Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, New You, More Champagne

"No matter what anyone says, suicide takes guts. It's for heroes and martyrs, truly vainglorious men. Archie was none of these. He was a man whose significance in the Greater Scheme of Things could be figured along familiar ratios:
Pebble : Beach
Raindrop : Ocean
Needle : Haystack"

"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith is one of my favorite books and happens to start and end on or around New Year's Eve. It opens on New Year's Day, 1975. Like most of us, the main character Archie Jones is completely in his feelings that day, thinking about his life, which was recently torn apart in a bad divorce. Archie Jones is sitting in his Cavalier Musketeer station wagon, waiting for the exhaust fumes to fill the car and end his life. He is saved when the owner of a butcher shop comes out and asks Archie to stop blocking his delivery area. Having failed to successfully kill himself, he ends up at a party still going from the night before and ends up meeting his next wife, Clara--a beautiful Jamaican woman half his age.

The novel then skips ahead to follow two North London families--Archie, Clara and their daughter Irie, and the family of Archie's World War II buddy Samad Iqbal. Told from varying points of view, the book explores cultural identity, history, religion, crumbling marriages, arranged marriages--the list goes on. There are plenty of surprises and lots of heartbreak. Reading it, you grow up with Irie and Samad's twin sons, Millat and Magid, and you watch as the adults navigate religious, financial and marital issues.

None of that sounds funny, but somehow I found myself laughing at their awkward conversations and hilarious life failures. But at the same time I felt for Irie as she develops a crush and tries to fit in at school and I felt for Archie as he tries to avoid another disastrous New Year's Day. By the end we're left thinking about how far Archie has come since the opening scene, and if all other 'doomed' or 'unchangeable' people can achieve the same.

In celebration of New Year's Eve, the resolutions we're all making and that fresh hopeful feeling of being able to start over, I made champagne cupcakes and champagne icing! Simple and delicious.

You can actually just take regular cake mix and add champagne to the batter, but I'm a fan of homemade everything, so I took the longer route. Plus the sour cream really brings out the flavor. Plus, these are pretty simple to make.

White Teeth: 5 stars
Champagne cupcakes: 5 stars

“Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.”

“Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”

“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”

“Where I come from," said Archie, "a bloke likes to get to know a girl before he marries her." "Where you come from it is customary to boil vegetables until they fall apart. This does not mean," said Samad tersely, "that it is a good idea.”


1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp champagne*

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups powdered sugar
4-5 tbsp champagne*

*Note: Normally when making boozy cupcakes, I say add however much booze you can stand. But for these cupcakes, it's really better to follow the recipe.

1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder.
2. Add butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and champagne. Mix until smooth.
3. Fill cupcake liners a little more than half way and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.
4. Cool for 1-2 minutes in the pan, then remove to cooling rack to finish cooling.

1. Combine butter and shortening. Mix until smooth.
2. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
3. Mix in champagne.
4. Add remaining powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
5. Add A LITTLE more champagne, if needed, until desired consistency is reached.

Happy baking and HAPPY NEW YEAR'S EVE!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Post 3: A Classic

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Doesn't that picture make you wish you had smell-o-vision? I just wanted to quickly share one more delicious holiday treat that I find myself making around this time of year: monkey bread. It's basically sugar biscuits, butter and cinnamon and I swear, it deserves it's own holiday!

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cans (16.3 oz each) Pillsbury Grands Flaky Layers refrigerated biscuits
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Heat oven to 350°F and grease pan.
2. In a plastic food bag, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon.
3. Separate dough into biscuits, then cut each into quarters. Shake in bag to coat and arrange in pan.
4. Mix brown sugar and melted butter; pour over biscuit pieces.
5. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until golden brown and no longer doughy in center.
6. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto serving plate!

I'll be back for another post of New Year's Eve!

Happy baking, everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Post 2: Visions of Plum

You know when something could've gone so wrong--maybe even had been going wrong all day--but then you turn it around at the last minute? That's what yesterday was and that's what these cookies are, too.

I'd been planning to cook something sweet and Christmasy to take to work for a while, and of course I procrastinated until the hectic day before Christmas Eve. My feet hurt from heels at work, Wal-Mart was insanely crowded and to top it off, it was 75 degrees on Christmas Eve eve. BUT! My sweet friend Jennifer swooped in with an amazing delivery just in time to brighten the day.

AN ADORABLE CAT PRINT APRON!!! I'm already obsessed with it! We Facetime'd as I opened it and as I told her, this apron kicked my little striped apron's ass--just like that.

Jennifer is a long lost college friend of mine. We worked on the school newspaper together for years which meant lots of late stressful production nights spent laughing hysterically at things that weren't even funny--we had just lost it from being up until 3 a.m. Then we both graduated and ended up in completely different corners of the country. She got married, moved to Washington and landed a boss position with Xbox and I came to Savannah to get my M.F.A. It had been so long since we'd spoken to one another, so we decided to continue Facetime-ing while I baked and she cooked a fancy Christmas dinner for her and her hubby. She told me about her life, what she'd gotten her family members for Christmas, and what she was cooking. We laughed about my horrid dough rolling skills and the questionable temperature of her ham. And just like that, my day went from humdrum to perfect.

By the way, you should definitely check out Jennifer's blog, The Golden Days. She writes about adventures in her new town, her family, her writing process and other delightful musings. I also plan to update this post with pictures from her Christmas dinner--so be sure to check back later!

Now, let's get to what I was baking:
Sugar cookie bowls filled with red plum jam and cheesecake filling! These cookies were a challenge for a few reasons. One, the first time I tried to make cup shaped cookies, the dough fell apart after only 3 minutes in the over. More on that in the recipe. Two, you'll notice the recipe calls for strawberry jam, not plum. I guess the rage from having to navigate a buggy through a crowded aisle, temporarily relieved me from the ability to read. I didn't realize it until I'd gotten home though, so red plum it was. Three, my mixer is a JOKE so I had to stir my cheesecake filling by hand. Not only does it take FOREVER to combine squares of cream cheese and sour cream until "mixed well" when stirring by hand, but at the end of the day, your cheesecake filling will probably still be a little lumpy.

But I'm happy say I stuck it out through two batches of cookies and ended up more than happy with the results! The cookies ended up being delicious and all my time was worth it--just like that.

Cookie dough ingredients:
14.1 ounces all purpose flour
4.4 ounces confectioners’ sugar
7 ounces butter
1 egg
pinch of salt

Cheesecake filling ingredients:
3.5 ounces sour cream
7 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3.5 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 tbs lemon juice
strawberry jam

1. Mix together all cookie dough ingredients to form a ball.
2. Roll the ball out between two baking papers.
3. Cut out circles and drape one circle over each bowl cavity of pan, pressing to form smooth surface. (This method did NOT work for me. My cookies started coming apart after just 3 minutes in the oven! Instead, I placed my circles inside of the cupcake cavities, just like you with cupcakes. It made for a smaller opening in which to place the filling, but at least they were cups!)
4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and let them cool.
5. Prepare cheese filling. Mix sweetened condensed milk, sour cream and cream cheese until combined.
6. Add lemon juice and mix well.
7. Place 1 teaspoon strawberry jam on every cookie bowl, then fill with cheese cream.
8. Keep in the fridge until set (I left mine over night, but it should only take about 4 hours).

Happy baking, everybody!

PS-Look forward to another quick Christmas favorite early tomorrow morning!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Post 1: Adventures in Cheesecake

As promised, I'm delivering you with another recipe during my holiday break from reading and baking. Things have been hectic--buying and wrapping presents, decorating my little apartment and of course, baking something delicious for every Christmas get-together. For last night's party, I decided to make these super quick no-bake cheesecake Santa hats.

8 oz. Cream Cheese softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 package of Cheesecake Pudding
1 package of chocolate dessert cups
12 strawberries
white sparkling sugar sprinkles (optional)

1. Combine all ingredients except the chocolate cups and strawberries. Beat well on high until the Cheesecake Cream is light and fluffy.
2. Put the mixture into a piping bag and fill each chocolate cup up and over slightly around the rim.
3. Place a strawberry with the top cut off on top of the Cheesecake Cream layer and press down slightly. Put a little Cheesecake Cream at the top for the top of the hat.
4. Sprinkle with some white sugar sprinkles if you like!

These are the little chocolate dessert cups I used, which contrary to popular belief (or at least my belief) are NOT found in the refrigerated section of Wal-mart, but instead in the regular baking aisle, next to the chocolate chips.

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sweet Potatoes > Pumpkins

Because this time of year usually means a lot of baking, I'm taking a few weeks off from baking for the blog. But fear not! I still plan to share what I've been baking. Today? Sweet potato cupcakes with cream cheese frosting! These turned out perfect; basically a sweet potato pie, turned into a cupcake. (Because sweet potatoes > pumpkin.)

Cupcake Ingredients

One 16-ounce can sweet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1)Make the sweet potato puree by processing the sweet potatoes in a food processor. Or you know, just buy puree and not a can of sliced potatoes like I did. Set aside.
2)In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg.
3)In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and eggs.
4)Add the dry to the wet ingredients slowly--about a third at a time.
5)Whisk in the sweet potato puree.
6)Fill each cupcake in the prepared pan three-quarters full of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
7)You can top these however you like. I did a sprinkle of pecans and brown sugar on the top!

Happy baking and happy Thanksgiving! -Ariel

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Strange Case

"He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable."

Happy Halloween! You've got to love a night when it's allowed to come as you aren't, when heavy drinking and bad behavior are highly encouraged. What? You didn't think it was about the candy, did you?

I went back and forth between spooky reads like "It" by Stephen King and Shirley Jackson's "House on Haunted Hill," and finally landed on "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Stevenson. This classic about poor virtuous Jekyll who, looking to escape the crushing weight of his moral ways, creates a potion that separates good from evil. His evil side, Mr. Hyde, is free to do treacherous things, such as trample over people in the street, commit fraud and eventually murder, but by taking another swig of this potion, Mr. Hyde disappears and Dr. Jekyll returns, with the continuous respect of his peers and free to walk around with his head held high.

The problem is, these two sides are both contained inside of one body. Jekyll didn't create a whole new person, these desires lived inside of him already, fighting against what my mom would call his "know better" aka his common sense, his moral compass, etc. Dr. Jekyll often wakes and feels disgusted by the actions of Hyde from the night before, whereas Hyde only tolerates changing back into Jekyll for protection from the police. Pure evil and pure good are basically warring for playtime in this body. After a while, he's able to transform to Hyde without the need of a potion. His evil tendencies, given too much play time out in the open, are now stronger than his morals. Soon Jekyll must double up, then triple up on the potion to get rid of Hyde and eventually, he can't find Jekyll at all. Hyde, knowing his face will be recognized on the street and he'll have to suffer the consequences, commits suicide.

It's not your typical scary story with ghosts and such. Instead it questions human nature, the good and evil in us all and what each person is actually capable of doing. In this story, we're what goes bump in the night. [bumbumBUM]

I went all out for these cupcakes. I wanted them to give Dr. Jekyll's potion a run for its money. For the batter, I subbed milk for cake vodka. You can use any cake flavored vodka you like, but I went with Pinnacle. I'm sure vanilla flavored vodka would work too.

I dyed half of the batter green, and baked the two mixtures side by side, using this handy-dandy cupcake separator that I found on Amazon. It was harder to pour batter into such a small space, but I managed to do it with only a little bit of a mess. Next time I'll pour more slowly.

Once they were finished baking, I brush the tops of the cupcakes with more vodka. The frosting is made with powdered sugar, butter and whipped cream vodka, which I dyed black with a hint of a green strip to keep with the spookiness of the evening. And finally, in the middle of each cupcake sits a shot of Dr. Jekyll's secret potion. (Hint: It's just more vodka.)

Basically, these are the booziest cupcakes I've ever made. I plan on testing these two toned vodka cupcakes and shots of "potion" on my group of friends tonight. I hope to see a little of Mr. Hyde in all of us tonight.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 5 stars
Cake vodka cupcakes: 5 stars

“I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both."

“All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.”

“And next moment, with ape like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot, and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway.”

Cake Vodka Cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs
1/2 cup cake vodka
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups.
2. In a large bowl, combine butter and eggs. (It will look clumpy and runny.) Stir in vodka and vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.(If you like, this is where you separate the batter in order to dye half of it green!)
4. Fill baking cups 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Whipped Cream Vodka Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp whipped cream vodka

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add vodka, one tablespoon at a time. (Add more or less depending on your desired consistency.)

Happy baking! -Ariel

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Untamed State, Or that Time I Made a Mess with Mangoes

“Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.”

Remember last post when everything was happy and light and soaked in whiskey? Wasn’t that nice? Now, allow me and Roxane Gay to bring it way down.

That quote up there? That’s how the book STARTS. On the surface “An Untamed State,” tells the story of a woman with a near perfect life—husband and baby make three—who visits her parents in Haiti and is promptly kidnapped and tortured for a group of men until her ransom is paid thirteen days later. The second part of the book tells the story of that same woman trying to put her life back together. But this book is really about so much more. It’s about fear and hope and the end of fairytales. It’s about marriage and the relationship between a daughter and father. It’s about Haiti and race and sexism and class-ism.

It’s heavy, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. I went through it quickly, but it stayed with me for a long time. In addition to earthquakes that make the entire world stop and pay attention, Haiti was also once known as the kidnapping capital of the world. So while this book is fiction, it speaks about real issues, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has read Roxane Gay before.

This is a complicated book. These are complicated cupcakes, but hopefully a lot more cheerful. Because I know next to nothing about Haiti, I reached out to the internet from some inspiration. Big on fruit. Not big on desserts, Haiti. A lot of the dessert recipes just sounded like a sweeter version of banana bread. But then I came across a recipe for mango/coconut/ginger cupcakes with lemon glaze/icing. The ingredient list is lengthy, but honestly these were the easiest cupcakes in the world to make.

Well, until it was time to mash mangoes. I should've bought PULP, not diced mangoes. Note to self: Buy what the recipe says, not what's conveniently in front of your face at Kroger.

Ya’ll. I LOVE mangoes. Who knew? I had to turn these into pulp myself, which resulted in a lot of angry mashing with a fork, yelling and mango bits and pieces everywhere. Thank God for aprons. Thank God for cats who lick the floor clean.

An Untamed State: 5 stars
Mango Cupcakes: 5 stars

The finished product was delicious and actually quite pretty. Not your normal cupcake--the sweetness comes mostly from the mangoes. You'll notice the recipe doesn't call for a lot of sugar. The sweetness of the mango goes well with lemon and the lemon zest adds a bit of color.

“We loved Haiti. We hated Haiti. We did not understand Haiti or know Haiti. Years later, I still did not understand Haiti, but I longed for the Haiti of my childhood. When I was kidnapped, I knew I would never find that Haiti again.”

“I am not easy to love but I am well loved. I try to love well in return.”
“It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”

Cupcake Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mango pulp (I used one can of diced mangoes and one bag of frozen chopped mangoes--then beat them to a pulp myself.)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Glaze Ingredients
2 cups powdered sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon

If you'd like to see the recipe followed correctly, visit Peaceful Cooking. If you'd like to see what I did, scroll down.

1) Blend butter and sugar until creamy.
2) Blend all dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
3) Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture.
4) Try your best to pulp your diced mangoes.
5) Yell at the cat out of frustration.
6) Add the mangoes, vanilla, and coconut to the mixture.
7) Smile because your apartment smells like mangoes.
8) Apologize to the cat for yelling, tell her you were just stressed.
9) Pour into greased cupcake liners and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

1) Mix ingredients until the glaze is thick, yet pour-able.
2) Lemon zest seems purely for looks. Do it anyway. It makes them pretty.

Happy baking!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Good, Evil and Whiskey

“Rule number one: Always stick around for one more drink. That’s when things happen. That’s when you find out everything you want to know.”

For my first blog post with my fancy new design (Thanks, Jennifer!), I wanted to read/bake something special, something exciting to really get the ball rolling—something that would leave me with a lot of extra whiskey to drink.

If you bothered to read to the ‘About Books & Batter’ section over in the left column, you know I live in Savannah, Georgia. So I thought what better boozy book to reintroduce this blog than “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ by John Berendt. This nonfiction novel is all Old South, meaning it’s about money, murder and martinis. It’s set in Savannah in 1981 and revolves around the author’s eight-year stay in the Hostess City, during which he met some extremely interesting, borderline alcoholic people and possibly befriended a murderer.

Although Berendt admits he took some liberties in the timeline of his story, all the characters and events are real. YES, you can visit Savannah and go see the house where the murder took place. YES, you can see the Bird Girl statue on the front cover for the price of admittance into the Telfair museum. And YASSS, you can go downtown to Club One and catch the famous drag queen entertainer, Lady Chablis still singing and dancing at the age of 58.

This book isn't for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a murder mystery, true, but I think what holds this book up are the characters and their descriptions. The characters are quirky, crooked, gentile, magical and most of all truly, completely Southern.

I thought it was appropriate to honor this book with a heavily southern drink turned cupcake. I took the cocktail recipe for Sazerac, and turned it into 24 cupcakes that will knock you on your ass. Sazerac (technically local to New Orleans—sue me) is usually made from a combo of rye, absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters, and sugar. This drink is NOT for riding the Savannah tour bus in the summer heat. You will die. It’s more for sitting in a square while your servant holds an umbrella over your shoulders for shade.

For the cupcakes, I took out the absinthe and replaced it with anise extract, which is supposed to be licorice extract basically. I think I was probably a bit heavy handed with it though—or maybe I just don’t love the taste of licorice very much.

This recipe calls for you to separate the yolk from the whites. I found it easiest to CAREFULLY move the yolk from one half of the shell to the other. The eggs whites will slip out into your bowl.

The frosting is also deliciously whiskey flavored, if you were wondering. It was originally a beige color, but I used some red food dye to keep with the murder theme here. Not as gorgeous as I wanted, but ya’ll. These cupcakes are GOOD.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: 5 stars

Suarez cupcakes: 4.5 stars

“Two tears in a bucket. Motherfuck it.”

“If there’s a single trait common to all Savannahians, it’s their love of money and their unwillingness to spend it.”

“The South is one big drag show, honey…”

“He had been found lying on the carpet behind the desk in the very spot where he would have fallen eight years earlier, if Danny Hansford had actually fired a gun and the shots has found their mark.”

Sazerac Cupcake Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

dash of salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup milk

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon of anise extract

1/2 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters (found at any decent booze store)

However much rye whiskey you can stand.

1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar in a different bowl until smooth and well blended.

3. Turn mixer to low speed, add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture, 1/3 at a time alternating with the milk. Mix well.

4. Add extract, bitters, and whiskey.

5. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites. You want them stiff but still moist. (That was an odd sentence to type.) Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter at a time.

6. Pour into cupcake tins lined with paper cupcake holders and bake for about 20 minutes.

Whiskey Butter Cream Frosting

2 sticks salted butter, slightly softened (a table spoon or more if you like a lot of frosting)

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 heaping table spoons rye whiskey

a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

1. Make sure you add the sugar a little at a time. It'll help keep the frosting smooth and not clumpy.

Happy baking!