Happiness Project #33: Strawberry Cream Cheese Muffins!

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Okay, I have a confession to make. Even though I LOVE (LOVE!) all things chocolate, you know what I love just as much? Strawberries. Plump, juicy, sweet strawberries. I can very easily settle down with a entire bowl of this fruit and eat them all. Every. Single. One. Without feeling a single twinge of shame. It’s a strawberry, for heavens sake! Natures all-natural, guilt free form of dessert indulgence! Right? Right! And please don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re above consuming an entire bowl of these lovely, ripe beauties. Because we all know the honest truth. *wink wink*

Fortunately, even though it’s technically winter here in California (all of my California friends know why I’m laughing at the word “technically”), there are still a few hole-in-the-wall type markets who just so happen to carry (unusually ripe) baskets of this lovely fruit. Hallelujah, I say! A kitchen without strawberries is just as sad as a kitchen without chocolate or coffee. Terrifying thought, I know. So after quite joyfully picking up all of the supplies I needed for muffin making, you know what transpired shortly thereafter? Not only did my Baby Girl fall (very) sick (enough so that it was scary to me), but I, too, very quickly followed suit. To the point where even though I’m on 3 different prescriptions, I’m still mostly-in-bed a-sick after 6 days. No. Fun. My Baby Girl though is feeling much, much better and already frolicking around in her usual contagiously joyful manner. Which, to me, makes EVERYTHING better. Anyhow, to make a long story short, right up until today, those happy-go-lucky strawberries sat very quietly in my fridge, waiting to be freed. Hence, these pretty little muffins. With cream cheese spread. And my (rather) simple version of heart shaped strawberries. Want? Here you go…

For the Muffins:

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 3-4 tablespoons for tossing

3 eggs

1 large egg white

1 cup whole milk

1-1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups finely chopped strawberries

Firstly, finely chop or slice up the strawberries (after removing their green heads) and gently toss them in your reserved 3-4 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Otherwise, they will taste somewhat wet & slimy within the actual baked muffin. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Fill up two cupcake pans with paper baking liners.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder until well mixed. Set aside.

In a bowl on your stand mixer, cream together the butter and 1-1/4 cups sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add all 3 eggs, plus the egg white, and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. After dropping your mixture speed to a lower setting, slowing add in the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the 1 cup of whole milk, always starting with and ending with the flour mixture. Once gently but fully combined, grab a spatula and mix in the chopped & sugar tossed strawberries.

Using a large spoon, scoop strawberry batter into each paper liner, filling to the top edges. Pop the two pans into the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, until the muffin top edges are a very light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack, while you’re preparing the cream cheese spread.

For the cream cheese spread, you’ll need:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

1 (8oz) package of cream cheese, softened at room temperature

2-3 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons whole milk (optional)

In a large, clean bowl on a stand mixture (or by hand held) cream together the butter and cream cheese until nicely blended and smooth. To avoid any clumping, scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Drop your mixer to a slower speed and add in the 2-3 cups powdered sugar, mixing until well combined. For a silkier texture, add in up to 2 tablespoons of whole milk.

Spread or frost your strawberries to your hearts contentment! Or if you’re not keen on cream cheese, you can also sift some powdered sugar onto each muffin instead!

Bam! Fruity Muffin Happiness! For everyone!

Happiness Project #31: Merry Christmas Red Velvet Whoopie Pies!

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This year, or to be more accurate, last year, my twin sister REALLY wanted something Red Velvet for Christmas Eve, so the baker in me was undeniably all too obsessively happy to oblige! Enter the elusive Whoopie Pie. Firstly, what a rather festive, albeit somewhat silly, dessert name! Who comes up with this stuff, anyway?! Secondly, red velvet. Most of my family and close friends already know that I’ve never been a big fan of red velvet (desserts). If you’re going to give me chocolate then please just give me CHOCOLATE not COLORED chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate, right? Oh, SO wrong. Until I recently discovered a tub full of scrumptious red velvet cookies at Costco, nothing that I’ve tried has been impressive enough to replicate. But since making my family happy, makes me happy in turn, I went on a fairly exhaustive hunt for the best of red velvet dessert recipes. And was very pleased by what I found. At first, I thought about tinkering around with a red velvet cheesecake idea, yet as the hours until Christmas Eve started ticking down, I unexpectedly changed my mind. Since I still know a (surprising) number of friends & family who have never had the pleasure of tasting a Whoopie Pie before (some who have never even heard of the name), I knew it was the perfect opportunity to dapple around with one. With a twist. Why use something as simple as red food dye to color my cocoa when I could infuse it with actual red velvet flavoring instead? Which, to me, took these whoopie pies to the next level. Of yumminess. Don’t believe me? Try experimenting with both and you be the judge!

For the Pies:

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup buttermilk, well shaken

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1-1/2 tablespoons red velvet flavoring (or 2 tablespoons red food coloring) *I prefer using red velvet flavoring versus red food coloring because of how much richer the taste becomes with it)

Preheat your oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpat baking mats or parchment paper. You’ll need three separate bowls for this recipe, so add those to your placement of necessary kitchen tools. In bowl #1, whisk together the cocoa & baking soda. Set aside. In bowl #2, stir in the buttermilk, vanilla and red velvet flavoring until well mixed.  Set aside.

On a stand mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar, at medium speed, until light & fluffy. Add in the egg until fully combined. After dropping your mixer speed to a lower setting, add in the flour, followed by the buttermilk mixture, in 3 separate batches. Always starting with and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition to create a smoother texture. Mix until just smooth (but do not over mix).

Now the fun and very pretty part! Using either a large cookie scoop or large spoon, drop up to 6 scoops of pie dough onto each lined cookie sheets. This will make you roughly 12 pie sides, equaling 6 fully assembled whoopie pies! Can I get a “Yum!”

Bake for 11-13 minutes. Whoopie Pies are meant to be a large, puffy type of “cookie” so don’t worry if you think that they are a bit soft once out of the oven. Cool throughly on a wire rack.

While your “cookie” pies are cooling, here’s what you’ll need for the cream cheese filling:

1 (8oz) package of cream cheese

1/2 cup unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

In a bowl on your stand mixture, add in the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract and powdered sugar, mixing at low to medium speed until well combined and smooth. Mix in the heavy whipping cream and whip at high speed for 2-3 minutes.

Using a large spoon or large round decorating tip with a piping bag, spread a large dollop of filling onto one side of 6 of your whoopie pies. Press each 12 halves together and there you have it! 12 lovely, decadent Christmas Whoopie Pies! Your family or friends will adore these (and you for making them)!

Happy New Year and Happy Baking, my friends!

Happiness Project Recipe #24: Lemon Cream Sugar Cookies!

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Since Lemon just happens to be my 2nd favorite dessert flavor, I knew that I just HAD to create a new Lemon recipe for my family’s 2012 Christmas gathering! Particularly since my Mom was the very person who first turned me on to this lovely, citrus filled delight many a year ago. So casting aside my usual chocolate drenched ambitions, I finally tried my hand at a new sugar cookie recipe. One in which I joyfully incorporated my all time favorite indulgence: frosting! Although the 1st trial run with a classic buttercream frosting turned out quite well, the superior frosting snob that I am simply could not settle for anything less than absolute perfection. Hence this now pleasantly altered buttercream recipe, featuring cream cheese as it’s star flavor! The result? Sugar cookie perfection.  At least I think so.

Cookies:

1/2 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature

1/2 cup butter flavored crisco

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

2 tablespoons lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)

2-1/2 cup all purpose flour

pinch of kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon whole milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Frosting:

1/4 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature

8 oz cream cheese, softened at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups confections sugar, sifted

pinch of kosher salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl on a stand mixer, cream the butter, crisco and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes on medium speed). Mix in the vanilla, egg and lemon zest. In another bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the milk & lemon juice until well combined.

With a small cookie scoop, roll your dough into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls, placing them on a Silpat lined or lightly sprayed cookie sheet. Using either your fingers-tips or a spatula, gently press each dough ball flat. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the edges begin to brown ever so slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Onward to the frosting! In a large mixing bowl, on a stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until smooth and glossy. Slowly beat in the vanilla extract. Add in the confections sugar and salt until well combined. Last but not least, stir in up to 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice.

And now to what you’ve all been waiting for: frosting these heavenly bite sized cookies! As with anything involving frosting and cookies, decorating can be as messy or as pretty as you so chose it to be. Using either a spoon, a butter knife or even a pastry bag fitted with a large round decorating tip, frost, frost, frost away! And don’t forget to add in your favorite colored sprinkles! Sprinkles make everything better =)

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