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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20 Easter Bunny-Approved Recipes

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In less than a week, the world’s most beloved bunny will be hopping down that bunny trail to your home and mine, baring whimsical eggs and glorious tooth-rotting confections. Side note: does anybody else find it odd that the Easter Bunny gives out chocolate versions of himself for us to merciless decapitate with our bare teeth?

Easter definitely crept up on us this year, and it falls earlier than usual, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t quite prepared. In fact, I’ve got you covered with a round-up of my 20 best Easter recipes, all Easter Bunny-approved of course. Would I cook you something that the Head Bunny himself didn’t love? Of course not.

From fresh lemon mousse shaped like little spring chicks to a cake shaped like a chocolate bunny to the perfect Easter dinner mac and cheese, there’s a little bit of everything in this line-up. You’ll want to shake your cottontail straight to the kitchen to get cooking after you chick it out.2012-11-221-2

Note: The numbers on the list correlate with the numbers on the photos.

  1. Party Bread
  2. Ma’s Baked Corn Pudding
  3. Chocolate Bunny Cake
  4. Bunny Butt Pretzel Bites
  5. Mini Strawberry Mousse Pies
  6. Bunny Rabbit Cauliflower Pancakes
  7. Nutter Butter Truffle Eggs
  8. David’s Ultimate Mac & Cheese
  9. Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars
  10. Coconut Macaroon Easter Egg Nests
  11. From-Scratch Cheddar Green Bean Casserole
  12. Babci’s Carrot Cake
  13. Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups
  14. Bunny Butt Triple Chocolate Trifle
  15. Brussels Sprout Gratin
  16. Strawberry Coconut Poke Cake
  17. Brown Butter Blueberry Cookies w/ Vanilla Glaze
  18. No-Bake Twice-Baked Potato Mash
  19.  Banana Peanut Butter Cookie Pudding
  20. Extra Creamy Stovetop Mac & Cheese

And if these aren’t enough Easter eats for you, hop on over to my Easter recipe page for my complete collection.

 

What’s on your Easter menu this year?

 

 


The Weekender: Easter Week, Furry Friends, & Peanut Butter

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It’s Sunday, which means Easter Week at Smart Cookie has drawn to a close. I hope you all had as much fun as I did! We had enough delicious and festive recipes to make the ol’ Easter Bunny proud. Next week, he’ll be hopping to our homes bearing baskets of Easter sweets. Are you ready for his arrival? If you’re not, never fear. My Easter Week recipes are a great jumpstart, plus I’ll be bringing you an Easter recipe round-up next week, as is customary here at Smart Cookie. But until then…

Let’s review, shall we?

  1. Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie CupsDSC_3479
  2. Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake BarsDSC_3531
  3. Bunny Rabbit Cauliflower PancakesDSC_3361
  4. Coconut Macaroon Easter Egg NestsDSC_3178

I took a little poll on Facebook to see what the favorite from Easter Week was, and the winner was unanimously the Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups. Not only are they beyond cute, but they’re easy to make and absolutely heavenly. That mousse filling is velvety smooth and tastes like lemon heaven. See just how effortless those little guys are to make in my newest video.

Let’s talk about food news now. Last week, I wrote about the edible wonders I encountered on my last trip to Wegmans. One awesome product I discovered was powdered peanut butter. DSC_2981-2It sounds odd if you’ve never tried it; I was skeptical myself. But this stuff is life-changing. Add just a little water, and you get instant thick and rich peanut butter. But get this: two tablespoons of regular peanut butter has an unsettling 200 calories and around 16 grams of fat; powered PB, on the other hand, has just 45 calories and about 2 grams of fat. That’s crazy talk! I am obsessed with this stuff; sometimes I use it twice a day. It’s not just awesome for making straight up PB; I also mix it into stuff like sugar-free pudding or a little bit of Cool Whip. Yum!

Speaking of non-traditional food items, how about this Mina burrito, eh?DSC_3852

My cats are just so darn good-looking that I can’t ignore them. One minute I’m trying to photograph food; the next, they’re getting all of my camera’s attention. Such was the case when I was baking cupcakes the other day. The Cast of Characters took a back seat to my babies.DSC_3685DSC_3679DSC_3681

Do you have a furry friend who’s always by your side?

I’ve got a co-worker with a…less traditional furry friend. She has a moose named Trax that she dresses up for every holiday you can imagine. So, when her birthday rolled around on Friday, I knew the perfect cake to make her.DSC_3826

He’s almost too cute to eat, right? I’m still not sure anyone ever cut into it…but there were delicious cupcakes to go along with him, which were devoured quickly. That recipe is coming at you next week, along with some healthy delights, and the Easter recipe round-up you don’t want to miss!DSC_3701

The best way to ensure you catch every new bite on Smart Cookie is to subscribe. You’ll get my new posts emailed to you every morning! Just enter your email in the top right of the page. Also stay in touch with Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

See you on Monday!


Easter Week: Coconut Macaroon Easter Egg Nests

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Welcome to Day 4 of Easter Week at Smart Cookie! Did you miss a hop somewhere along the week? Then be sure to check out Day 1’s Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups, Day 2’s Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars, and Day 3’s Bunny Rabbit Cauliflower Pancakes.

Would you believe I never tried Cadbury Mini Eggs before this Easter? Forgive me; I live under a rock called College. However, Easter after Easter, I heard people harping about those little eggs, and I was beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. Mini Eggs have a cult following; people don’t just like them; they love them and can consume an entire bag in one sitting. I myself have a passionate, all-consuming love for Cadbury Crème Eggs, so I figured the Mini Eggs couldn’t be bad if they’re made by the same UK chocolatiers.

Sign me up for the Cadbury Mini Egg Cult because I love these chocolate cuties. I don’t know if it’s against Cadbury Code for me to love Mini Eggs and Crème Eggs, because typically people are only diehards for one or the other, but I’ve got love for both. And of course, as is the case with every edible item I adore, I had to bake with the Mini Eggs. So I crafted these Coconut Macaroon Easter Egg Nests for the occasion.DSC_3214

I know they may seem too pretty to eat with their pastel green nests and the circle of colorful eggs perched on top, but I can assure you that you’ll get over that after one bite. These macaroons are chewy, coconutty perfection. But we don’t stop there; we add a perfectly-portioned dollop of luscious caramel sauce to act as glue for those undeniably delicious Cadbury Mini Eggs. It’s like a treat within a treat.

Treatception!

I’d argue that even people who don’t like coconut would happily eat a handful of these. Don’t believe me? Ask any one of my taste testers, from my parents to my co-workers to my friends; they all loved these scrumptious spring sweets. In fact, my friend from the gym dubbed them the best coconut macaroons he’s had. Not too shabby, eh?

The colors and whimsy of these macaroons make them so fun and delightful that they’ll put a smile on anybody‘s face this Easter (o should I say anybunny’s face?). Sure, they look fancy, but they’re actually easy as pie to make. The macaroons are a quick, one-bowl deal, then you just glue on the eggs with the caramel. The only real challenge is trying not to eat a dozen at a time.DSC_3203

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you don’t like caramel, chocolate sauce would be equally delicious “glue.”
  2. You could split the macaroon batter into three batches and dye each batch a different color so you have multiple shades of “Easter grass.”
  3. Keep an eye on these guys in the oven. Macaroons go from done to burnt fairly quickly.
  4. You have to make the indentations in the macaroons while they’re still warm and fresh from the oven, or it won’t work.
  5. If you skip making the indentations, you’ll have nowhere to put the caramel and no way to get the eggs to stick.DSC_3169

Coconut Macaroon Easter Egg Nests
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – about 18 nests (or double the recipe and make 36)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. almond extract
  • Pinch salt
  • Green food dye
  • 1 bag Cadbury Mini Eggs
  • 1 jar caramel sauce, recommended: Wegmans

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the coconut, egg whites, flour, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, salt, and food dye until well-combined and color is evenly distributed.
  3. Form mixture into balls, roughly a tablespoon’s worth each, and place on baking sheet. Flatten out slightly.
  4. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and set. Immediately, using something with a flat, round base (I used the bottom of an ice cream scoop handle), gently press down into the center of each macaroon, creating an indentation. Let sit for 1 minute before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  5. Place a small dollop of caramel sauce into the craters of each macaroon, about 1 teaspoon’s worth. Stick 2 – 4 eggs into each crater, using the caramel as glue. Store macaroons in an air-tight container.DSC_3235

Easter Week: Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars

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It’s Easter Week here at Smart Cookie, and we’re diving down the rabbit hole of Day 2 (check out Day 1 if you missed it: Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups).

It’s no secret that bunnies love carrots. In fact, the only thing bunnies love more than carrots is carrot cake. What, you didn’t know that? It’s common sense. I mean, what’s better than taking something you love and baking it into a cake? Nothing. Therefore, carrot cake is like crack for bunnies, and for people like me who just love them some carrot cake.

How do I know all this for certain? Because I happen to be good friends with a very prominent bunny: Peter Cottontail; perhaps you’ve heard of him. Lucky for you and me, Mr. Cottontail generously shared one of his favorite carrot cake-themed recipes with us today: Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars.

Ol’ Cottontail loves these bars because he gets all the deliciousness of carrot cake and then some without spending hours and hours in his itty bitty bunny kitchen baking and frosting an elaborate cake. In fact, these Carrot Cake Bars are a one-bowl treat that bakes up fast with no fuss or muss. No wonder the head honcho bunny approves; they’re delectable AND simple.DSC_3568

I’m thrilled Cottontail passed this recipe my way to whip up because these Carrot Cake Bars are chewy, moist, and irresistible. Their texture is a cross between cookie and cake, almost delving into blondie-like territory. The spiced and subtly carroty flavor of the bars is perfectly complimented by a combination of White Chocolate M&Ms and Carrot Cake M&Ms. Yes, they make both of those (you can buy the white chocolate ones at Target and the carrot cake ones at Wal-Mart). They give an extra kiss of sweetness, like frosting would on cake, and also adds a pretty pastel punch of color. And of course, some springy sprinkles brighten the palette as well.

These bars have everything good going for them: they’re delicious, easy, and quick. I highly recommend giving Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars a try this Easter and seeing what all the fuss is about. That bunny knows how to bake!DSC_3536

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Like any sweet, it you overbake these, they’ll dry out. Just keep an eye on them, and you’ll be fine.
  2. As I mention in the recipe below, if you can’t get your hands on the special flavors of M&Ms, just replace them with white chocolate chips. It’ll still be completely delicious.
  3. Kids will go crazy for these between the fun colors, the M&Ms, and the fact that they’re approved by their favorite furry bunny.
  4. These would also be delicious if you skipped the M&Ms and added a vanilla glaze instead.
  5. Do not bake these in an 8×8. They will not cook evenly because they’ll be too thick.DSC_3426

Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 box carrot cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup White Chocolate M&Ms,* plus more for topping
  • ½ cup Carrot Cake M&Ms*
  • ½ cup Easter sprinkles, divided

*The White Chocolate M&Ms are available at Target, and the Carrot Cake M&Ms are at Wal-Mart. If you can’t find them, replace with equal parts white chocolate chips.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together cake mix, butter, eggs, and vanilla on low speed just until well-combined. Fold in the M&Ms and half of the sprinkles (1/4 cup).
  3. Transfer batter to prepared pan (it will be thick like cookie dough). Spray your hands or a spatula with nonstick spray and press the batter down into an even layer (push batter to the edges, but it doesn’t need to shape to the pan perfectly). Sprinkle with a generous ¼ cup more White Chocolate M&Ms and the remaining sprinkles. Press down lightly.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and set and a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs (it shouldn’t be too gooey anymore). Let cool completely then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.DSC_3521