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It’s National Cupcake Day … and I’m back!

Mocha cupcakes, dipped in ganache, topped with vanilla bean buttercream and finished with salted caramel
Hello my dear, sweet lovelies. It’s been awhile. You probably already had a feeling that it would be that way from my post “When you feel like you’re failing at your hobby.”

In June, I started posting my Table Matters recipes, but even that stopped. This summer I fell into myself, fell into some bad habits, and focused obsessively on training for the 2015 MS Ride. And what happened? The ride was canceled due to Hurricane Joaquin. I parted way with bad habits and influences, and now I’m here.

Baking again.

The gorgeous cupcakes you see above (more on that later in the week!) were whipped up as a fundraiser for PAWS. Thanks to a lot of hungry coworkers, I was able to raise $79, and then upped the donation amount so it’d be an even $100.

That cupcake resulted in a gig I was just hired for mere minutes ago, and since a darling gentleman friend was not able to partake in the PAWS cupcakes, I’m whipping up something custom for him this weekend.

And today is National Cupcake Day … for what it’s worth (I think every calendar day is a freaking food holiday, to be honest).

So, what are some of the good things I’ve been up to?

My new bike, out for a beautiful ride

In July I bought a new bike and sold my old bike, and I love this new bike so, so, SO MUCH. She’s fast, she’s lightweight, and together we kick some major ass.

Manhattan cupcakes

My friend Ryan has been working on bringing our group of friends together monthly to have intellectual discussions over delicious shared meals. For our first meetup, I whipped up these Manhattan cupcakes, which were a hit.

Gorgeous people at Noshhh

Liz, me, Michelle and Kevin at Noshhh, a speakeasy-style food and drink event. Gorgeous people, gorgeous night.

Tiny Japanese squirrel puzzle

A tiny squirrel puzzle brought back from Japan for me. It’s adorable, and took 90 minutes to carefully assemble.

Earl Grey Waffles

I own a waffle maker now, and in honor of my friends Ryan and Jess coming back from their wedding in Japan, I hosted a Welcome Home Waffle Brunch for them. This is a stack of Earl Grey waffles, which I HIGHLY recommend serving with honey.

I don’t have a firm plan for Squirrelly Girl Bakes, but I do know I have a backlog of recipes I’d like to share. And since I’ve begun blogging for my day job as Sass Marketing, the writing bug is back. Writing … baking … I’m feeling like myself again.

Double fig honey blondies with pretzel crust

Double Fig Honey Blondies with Pretzel Crust

Photo by Julia Silva

[Mel’s note: I’m slowly getting back into baking — whee! — but in the meantime, I want to share some of the original recipes I crafted for Table Matters with all of you. Recipes are my own, but I will be featuring the images of some talented photographers who were kind enough to make my desserts look damn near magical]

Bake these when you want to impress people with something decadent, yet quirky. The honey and figs — either chopped or jammed — are a perfect match, and the slightly salty pretzel crust keeps the dessert bars from being too sweet.

Cut these on the small size: Anything larger than a 1 x 2-inch rectangle will be too much due to their richness. Turkey and Calimyrna figs are both easier to find dried, but feel free to use fresh if you can find them.

For the jam, I like to use this recipe from the Kitchn when I’m working from dried figs.

Double Fig Honey Blondies with Pretzel Crust

Yields: 16 1 x 2 inch blondies

  • Pretzel Crust Ingredients
  • ½ cup flour
  • 4 oz pretzels (yields approximately 1 cup pulverized pretzels)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Blondie Ingredients
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup de-stemmed and chopped Turkey figs or Calimyrna figs
  • 4-6 tbsp Mission fig jam

Heat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit and center the rack in the oven. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with aluminum foil so that the foil overhangs the edges. Spray the foil with nonstick spray.

To make the pretzel crust, pulverize the pretzels in a food processor until broken down into small bits. Add the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon to the food processor and pulse to combine. Pour in the melted butter, pulse until the crust begins to come together (you’ll see it darken slightly and begin to clump).

Scrape the mixture into the lined baking pan, spreading out evenly, then pat down, making sure the crust is spread into the corners. Bake for 10-12 minutes until fragrant, then cool while making the blondie batter.

For the blondies, combine the flour, salt and cardamom in a mixing bowl and set aside. Combine the melted butter, light brown sugar and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg, beating until combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients, beating slowly. Add the chopped figs and mix until they just come together — don’t overbeat.

Pour the blondie batter over the pretzel crust, gently spreading the blondie out to the sides as evenly as possible. Dollop 4 to 6 tablespoons of the mission fig jam on top of the batter. Use a knife to gently swirl the jam into the batter (do not cut down into the crust).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the middle looks set (the blondies will still be a bit soft in the middle, but they’re better a little gooey!)

Cool fully on a rack before slicing.

Bacon Asiago Fig Scones

Bacon Asiago Fig Scones

Photo by Julia Silva

[Mel’s note: I’m slowly getting back into baking — whee! — but in the meantime, I want to share some of the original recipes I crafted for Table Matters with all of you. Recipes are my own, but I will be featuring the images of some talented photographers who were kind enough to make my desserts look damn near magical]

Because this recipe is designed so you can make and freeze the scones ahead of time, you can have them almost anytime you have a craving — and 20 minutes to spare! The bacon gives the scones a smoky flavor, and the chunks of figs give them a good chew, while the pastry surrounding the fruit flakes and melts in your mouth.

These would pair wonderfully with clotted cream, and really round out the breakfast plate. Feel free to sub in the same amount of dried Mission figs if fresh ones are unavailable.

Bacon Asiago Fig Scones

Yield: 8 Scones

  • Scone Ingredients
  • 2½ cups flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • 6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ¾ cups de-stemmed and chopped Mission figs
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing on tops of scones
  • 1 egg
  • 4 strips of cooked bacon, cooled and crumbled
  • ¼ cup finely shredded asiago

Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse for 12-15 times, until the butter is pea-sized. Empty the contents of the food processor’s bowl into a large mixing bowl. Add the figs, crumbled bacon, and asiago, and toss to combine.

Whisk the cream and egg together in a 2-cup measuring cup. Pour into the flour/butter mixture. Using a spatula, gradually fold the wet ingredients into the dry, turning the bowl as you fold. When the dough begins to come together, switch over to a bowl scraper to really bring it together into a ball, kneading it a little bit.

Scatter some flour onto your work space and turn the dough out onto it. Pat it down into a 7-inch circle and cut into 8 triangles. Place on a parchment paper-lined pan and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. Place in a plastic freezer bag, and the scones will keep for several weeks in the freezer.

When you’re ready to bake the scones, heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the scones on a parchment-lined pan, spread out so they’re at least 1-2 inches apart. Brush the scones with cream. Bake for 20-22 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Cool slightly before removing from the pan. These are best served warm.

When you feel like you’re failing at your hobby

Snickerdoodles and Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s been over 3 months since I last updated, and while I needed to take the time away from my stand mixer to deal with the challenges life was throwing at me and focus on moving and then going on my very first international trip, I still felt guilty about not keeping up with the things I loved doing: Baking and writing about it.

Clearly, having to pack up the townhouse, move into a smaller apartment, unpack and settle took time and energy. But it’s done now. I have my kitchen and work table set up; my Kitchenaid has it’s place on a freshly painted bookcase (it’s teal, which makes the red mixer pop … I’ve even had guests mention how I’ve displayed it as functional art); and all my bakeware is tucked into cute over-the-cabinet baskets … that are so high over my head I have to grab a step stool. Ok. So maybe I didn’t make it TOO easy to get back into the swing of things.

Treat Yo Self Waffle Cupcakes

Before moving, I made “Parks and Rec” themed Cinnamon vanilla “Treat Yo Self!” cupcakes with maple buttercream for a coworker’s bridal shower, and it felt all right. It was like I was on autopilot when I was baking. But my coworker loved the dessert, and her smile reminded me of why I, and so many bakers, do this. But it didn’t kick my butt back into gear.

It’s a weird place to be in … baking was what I did to relieve stress. To be creative. And then I’d come here, post my Instagrammed photos (très chic, eh?), and share a recipe and some words of advice. And sometimes I’d get feedback! And it was awesome. So why is it so hard now?

I think this is natural … I baked my butt off for 3 years, and now I’m in a lull. I’m not doing a cupcake a week (though there’s a chance people would be up for it). I finished up my caramel corn/cookie club. Even my writing gig with Table Matters came to a close as a new editor came in and shelved that site at the end of 2014.

But between reader Lori T. leaving a comment about how much she enjoyed making my Root Beer Float cupcakes the other day and knowing that my parents would enjoy some cookies as belated birthday and Mother’s Day gifts, I got back into the kitchen last night. I started with a simple snickerdoodle, and as the dough chilled, I started making a variation on my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (mainly because I was out of brown sugar and molasses).

I scooped. I rotated pans in the oven. I slid warm cookies off their baking pans and on to cooling racks. And while I didn’t necessarily feel triumphant, I remembered that I AM a baker. Even when I’m not doing it regularly, or when I’m not creating some sort of off the wall recipe.

I don’t have a firm plan for this blog. I want to get back into baking and sharing, but I think it’ll need to be done in a more relaxed, non-scheduled way (which is SO different from my editorial multi-schedule day job!). And when I don’t feel like writing about baking, but want to put SOMETHING out there, find me over here: Back to Philly.

Hey there National Pizza Day!

Homemade pizza

 

I found out a little late, but yes, today — Feb. 9 — is National Pizza Day. Of course, it seems like every day of the year is National Something or Another, but pizza has always been one of my favorite things to make. It’s a great party entree, perfect for a small dinner when you size it down … and you know. It’s PIZZA!

So to celebrate, here’s a recipe for pizza dough that I’ve used for several years. It’s trusted, true, and makes enough to either prep 2 pizzas for a party or 4 pizzas for two!

Homemade pizza with marinara

Homemade crust, homemade marinara sauce, pickled banana peppers, sage, basil, rosemary, mozzarella and fresh cracked pepper.

 

Perfect Pizza Dough

  • Pizza Dough Ingredients
  • 1 lb bread flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp honey or sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 8 oz water, room temperature
  • Optional: fresh cracked pepper, herbs
  • Selection of delicious sauces and toppings

Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and combine the flour, oil, honey (or sugar), salt, and yeast in the bowl.

Pour in the water and mix on low speed until combined, 1-2 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed until the dough becomes a pretty tight ball. It should be a little tacky, but should not stick to the bowl.

Spray a large mixing bowl (at least twice the size of the dough) with nonstick cooking spray.

Place the dough in the bowl and roll it around, coating all sides.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and ferment. You have 2 options here:

• Room temperature: Place the covered bowl in a slightly warm area and let the dough rise for 2-4 hours.

• Refrigerator: If you don’t have time to let the dough ferment at room temperature, or would like a slightly-sweet dough, refrigerate for at least 8 hours before working with it. Bring up to room temperature before working with the dough.

Once you’re ready to divide the dough, lightly flour your work surface. Place the dough on it and divide it into 4 (for pizzas that will serve 2 people 2 slices) or 2 (for a pizza that will fit a traditional pizza pan).

Wrap the dough pieces up in plastic wrap and freeze what you’re not using.

For the piece of dough you are using, shape it and place it on a lightly floured pizza pan (or use a pizza stone, if that’s your thing).

To bake, heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Prebake the crust with nothing on it for 5 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven, add your toppings, and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes (or until your cheese is either melty or golden, depending on your cheese).

 

2015: What will be the ‘new cupcake’?

What's the new cupcake infographic

Source: Slate.com

Thanks to the Will Write for Food newsletter, I came across the chart above from a July 2014 post on Slate.com titled “Every Food That’s Ever Been Called ‘The New Cupcake’ in One Chart.”

I find it pretty fascinating that for the past 8 years, so many food writers have been calling for “the new cupcake.” From the Slate.com article:

Since the mid-2000s, food journalists and publicists have announced new trends by calling various foods “the new cupcake” literally hundreds of times. What is “the new cupcake” according to all these trend stories? We searched news database Nexis for the phrase “the new cupcake” and tallied every instance of its use in English language publications, whether it was a writer declaring doughnuts “the new cupcakes,” wondering whether frozen yogurt was the “new cupcake,” or quoting someone else asserting that pie was “the new cupcake.”

How about this? What if we stop looking for “the new cupcake” in 2015 and simply recognize new and interesting desserts as they come along? Or acknowledge when a retro dessert makes its way back into the limelight?

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