough to cream with the sugar.

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And of course the dry ingredients…very unpretentious.

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Cream together the butter and sugar first.  The most delicious combination in baking history.

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Oooooh…..I just thought the action in this picture was so cool.  Wish I could be this excited about sports action shots…

Add your other wet ingredients.  It will look something like this:

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Dry ingredients next!!! I usually pour them in thirds, a little at a time:

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Now this next part is kind of my own….I wanted to see what the cookies would look like with raspberry in them, and I liked the idea of raspberry and Nutella together (the topping I’ll use).  I mashed some beautiful raspberries and poured them into the dough and mixed. Then I wrapped it in plastic wrap to chill. Not super attractive.  But I could see chunks of butter inside the dough.  That is a good sign 🙂

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Now let me clue you in about shortbread.  There is a giant debate over it.  Some people say chill for an hour or overnight.  That “or” seems pretty crucial to me…I mean we’re talking like a twelve hour chill-difference here.  So I did both.  And I can confidently say that the overnight ones are WAY better.  Another crushing defeat for my immediate gratification of a sweet tooth.  Oh well.

So, today…I baked 🙂 I love cookie cutters.  They are so classic.

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Put them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, bake ten minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Wait till you see how beautiful they turn out. Especially when paired with homemade Nutella!  Hopefully this sugar high will help us swim through the sea of tissue paper to crafting success!

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Lemon-Mint Iced Tea, Homemade Nutella, and Raspberry Shortbread Cookies, and Good Friends!

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Recipe

3 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 egg (room temp)

3 tbsp heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

*Most shortbread recipes are pretty standard.  I got mine from Fraiche Ideas For Living– I love their blog!

Homemade Nutella

So, my fiance Drew loves Nutella.  I mean he loves it.  When we would study together in college, his favorite late-night snack was Nutella and peanut butter on white bread.  That boy…

Anyhow, who doesn’t love Nutella? It’s creamy and yummy and chocolately…melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Times ten.  It comes in mini packs, it comes in giant packs.  It even comes in little packs with graham crackers.

Somewhere in me, there is a faint sense of competition with Nutella.  I mean, Drew loves it so much, and it is delicious.  But, last week I woke up one morning and said, “What would Drew think if I could make my own Nutella?  From scratch?”  I thought of various responses…Tiffany’s jewelry, Graeter’s ice cream, adoration as a domestic goddess…These potentials were pure motivation.

But at the bottom of it all, if I can make Nutella for Drew, it will almost definitely make him happy. Game on.

So, after thorough researching, it seems pretty easy.  Good hazelnuts are the key, toasted to perfection.

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Hazelnuts, after being toasted and processed, release a lovely oil.  Toast them at 390 F for about ten minutes, but watch them carefully.  They burn easily. They will turn a deep brown color and begin to smell toasted.  Take them out when this happens.  Rub them down with a towel and the skins will flake off.  It’s ok if they have a little skin on them.

 

Pour them in a food processor and grind away.  As you grind them, it makes a peanut butter-looking substance.  But here’s the trick-keep grinding.  Grind for a long time. You don’t want any grit.

Then you add cocoa powder, powdered sugar, chopped up dark chocolate (or milk chocolate if you prefer), vanilla, heavy whipping cream, and canola oil (or coconut oil).  Keep processing all of it.

At first it make look grainy like this:

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If this happens, add a little more oil.  Keep going.  It will eventually look like this:

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At this point, I had to stop and try a little….

It’s amazing…the hazelnut flavor is so much stronger and delicious.  I don’t think I can go back to store-bought Nutella.  It’s creamy and light and chocolately, just like it should be. And so easy to make!

Drew comes up this weekend, and my little Nutella jar is all ready to go! Stay tuned! I’m going to make shortbread cookies to go with it!

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Recipe

1 1/2 cups of hazelnuts

1 cup of powdered sugar (I like my Nutella a little sweeter, but if you want more hazelnut flavor, lessen the powdered sugar)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons of Canola oil (more if needed- some used coconut oil instead)

7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (I used Hershey’s but you can use whatever you like!)

Toast the hazelnuts for ten minutes at 390F.  Rub them down with a towel to remove the skin.  Process until smooth.  Add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, oil, and vanilla.  Continue to process until smooth.  More oil may be necessary. Store in a jar and refrigerate.  It will harden as it refrigerates.