Orange Curd Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes I get a recipe idea stuck in my head, and I have to make it. For the past week or so it has been a fresh orange layer cake, pictured perfectly in my head with its sunshine-yellow hue, tart-sweet flavor, and perfect crumb. I made one several years ago, following the recipe in The Cake Mix Doctor book. You start with a cake mix and “doctor” it up by adding fresh orange juice, zest and the usual eggs and such. I remember that cake fondly and somehow the memory of its deliciousness came back to bug me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe it was because I had three oranges sitting in my fruit drawer, or maybe it was because I had leftover (bottled) orange juice sitting in my fridge, and since I don’t drink OJ these days, it felt like a challenge to use it up.

I ignored the idea for a while mainly because making a layer cake without a real occasion such as a birthday or a party seemed a little extravagant, plus there’s the fact that then there would be a whole cake in the house to eat and I wasn’t even sure if Sam would eat some. I even asked my neighbor, who loves sweets, if she would eat some and she declined. This past weekend, I finally gave in, deciding to make a smaller batch.

The thing is I really wanted a layer cake – not a single layer, not a square cake, a layer cake. What I love about layer cakes is the ratio of cake to frosting or filling, all perfectly portioned out so you can have the perfect bite. So how do you make a smaller batch? You can use smaller cake pans (which I don’t have) or you can do what I did and make one single layer and cut it into thirds (or halves) and make your fraction of a layer cake.

So I did just that. But when I went to stack my cakes, the cake was too dense and moist, and the curd filling I had made wasn’t thick enough, and the layers slipped and slid on top of each other while I desperately tried different ways to fix it. In the end I embraced the fact that it was an ugly cake, but hurrah at least I had made it! (I did not take any pictures of it…)

However, the flavor was also off. The cake I made had the flavor of too much baking soda and it was almost too dense to swallow. So a few days later I decided to try again, but this time I gave up on my layer cake dream and opted for a filled and frosted cupcake instead. The result: perfection. It is so satisfying to finally taste the thing that you craved, even if the original idea changed a little.

The gooey center is not in fact undercooked – it’s homemade orange curd!

This time of year, citrus is at its best, which makes it the perfect time to make these cupcakes. Plus if you live in a part of the country where the earth and trees are brown and barren, the ground is white with snow, or skies are gray, these bright sunny colors arrive at the perfect time of year to add some color to your winter.

Orange Curd Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:

  • 1 +2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a bottle)
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Add orange zest and rub into the mixture so that the zest doesn’t clump in one spot and it infuses the dry ingredients with the orange oils.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil and juice until blended. Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Divide the batter between your paper liners (should make about 14), filling no more than 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the orange curd:

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. lemon or grapefruit zest
  • 2 T. lemon or grapefruit juice
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 10 T. unsalted butter, cold
  • pinch of salt

If you have a double boiler, get it out. If not, find a pot and glass bowl that fits perfectly into the top of the pot so that the bottom of the bowl does not go more than halfway down into the pot. Fill your pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water as it boils. To the bowl add your sugar and zests and rub the zest into the sugar to release the flavor. Add the juices and whisk to blend. Turn the water down to a simmer and leave until the sugar begins to dissolve and the liquid is warmed.

In a separate bowl beat your egg yolks. Once the sugar and juice mixture has warmed, gradually add some, a spoonful at a time, to your egg yolks, whisking the egg yolks as you add (you don’t need to add all of the juice mixture). Once the bowl with the egg yolks feels somewhat warm to the touch, go ahead and add the egg yolk mixture to your glass bowl with any remaining juice and return it to the simmering water. Cook the mixture until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter in small cubes, whisking to melt the butter. Taste and add a pinch salt to bring out all of the flavor.

Once all of the butter has been incorporated, put all of your curd into a medium size bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming and refrigerate to cool. (You will have extra curd so feel free to halve the recipe or save for another use.)

For the orange cream cheese frosting:

  • one 8-oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and blend on low until sugar is incorporated enough to not fly everywhere. Scrape the sides and beat until well blended.

To assemble:

Once your cupcakes have cooled, take a small spoon and dig out a small hole in the top middle of each one, removing about 2 teaspoons of cake. (Set aside to eat later!) Fill each hole with your cooled curd. Frost with your cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired. Enjoy!

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Breakfast Berry Pie (gluten free!)

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For some reason last week I ended up eating a lot of pie. Monday I went to a movie with a friend and we followed it up with a delicious slice of pie at Pie Bar (the Ballard Bumble Berry Crumble is amazing!). Wednesday evening Sam and I took a mini vacation to Whidbey Island and ended our evening with a shared (and equally scrumptious) berry tart (basically an individual pie) at Christopher’s. Then the next day we stopped at Whidbey Pies for lunch and though we started with a savory pie for lunch, we also ended it, of course, with a slice of dessert pie. Continue reading

Homemade Pop-Tarts

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It’s probably a good thing that some of the kids in my fourth grade class have never eaten a Pop-Tart. I mean they aren’t exactly healthy and more importantly they are actually kinda dry and bland. You can totally make them way better yourself.

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Sure there’s a certain nostalgia to buying that familiar box of shiny, foil-wrapped “tarts” that keep forever. We ate them every now and then growing up, though of course Mom often bought the low-fat unfrosted kind, in which case… what’s the point? That crispy, crunch of dried frosting is part of what makes the Pop-Tart so delicious, and when you’re talking about a pastry, (whether processed or homemade) reducing the fat is the last thing that you need. In pastries, butter equates to flakey, melt-in-your-mouth texture so you don’t want to skimp on that. But of course there was that period of time when everything was offered in a low-fat version because that’s what was supposedly better for us. Anyway, I’m not a dietician.

I remember also eating Pop-Tarts sometimes in college. There was an on campus convenience store called “Mom’s” that sold them in two-packs. Being a newly independent adult who was busy with homework and probably eating mostly unhealthy foods, (especially those that might have been restricted as a child) I probably bought a few too many Pop-Tarts from Mom’s. That and pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…

I made Pop-Tarts with my fourth graders yesterday as part of a thing we do called, “Each One Teach One.” It’s basically an opportunity for kids to practice their presentation skills and teach the class about something that they love. As one of their teachers, I demonstrated mine yesterday by making Pop-Tarts. To save time we used store-bought pie dough. Then I did a demo of how to make homemade dough if you wanted to start from scratch.

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The purchased pie dough tarts were a grand success and I enjoyed the chance to share something I loved with the kids. Of course I ended up with the leftover dough I had showed them how to make so I decided to make it for myself at home… I didn’t get a picture of the ones made with the pie crust, but I can promise you they were not nearly as flakey as these guys. I mean check out those layers!

If you want to make it yourself, follow this recipe for homemade dough or this one for making it the easier (yet less tasty!) way. The first recipe uses a brown sugar cinnamon filling and the second uses a jam filling. I made both.

I had some extra dough leftover so I ended up making some C’s and S’s for fun. At first Sam thought the S was for him and asked, “Who’s the C for?” Ha!

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Warning! These are super rich and buttery and flakey! I made mine a little large and a sliver of one was plenty for me. These might make a super scrumptious dessert if left unfrosted (gasp!) and topped with ice cream.

Hope you go make some!

Eggs Benedict

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I love Eggs Benedict. I love the natural, buttery yellow of the hollandaise sauce, the rich sunset-orange of the runny egg yolk, and the English muffin that’s there to soak up all the good stuff. My mom used to make us poached eggs growing up. In fact we had a special pan with four perfectly round little cups that would allow the eggs to hover over the simmering water. I didn’t realize there was any other way to make poached eggs until I got older and realized that real chefs just flat out crack the eggs into an open pot of water and somehow swirl them into a dizzy circle to keep the egg together instead of somehow making egg drop soup. That takes serious skill. I’ve tried to poach eggs that way before and, well, it’s tricky. I prefer to stick to my egg poaching pan.

Though my mom made poached eggs often (and later bought me my own poached egg pan!) she never (if maybe once?) made hollandaise sauce, for which I don’t blame her. First of all it’s extra work, which usually means extra dishes, and second of all it’s extra calories. Now my mom wasn’t exactly afraid of calories when we were growing up, but she was like any woman surrounded by the confusing information of changing diet fads. She made her share of spontaneous brownie batches on a Saturday night and extra Christmas cookies when we surely didn’t need them. But, Mom also tried to sneak whole wheat flour into recipes whenever she could, and she went through a phase where she wanted to add ground flaxseed to EVERYTHING. And she recently tricked her stepson into eating cauliflower because he thought it was mashed potatoes. Anyway, I’m guessing it was more the daunting task of making hollandaise sauce that kept her from making it, and not the calories. Also, who honestly makes their own hollandaise, especially if that person has three young kids?

Well, today I made my own hollandaise sauce and Eggs Benedict for a number of reasons. First of all, I love Eggs Benedict! And second of all, I’m pregnant! Yes, indeed, it’s hard to believe! Four months from today I am due to give birth to my own baby girl, who one day perhaps will be sharing her own stories about her crazy, but loving mother. Now when you’re pregnant, the common knowledge rules say you can’t eat all kinds of things – in particular raw or undercooked eggs, fish, and meat. I love the runny yolk of a good Eggs Benedict, but as a pregnant woman, I’m not supposed to eat runny eggs. So I decided to make the dish myself, as I’m always afraid to order it at a restaurant and ask them to cook the eggs until they’re hard.

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And you know what? I did it! And it was delicious! And I’d do it all over again (maybe not after I have kids, or at least not until they’re older.) In fact making hollandaise sauce itself is not hard. The real challenge of the whole dish is the dance of all the different parts – poaching the eggs while you toast the muffins and continuously whisk the sauce and then assembling the whole thing before it gets cold and the sauce curdles. If you’re not bold enough, it’s okay. I totally understand. Maybe find a friend to help you. Or just don’t be afraid to screw it up. I’m rooting for you.

 

Homemade Hollandaise Sauce

adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

2 T. unsalted butter

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. water

salt and pepper to taste

This recipe makes enough for 1-2 servings and can easily be scaled up. I made a small batch because it was just me eating it and in case I screwed up I didn’t want a huge, screwed-up batch.

Start by cutting your butter into about 6 pieces and set aside to come to room temperature. Or like me, microwave it at low power for about 15 seconds or until it is just soft to the touch. Set a small saucepan with about a 1/2 inch of water to simmer. Once it is lightly simmering, turn it down to keep it at a slow simmer (not boil!) and place a small, heatproof bowl over the water. You want the bowl to fit well and not touch the water below. If you have a double boiler, you can use that instead.

In your bowl, place your egg yolk, lemon juice, and water. Whisk for about 30 seconds to blend. Add one piece of your butter and continue to whisk until it’s melted and the sauce is beginning to thicken. Continue whisking and adding your butter pieces, one at a time, waiting until they are melted before adding the next piece. When all the butter is melted, continue whisking until it is thick and smooth. If it begins to look separated or curdled add a teaspoon of hot water, whisking to smooth it out. I added 3 teaspoons of water when this happened and it turned out and tasted great. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. If you are worried (like my husband) about the egg yolk in the sauce being undercooked, take the temperature of the sauce with a digital thermometer. Make sure you are not touching the bottom of the bowl or the pan below it or the temperature may be off. The sauce should be 160 degrees or more. Serve with cooked veggies, poultry, fish, or eggs.

Note: If making the full Eggs Benedict dish, I would get everything set up before starting the sauce. Put your English muffin in the toaster (make sure it is set to pop before it burns) and get your poaching pan ready with the eggs. Worst case if the muffin finishes before the sauce you can pop it in again briefly to warm it up and if your eggs are done just remove them from the heat and keep the lid on to keep them warm. I added fresh baby spinach to the extra cups in my poaching pan about 30 seconds before I was going to plate it to allow the spinach to wilt. Technically this is called Eggs Florentine instead of Benedict, but most people aren’t as familiar with the name so we’ll just leave it at that.

Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!

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I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.

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Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

Strawberry Queen of Heart Tarts

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Hello summer! I am so happy to see you! Spring and summer in Seattle have been beautiful with emerald-green lawns, colorful flowers of every variety, and warm temperatures. This past weekend got a little too hot though for a typical Seattle summer day. Temperatures reached 81 on Saturday and 92 yesterday, making our 4th floor, no A/C apartment pretty dang hot.

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In spite of the heat, I decided to turn on the oven and to make homemade pie crust (well not in that order).

Here’s a little summer advice for you: Do not make homemade pie crust on what is predicted to be the hottest day ever! Also don’t turn your oven on if you don’t have to!

Why shouldn’t you make pie crust on a hot day? The key to a good, flaky pie crust is cold fat (butter or shortening) and keeping it cold until it goes into the oven where it melts and creates pockets of air and thus flaky goodness. A hot kitchen (and hot hands) make keeping ingredients cold pretty difficult. I found myself popping my tarts in and out of the freezer at different stages to keep the butter from melting too early.

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But why was I making homemade pie crust in the first place? One of my friends was having an Alice and Wonderland themed engagement party over the weekend and I had to make something edible to fit the theme. Seeing the weather forecast, I told her I’d probably just make a salad to avoid using the oven. Yet the gorgeous, red strawberries grown right here in Washington were begging to be made into tarts and it seemed only fitting (and fun!) to make heart-shaped Queen of Heart Tarts.

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And because making one kind of tart is never enough (oh no, I always have to make it more complicated!) I made a savory asparagus tart too because, hello asparagus this time of year! For this tart I used puff pastry, because I had seen other recipes using puff pastry and it sounded oh so much simpler. In the end I was appreciative of the simplicity of the puff pastry compared to the pie crust, but in my opinion the pie crust tasted infinitely better!

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We had a wonderful celebration and kept cool in a lovely shady spot of the park. My friend was thrilled with the treats I brought and we ended up with a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed spread including: down the rabbit hole wraps (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese, and cucumber), magic mushrooms (marinated mushrooms), mint tea (of course!) and a few other fun treats. They even had deck of card necklaces with different sayings on them from the book including “We’re all mad here!” I guess being crazy enough to bake on a hot day makes me fit right in!

Queen of Heart Tarts

2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

2 cups diced strawberries

2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

2 T. cornstarch

lemon zest

1 egg, beaten

Roll out your pie crust into an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using a cookie cutter (or a stencil and a sharp knife) cut out heart shapes in your dough, as close together as possible. Re-rolling the scraps will overwork the dough and also make it start to soften and melt. (You can always bake the scraps with cinnamon and sugar and eat them as a treat!) Lay your cut-out hearts on a parchment lined sheet pan and put in the fridge while you cut up your strawberries.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your diced strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Have your beaten egg ready as an egg wash for your tarts.

Remove the hearts from the fridge and top half of them with a small bit of strawberry mixture right in the center (do not overfill!). With the remaining hearts, gently place them on top of the strawberry filling and press around the edges to seal. Use floured fingers to keep your hands from sticking. Cut small slashes in the top of each heart and brush lightly with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: I made my strawberry filling before I had my hearts cut out and the filling got progressively juicy and soupy as it sat. I think if you wait til you’re ready to use it, you won’t end up with an overly juicy filling, which will just bleed out of your pies when you try and fill them and when you bake them if they aren’t sealed well.

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

When you grow up knowing certain foods from a can or a box, it becomes hard to imagine how easy they might be to make homemade. I’m always surprised when I talk to people who say they made banana bread or blueberry muffins using a box mix, but maybe that’s because, to me, those foods are simple things that my family always made from scratch. Measuring the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt that it took for homemade muffins seemed just as easy as opening a box, (okay, opening a box is pretty easy) and in my mind it tasted much better.

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Of course my parents didn’t cook everything from scratch. We had our Sunday Kraft macaroni and cheese tradition, Cincinnati chili and tacos made from a packet mix, and chicken enchiladas with canned enchilada sauce. Having grown up with these foods, I never questioned their authenticity or feasibility as a homemade food. As my culinary skills and recipe collection broadened, I began to learn that many purchased foods I’d had growing up could easily be homemade.

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The start of enchilada sauce bubbling away: oil, flour, chili powder.

Before we packed up our whole life to move to Seattle, I made us a batch of freezer meals to get us through the days without our skillets, spatulas, pots, and plates. In addition to Meatballs and Baked Chicken Nuggets, I made a batch of Chicken and Bean Enchiladas with a homemade enchilada sauce. This sauce starts like many sauces with a roux, which simply means fat and flour. These two ingredients will be your sauce thickener and as long as they are whisked in gradually and lovingly you will end up with a rich and smooth sauce. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite easy. Not as easy as opening a can and pouring it in, but come on now – have a little fun!

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Bagged up, ready for the freezer!

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Fill up your tortillas with chicken, cheese, and beans and roll ’em up!

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After adding the tomato paste…

Now listen: everyone has different culinary skills and ambitions. You might be just fine with your canned sauce or even your Mexican take-out place, and someone else might insist that everything be homemade with the purest ingredients. Sometimes you just don’t have time to whip up something from scratch and I totally understand. Nonetheless, I find it valuable to at least know, for all those canned and packaged foods you buy, how you could make it yourself. My rule is if you’ve made it at least once before or you know the process of making it, you are allowed to “cheat” every now and then and just buy the pre-made version. I know I’ve done it before. So go ahead now – try making your own enchilada sauce just this once and then you can go back to your canned stuff. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t.

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Homemade Enchilada Sauce

adapted from TheFresh20

1/4 cup no salt added tomato paste

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 garlic clove, minced or 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

3 T. olive or canola oil

1/4 cup whole wheat or all-purpose flour

1-2 T. mild chili powder (depending on spice level desired)

3 1/2 cups – 5 cups chicken broth, warmed*

*Whenever I make chicken enchiladas I start by simmering the chicken in chicken broth. For 3-4 chicken breasts I use 6-8 cups of water with Chicken Better than Bouillon added according to the directions. I bring that to a light boil and immediately reduce to a simmer to cook for 10-15 minutes or until all the breasts are cooked through. I remove the chicken breasts to cool and use the warmed broth to make my sauce. You can also buy canned broth or make your own using a fresh whole chicken with vegetables and seasonings. Make sure the broth is warm when you add it into your sauce as it will be easier to incorporate.

For the sauce: In a small bowl mix tomato paste, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside.

Heat a large non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Add in oil, flour, and chili powder. Stir to combine until it becomes a thick paste. Add in tomato paste mixture and stir to combine.

Slowly add in hot broth while whisking to dissolve the flour mixture. Make sure to use a non-scratching whisk if you are using a non-stick pan. Continuing whisking while adding broth to your desired thickness. You can always add more if it’s too thick when it finishes.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes to deepen the flavor. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed – add more broth if it is too spicy or more salt and chili powder if it is too bland.

Use to mix with your cooked chicken and to top your filled tortillas in the pan before baking.

Enchilada, minus the enchilada sauce (just a burrito?)

Enchilada, minus the enchilada sauce (just a burrito?)