Friday, April 18, 2014

Starburst Jelly Bean Cocktail

Step 1: Buy a bag of Starburst jelly beans, several weeks before Easter, in the seasonal candy aisle at the grocery store, intending to turn it into jelly bean liqueur. 

Step 2: Put recently-purchased bag of jelly beans into the pantry & promptly forget about it for a week or two. 

Step 3: Re-discover jelly beans & remember intended liqueur & cocktail blog post.  

Step 4: Separate all the jelly beans into their separate colors. 

Step 5: Slowly begin snacking on aforementioned separated jelly beans, over several days, after procrastinating buying necessary cocktail ingredients (i.e. vodka). 

Step 6: Buy a second bag of Starburst jelly beans, because you seem to have nearly eaten all the batch.... 

Step 7: Repeat step 4…. 

Step 8: Add vodka to two mason jars with selected jelly beans (pink and orange; yellow and purple). Cover & let sit for a minimum of 24 hrs. Shake every so often.  

Step 9: Discover that yellow and purple Starburst jelly beans may taste really good together (actually, my favorite combo), but together they turn into a most terrible color, which you decide not to photograph.....   

Step 10: After 24 hours (or more), strain vodka into a decanter. If your prefer, se a damp coffee filter to line the strainer (to strain out any jelly bean sediment). 

Step 11: Mix jelly bean liqueur with club soda, a little simple syrup, and ice. 

Step 12: Enjoy immediately!  

Starburst jelly beans are one of my all-time favorite Easter candies (see step 5) and I’ve been thinking about making jelly bean cocktails since last Easter.  I know, Easter is less than 2 days away--I’m a little late in posting this idea (see step 2)--but, you’ve still got time!  Hurry and buy the ingredients immediately :) 

Starburst Jelly Bean Liqueur 
This recipe is more guidelines than anything.  Could be easily doubled (or reduced) if necessary. 

1/4 c Starburst jelly beans
1 c Vodka (don’t go with the high quality stuff, but do check to make sure it is GF, if necessary. I used Smirnoff, because it was the cheapest GF option I could find.) 
  1. In a mason jar (or other jar with a lid). Combine the jelly beans and vodka. Cover and shake. 
  2. Allow to sit, at room temperature, for at least 24 hrs. Shake occasionally. 
  3. After 24 hrs, strain into a separate jar. Line the strainer with a damp coffee filter, if you prefer al the sediment strained out. Note: the jelly beans may not be entirely dissolved, but that’s ok. 
  4. Store liqueur in the refrigerator, until ready to use. 

Jelly Bean Cocktail
again, mostly guidelines....  

1 part Starburst Jelly Bean liqueur 
2 parts club soda (or substitute lemon-lime soda, if prefer a sweeter cocktail)
Simple syrup, to taste

  1. Mix together the liqueur with the club soda and ice. 
  2. Taste.  Add simple syrup to your own sweetness preference.
  3. Enjoy immediately. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter Egg "Cascarónes" Cookies

Last year, my first in a Texas/Mexico border community, I was ushered into a world of a new-to-me Easter tradition: cascarónes. With a quick crack on the top of my head, and a shower of colorful confetti, I officially experienced “cascarónes” aka “confetti eggs.”  Just remember, when cracking cascarónes on someone’s head, use an open palm & crack the egg on the back of the head nowhere near the eyes!

Cascarónes are made by breaking open one end of an egg, disposing of the egg white/yolk, cleaning, drying & decorating the empty shell, then filling it (usually with confetti) & gluing tissue paper over the hole. You can make them yourself (I actually really love this post on Oh Happy Day--such great pictures!)  But, I must confess, around this area, there are SO MANY pre-made very, very inexpensive cascarónes available that I cheated & used the store bought.

While brainstorming Easter cookies (and Easter Traditions), I suddenly remembered that once-upon-a-time, I pinned a recipe for piñata cookies, which featured three layers of baked sugar cookies, with the middle layer hollowed out to make room for candy. When the finished piñata cookie was broken, out poured candy (not too different than a real paper mâché piñata. (side note, I am *really* getting to use the special characters in this post, haha).

I thought about how similar the piñata cookies are with cascarónes, only you don’t traditionally break a cookie over someone’s head--in my world that would be the shameful waste of a good cookie! But I decided to merge the concepts of piñata cookies with the idea of confetti eggs.  And voila, Cascarónes Cookies.

As with any sugar cookie, these do take some time, though much of it is inactive as you wait for things to dry/rest/cool etc. There are tons of absolutely gorgeous easter egg decorated cookies, but I was a bit short on time (I was simultaneously working on this project ). I tried to keep things simple: a white outline flooded with pastel colors & white dots.

One of my biggest challenges (aside from finding time to actually finish these cookies) was finding the right candy to go inside. Because I wanted the cookies to mimic the confetti eggs & have lots of small-ish candy spill out when eaten, I was searching for the smallest size Easter candy possible.  Both my husband and I scoured several stores, with little luck. I thought I would have to settle for mini m&ms (whose primary colors sort of clashed with my already-decorated pastel cookie tops), but then I discovered a gem in a craft store in San Antonio: chocolate covered sunflower seeds! And they were pastel for Easter!  Win! (Side note: I am also no longer allowed to buy chocolate covered sunflower seeds because I cannot seem to stop eating them).  

Really, this concept could translate to most any cookie design, but I do have a few recommendations.  First, make sure your cookie dough is one that holds its shape very well when baked--my recipe (listed below) doesn’t have baking soda or baking powder in it, so it doesn’t spread or puff.  The cookie dough should be slightly thicker (especially for the middle layer) than you may normally roll it, but that will ensure a sturdy cookie, with plenty of space for candy.  Feel free to substitute whatever small candy fits inside.

Secondly, royal icing does dry really hard and the first couple of bites into the cookie can be a little challenging. If making these for kids, I’d recommend having the parents help to “open” the cookie for the child.

Sugar Cookie Dough 
(sorry, I don’t have volume measurements for this recipe!) 

200 g Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
200 g Granulated Sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
Generous Pinch of Sea Salt
380 g AP Flour (increase to 400 g, if live in a humid area)--

  1.  Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed until completely combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. 
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and mix again on low speed until just combined. Be careful not to incorporated too much air into the dough.  
  3. Add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed until the flour is just incorporated and the dough forms a ball. 
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap & flatten into a disc.  Refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes (thought overnight is best).  Rolling/baking/decorating instructions will continue below.  
Gluten Free Adaptation: May also substitute Jeanne's GF AP Flour mix to make a gluten-free version. 

Royal Icing 
half recipe courtesy of Sugarbelle  

Note: I’ve recently switched to this new royal icing! I find it’s easier to make & works better. 

1lb (half of a bag) of confectioners’ sugar
27 g / 2.5 Tbl Meringue Powder
1 to 1.5 tsp oil-free extract or emulsion (I used imitation almond this time, with a tiny bit of vanilla)
3 oz Warm Water

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the sugar and meringue powder. 
  2. Meanwhile, add the flavoring to the warm water. 
  3. While the mixer is still running on it’s lowest setting, slowly add the water/flavoring. 
  4. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix for 2 to 4 minutes, or until the icing is fluffy and thick. Ideally mix only until the icing will hold a soft peak.  
  5. Store icing in an airtight container with a wet paper towel pressed into the surface.  
  6. Color the icing as needed. 
Cookie Baking
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Roll out the cookie dough evenly between two layers of parchment. The dough should be rather thick--mine were around 1/4 inch.  

  • Use a large oval cookie cutter (oval cutter)  to cut out 10 ovals. Place the ovals onto a baking sheet. 

  • Use a slightly smaller oval to press a slight “guide line” indentation into the tops (5 total), if desired, to later help with piping the icing. 
  • Bake the large ovals for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for approximately 10 more minutes. Due to their thick nature, these cookies may take a bit longer than others.... The cookies should be done, but not yet developed any color. Once baked, allow the cookies to cool completely. 
  • Meanwhile, re-roll, if necessary, and cut out 5 more large ovals.  Place those onto the second prepared baking sheet & refrigerate until firm (approximately 10 to 20 minutes.  Use a smaller oval to cut out the centers of each cookie (to leave room for candy later), and use a small offset spatula, if necessary, to remove the middle.  The middle cookies and the small ovals can be baked on the same baking pan.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes. 
  • Bake the second sheet for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for approximately 8 more minutes. 
  • Re-roll any scrap pieces & cut them into any shapes you like. 
Decorating & Assembly
  • Match up two large cookies with one middle cookie. 
  • Using a #3 round tip & thick white icing, outline the top cookies.  Allow to dry at least 30 minutes. Do the same with any small ovals too (or other shapes made from re-rolled scrap pieces). Save the remaining white icing for the cookie assembly 
  • Flood the inside of the outlined cookie with a pastel colored icing. Use a toothpick or scribe tool to coax the icing into all areas of the cookie. Swirl to release any air bubbles. Quickly pipe white polka dots into the wet icing.  Allow to dry several hours (though overnight is best). 
  • When ready to assemble the cookies, gather the reserved white icing, the prepared (and dried) cookies, and whatever candy you’ve chosen for the filling (I used chocolate covered sunflower seeds. 
  • Pipe a ring of icing near the edge of the bottom cookie, taking care not to pipe too close to the edge, or the icing may drip off the sides. 
  • Gently top with the middle cookie. Allow to dry at least 30 minutes. 
  • Fill the center cavity with the candy 
  • Pipe royal icing on the cookie ring.  Top with the decorated cookie & press gently to adhere.  Allow to dry at least 1 hr.  
  • Decorated cookies will keep for several weeks, if wrapped well with plastic wrap and/or stored in an airtight container.  

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

I haven’t felt as inspired in the kitchen lately. I could blame it on many different factors.... going out of town... lack of energy while still recovering from sickness... starting an exciting new adventure...  the busy-ness of life in general... My poor camera hadn’t been touched in a couple weeks, nor have I been keeping up with my writing (or, for that matter, the dishes that continually pile up in the kitchen)....

But, I did make a particularly fabulous batch of banana cupcakes last weekend that were too good not to share! They were for the birthday party of a friend who loves banana bread, so the leap to banana cupcakes seemed like a no-brainer.

The cupcakes were topped with cream cheese icing & garnished with a banana chip.  Funny story with the banana chip garnish idea.... I made the cupcakes & frosting sort of last minute, and in my haste to get them wrapped to take to the birthday party, plastic wrap fell into the soft icing tops of a couple cupcakes :( But then I remembered a stash of Trader Joe’s banana chips in my pantry.  I brought those along to the party & added them as garnish on the top.  Suddenly, no one was noticing the slightly marred icing :)

But let’s be honest, most people at the birthday party were more interested in tasting the cupcakes than looking at them. The flavor was spectacular! Cream cheese and banana are a perfect pairing. A couple people even said it was perhaps their favorite cupcake ever--those words do tend to make a pastry person feel pretty good :)

 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to replenish my now depleted supply of frozen ripe bananas.

Banana Cupcakes
adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

115g (1/2 c or 1 c) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
100 g (1/2 c) Brown Sugar
150 g (3/4 c) Granulated Sugar
3 large Eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 c mashed very ripe bananas (for me, that was 5 medium bananas, or just shy of 400 g)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
250 g (2 c) AP Flour (or substitute Jeanne’s GF AP mix, if wanting to make them GF)
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
1/2 c Buttermilk (or 1/2 c milk mixed with 1/2 Tbl lemon juice)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two cupcake pans with 18 liners & set aside. (see note below) 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  
  3. Mash the banana in a small bowl (I use my fingers, or a fork). Add the bananas to the mixing bowl, along with the vanilla extract, and mix on low speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  
  4. In a separate medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl & mix on low speed until just barely combined. Add the milk and mix again on low speed until just barely combined--it’s ok if the batter is lumpy.  
  5. Portion the cupcakes into the prepared liners. 
  6. Bake for 17 to 19 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean. The second pan may take a few extra minutes (mine took about 22). 
  7. Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before icing.


  • While the original recipe yields 18 cupcakes, I found mine to be a little shorter than  I would have liked. Next time, I will plan to make only 16. 
  • It would be super easy to make these cupcakes gluten free, by substituting your favorite cup-for-cup/ounce-for-ounce GF AP flour blend... My go-to blend is Jeanne’s GF AP Flour Mix.  
  • I have only tested the recipe by weights, but have included volumetric amounts for those who do not bake by weight. 
  • If you don’t have overripe bananas available (I usually keep a stash of bananas in my freezer), use this tip from Thefauxmartha  to roast bananas first. 

Cream Cheese Icing
adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

8 oz (1 c) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
16 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste (or substitute extract)
24 oz (6 c) Confectioners Sugar, sifted if lumpy

Banana Chips, optional, for decoration

  1.  In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, or until well combined & lighter in volume. 
  2. Sift the confectioners sugar, if it is lumpy. Once the butter/cream cheese/vanilla mixture is done, add the sugar & mix on low speed until combined. Then, increase the speed to medium and mix for an additional 5 to 7 minutes. 
  3. Place the finished icing into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used an Ateco 808). 
  4. Pipe icing onto the top of each cooled cupcake and garnish with a banana chip, stuck into the top of the icing. 
  5. Store leftover icing in the refrigerator. Decorated cupcakes may be stored at room temp or in the refrigerator for a couple days, though the banana chips might become soggy.  Allow cupcakes to come to room temperature before serving. 
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