Monday, October 28, 2013

Slow Down and Smell the Apples

I love fall.  Fall is my favorite season of the year.  I love the warm sweaters, apple picking, pumpkin carving, Halloween, colorful scarves, cider, boots, and apple- and pumpkin-flavored everything.  I love the cooler air, the leaves changing, and the perfect hiking conditions.  YAY FALL!

Unfortunately, I have been feeling like I haven't yet had the chance to really enjoy the best parts of fall.  You see, midterms inconveniently land at the peak of fall, and I have been writing papers and studying for exams instead of hiking mountains and carving pumpkins.  Most of all, I have been missing the smell of apple pies and pumpkin breads baking in the oven.  Yesterday I decided to slow down and take the time to really enjoy my favorite season.  Fall will be gone before we know it, replaced with that disgusting excuse for a season called winter.  I can't just sit by writing papers and let that happen!  I didn't have the time for a hike, but I took Peanut for a nice long walk and made some muffins with my favorite fall flavors.  Here's what I came up with:

Pumpkin Apple Streusel Muffins
Recipe adapted from Mangoes and Palm Trees
Yield: 2 dozen medium-sized muffins

Muffin Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbs baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups Macintosh apples, finely diced (I left the skins on)

Streusel Ingredients:
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes


Step one: prepare your streusel.  Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and cut butter into the rest of the ingredients until crumbly.  Set aside.

Assemble your muffin ingredients
Finely dice your apples
In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Set aside.
 In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients, then stir into the dry, just until combined.
Gently fold in the apples, just until incorporated.
Fill paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full, then top with streusel
Bake muffins at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops are golden brown.

Cool in pans on wire racks for five minutes, then transfer muffins directly to wire racks to finish cooling completely.

These muffins were just what I needed for my taste of fall.  They were moist and pumpkin-y and apple-y and crunchy on top- everything a fall muffin should be.  It was also a great way to start off a long day of homework.  There is nothing like a muffin warm out of the oven and a cup of coffee on the balcony to put you in a good mood.

I decided that some of my friends needed a little taste of fall as well, so I packaged some up and gave them away to spread that beautiful autumn spirit.

Here's hoping that you have a chance to slow down and appreciate this beautiful fall day.

Love and cookies,

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Sweetest Day: Spookies and Cream Cake

Last Saturday was "The Sweetest Day," a seemingly made-up holiday I have only ever heard of this year.  However, I would never be opposed to a day celebrating kindness with candy, so I will happily embrace this new holiday.

It seemed fitting that this holiday happened to be the day we were scheduled to celebrate the birthdays of two sweetest people I have ever met.  Lauren B and Lauren P are two lovely girls that I met my first day of orientation at MSPP, and we have remained close ever since, even if we don't get to see each other all too often.  The number of truly genuine people in this world is sadly declining.  Most of us are lucky to even know a handful of folks that are always kind, caring, empathic, and just genuinely want to know how your day went.  I am fortunate to know two of these rare creatures, and they are both named Lauren, and their birthdays are about a week apart.

Hmm.. how could I make the concept of "sweet"even more obvious in a cake?  WITH CANDY OF COURSE!  It is also the time of year for my other favorite holiday, Halloween, so luckily for me, there is an abundance of candy on the grocery store shelves and in my green Trick-or-Treat bucket on my kitchen table.  I decided I was going to make a cake that celebrated these two wonderful girls and these two wonderful holidays.  I planned to make a Trick-or-Treat cake, with the outside decorated like a bright orange bucket, and the top covered in different kinds of candy.  Brilliance!

Then something terrible happened.  I came home the night I was supposed to make the cake to find that Jay's brother, (our dog walker for the time being), had nearly eaten our entire bucket of candy.  All that was left were the Jolly Ranchers.  What kind of horrible person does that?!  Who comes into someone else's house and eats all of their Halloween candy, except for the Jolly Ranchers that no one really wants because they aren't chocolate, but they are in the mixed bag that has the Twix so you get them anyway.  Who?!  WHY?!

Once I got over my initial devastation because all the chocolate was gone, I realized that I also had nothing left to make my cake with.  Then I was even more distressed.  What is the point of making a cake?  What is the point of living any more if all the candy is gone?  OK, so maybe I wasn't that dramatic.  I thought to myself, "well candies aren't exactly cookies, so it wasn't the worst thing that could happen."  Then I had it- BINGO!  Cookies!  Jay's brother hadn't found the Oreos I hid in the cupboard!  The cake was saved.  I would make an oreo cake and decorate it with the only candy besides Jolly Ranchers Chris doesn't like- candy pumpkins.

Thus, the "Spookies and Cream" cake was born:

Spookies and Cream Cake:
Dark Chocolate Cake w/ Oreo filling-flavored Buttercream and Oreo cookie crumbs
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 1 8" double-layer cake