one baker's humble attempt to change the world one cupcake at a time

With an overwhelming desire to bake, but without the necessary tools to make the recipe I’ve been so eager to try, I did what any baker would do in such a situation: made something up!

The recipe I created was so far from the one I was hankering to try, but so good in a completely new way. I said before that I try to bake with ingredients I have on hand (while also buying the ingredients I want to bake with in advance), so I took the two things I had an abundance of: Frozen bananas and Oreos, and combined them.

          

The way these things came to be in my kitchen is a little different from the way I normally acquire ingredients, which is to say I did not buy either of them with the intention of baking with them.

The origin of the frozen bananas: Throughout the school year, my roommates and I would always buy bananas to eat and throw any leftover ones that became too ripe into the freezer to make banana bread. We made banana bread about twice last year. The rest of the bananas remained forgotten and abandoned in the depths of our freezer until one day, a friend opened the freezer looking for ice and reported back, “you guys have a bunch of black bananas in there.” He was quite disturbed.

The origin of the Oreos: After graduation, my roommates and I hosted a brunch party for our families. Because she was taking the rental car to meet a friend for coffee anyway, my mom agreed to pick up the last remaining items we needed for the party on her way back. In addition to paper plates and plastic silverware, she brought home a family size box of Oreos and handed them over without so much as a shrug for an explanation.

These ingredients came together to make a batch of really good Banana Oreo Muffins.

Makes 12 muffins

Recipe adapted from http://weelicious.com

I opted for this recipe because it only called for one egg, which was all I had left in my refrigerator at the time, and because I figured substituting Oreos for chocolate chips would be much easier than trying to add them to a recipe that didn’t already account for about 1 cup of additional dry ingredients.

Recipe:

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 defrosted frozen bananas, mashed
  • 8 crushed Oreos + 12 whole Oreos

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease muffin pan
  • Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, egg, milk, oil, and mashed banana
  • Add dry ingredients slowly and mix well
  • Add crushed Oreos
  • Line muffin pan with remaining Oreos and evenly distribute batter
  • Bake about 16-18 minutes (I left mine in for 18 and they were just a little bit too brown)

In addition to testing out the marriage of Oreos and bananas, I wanted to test out different placements of whole Oreos, and put half at the bottom of the pan under the batter and half on top. After careful deliberation (and taste testing) I think I like having the Oreos on the bottom much better. They stayed crunchier and provided a nice element of surprise for unsuspecting tasters.

I didn’t consider trying to put an Oreo right in the middle of the batter

…until now.

P.S. My blog has moved! For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!

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Lately I’ve been very conscious of what foods I’m buying and eating. I’ve decided to try to incorporate more organic produce and cut back my use of animal byproducts. I’m neither vegan, nor vegetarian but I am cutting out meat and trying to opt for dairy alternatives often.

I haven’t been able to fathom cutting out dairy completely, but I frequently substitute almond milk for regular, and I skipped the cheese section the last few times I bought groceries. However, I use regular milk in my coffee because I don’t like the way almond milk affects the flavor, and there is a recipe for goat cheese soufflés that I can’t wait to try. Therefore, I’m avoiding any vegan/veggie/dairy-free titles and calling myself nothing whatsoever.

But still, little by little I am trying to be conscious of what I’m eating and how it affects the planet, buying more and more organic fruits and vegetables, choosing whole wheat when applicable, drinking fair trade coffee, and buying only grain fed, cage free eggs and organic milk.

I’ve been considering vegan baking for a while now, and when I stumbled upon a lemon lime cookie with vegan friendly recipe alterations built in, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to try it out.

Not wanting to do anything halfway, I checked the labels of all the ingredients I needed to use to ensure that they were vegan friendly. Lo and behold, my margarine wasn’t vegan at all — it was made with milk, or rather whey from milk. Luckily, I had some all-vegetable shortening that was entirely vegan and was able to proceed with the recipe. I ended up ignoring the new quantities of baking powder and baking soda listed for vegan versions of the recipe, because I didn’t have any corn starch, but from what I can tell, the cookies turned out great anyway!

The resulting cookies were both chewy and crunchy from the sugar exterior, and they had a delicious citrus flavor. This may be my favorite recipe I’ve posted on this blog yet!

Vegan Lemon Lime Sugar Cookies adapted from bakingdom.com

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Makes about 30 cookies

Sugar coating:

  • zest from one lime
  • zest from one lemon
  • 1/2 cup of sugar

      

Cookies:

  • 1 ¾ cups flour (be prepared to add up to ¼ cup more later)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup all vegetable shortening
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons almond milk
  • zest from one lemon and juice from ½ lemon
  • zest from one lime and juice from ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

  • Add zest to sugar and cream with shortening until well blended
  • Add almond milk, lemon juice, lime juice, and vanilla
  • Sift dry ingredients and add to sugar mixture a little bit at a time
  • Blend everything well. If dough feels very tacky or sticky add a little more flour

NOTE: this egg free cookie dough is both safe to eat and delicious! I highly recommend licking the spoon!

  • Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
  • In a clean bowl, mix up sugar coating from additional sugar and zest
  • Once cookie dough is chilled, use a teaspoon to help form small balls
  • Roll the balls through the sugar/zest mixture and arrange on a cookie pan lined with parchment paper

  • Bake for 12-14 minutes, removing as soon as the edges start to color

  • Transfer to a cooling rack (a brown paper bag works just as well)

   

Aside from baking this weekend, I also spent a good 5-7 hours a day reading. I’m about 2/3 of the way through The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson. It’s so good I had a hard time putting it down! The cookies made for an excellent reading snack!

P.S. My blog has moved. For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!

Strawberry Lemonade

The other day, my roommate asked me how I decide what to bake next. It’s a good question, and one that I can (sort of) answer. I told her that I decide based on what ingredients I have in the house, but this is only halfway true.

A lot of what I bake on a whim depends on what I have at hand — for instance, I currently have several lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits leftover from a citrus craving two weeks ago that was sparked by the discounted price of lemons at the Produce Station. However, I bought the lemons specifically to bake and cook with. The limes were purchased impulsively today because I can never get enough lime (and because I found a cookie recipe I want to try that calls for lime juice and zest!)

So to sum up, I’m going to be baking with lemons and limes (and potentially grapefruits and oranges) because I have those ingredients in my house, BUT lets not forget that I also purchased said fruits in the first place because I wanted to be able to bake with them. Catch 22?

I guess that I would say I try to be inspired by what I have at hand, but I also try to buy flavors I want to bake with in advance.

Today I took a walk to the farmer’s market, bought a quart of strawberries, and spent the rest of my shopping time and 20 minute walk home trying not to squash them — I wasn’t entirely successful.

Not wanting my new berries to wind up in the trash, I picked out all of the squished berries and deiced to muddle them and use the juice to make strawberry lemonade. I also used the remaining strawberry pulp as a quick sugar-free jam on top of a piece of toast with peanut butter. The end result was a refreshing summer afternoon treat!

To make one serving of strawberry lemonade, I smashed about six or seven strawberries with a spoon to get the juice out. That many strawberries yielded about:

this much juice

I then juiced the three lemons that I had left over from making cupcakes (I needed a lot more zest than juice for those), which yielded about half a cup of lemon juice.

The next part I would suggest you do slowly, tasting along the way. I ended up adding 3/4 cups of water (adding 1/4 cup at a time) and 2 teaspoons of sugar (1/2 a teaspoon at a time) because I wanted to maintain some of the tartness of the lemon flavor.

all the ingredients

I topped off the drink with a handful of flower shaped ice cubes. No promises, but I imagine any shape of ice cube would yield the same cooling effect — it will just be a little less summery looking.

P.S. My blog has moved! For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!

            

Lemon Almond Love

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

We’ve all heard this phrase, and probably a few variations of it as well. I’m a big fan of “When life hands you lemons, get some tequila and have a party!

Now, we all have our rough days, but it is unlikely that actual lemons will ever manifest in front of you courtesy of this guy, Life. It is more likely that the lemons in our lives will have to be purchased from a grocery store or a farmers’ market. We could also get them from a friend or prepared already in some chef’s famous pasta of course, but that isn’t very relevant to my next pressing question: What on Earth do you do when the Produce Station is selling eight lemons for a mere $2.00?

Side note: to anyone who is not familiar with Ann Arbor shopping, the Produce Station is a most glorious local market that sells fresh produce, local cheeses, and baby potted plants for great prices.

Now, naturally, you buy the eight lemons (and a bunch of peaches, berries, and a potted herb trio for good measure). Perhaps the better question is: then what? What do you do when you get home and have eight lemons taking up space in the fruit drawer? I can only squeeze so much lemon over my sautéed vegetables for dinner before I get tired of citrus stir-fry. I knew I wanted to bake something with the lemons as well, but I couldn’t decide on a recipe… so I didn’t.

After much online searching for lemon recipes, I stumbled across a challenge listed on cupcakeproject.com and scoopalicious.blogspot.com.

Who doesn’t love a good challenge?

This particular challenge called for a cupcake/ice cream recipe submission, so I thought again of my lemons and began testing out combinations (in my head only, to save money) of ice cream and lemon cupcakes. I also searched diligently for a perfect lemon cupcake recipe to adapt and alter to make my own.

I was a bit nervous at first when most of the recipes I found called for buttermilk — an ingredient that is rarely kept in my fridge, and cake flour — if it isn’t all-purpose, I don’t buy it (at least that’s the way it has always been in the past and will likely remain until it becomes ABSOLUTELY necessary to change).

I refined my search and found a recipe that called for all-purpose flour and milk. I’m not exactly sure how, but as I searched, I also began thinking about lemon/almond combinations. In the end, I did something that I’ve never done before, but that was undoubtedly a prerequisite to entering a recipe contest — I tweaked a cupcake recipe to the point that it became entirely new and unrecognizable from the first! My OWN recipe! I’ve never felt more like a baker!

The final result: Lemon Almond Cupcakes filled with Lemon Curd and Almond Ice Cream and topped with Almond Buttercream Frosting and an Almond/Sprinkles Flower Topping.

Cupcake Recipe adapted from the-cupcakery-blog’s lemon cupcakes. Makes 12 cupcakes

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup almond milk
  • ½ tsp almond exract
  • zest and juice from two lemons
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  2. Mix lemon zest with sugar and cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy
  3. Add eggs one at a time
  4. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt
  5. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk to the batter a little bit at a time
  6. Add lemon juice and almond extract and continue to mix for a few minutes
  7. Divide batter among cupcake pan and bake for about 20 minutes (take out the cupcakes as soon as a wooden toothpick comes out clean to avoid over cooking)

Lemon Curd Recipe from joyofbaking.com, but following the directions on finecooking.com.

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest and juice from 2 lemons
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
Directions:
  1. Mix zest in with sugar, and cream the butter and sugar until fluffy
  2. Add eggs one at a time
  3. then add the lemon juice.
  4. Once everything is mixed together, pour it into a pot and stir constantly over a low flame for 15 minutes (I ended up taking a break from stirring only twice: once to check my directions and make sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and once to step on an intruding ant)

Almond Buttercream Frosting adapted from good old Magnolia’s Bakery. Makes enough frosting for 12 cupcakes

  • 1 stick (½ cup) butter, softened
  • about 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
Directions:
  1. Cream butter with about half of the sugar
  2. Add milk
  3. Add remaining sugar
  4. Add flavoring and food coloring (I chose Wilton’s lemon yellow)

For my ice cream filling, I couldn’t find any recipes that I had all the ingredients for or that I really loved enough to put in a full day’s worth of work, so I made up my own TOTALLY from scratch.

  • 1 ½ cups half and half + about 3 tablespoons for later
  • ½ cup almond milk + about 2 tablespoons for later
  • about 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients (except the extra half and half and almond milk) together on high until the air bubbles make the mixture appear to double in size
  2. Freeze for about 1-2 hours
  3. Blend on high for a few more minutes to break up ice chips
  4. Freeze overnight
  5. Defrost for about 1 hour in the refrigerator
  6. Mix in remaining liquids and refreeze for at least one hour

After trying out many combinations (I made two kinds of cupcakes and two flavors of buttercream frosting to sample) and working out how best to fill/top the cakes with the ice cream, I worked out the final version posted here. Enjoy!

Filling in the middle

And special thanks to my taste testing crew who diligently sampled all of my potential cupcake/frosting/filling combinations. They also wrote out careful notes, provided specific feedback, and most importantly, NEVER made fun of how nerdy I was acting throughout the process. You guys are the best!

All the samples

The greatest tasting crew!

P.S. My blog has moved! For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!

Children Mending Hearts

So I am still quite new to WordPress.com and figuring things out as I go. My newness to blogging actually parallels my novice status (“noob” if you hang around my UofM friends) as a baker and leaves me feeling utterly incompetent at the end of the day.

Ah, if only I hadn’t burnt that first batch of cupcakes I made earlier, maybe I’d be feeling better now.

But, no worries. Something good has also happened today (besides the second batch of cupcakes that will be highlighted soon!)

While playing around on my dashboard, I discovered a Widget called SocialVibe, which allows readers to help support a cause of my choice with the mere push of a button!

I decided on Children Mending Hearts, a great organization that connects kids worldwide through creative means and allows kids to stand up and help other kids who are living in poverty.

Read about it yourself and be sure to click the button to the right that says in really big print “CLICK HERE TO HELP FOR FREE”

It really is as easy as that!

While ultimately I would LOVE to turn a few batches of cookies into thousands of dollars raised for charity, I am accepting my limitations and starting small. Raising awareness or paying homage to some often forgotten causes will be my starting point.

But the real first step: improve baking skills. Yes, this is the fun part!

In the spirit of starting small (and making my way up of course), I decided to whip up a batch of the smallest and cutest little peanut butter button cookies I’ve ever stumbled across on this Internet.

Found at 17andbaking.com, this recipe promised bite size peanut buttery goodness that I just couldn’t resist.

I followed the recipe exactly as its written adding an extra 10 minutes to chill (I was multitasking as I often find myself) and made about 10 dozen button sized cookies, 1 dozen slightly bigger ones with Hershey’s kisses instead of chocolate chips, and 4 basic peanut butter cookies.

The whole process took me the better part of two hours, but the payoff was great. The little cookies were a big hit at my sister’s and my joint graduation party — Go Blue! (and now Go Gators as well for the little one!)

The cookies with chocolate chocolate chips disappeared especially fast.

Photographing these cookies was fun as well!

 

I also brought a plateful of cookies outside to capture some natural sunlight.

Guess what happens when you mix chocolate with Florida sunshine?

IT MELTS!! (in under 5 minutes!)

Woops! Lesson learned

P.S. My blog has moved! For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!

My favorite class of my last semester was a very unusual one. While it was technically titled English 326, Community Writing and Public CultureThe Portfolio Project was anything but your typical English class.

In addition to weekly seminars that never failed to produce stimulating and unique group discussions, every member of the 14-person class partnered up with an incarcerated youth or high school student from East Detroit to work on a creative writing or art portfolio. We all also joined the Prison and Creative Arts Project (PCAP), an organization dedicated to bringing creative outlets to youth facilities and prisons.

Through this course and student organization duo, I met some of the most selfless and inspiring individuals I have ever met. I was exposed to the criminal justice system for the first time when I paired up with a 17-year-old youth at a juvenile facility outside of Detroit. I “gallery-sat” and helped watch over and sell beautiful works of art created by many very talented prisoners.

Throughout the semester, aside from our work with the youths, our only other assignments were weekly readings and journal responses to either the reading or our work. The final project of the semester was a to create something creative that would capture the experience and its effect on us. Thinking of the many baking blogs I was already following, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at one of the decorating techniques I was equally fascinated and frightened by — decorating cookies with royal icing.

I obsessively read and re-read everything I could find about decorating with royal icing. Three blogs were most informative:  bakeat350, iambaker, and sweetopia. All three offer incredibly helpful tutorials, tips, and recipes.

I decided my cookies would each feature one word that related to my portfolio class and/or PCAP. I then formulated a list a words, deleted or replaced all words that seemed too long (and too difficult for a novice decorator to write on a cookie), and put the list aside to start making my cookies.

To make up for my total lack of supplies — no rolling pin or cookie cutters, I used a plastic cup to roll out my dough AND cut out circles! I shaped the rest of the cookies with a knife.

Rolling out dough with a Relay for Life cup!

The baked cookies also had to dry on a makeshift cooling rack: a ripped up paper bag spread out on the second oven rack.

The next day I made a batch of royal icing following the simplest recipe I could find and filled up a piping bag. Then, I very slowly and nervously started to outline my cookies. Little by little, I became comfortable with what I was doing and the fear faded away and I started having a lot of fun piping lines around the cookies’ edges.

Look at that intense concentration!

When I finished outlining, I poured the unused icing back into the mixing bowl and thinned it with another tablespoon of water. This icing went into a plastic squeeze bottle and was used to flood the cookies. Then the leftover icing went into the mixing bowl yet again where it was dyed sky blue and then used to fill the remaining spaces in the cookies. There has got to be an easier way to do this!

On the third day of the PCAP cookie decorating extraordinaire, I unsuccessfully tried to use the thinned out sky blue day old icing to draw designs on a couple of cookies. It didn’t take me very long to realize this wasn’t working, but I had run out of powdered sugar and none of the convenience stores within walking distance carried any — Disaster!

When I finally got my hands on some more powdered sugar and made a fresh batch of sky blue royal icing, I drew on the words and remaining pictures and then they were done! Here are a few completed cookies:

           

I presented my project following a potluck dinner with the class at our professor’s house — I told you this wasn’t an ordinary English class! My talented classmates’ projects included poetry, music, art, and chocolate éclairs. I presented each of my cookies with a brief explanation for the word or picture choice (i.e. courage because the work that we do isn’t easy and we need it) and let everyone take home a cookie of their choice.

Here is my professor with his favorite cookie from the bunch — Balance

Hey Buzz!

P.S. My blog has moved! For more yummy recipes, check out www.youngidealisticbaker.com!