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Simply Pink Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

  Yay for being girly!  In a very chic, light-pinkish sort of way.  I am in love with this frosting, and this cake.  I had many a fingerful of the most beautiful batter in the world...seriously, I love pretty cake batters.  Fluffy yet dense, flecked with vanilla bean...my gosh. 

 My sister was having a little tea party, aaand these just fit the bill.  I had them totally baked and assembled before noon, and two in my belly before 5:00.  Try not to be like me and my sugar control issues that I seem to be having this week.  

  But hey!  Before the big "New Year diet" fad starts, bring these to a party and eat many of them.  Or not, they're sorta rich.  Especially if you frost them the way I did.  Heaps, mounds...the picture above reminds me of Candyland.  And the picture below: if ballerinas were cupcakes, yup.  I'm actually going to shush my face now and go to bed, nothing more need be said about the most amazing buttercream and vanilla cake you'll ever have.
  Happy New Year's!  I hope it's pink and pearly and cupcake-y.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
Yield: Approximately 30 cupcakes

Ingredients for the Cupcakes:
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract  

Ingredients for the Vanilla Buttercream**:
  • 40 tbsp. (5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp. heavy cream 

    Directions for the Cupcakes:
    Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  Set aside.

    In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter and discard the pod (or reserve for another use.)  Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute. 

    Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.
    Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.

    Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.)  Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired. 

    Directions for the Vanilla Buttercream:
    In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds.  Add confectioners’ sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds.  Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds.  Scrape bowl, add vanilla and heavy cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds.  Then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice.  Frost and decorate cooled cupcakes as desired.   

    **If you plan to frost as much as I did, I'd recommend increasing the frosting by 25%.  I had 17 cupcakes (I halved the recipe), a half batch of the buttercream just barely got me through.  Adjust according to your cupcake yield and preferences.

    Sources: Buttercream from Annie's Eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated--cupcake from Annie's Eats, originally from Confections of a Foodie Bride



    Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

      Ohhhh cookies.  Oh life.  I've been perusing the CIA's website for hours, trying to decide if I really want to dive into this cooking/baking realm of life.  Can I make a living out of it?  Can I get through 4 years of intensive (and expensive) cooking school, states away from my home?  Possibly the furthest away I've ever been alone?  The northern Midwest section of America has been my little globe for such a long time.  We're talking Hyde Park, NY, now; and possibly some crazy educational trips to Europe for school.

      Every fiber of my practical being rebels against this.  Usually, that's enough.  But I'm so darned convinced that this is my calling, I can't get anything else into my brain.  
      Enough of that though!  Just the worries and thoughts of an undergraduate, no biggie.  For everyone else, anyway.  Bear with me, it helps a bit to write these things down.

     Look at these little guys, they're so adorable and excessively addictive.  I received an 11 oz. bag of them in my stocking, and my first thought was not of my gluttonous happiness, but these cookies.  And I love Reese's, with a passion.  But I had to make these cookies, I wanted to share the peanut butter chocolate love.  Sharing and giving=Christmas.  Doy. 

      I am so, so glad that I wasn't a selfish hog.  These are one of my all-time favorite cookies.  Oddly enough, cookies are one of my least favorite things to make.  Perhaps because my particular self takes awhile to arrange equally-sized and evenly-spaced blobs on a baking sheet.  But whatever, these are worth every effort (which, in effect, isn't much).

      New Year's is looming ahead, and frankly, I'm ready to embrace it.  Despite my doubts about careers, anxiety about finding a good restaurant job, the possible annual resurfacing of some unpleasant memories, and a forthcoming ACT (or SAT...dunno); I'm ready.  2011 can be over, it's had its time.     
      I'm excited to delve deeper into my foodie aspirations, scrounge up material for this blog that will hopefully only grow, and just enjoy life.  That last one seems to be said loosely, but it holds a lot of meaning for me.  I tend to get sucked into my worries, but once in awhile I'll find myself just being me.  I find myself genuinely enjoying life, without trying to!  I want to be doing much more of that.  This past year was a little crazy, and not at all what I had thought it would be.  It's okay though, I learned a lot.  You know how decisions seem super difficult one minute, and then so insignificant the next?  I've realized that it's all just a part of life that will end, and you do move on.  And yet, we fret.  That's just how it goes.
      One of my favorite movies is Dan in Real Life, and this is my favorite quote from it:

    “I want to talk to you about the subject of plans… life plans and how we all make them, and how we hope that our kids make good, smart, safe plans of their own. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, most of our plans don’t work out as we’d hoped. So instead of asking our young people, ‘What are your plans? What do you plan to do with your life?’, maybe we should tell them this: Plan… to be surprised.”

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
    Yield: 16-18 large cookies

    • 1 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
    • 6 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa
    • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt 
    • 3/4 stick (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • 2 tbsp. milk 
    • 2 cups coarsely chopped peanut butter cups, divided 
    (Notes: it makes the entire process much easier if you freeze the PB cups for at least 30 minutes.  And if you get more than 11 oz. of candy you should be good, I was a little short with just the one bag.)

    Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

    In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add in the egg, vanilla extract, and milk. Blend until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Add in 1½ cups of the chopped peanut butter cups and fold in gently with a spatula.

    Use a large dough scoop (about 3 tbsp., although I preffered to do about 2 1/2 tbsp. to get a bigger yield and smaller cookies) to drop rounds of dough onto the baking sheets, spacing 2-3 inches apart. Gently press a few pieces of the reserved peanut butter cups into the top of each of the dough balls. 

    Bake 12-14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. (The cookies may seem too soft immediately after coming out of the oven but they will set as they cool. You don’t want to overbake them.)  Let cool on the baking sheets about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

    Sources: Annie's Eats 


    Peppermint Semifreddo

      I'm eating the leftovers of this, right now.  The only healthy thing I've done this post-Christmas week is exercise and eat two salads.  Inbetween that...sugar.  Too much sugar. 

    (Photo credit for this pic: sister Carol)

      Okay, I'm feeling slightly guilty.  I'm seriously considering fasting or doing a week of health-food making.  I'm a girl that loves baking, I really do.  But I need to get off this sugar binge.  I need bread, pasta, herb dips, meat...
      How's that for screwy?  I post about this lovely, fluffy Italian dessert while ranting about how tired I am of my over-indulgence with sugar.  Don't let my mood dissuade you!  It's just that post-holiday treats are everywhere.
      But everyone needs to know about this dessert.  It takes maybe half an hour to throw together, then you stick it in the freezer and go on with other dinner preparations.  The only trouble that I had with this was getting the egg yolk to thicken.  I don't why but I always do when trying to use the double boiler method.  I ended up sticking it in the microwave in short intervals at half the power, and that did the trick.  Just don't scramble it, ew. 
      This is also supposed to yield 6 servings.  I would maybe cut it back into 8-9, especially if you've had a big dinner.  Even though this is light in texture, it's quite rich, and most of us couldn't finish the entire cup.
      I love having this recipe up my sleeve; and I'm already thinking of some flavor variations.  Coffee, vanilla bean, lemon...

      That all being said, Christmas was grand and I got some lovely new additions to my ever-growing kitchen tools supply.  Although, I never really did get into the Christmas mood or spirit...I let the general stress of preparation, gift-buying, looming New Year's, and money get to me.  It's ridiculous, and no fun.  I've learned that there's a difference between 'tackling' and 'embracing' Christmas, and I certainly hope to be doing more of the latter next year.  

    Peppermint Semifreddo
    Yield: 6 servings (feel free to cut back and use smaller dishes if you're susceptible to richness)

    • 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) peppermint candy, plus more for serving
    • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
    • 3 large eggs, separated
    • 9 tbsp. sugar
    • 6 tbsp. peppermint liquer
    • Warm chocolate sauce, for serving

    Place 5 tablespoons of candy in a heavy-duty plastic storage bag and crush finely (I opted for less-than-fine crushing, for a little crunch throughout the dessert) with a meat mallet or rolling pin.  Roughly crush remaining 3 tablespoons of candy, set aside.  Place cream in a medium bowl; whisk in finely-crushed candy, and whip until stiff peaks form. Chill until ready to use in the last step.

    Prepare an ice bath. In a large metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water, whisk egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar until pale. Add liqueur; whisk vigorously until mixture is thick, 3 to 4 minutes (resort to microwaving at half the power, stirring between short intervals if you can't get it too thicken). Transfer to ice bath; whisk until cool.  

    In the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water, whisk egg whites and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar until sugar dissolves and mixture is warm to the touch, about 2 minutes. Attach bowl to mixer, and beat until stiff and glossy peaks form.

    Fold the egg-white mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, one-third at a time. Fold in the whipped-cream mixture. Spoon mixture into six serving dishes, layering it with reserved crushed candy. Freeze until firm, at least 1 1/2 hours. 

    Serve with warm chocolate sauce and peppermint candy on the side.

    Sources: Martha Stewart


    Peanut Brittle (Crispy Bites of Heaven)

      I don't know why I avoided peanut brittle for so long...I guess in contrast to so many other favorite goodies it was often overlooked.  Brittle?  There's nothing appetizing about brittle, at all.  I like peanuts, I like crumbly, I like chewy...but brittle?  Whatever, I don't know who decided to name it such, but it kept me from becoming a fan for too long. 

      But the other day, my sisters and I popped over to my good friend Nellie's house to help with some baking and to try to bring about some Christmas cheer; even though the ground lacked snow.  We walked in and herded ourselves into the cozy little kitchen, and we were greeted by a black, smoky bubbling mass in the microwave.  "You guys came at the right time..." Nellie said.

      So while my sister chiseled out (literally) the blackened mixture, the rest of us set about to whip up another batch.  With some careful stirring and frequent checks, the next was a big success.  I believe I really fell in love with peanut brittle then, making it with a good friend; determined to not let a recipe beat us.
      Every piece I eat reminds me of my grandma for some reason...she likely made this and it's probably something she loved as well.  It's a usual thing to find lying around at family gatherings this time of year, and it's too often underestimated.  Don't be fooled.
      I wanted to share this, I wanted to make my own version.  So guess what I did with my friend Lydia today?

      It was lovely.  I enjoyed the whole day (notwithstanding my poor choice in walking weather...sorry Lydia...), but I think I liked this best of all.  Despite the fact that this girl is on a fast right now (crazy, but I so admire her for doing it at Christmas), she helped and watched us all stuff ourselves.  I felt kinda bad...but not that bad.  Heh.  We bought her pomegranates and bananas to eat.  It's all good.
      I was told that the product of this humble ol' recipe was the best peanut brittle ever; this said by very experienced tasters.  

      I haven't yet mastered the trick of spreading this evenly, and my mother recommended the use of greased wax paper, rather than just greased cookie sheets, for easier removal (yay, more chiseling!).  Maybe parchment?  I'll try it sometime, use whatever floats your boat.  Just make this.  Be warned though, it's super addictive.   

      Grab an awesome friend or two during the holidays or whenever, and make peanut brittle together.  Master your fears of candy and thermometers.  And DON'T forget...have fun.

    Merry Christmas! 


    (Photo credit for this post: my sister Carol, excluding the last two photos: by me)

    Peanut Brittle
    Yield: Entirely depends on how many pieces you break it into

    • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    • 1 tsp. water
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup light corn syrup
    • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
    • 1 pound shelled unroasted peanuts

    Directions:Butter two cookie sheets, about 15 1/2x12 inches: keep warm.  

    Mix baking soda, 1 tsp. water and the vanilla; set aside.  Mix sugar, 1 cup water and the corn syrup in a 3-quart saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it registers 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Stir in the butter and peanuts.  Cook, stirring constantly, until it registers 300 degrees.  Watch carefully so the mixture does not burn.  When reached, immediately remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda mixture.

    Pour half of the candy onto each cookie sheet and quickly spread about 1/4 inch thick.  Cool and break into pieces.

    Sources: Betty Crocker's Cookbook


    Blackberry Lemon Scones and a Revelation (Indigo Scones)

      First post!  First things first (that saying doesn't make much sense to me...), you should know an important fact about me.  It has to do with the blog name.  Why Indigo Scones?  It's a little reference to a problem of mine: perfectionism.  I dream up huge goals, I tackle them, and sometimes I fall short.  Sometimes, I let it get to me more than it should.  Sometimes, I get into a huge funk over seemingly insignificant things.  Sometimes, I have a hard time letting things go. 

      That's a lot of sometimes.  They happen frequently.

      All in all, I hate even the thought of making mistakes.  I worry about the weirdest things, I just do.  I tend to turn things I enjoy into chores with my need to make things just right.  Not cool.  Especially for a wannabe baker...or blogger.  
      However, one day I see pictures of these white, fluffy scones; spotted with beautiful blackberry gems.  With a determined face and a batch of successful strawberry scones behind me, I thought, what the hey!  Let's do blackberries.

      The result?  Indigo.  So very indigo.  I forgot to add the berries with the dry ingredients...so I just sort of squished them in.  My hands were purple, the table was purple, the parchment was purple.  But!  I didn't kick myself.  
      I had made a "mistake," and lived.  I liked how they looked.  Pictures cannot do this indigo justice.  I had met something that surpassed my own goal, and that leads me to a very important point.  
      Sometimes, goals meet you.  Inspiration smacks you in the face when you aren't looking for it.
      My thoughts: "Really??  You don't have to try super hard at everything all the time?" 

      Maybe (undoubtedly) this seems silly to most...but for me, it was a revelation.  Yes, I'll still spend ten extra minutes arranging things or decorate cookies for five hours.  I'm still me.  And that's okay,  too, it's okay to be particular and have high standards; you just can't let it go too far.  
      I was wishing for natural light to shoot in the whole time I was making these.  The finished product was shot on my sister's pretty white chair pulled up to a window.  I discovered that you should only bake as many of these soggy guys that you absolutely need, and freeze the rest.  Because they definitely shouldn't sit in a tupperware for several days...heh.  It's an ever learning process! I thought I had it down, but you know what?  I still worry, I still tend to be finicky, I still get into funks.  It's just life.

      Balance, I'm still learning, still young.  
      These scones are just a little reminder of all that.
      This time around I did add the berries at the right time, only because my now broader knowledge of buttery doughs was telling me not to overwork anything.  And, anyway, it's pretty much impossible to recreate a revelation. 
      Well then!  Rather a deep (and lengthy)  introductory post, but I think it's important to share the meaning behind this blog's title and the girl running it.  I'm here to write about what I love.  I'm not looking for self-promotion or internet fame, just a little knowledge; and a way to share all sorts of kitchen experiences.  And to show that baking isn't so bad at all, you just have to be humble and ready to learn.  A good friend of mine once said that being humble isn't necessarily bringing yourself down, it's raising someone or something else up. 
       So if these flop for any reason, whatever!  Learn from it.  Do it again, be prepared to laugh at yourself.  Whip up some crazy scones, be happy.
      Make life indigo.

    Blackberry Lemon Scones
    Yield: 6-8 large or 12 mini scones
    Ingredients for the Scones:
    • 1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries
    • 1 tsp. lemon zest
    • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp. salt
    • 6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
    • 2/3 cup half-and-half, or cream, or buttermilk

    Ingredients for the Topping:
    • Zest from one lemon
    • 1/4 cup turbinado (or granulated) sugar  
    Preheat oven to 400
    °  F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease.
    Sprinkle blackberries with 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar; set aside.  

    On a work surface, combine the lemon zest and the turbinado sugar with a bench scraper until well combined and fragrant.  Set aside.

    Combine remaining granulated sugar (2 1/2 tbsp.) with flour, baking powder, and salt. Add butter quickly using a pastry cutter, 2 knives, or your fingers (if you're feeling adventurous).  Cut until mixture resembled a coarse meal, and the biggest chunks of butter are no bigger than small peas.  Stir in fruit; then add cream/half-and-half/buttermilk all at once. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the dough until it just holds together.

    Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Be gentle so you don't overwork the dough and melt the butter (no worries about the berry juices if you're going for indigo scones). Sprinkle the dough and surface with flour if it gets sticky.

    Press/pat the dough into a circle 3/4 inch thick. If any berries peek out, push them into the dough. Cut the circle into 6-8 wedges (or 12 minis), then transfer the wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them.  Sprinkle with lemon-sugar topping.  (At this point you can flash freeze the scones for 15 minutes on the baking sheet, then wrap in plastic wrap and store in a bag in the freezer.)

    Bake 15-25 minutes or until the tops are beginning to lightly brown and spring back when you push them slightly (Keep a careful watch and check every 5 minutes after the initial 10-15; you do not want dry scones!).

    Let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes before removing. 

    Sources: scones adapted from Confessions of a Tart, topping inspired by Joy the Baker