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Wednesday
Mar272013

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

The first signs of spring are arriving—slowly, ever so slowly, but surely. Living in the Upper Midwest, you might guess it to be the middle of winter if you took a peek outside my living room window. With twelve foot snow piles dotted around the buildings and snow drifts so tall it is difficult to see around intersections when driving a car, it certainly does not feel like the first day of spring has already come and gone. Just a few days ago, Mother Nature dropped the temperatures into negative digits once more; I have become so accustomed to the cold that I don't even wrap a scarf around my neck or reach for a hat before walking out the door.

It is hard for me to imagine that April is right around the corner.

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

There is a ray of hope in all this snow, however, and it comes in the form of sunshine. Growing ever stronger, the rays are bright and warm in the sky, melting the snow and brightening the early morning hours even when the air is cold. When the light begins to fade at eight o'clock in the evening, I can scarcely believe my eyes (eight o'clock!). These small signs assure me that spring is near, even if it feels so far away right now.

When I was perusing the shelves of my local supermarket last weekend, I noticed that raspberries were on sale. While I know winter berries are not as vibrant in color or in flavor, I could not help but add a couple pints into my cart. After surviving on citrus fruits and apples since the advent of fall, I needed a little sweetness in my life in the form of a red, ripe berry.

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Inspired by one of my favorite cupcake recipes, I swapped out the blueberries for red raspberries and a hint of lemon. A simple cream cheese frosting ties the flavors together. As with most of the sweets I bake in my kitchen, I feel they should be shared with others who may find a bit of happiness in a big bite. I took them to a gathering of friends and watched them disappear over the course of the evening. As I saw people reach for seconds (and thirds), I felt certain you would fall in love with them just as effortlessly.

In many ways, I feel as if this cupcake represents the transition between two places, between winter and spring. While the seasonal lemon is bright and fresh, ripe raspberries will be here sooner than I dare to believe—the merging of two seasons.

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes are vibrant, fresh, and perfect for the arrival of spring. A vanilla cupcake batter is infused with lemon zest, lemon juice, and few handfuls of red raspberries. The sweetness of the cupcake is countered by the tart fruits and the bold tang of the cream cheese frosting. Decorated with a few fresh raspberries, these simple cupcakes become a sophisticated dessert destined to be shared.

One Year Ago: Arborio Rice Pudding
Two Years Ago: Orange Scones

Raspberry Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Yields about 18 cupcakes

Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes
3/4 cup (169 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (76 grams) sour cream (or plain, non-fat yogurt)
1/4 cup (59 ml) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (175 grams) cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces or 255 grams) fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon zest with your fingers until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add the butter and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Gradually add in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the milk and lemon juice, stirring until batter is uniform and smooth. Gently stir in the raspberries.

Fill baking cups about 2/3 full and bake for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack, and allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups (500 grams) powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the salt and vanilla. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. If frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Likewise, if the frosting is too stiff, add milk until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

Before serving, pipe or spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes and decorate with a few fresh raspberries, if desired. If cupcakes will sit out more than a day, keep refrigerated in an airtight container to help preserve them. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday
Mar242013

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes

Every so often, I forget to take time for myself. It is never intentional, but between work, school, and responsibilities, somehow "me time" gets pushed to the wayside. It can be weeks before I have realized what I have done. In some ways, this does not surprise me. Our culture glorifies being busy. You need to be doing it all right now. Our culture dictates that being busy is the only way to show your family and your coworkers how significant you are, how productive you are, or how important you are to the running of a business or a household. If you have extra time, then you are not "reaching your potential" or, as we have often been led to believe, you are simply being lazy.

All of this, of course, is not true.

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes Banana Cinnamon Pancakes

While our culture may celebrate being busy, the reality is that we need time to ourselves, away from responsibilities, so that we can recharge and take a moment to enjoy life. When some level of perseverance is unavoidable, taking a moment to scribble "me time" onto the calendar can relieve the stress and exhaustion that comes from hard work.

I tend to go through periods of extreme busyness a few times a year (some avoidable, some not). If history is any indication for me, I am prone to overworking myself, taking on too much at once and realizing the consequences after it is too late. When I find myself frequently working on Friday and Saturday evenings just to keep up, the alarms in my head go off, giving me a signal that I need to make a change.

The alarms have been going off for a couple weeks already, warning me to slow down and take a break. This weekend I finally listened.

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes

On Friday evening, instead of sitting down in front of the computer to get some work done, I went out and treated myself to my favorite drink, Vanilla Almond Coconut Boba Tea. After a week of getting less than six hours of sleep a night, I crawled into bed and went to sleep early. On Saturday I bought myself a couple new books—Paper Towns by John Green and Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Instead of writing lesson plans, I played board games with new and old friends late into the evening.

This morning, after rising with the sun, I took the time to make a batch of these Banana Cinnamon Pancakes before settling into an afternoon of catching up to do. I feel recharged and ready to face the next busy week ahead of me. It is weekends like this that remind me not to underestimate the power of "me time." Schedule a little time for yourself in the next week—you will feel grateful to have done so.

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes

Banana Cinnamon Pancakes make for a hearty breakfast filled with familiar flavors. The pancakes are made with mashed bananas, whole wheat flour, and a good spoonful of cinnamon. The pancakes cook up fluffy and thick. A drizzle of maple syrup is all these pancakes need to turn them into an instant classic. I tried a few with miniature chocolate chips and would recommend it as well. Though simple, pancakes have a relaxing quality that wipes away the cold bowls of cereal from the previous week and replaces them with a warm, sweet memory.

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Thursday
Mar212013

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti

When I worked in a bakery, our recipe bible was kept in a floured, chocolate stained three ring binder. Inside the pages held lists of the amount of ingredients for certain recipes and little else. There was no procedure or method, no baking times or oven temperatures. It was not even unusual for the occasional recipe title to have gone missing. In a way, this all made sense—a qualified baker should already be familiar with the preparation of the majority of baked goods. As I got a hang of the routine and the techniques, soon the recipe bible became a reference guide instead of a necessity as the lists of ingredients embedded themselves into my mind.

Approaching recipes in this way became a habit; a habit that has followed me out of the bakery and into my own kitchen.

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti

When it comes to my own kitchen, I can develop my own recipes fairly successfully—a little of this, a little of that, and it tends to come out of the oven looking right. However, when it comes to following someone else's recipe, I tend to falter. As accustomed to ingredient lists as I have become, I barely glance down at the rest of the recipe before pulling ingredients out of the cupboard. As you may imagine, this method usually turns out quite poorly. At times I have missed the mark so greatly, I might as well have invented something completely different. I like to joke that I am losing my ability to follow recipes, but the truth is that I need to remember to actually read them.

It is a small, but important distinction.

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti

Snowed in with another blizzard last weekend, I spent some time browsing through the pantry. Without the ability to head out to the market, the cupboards became my inspiration. As I debated whether to share another cookie recipe, I realized that I had never made biscotti. After properly reading through a dozen recipes for reference, I set out to create my own version. Biscotti is a bit like a cookie baked in a unexpected manner. While most biscotti sold in stores or coffee shops is bone dry, by making biscotti in your home you can determine the texture by adjusting the baking time. The less time you bake it, the softer it will be; the longer time you bake it, the crunchier it will be.

In a way, it is a like a choose your own adventure book (except it is a really delicious snack).

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti

Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti is a sweet and spicy bite to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. Essentially, biscotti is made by baking cookie dough into a log shape and, after removing it from the oven, cutting it into slices and baking it again. The mellow tone of the chocolate contrasts nicely against the bite of candied ginger. The biscotti is dipped in chocolate for an extra touch. On Sunday morning for breakfast, I savored one of these slices of biscotti with a hot cup of black coffee. It was bliss.

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