Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes w/ Salted Dulce de Leche-Cinnamon Buttercream

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If you use the term “dulce de leche” with a non-foodie, they’ll probably think you’re exceptionally fancy and cultured. Look at you, using foreign words! But in all reality, dulce de leche is just a pretty name for thick caramel-like sauce. If you like caramel at all, there’s a good chance you will love the socks off of dulce de leche, caramel’s richer, more viscous cousin.

Every time I take my periodical trips to Wegmans, I make it a point stock up on jars of dulce de leche. You can make this stuff at home too, but I’m lazy, and the dulce de leche I buy is top-quality and tastes like a caramely dream. I keep a few on hand because it’s so wonderful to bake with (or eat with a spoon like the glutton I am). And when I found myself looking for a new frosting recipe idea, I couldn’t have been happier to see this sweet edible gold awaiting me in the pantry.DSC_3710-2

When I someday release my very scientific study on how dulce de leche makes everything better, these Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes with Salted Dulce de Leche-Cinnamon Buttercream will be an influential piece of evidence. This buttercream is some of the creamiest, smoothest stuff you will ever try. Even after being refrigerated, it stays soft and velvety. Thank the silky dulce de leche for that.

What I love is that, even with the rich dulce de leche, this frosting isn’t too sweet. The inclusion of salt balances the sweetness out, while cinnamon adds dimension and a touch of warmth. The flavors are just perfect, pairing beautifully with the simple but delicious vanilla cupcakes.

I’ve tried multiple vanilla cake recipes, and this one is my favorite to-date. It is the fluffiest I’ve ever encountered, reminiscent of angel food. Plus, they stay nice and moist, just melting in your mouth with that frosting. What really distinguishes the cupcakes is a kiss of almond extract, providing an extra little something that will make taste-testers ask, “What is that?”

Go and impressive you friends and family with your fancy-shmancy Salted Dulce de Leche-Cinnamon Buttercream, served in swirling peaks atop cloud-like vanilla cupcakes. They’ll never know how easy they actually were to make. That impressive frosting will only take you 5 minutes!DSC_3747-2

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Not over-baking is the key to a soft, moist cupcake. You’re usually better off pulling them from the oven just before you think they’re done. Most recipes say to take them out after a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, but the toothpick should actually have a few crumbs on it.
  2. You don’t have to pipe the frosting like I did in the picture. But if you’d like to, and you don’t have a piping bag, you can make one. Take a large ziplock bag and put the frosting in, pushing it down to one corner. Twist off the top and snip off the bottom corner that you pushed the frosting towards. Pipe away!
  3. You can leave the cinnamon out if you’d just like a straight-up dulce de leche frosting.
  4. Get your dulce de leche fix with my Dulce de Leche Filled Cupcakes too.
  5. I baked this same vanilla cake recipe as a whole cake too, and it came out just as fantastic. It’s a wonderful basic vanilla cake recipe to have on hand.
  6. Having the milk and eggs at room temperature may not sound imperative, but it is. It makes a big difference in the cake’s texture.

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Salted Dulce de Leche-Cinnamon Buttercream
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

For the Fluffy Vanilla Cupcakes
Cupcakes & cake directions adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool

For the Salted Dulce de Leche-Cinnamon Buttercream
Frosting & frosting directions by The Smart Cookie Cook

  • 1 cups (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 16-oz. jar ducle de leche
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tbsp. milk or cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcakes tins with liners.
  2. Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into a medium bowl and mix with fork until blended.
  3. Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer at low speed. Add butter; continue beating at low speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.
  4. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer. It should be good and fluffy.
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to drop batter into the tins, filling them 2/3-full (just use a ladle if you don’t have an ice cream scoop). Bake 15-20 minutes or until puffed and set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs. They will not brown like you might expect; in fact, if they get too golden, you probably overcooked them. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  6. Make the frosting: place butter, dulce de leche, and 2 cups of the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on LOW speed until incorporated then beat on medium speed until thoroughly blended (if you don’t start on a low speed, you’ll have powdered sugar everywhere). Add the rest of the sugar in 2 cups at a time, starting slow then increasing the speed until well-combined. Scrape down sides between each addition. Finally, add the milk, salt, and cinnamon and beat on medium speed until incorporated.
  7. Frost cooled cupcakes and enjoy. Store in an air-tight container.

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Two-Bite Red Velvet Candy Cakes

 

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Do you want to know why these Two-Bite Red Velvet Candy Cakes exist? Because I can be an absent-minded idiot sometimes. Let’s not sugarcoat it; you’ve got to be a fool to do some of the things I do. You see, I went to make my Chewy Red Velvet Bars with Whipped Cream Frosting the other day, and I knew exactly how to make them: ignore the boxed directions; beat in a stick of butter and two eggs instead. So what did I do? I completely ejected that from my mind and poured the cup or so of water called for in the box directions onto my cake batter.

Bars = ruined.

So my marvelous Mother Cookie was kind enough to go buy me another box of red velvet cake mix for the bars, but I still had that whole bowl of ruined battered that I didn’t want to waste. So I followed through with what I started and baked it into a cake instead.

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Of course, then I needed something to actually do with the cake. Given the ingredients I had on hand, these Two-Bite Red Velvet Hearts were an easy solution. I can’t begin to tell you how incredibly addicting these red velvet devils are, and the fact that they’re bite-sized makes it so easy to inhale a hundred of ‘em. They are even better than a box of chocolate, and that means a lot coming from me.

Even with a boxed cake mix, you get a super moist and decadent red velvet cake center that’s perfectly complimented by a smooth white chocolate shell. They remind me of the snack cakes you buy at the grocery store, like the Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes I loved so much as a kid. Of course, these are even better because they’re homemade. And you only need a few ingredients to make ‘em.

Don’t disappoint your Valentine this year with boring chocolates when you can give them these candy-cake hybrids instead. They’re really easy to make, but your sweetheart will think you slaved over them. One thing he or she can be sure of is that they were made with love.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Although I’d normally scold you for using boxed mix, it’s totally okay here because we’re doctoring it up.
  2. This idea would work for any holiday, with any cake flavor, and any shaped cookie cutter. Get creative!
  3. If you don’t freeze the cake before dipping, you’re going to have a crumbly mess. Trust the recipe, my friends.DSC_1006

Two-Bite Red Velvet Candy Cakes
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – about 2 dozen hearts

Ingredients:

  • 1 9×13 red velvet cake , use your favorite recipe or a boxed mix
  • 3 cups white chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable shortening
  • Red & pink sprinkles

*The cake will be moist and fragile, so freezing it will make it hold up better to the chocolate.

Directions:

  1. Use a large bread knife to slice off just the domed top of the cake. Discard or snack on the scraps. Next, slice the cake lengthwise into two even layers, like you’re making it into a sandwich. Carefully separate the two layers. Freeze the cakes until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Set up your work station: Place one layer of cake on a cutting board and line a baking sheet or cooling rack with wax paper or parchment paper. Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, no bigger than 2-inches in diameter, to cut hearts out of the two cake layers. Be gentle.
  3. Place the chocolate and shortening in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stirring well in between. This should only take about 4 intervals to be able to stir it smooth as long as you stir in between each interval.
  4. Gently dip the red velvet hearts into the chocolate, letting it coat the sides. Let excess drip off and transfer to the prepared baking sheet or rack. If you don’t get all the sides completely coated during the dip, just use a spoon to drizzle more chocolate on. Immediately sprinkle on sprinkles after dipping each one, before the chocolate has a chance to set.  Repeat with remaining hearts.
  5. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and allow to set completely.DSC_0986

Chewy Red Velvet Bars w/ Whipped Cream Frosting

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The other day, I discovered what looked like multiple bloody gashes on my hands, arms, and elbows. You would’ve though I just took a tumble onto hard pavement and scraped myself up. But then came the awkward moment when I realized it was just dried red velvet batter, which I had been elbow-deep in all day.

That’s Food Blogging Problems 101 right there.

I guess it’s never really a problem to be working with delicious red velvet batter though.  Unless of course you’re like me and a) can’t keep it in the bowl and b) can’t stop eating it raw and putting yourself at risk for salmonella. But let’s not get hung up on the negatives here. Red velvet flavored anything is about feeling good. It evokes pleasure, creating a romantic moment between you and your food. Maybe that’s why it’s such a popular flavor around Valentine’s Day.

On Monday, I’m going to be churning out one lovey-dovey post filled with my best Valentine’s recipes to get you ready for the big day, but I had to slip in a few more V-Day recipes before the big round-up. So here you go, fellow red velvet lovers: Chewy Red Velvet Bars with Whipped Cream Frosting.DSC_0728-2

These are similar to my Strawberry Sweetheart Bars because we start with a boxed cake mix. Then, you just need to add two ingredients to turn it into a moist and chewy bar with a texture teetering between cake and cookie. You’ve only got to dirty one bowl, and they bake up pretty quick, so you could say these 3-ingredient bars are one of the easiest, tastiest treats on the planet. Who doesn’t love the ease semi-homemade?

The only thing that could make these bars better is so creamy, cloud-like Whipped Cream Frosting. It’s sweet and smooth with a hint of vanilla flavor. But what makes this whipped cream better than most? It’s stabilized, which means it won’t separate and get runny like regular whipped cream does, so these bars last for days!

If you’re looking for something that will impress but requires minimal effort, then this is the recipe you want. The bars are indulgent yet light at the same time, with the perfect amount of sweetness. Share ‘em with your sweetheart or enjoy ‘em all yourself. I won’t tell!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Not over-baking is the key to a nice and chewy texture. These guys go from done to dry fairly quickly, so pull them just before you actually think they’re done.
  2. I would imagine this recipe works with any brand of cake mix, but because I’ve only done this with Betty Crocker Super Moist, I cannot guarantee they’ll come out the same. I know they’ll work; your texture just might be slightly more brownie-like, or you may have to adjust cooking time.
  3. People who haven’t made whipped cream are scared by the idea of it, but it’s actually super easy to make; in fact it’s easier than any other kind of frosting, I think. All you have to do is beat the crap out of it until it forms stiff peaks. How much easier could it get?DSC_0762

Red Velvet Bars with Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

For the bars

  • 1 box red velvet cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist)
  • ½ cup (1 stick), butter, softened
  • 2 eggs

For the whipped cream frosting

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Place a large mixing bowl in the fridge to chill. You will use this to make the whipped cream later. The cooler the bowl is, the faster the cream will whip.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick spray.
  3. In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the cake mix, butter, and eggs on low speed just until well-combined.
  4. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and press down into an even layer. It will probably be sticky, so you may want to spray your hands with nonstick spray when spreading out the batter.
  5. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs. Let cool completely.
  6. Make the frosting: Place all the frosting ingredients EXCEPT for the cornstarch into the chilled mixing bowl. Beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Add cornstarch and continue beating until stiff peaks form. When you pull the beater away, the whipped cream should follow and hold its shape.
  7. Spread frosting onto cooled bars in an even layer. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.DSC_0739

Roasted Turkey Cake

Being a vegetarian, I don’t get to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. I’m okay with that because I was never a huge turkey fanatic to begin with. There is, however, one kind of turkey I do enjoy around this time. No, it’s no Tofurkey.

It’s cake, Roasted Turkey Cake, to be exact!

This adorable cake looks just like the golden brown roasted turkey that takes center stage on your Thanksgiving table each year. It’s so realistic, you can almost hear it gobble-gobbling.

Bring this baby to the table for dessert, and your guests will think you’re serving them a second course of dinner instead. But slice through the turkey’s exterior, and you’ll see it’s not made of fowl, but cake!

Let’s be honest; it’s easy to get sick of the same ol’ pumpkin pie. This festive cake disguised as poultry is the perfect alternative. Not only is it pretty to look at, but it’s filled with moist vanilla cake and a luscious Cinnamon Buttercream. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Check out my video ASAP, and see just how doable this fancy cake actually is to make. As a bonus, enjoy dancing drumsticks and me gobbling like a turkey.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. The best way to understand how to make this cake is to watch the video.
  2. If fondant scares you, don’t be afraid. It’s just edible clay essentially. Roll it out, lay it down, BAM.
  3. But if you’re still not convinced, cover the cake with chocolate ganache instead!
  4. You’ll have extra frosting. Do with it as you please! My suggestion: I made a full batch of rice krispie treats instead of the halved version below and topped them with the extra frosting.
  5. Chocolate cake would be fantastic too.
  6. Large marshmallows work better than minis for making the Rice Krispie treats.

Roasted Turkey Cake
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch vanilla cake batter, homemade or boxed mix (I used this recipe)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • Half a 10-oz. bag large marshmallows
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies
  • 5 1.5-oz. milk chocolate bars, chopped
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 – 4 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • chocolate fondant, store-bought or homemade
  • green, red, and orange Betty Crocker Easy Flow Decorating Icing (these come with interchangable tips, so even amateur bakers like myself can make pretty decorations)

Special Equipment: 1.5-quart oven proof bowl like Pyrex

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare vanilla cake batter according to box/recipe instructions. Butter & flour 1.5-quart oven proof bowl then pour in batter until 2/3 full. Bake for 45-55 minutes, checking after 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out with just a bit of crumb. Because the bowl is so deep, the outside & top of cake may brown before the middle is done. Don’t panic. Place aluminum foil around the edges and/or over the top to keep it from browning more. Once the cake is cool, you will saw off the top anyway.
  2. Let cake cool for 20 minutes then use a knife to saw off the round domed top so that it’s flat. Slide a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. Invert onto a plate and let cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, make the drumsticks. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and cook, stirring constantly, until completely melted. Mix in the Rice Krispies until evenly distributed. Poor onto working surface lined with wax paper or parchment paper.
  4. Once the Rice Krispie have cooled and set just enough to work with, spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray and grab a small chunk and shape into a tiny log that widens at the end. Add an egg-shaped piece on top, and you’ve got yourself a drumstick. Repeat to make another drumstick and enjoy any leftover Rice Krispie treats!
  5. In a microwave safe bowl, microwave the chocolate chunks on high for 30 second intervals, stirring in between until completely melted. Dip each drumstick in the chocolate, leaving the very end of the “bone” exposed and the fat part covered. Set on wax paper.
  6. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat 1 cup of sugar into the butter until completely incorporated. Start at a low speed then increase as it starts to incorporate to avoid a powdered sugar dust storm. Continue mixing in one cup at a time, scraping down sides from time to time. Beat in heavy cream, vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon, and salt on high until light and fluffy.
  7. Frost cooled cake with a smooth, even, and THICK layer of frosting. Roll out the fondant as thin as it will go without tearing then lay gently over top the frosted cake. Smooth out gently and cut off excess with a pizza cutter. Tuck ends in so the cake is neat and smooth.
  8. Use leftover fondant to cut out two wings. It’s like a check mark shape. Stick one to each side of the turkey body towards the front.
  9. Attach the two drumsticks, on each side, to one end of the cake towards the back. You can either use a bit of frosting or a toothpick.
  10. Use the green frosting with the leaf tip to draw greenery around the turkey. Use the red with the round tip to make little cherry tomatoes. Finally, use the orange with the round tip to make little carrots.
  11. Store in fridge for up to 4 days.

Classic Buttery Pound Cake

I post a lot of extravagant, Smart Cookie-fied recipes on here like Nacho Mac & Cheese or Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie Topped Brownies. That’s because I love to bring you a Smart Cookie twist, to give you something a little different and even more delicious. But there are certain occasions whenI just want a pure, unaltered classic in all its simplistic glory. It doesn’t need fancy fixings or crazy twists, because it’s that good on its own. This Classic Buttery Pound Cake is tried-and-true tastiness at its best. It’s about as simple as it gets, but dear lord in heaven, is it amazing.

Pound cake is such an underrated dessert. Nowadays, everyone wants 7-layer cakes in every flavor imaginable, topped with indulgent frostings or stuffed with cookies and whole pies. But sometimes you need to put aside that slice of Oreo-stuffed brown butter red velvet cake with lavender-brownie batter-cream cheese frosting in favor of a plain old slice of good pound cake. You don’t need a damn thing to go with it. All by itself, it’s just as delicious, if not better, than any other frosting-adorned cake out there.

This particular recipe is sublime, so moist and rich you’ll want to slap somebody. Just look at that gorgeous crumb! Its buttery flavor is so darn good, and that tender texture is something only heaven’s bakers could produce. I can’t get enough of it.

Is it good for you? Of course not; this is pound cake. I don’t want to hear any fussing about how there are two sticks of butter and “Eww vegetable shortening I don’t use THAT.” Shut your pie hole. It’s one cake, one amazing, delicious, and rich cake; you can indulge just this once. Stop complaining about silly things, and just enjoy the utterly moist and buttery goodness. You know what gives it that great texture and taste? All the stuff you complain about. Just for once, don’t worry about it. This is down-home goodness, and you can thank Paula Deen for that.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You’ve got to keep your eye on this baby towards the end of the cooking time because it goes from perfectly done to overbaked in the blink of an eye, and making sure you don’t overbake is essential to producing a moist cake. 90% of cakes that come out dry were baked too long.
  2. As incredible as this cake is on its own, there are a million things to do with it. Toast it and slather with butter or jam, top with chocolate ganache or caramel sauce, serve with ice cream, eat with your coffee, cover in a glaze, cube it up to put in a trifle or dunk in fondue, and so on!
  3. This recipe is easily cut in half to yield a 1 lb. loaf pan. I’ve done that in the past.

Perfect Pound Cake
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen of Food Network

Yield: 1 6-cup bundt cake or cut in half to make a 1lb. loaf pan

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter softened, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 6-cup bundt pan or tube pan. Set aside.
  2. With a mixer, cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl and add to mixer alternately with milk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla. Pour into pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with just a little crumb. Check cake after 50 minutes to ensure it doesn’t overbake. If the top starts to brown too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
  3. Let cool completely before inverting pan and removing cake. Slice & enjoy. Store in an air-tight container.