It’s Squirrel Appreciation Day!

Squirrel Appreciation Day

It’s only appropriate that a blog called “Squirrelly Girl Bakes” take part in Squirrel Appreciation Day! I mean, it’s my namesake!

I haven’t baked any squirrel-shaped cookies lately, but I DID make a stunning “everything” challah last night.
Challah baking process

Anyway, just a quickie today. Work has been super busy, but I have been in the kitchen baking. Now to find the time to post!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Here’s to more baking in 2016, finding inspiration in unexpected places, and lighting up faces with smiles of delight.

Happy New Year to you and yours … let 2016 be everything you hope for.

Sweet summertime vanilla and cherry cupcakes

Vanilla and cherry cupcakes
Despite the weather in the mid-Atlantic being gray, wet, and dreary, I decided to look to sunshine and summer for my inspiration for this cupcake. Baked for a late-December baby shower for my co-worker and fellow sassy lady Julie, I kept things light, and let the natural color of the sour cherries celebrate that she and her husband are having a little baby girl.

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Because I am the most appropriate when decorating for a baby shower…the first shower I did for Julie had a banner that read “Yay!” This time, it was “Whoo!”

Sour cherries can be tricky to work with in a buttercream due to their liquid content — that’s why it’s important to cook them for a bit, then remove them from any of the juices that don’t cook down and cling to the actual fruit. Otherwise, you end up with a sad, watery buttercream, and no one wants that.


Sweet Summertime Vanilla and Cherry Cupcakes
Yield: 28 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
• 2 1/2 cups flour
• 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 cup oil
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup whole milk
• 2 tbsp vanilla

Buttercream Ingredients
• 2 cups cherries (I used frozen sour cherries that I had picked last summer and froze)
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners sugar
• 1 tbsp cream (if needed for consistency)

Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks toward the center. Line pans with cupcake papers.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.

Whisk the egg for 20 seconds, then add the sugar and whisk an additional 30 seconds until thick and frothy.

Add the oil and vanilla, and beat until combined. Alternate the flour mixture and whole milk and beat until combined.

Divide the batter between wrappers in cupcake tins and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

For the frosting, first heat the cherries over medium high heat until liquid is reduced. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the cherries into a food processor and pulse to chop, leaving behind the extra cherry juices. Add the butter and 1 cup of sugar, beating until combined. Add the remaining sugar gradually and cream. Transfer to a stand mixer and whip until light and fluffy.

Fit piping bag with a star tip (or your favorite), and pipe buttercream onto cupcakes. Enjoy!

Have yourself …

Merry Xmas

… a Merry Little Christmas.

Manhattan cupcakes

Manhattan cupcakes

You know I love booze in my desserts, and these Manhattan cupcakes won’t disappoint (but also won’t tip you over the legal limit!)

I made these as a dessert to accompany the first meetup of a group my friend Ryan has brought together to pair intellectually stimulating conversations with excellent food. And after enjoying a lovely meal of pho and Vietnamese vermicelli dishes, everyone dug into these cocktail-themed treats.

The base for this cupcake is chocolate, though I think I’d like to try it again, but with a whiskey cake instead of chocolate.


Manhattan Cupcakes
Yield: 24-26 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients
• 2 cups flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/4 cup whole milk
• 2/3 cup whiskey
• 1 tsp vanilla

Extra whiskey to brush on the top of the cupcakes

Buttercream Ingredients
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 3 to 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
• 2 tbsp sweet vermouth
• 1/4 tsp cinnamon
• 1/8 tsp cardamon

Topping: Cherries (I prefer sour cherries over maraschino cherries)

Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks toward the center. Line cupcake pans with papers.

For the cupcakes, combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar, whisking to blend; set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, medium pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat. Once melted, add the cocoa — gradually — whisking to combine. The mixture should come to a simmer, but not a boil. You want it to thicken.

Once thickened, cool the cocoa mixture for about 10-15 minutes (the freezer is handy here).

In your stand mixer, whip together the eggs and milk. Add the vanilla.

Once the cocoa mixture has cooled, slowly add a little bit of the mixture to temper the eggs, keeping the mixer’s paddle spinning constantly at a slow-medium speed (You can also accomplish this by taking the bowl off the stand mixer and whisking by hand, then putting it back on to the mixer for the dry ingredients).

Add the dry ingredients in 3-4 stages. Add the whisky, mixing well to combine.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway full. Bake for about 20-22 minutes. When done, transfer tins to wire racks to cool 5 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.

If you want additional whiskey flavor, brush some on to the top of each cake before frosting with the buttercream.

For the sweet vermouth buttercream frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add 1 cup of sugar, beating until combined.

Add the cinnamon, cardamom, and sweet vermouth, then add the remaining sugar in 1/2 cup increments to your own taste.

Whip on high for about 5 minutes to make the buttercream light and fluffy. Fill the piping bag, already fitted with your preferred tip, and pipe the frosting onto each cupcake. Top with a cherry and enjoy!

Triple threat cupcakes: Chocolate, vanilla, and caramel

Mocha cupcakes, dipped in ganache, topped with vanilla bean buttercream and finished with salted caramel

These are the cupcakes you bake when you want simple, well-loved flavors, but still want to impress the ever-living crap out of people. They’re a triple threat of chocolate, vanilla, and caramel and they LOOK classy as hell.

Gotta love a classy cupcake, right?

I made this as a mini-fundraiser for PAWS, a local shelter that I volunteer for and love very much. My coworkers and friends rose to the occasion, and from their pockets alone $79 was raised. To come up with a more rounded number, I threw in an extra $21 so we could make a $100 donation, which will enable PAWS to do some combination of the following:

PAWS donation possibilities

This cupcake was also a great way to get me back into the groove of baking, while still exercising my creative muscles just enough. I highly recommend putting the work into this recipe, because you won’t be disappointed when people are wowed by the dessert you bring to the table, that’s for sure!

Another quick note: I’m going to be gradually transferring all my recipes out of the various recipe plugins I’ve used over the years and into the main body of the post. I don’t like how they’re displayed currently, and since I’m a bit of a layout and formatting priss at work, this is definitely driving me nuts here. It’s going to be a slow process to convert, but totally worth it in the long end!


Triple Threat Cupcakes: Chocolate, Vanilla, and Caramel
Yield: 24-26 cupcakes

Mocha Cupcake Ingredients
• 2 cups flour
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp freshly brewed coffee
• 2 tbsp espresso powder
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 tsp vanilla

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients
• 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1/2 cup heavy cream

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Ingredients
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 cups confectioners sugar
• Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• Heavy cream as needed

Salted Caramel Ingredients
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tbsp water
• 1/4 cup heavy cream
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
Start with the salted caramel so it has time to cool to room temperature. Stir together granulated sugar and water in a saucepan, bringing to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until mixture turns a deep amber color.

Remove from heat and slowly add in cream, stirring, until very smooth.

Add the vanilla and salt and stir until fully combined.

Let caramel cool for about 20 minutes, until it is just barely warm and still pourable.

For the cupcakes, heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks toward the center. Line cupcake pans with papers.

For the cupcakes, combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar, whisking to blend; set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, medium pan, melt the butter on medium-high heat. Once melted, add the coffee and whisk together. Add the espresso powder and cocoa — gradually — whisking to combine. The mixture should come to a simmer, but not a boil. You want it to thicken.

Once thickened, cool the cocoa mixture for about 10-15 minutes (the freezer is handy here).

In your stand mixer, whip together the eggs and milk. Add the vanilla.

Once the cocoa mixture has cooled, slowly add a little bit of the mixture to temper the eggs, keeping the mixer’s paddle spinning constantly at a slow-medium speed (You can also accomplish this by taking the bowl off the stand mixer and whisking by hand, then putting it back on to the mixer for the dry ingredients).

Add the dry ingredients in 3-4 stages, mixing well to combine.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about halfway full. Bake for about 20-22 minutes. When done, transfer tins to wire racks to cool 5 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.

For the chocolate ganache, heat the heavy cream until simmering. Pour over the chocolate chips in a bowl and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Stir to combine and cool slightly so the mixture thickens a bit.

Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, dip the tops into the ganache, then let them sit and set before piping buttercream on. Wait at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours (just make sure they’re kept safe in a covered container).

For the buttercream frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar a 1/2 cup at a time, beating until combined between measurements. Add the vanilla bean seeds and vanilla extract and beat on medium high speed for 2-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

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