Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to celebrate the people in my life, thus my obsession with birthdays. My awesome boss and friend, Kristi, is the cupcake queen – they’re her favorite. Since her birthday kicks off pumpkin spice latte season (I think you call it fall?), I thought these were a perfect fit.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
The pecans were a nice garnish, and you could totally add them (crushed) to the batter.

I used the Starbucks VIA packets instead of espresso powder (because that’s what I had), and the coffee flavor DEFINITELY came through. Feel free to back down for a more mild flavor. I also love a ton of spice in my pumpkin stuff, so again, use what suits your taste. These are a little on the dense side for cupcakes, but still had a really nice crumb, and were fairly easy to throw together. (Minus spraying powdered sugar all over my kitchen. Tips on how NOT to do that below.) The cupcake itself wasn’t overly sweet (the coffee helped) and my frosting wasn’t either. I prefer that, so I was really happy with how these turned out.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
Aren’t they pretty? Not professional grade, but salted caramel drizzle makes everything better.

 

The cupcake recipe is very lightly adapted from Annie’s Eats and the frosting is my own madwoman mishmash.

You’ll need

Cupcakes

  • 2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 T espresso powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T vanilla

Frosting

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 c cream
  • 1/3 c salted caramel sauce + extra for drizzling (this is my favorite recipe)
  • 1/4 c softened butter

Get cooking

Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with liners. (These are moist. Not the time to scrimp on liners.)
  2. Whisk dry ingredients (minus sugars) in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat pumpkin, sugars, vanilla and oil on medium speed, then add the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until it comes together. (Try not to overmix.)
  5. Use a standard scoop or measuring cup to fill liners 3/4 full and bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean, or with a few small crumbs.
  6. Cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Frosting 

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
  2. Add all ingredients except powdered sugar – start whipping on medium speed.
  3. After 1-2 minutes, add the powdered sugar, slowly, continuing to whip. (Seriously, you will be like me and want to dump it all in at once. This is a bad idea. Powdered sugar is HARD to clean when it goes everywhere. Ahem. I’ve heard, anyway.)
  4. Chill 20-30 minutes.
  5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes, and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.

Makes 2 dozen

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Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/

Vegan, gluten-free brownie ice cream sundae

So, I think it’s pretty clear from the rest of my posts that I am neither vegan nor gluten-free. However, I consider these types of cooking a challenge – because everything IS better with butter, let’s be real – and I like a challenge. Plus, I feel like I should have recipes in my back pocket for when I’m entertaining someone with different dietary needs. Or, for when I have too many regular brownies and need to pull myself together.

This actually came together randomly – Dixi was over for a pizza and movie night, and I happened to have the brownies on hand already. I was going to pull them out, realized I had coconut milk in the fridge and bananas in the freezer, and thought “sundaes!” Because what goes better with horror movies and hot tubs?

Vegan Brownie Sundae
It’s not the same as a banana split, but this vegan brownie sundae is a great treat for a hot summer day. Or any day, really.

A note about this overall: it’s obviously not as sweet as an actual sundae would be. That may or may not be your speed, but don’t go in expecting a replica – this is not a substitute, it’s more like a riff. I have a lot of other notes below in the ingredients and the instructions – don’t let that scare you. As long as you have a food processor/blender, everything in this recipe is fairly simple.

You’ll need:

“Brownies:” (barely adapted from this Food 52 recipe)

  • c chopped pecans (even better if they’re toasted)
  • c pitted dates (seriously, spend the money and buy the pre-pitted ones. Pitting them yourself is horrible – you’re forced to realize exactly how much they look like cockroaches. And it’s sticky and messy – not worth it, I promise.)
  • 2 T coconut oil (I omitted this originally, and you can, but it helps give a more ‘fudgy’ texture.)
  • 1/3 c nut butter (I used peanut butter – but honestly, you’re basically making pecan butter out of the pecans, so you could just throw in extra of those, if you like.)
  • 1/4 c unsweetened shredded coconut (You will have to go to a health food store or order this online. You can sub in sweetened if you like, but the unsweetened is nice on a lot of other things.)
  • 1 t vanilla (I know this may sound a little snobby, but good, quality, real vanilla is SUPER important in this recipe. You’re not cooking anything, so you really need the ingredients to be the best you can afford.)
  • 2+ T unsweetened cocoa powder (See quality note above. Also, I probably added more like 3. The dates are pretty sweet, so if you like a little bitter in your sweets, don’t be afraid to up this a bit.)
  • 1 T maple syrup (this is to taste – you may want as much as double.)
  • Dash of salt

“Ice cream:”

4 frozen bananas (Peel, chop and place in freezer bag for at least 4 hours – these take a lot longer to freeze if you leave them whole. Also, don’t do what I did and leave the skins on, it’s a pain.)

“Whipped cream:”

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated at least 2 hours
  • 1 T vanilla
  • Sweetener to taste (I didn’t think it needed any, but you may want to add maple syrup or a little sugar.)

Get cooking:

Brownies

  1. Pulse pecans in a food processor until smooth, like peanut butter. Add dates and pulse to mix.
  2. Add other ingredients and mix until smooth. Taste to make sure the sweetness level is where you want it.
  3. Line an 8×8 pan with wax or parchment, press mixture into pan until flat (ish – it doesn’t have to be perfect.)
  4. Freeze for 30 minutes-1 hour.
  5. Slice and serve! They keep well for about a week in the fridge or the freezer, separated by wax paper.

Ice cream

  1. Add bananas to food processor or blender. Pulse until broken up, then blend until smooth.
  2. (It’s really important to do this right before you make the sundaes – once the bananas melt, they go from ice cream consistency to banana mush.)

Whipped cream

  1. Scoop solid part of coconut milk off the top of the can. Beat with vanilla and sweetener until smooth.
  2. Layer it up like your favorite sundae and go to town! You may want to break the brownies up over top of the banana, instead of serving underneath.

Chocolate cheesecake stuffed strawberries

There are times when show stopping dessert take hours of prep and baking and cooling and decorating – and then, there’s this. Three ingredients. Three steps. Super-fancy dessert. I mean, look at these – don’t you want them rightnowplease?

Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries
Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries are the perfect wine club – I mean book club – dessert. Or appetizer. Or snack in general.

I made these when I needed a fast book club dessert. I had a menu of about 5 million things (not really, but it was extensive) and I wanted a dessert that fit our ‘obsession’ theme. While carving out the strawberries takes a hot minute, this dessert comes together fairly quickly and easily. But it looks incredibly fancy, because it’s mini and stuffed. It’s light and refreshing but still satisfies the chocolate craving. And if you need to up your class factor, do what I did – and serve these as an appetizer. Hey, fruit and cheese is an appetizer, right?

You’ll need:

  • 1 package strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Get cooking:

  1. When you hull the strawberries, use your pairing knife to carve out the entire middle of the strawberry. It’s tedious at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of it.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and spread until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Add mixture to piping tool (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.) Fill strawberries and serve. Look at you, so fancy!

Chocolate lasagna

As much as I love cooking, baking and I are more distant friends. Measuring is a pain, I’m not super exact about ANYTHING and really, sometimes, I’m distracted. Also: baked goods are my kryptonite. I LOVE THEM. I mean candy, whatever, it’s ok. You give me a brownie and I’ll give you a kidney.

Whenever I bake something and post it on FB, I get at least one “How do you not weigh 1,000 pounds?” comment. While it seems like a silly question, my dirty secret is: I bake for other people. Like, office people, for example. Dani, one of my awesome friends and coworkers, requested an Oreo lasagna. The recipe called for instant pudding and whipped topping, but I made a few…tweaks…in honor of her awesomeness. And I’m not even kidding when I say this 9×13 pan was gone in 10 minutes.

Chocolate lasagna
Delicious layers of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.

Here’s the thing – this recipe has a lot of steps. I know. It looks scary. But 1. You don’t have to do them all at once, 2. You can sub in anything (just please, please make the bottom layer as written, you won’t be sorry) and 3. It’s even better when you have a good friend (in this case, my sweet Carly) keeping you company while you make it.

You’ll need:

Crust:

  • 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened

Pudding (recipe from/inspired by the one, the only, the great smitten kitchen):

  • 1/4 c cornstarch
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 3 c whole milk
  • 1 c chocolate chips/6 oz. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 t pure vanilla extract

Middle layer:

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c whipping cream
  • 3/4 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Topping:

  • 1 package chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 1 1/2 c whipping cream
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 2 t vanilla

Get cooking:

Crust:

  1. Crush cookies in a food processor, then add cream cheese and blend until paste-like (it was so thick it actually stopped my food processor. Don’t be afraid.)
  2. Spread in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Normally I would line with parchment – don’t make this mistake, it gets too soggy – just spray with cooking spray.
  3. Cover and let chill 2 hours or overnight.

Pudding:

  1. Mix cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, then whisk in milk. Go slowly at first, whisking constantly – you can pick up speed as everything incorporates.
  2. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring/whisking every once in a while so the mixture doesn’t stick and no lumps form.
  3. Once the mixture coats the back of a spoon (about 15-20 minutes for me), whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and thickened.
  4. Turn off heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

Middle layer (make when layering dessert):

  1. Mix ingredients together with an electric beater until blended and fluffed, 5-6 minutes. Taste and add sugar if you like. (I like mine a little tart, especially since everything else is so sweet.)
  2. Alternately, mix cream cheese and chocolate hazelnut spread  together. Whip cream separately, and fold into cream cheese mixture. It’s up to you – this way will yield you a little more fluff, the other way a little more heft.

Whipped cream topping (Don’t make until assembling layers):

  1. Whip cream with powered sugar and vanilla until medium peaks form, 6-7 minutes.

Layer:

  1. Spread pudding over crust layer.
  2. Spread middle layer over pudding.
  3. Spread whipped cream over middle layer and top with hand-crushed cookies.