Tag Archives: cupcakes

Cauldron Cakes, Cockroach Clusters, and Licorice Wands

14 Jul

Oh, bittersweet day. The last film of the Harry Potter series will be released at midnight, and I am both incredibly excited, but also sad that after I see the film… well, that’s it. No more movies, no more books. A character — no, an entire universe — that I grew up with will come to an end.

When I say that my generation grew up with Harry Potter, I mean my generation. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone was released in 1997, 2 months after my 11th birthday; within the first few chapters, Harry celebrates his 11th birthday. I am the HP generation.

In my humble opinion, I am intense about Harry Potter, but I’m not insane about Harry Potter. I attended one midnight book release party once with my cousins, I think maybe for the 6th book. I’ve never been to a midnight movie release, but I have always seen the movies within a week of their release, and I own all the so-far released DVDs. I was briefly addicted to two different HP computer games. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment of the series, was released, I read the entire book in two days, which was may attempt to pace myself and savor it. And I dragged the BF to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter a couple months after it opened at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure. So… maybe a little crazy.

In honor of the end of an era, I have a few Harry Potter-themed recipes to share with you. I have planned entire HP-themed Halloween parties in the past, and trust me, if you need more HP recipes, there are plenty online. These three will get you started though. I’ll be taking these with me to an outdoor screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which will set me up perfectly to see Part 2 in a few days. If you haven’t seen the Hogwarts Express tea trolley come by and you don’t have time to run over to Honeydukes, try out these recipes yourself. And if any Muggles ask you for the recipe, just tell them they were made with magic.

Cauldron Cakes

Chocolate cupcakes (cauldrons) filled with liquid chocolate are the simple concept behind these cakes. You can use whatever recipe you’d like, homemade or boxed. This recipe is for a basic chocolate cake. 

I started by preheating the oven to 350 F and lining a cupcake pan with papers. Then I whisked together 1 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt.

In another bowl, I beat 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter with my hand mixer on medium for about 30 seconds. Then I gradually added  1 1/4 cup sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl, mixing for 2-3 minutes. I added 2 eggs, one at a time, beating after each one. Then I beat in 1 tsp vanilla. To finish the batter, I alternated adding the flour mixture and 1 cup milk, beating until well incorporated. 

Cauldron Cake Batter

I filled cupcake tins not too full — I didn’t want a muffin top puffing out from the cupcakes. This batch made for about 20 cupcakes. I baked them for about 18-20 minutes, rotating halfway through.

I used my magic wand to fill these evenly and perfectly.

I pulled the cupcakes out and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then I removed them from the pan and let them cool completely. Now for the contents of the cauldron: chocolate ganache. My ganache recipe is a simple 2:1 ratio of chocolate to butter. So for this recipe, I melted 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter with my simple microwave technique: dump it in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave it on 20-second intervals, stirring well after each round, until it’s smooth.

I used a cupcake corer to scoop a hole out of the middle of each cupcake. I spooned some ganache in and let it cool. The butter will allow it to firm up without getting hard. Abracadabra! A chocolate cauldron filled to the brim with liquid dark chocolate.

You won't need a Vanishing Spell to clear out these Cauldron Cakes.


Cockroach Clusters

These are super easy and make a great addition to a Harry Potter or Halloween spread. Only 2 ingredients, and very few steps.

First start out by melting some chocolate — I used Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate chips. Same process as for the ganache above: microwave on 20-second intervals, stirring well after each round, until it’s smooth.

Melting some chocolateOnce I had smooth chocolate, I mixed in a handful of dried chow mein noodles. (You can use wheat or rice, either works fine).

The ingredients.Don’t worry about specific measurements, just mix in what looks right. You want them to be sufficiently crunchy without any of the noodles sticking out too much. As I stirred them together, I used the spoon to crunch up some of the bigger pieces. Then I just scooped out spoonfuls and plopped them on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and left them to harden. I had a tiny bit of chocolate left in the bottom of the bowl, so I added a few dollops to the clusters that looked like they could use some extra glue.

Cockroach Clusters

Licorice Wands

These are also super easy. With the same chocolate melting process, I melted some white chocolate chips: microwave on 20-second intervals, stirring well after each round, until it’s smooth. I seem to have more difficulty with white chocolate than regular chocolate, so make sure you’re doing shorter intervals and stirring a little more vigorously.

Then I coated one end of a piece of licorice, making sure it was quite thick so it would resemble a handle.

Licorice WandsObviously these would look more convincing with black licorice, but I can’t stand the stuff, so I went with Twizzlers instead.

Safety first! Keep those wands pointed away from grabbing hands.

Now enjoy your cakes and candies, grab your wand, and practice your spells!

Seasonal Ingredient: Blueberries (mid May – mid July)

26 Jun

Of any one food, blueberries may be the quintessence of summer. With these 95 degree days and Independence Day just around the corner, blueberries and strawberries are where it’s at. All the home magazines profile blueberries for their July issues, and people just go blueberry crazy. I’m not a huge fan of just eating plain blueberries, but I do appreciate a good blueberry cobbler or some such.

And, blueberries are super healthy for you. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, this superfood has a huge amount of antioxidants, which “help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules linked to the development of a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.” And they’re low-fat and have a lot of vitamin C and fiber. (The Council website has a bunch of health tips, and even better, tons of blueberry recipes. Check it out!)

Blueberries!And now, so you can impress everyone at your next cocktail party, Blueberry Trivia!

  • While Maine is the leader of lowbush blueberry production in the United States, (and possibly the world, but Wikipedia didn’t seem to be very clear on that), Michigan is the leader of highbush production.
  • Different species of blueberries are found all over the world. North Carolina has pretty good ones.
  • My dad loves blueberries! He has a huge blueberry bush in the backyard, but they’ve already ripened and been picked.
  • Although blueberries are not among the most contaminated and therefore aren’t officially part of the Dirty Dozen, there’s still a lot of question about them. It’s probably best to just buy organic.
  • Sorry, you missed the North Carolina Blueberry Festival, which is held annually in Pender County every June. Don’t worry, more are still to come! The Blueberry Council keeps a list of upcoming blueberry festivals. And if I have any readers up north, happily for you, blueberries and their attendant festivals are still in season for a couple more months.
  • Color layering technology was just being developed when Denise Nickerson, the actress who portrayed Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, needed to be blown up like a blueberry. They were able to turn her face blue, but not her hair.
    • Trivia Bonus: Where Is She Now? Denise Nickerson is an accountant and single mom in Denver, Colorado.

North Carolina’s blueberry season lasts only a couple more weeks. If you can find any left, try out these recipes:

Coconut Cupcakes

20 Jan

I recently brought cupcakes to a coworker’s going away party. I tricked her into telling me that one of her favorite desserts is coconut cupcakes — well, not sure I had her fooled, I think she just went along with it, but that’s cool — then I set about finding the perfect recipe to test out. I adjusted a basic cupcake recipe to include both flaked coconut and coconut milk in the batter, and topped half with (what else?) a coconut cream cheese frosting and the other half with a chocolate coconut frosting.

For the cake: In a large bowl, I used the hand mixer to cream together 2 cups white sugar and 3/4 cup butter. I added 3 eggs and beat well. In another bowl, I whisked together  2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and  2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. I added this mixture into the butter mixture, alternating with adding 1 cup coconut milk. I added in 1 teaspoon vanilla and then beat the entire thing well.

Coconut Cupcake Batter
I filled a muffin pan with cupcake paper liners and filled the muffin tins about 2/3 of the way with the batter. Then I baked them at 350 degrees for about 18-20 minutes (a toothpick came out clean when I poked them).

Cupcakes in the Oven
I let them cool completely and then covered half of them with a coconut cream cheese frosting. This was super easy: I made my standard cream cheese frosting, adding 2 tablespoons coconut milk when I mixed it up. After it was mixed, I stirred in 1/2 cup shredded coconut. Yum!

The 4 Cs!
For the other half of the cupcakes, I covered them with a super-rich chocolate coconut frosting. Double yum! To make sure the coconut flavor was strong enough, I topped all the cupcakes with extra shredded coconut. Don’t skip this step! The flavors of the cake and the two frostings can really outweigh the coconut flavor without the extra on top.

Chocolate Coconut Frosting
At the party, I set up my cupcake tower and alternated the cupcakes in a black-white-black-white pattern. It looked super awesome!

Coconut Cupcakes

How Sue Sees It:

I really like these because the coconut is there, but not too strong. They also looked really cool alternating between black and white cupcakes on display. But frankly — and this may just be the chocoholic in me — the best part of this project was the chocolate frosting.

My Dad’s Surprise 50th Birthday Party

30 Nov

I didn’t do much baking over Thanksgiving – I ended up being a little busy with work – so in lieu of fresh baking projects, I thought I’d give a little more detail about the surprise party we threw for my Dad earlier this month. My mom, older sister Nikki, and I sent about a trillion e-mails back and forth to organize the whole thing, all while keeping everything under the radar. And we enlisted help from dozens of friends and family members – including Betsy – for prep, food, set-up, and clean-up.

First up: invitations. We invited all our extended family and some old long-lost friends of his and my mom. Work was another issue — I did some digging on my dad’s LinkedIn account, found a name I recognized as a co-worker, and contacted her. I asked her to take charge of inviting his work buddies since I don’t know them, and voila — problem solved. Mom found the most adorable old photo of Dad as a kid, and Nikki created an invitation on Shutterfly.

Invitation

Next we worried about decorations. Mom booked the Page-Walker House in downtown Cary. It was a great venue — we got the 3rd floor to ourselves, which consisted of a big, open room, a small prep room, and a bathroom. The party room held about 40 people comfortably, which was perfect for us. Mom wanted light blue (my dad went to UNC and is a Tar Heel born and bred) and I wanted fall colors, so we went with light blue, burnt orange, and chocolate brown. It made a great combination. Mom rented a few tall cocktail tables, which Nikki topped with plain white tablecloths tied at the bottom with alternating blue, orange, and brown wide ribbon. We set each table with these awesome $3 candle lanterns we found at Ikea and a few orangey-red fake fall leaves. And we floated a few blue, orange, and brown helium-filled balloons randomly around the room.

DecorationsNikki also made great candles for the windows by decorating plain glass votives with an orangey-red fake fall leaf and wrapping it in twine, though her 3-year-old spent all night blowing them out.

Connor and the CandleThe only other decorations were a couple fall flower bouquets (gerber daisies and roses) arranged in short, square vases and nestled among the food platters.

Flowers

I also made a gift table to collect gifts and host a book for guests to sign. An old friend just happened to give him a corkboard decorated with pictures and mementos from Dad’s youth, so added to the table at the last minute, it made a great backdrop. The guest book, a sign, a couple of the extra leaf votives, and a few bowls of personalized M&Ms (light blue and orange, some with balloons printed on them and some that said “Happy 50th!”) were all that was needed to decorate the table since the gifts really filled it up. And after the party, I scanned images of people’s notes in the guest book and combined them with pictures in the party to make a hardcover book on Shutterfly – a great memento to give to my dad, without the time-suck of making a scrapbook.

Gift Table
So now for the best part: the menu! The biggest concern in planning the menu was the fact that we didn’t have a kitchen. The prep room had a sink and a table, and that was it. So we planned mostly foods that didn’t need to be cooked on-the-spot or kept hot. We did bring in a toaster oven just in case something needed to be heated up, and Mom rented 2 of those server trays with the heat things under them – I can’t remember what they’re called.

Food:
– Chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce
– Party meatballs
– Stuffed mushrooms
– Mom’s spinach dip and chips
– Cheese and crackers
– Bruschetta
Mini Party Quiches
– Chick-fil-A nugget tray
– Sausage balls
– Deli spirals

Yum! The only issue was that we forgot to light the heat sources under the serving trays, so the mushrooms were not quite as hot as would have been preferred, but everything was still delicious. Note: Those things need to be lit like an hour in advance. Whoops!

Food Table

For drinks, Mom got 2 huge galvanized tubs and filled one with soda and water and the other with beer. Nikki had also picked up a few bottles of 3-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s, so with soda, beer, and wine, everyone was happy. Also, a super cute idea: before the party, Mom and Nikki set our family visitors to work decorating plain wine glasses with scrapbooking stickers and rub-ons, so each glass was festive and personalized.

Wine Glass

And of course — dessert! We ordered cupcakes from The Cupcake Bar, a company that makes and delivers gourmet cupcakes inspired by cocktails and drinks. Nikki borrowed a friend’s cupcake tower and we had a beautiful display of apple cider, pina colada, and margarita cupcakes. I also baked a Blueberry Cobbler, since fruit desserts are my dad’s favorite.

Cupcakes!

And once I dragged our old stereo system into the venue and hooked my iPod up to it, there you go — a complete surprise 50th birthday party. The party was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the people were fun. We all had a great time. I had to remind a few people that meeting them when I was 5 years old means I don’t know them and they should tell me who they are before they hug me and ask how my life is, but even that was rather pleasant.

Oh, and the surprise… well, it was half a surprise. Dad expected something was up – there were suddenly tons of relatives in town, after all – but he didn’t know what. He thought we would just have dinner at the house or something. Mom told him that’s exactly what was happening, and told him he needed to get out of the house for a little while to let them set up dinner and “pretend to go along with the surprise.” So she suggested they visit a wine tasting at the Page-Walker House together for an hour or so, then head back home for the party. He was a little surprised when the party was there instead of a wine tasting, and even more surprised to see his work buddies and some long-lost friends waiting for him.

How Sue Sees It:
I don’t think I would change anything about this party. It was a lot of fun, and it mostly went off without a hitch. Even the small things – one food item didn’t cook quite correctly and the burners weren’t lit on time — just didn’t really matter much. A few tips, if you’re throwing a party:
– Always prioritize on the food. That’s what people care about. And, it’s always better to have too much than too little.
– If you can’t find everyone’s mailing address, don’t worry about contacting a few people via phone or e-mail. If you really want to, you can always offer to send them an official invitation in the mail after contacting them.
– Make sure you have enough help. We were not stressed out at all with set-up because we had tons of helpers, including young sisters and cousins to help out with arranging glasses, running for ice, and taking out trash.
– If you have to, triage. Betsy and I were originally planning on making the Mini Party Quiches AND cheese straws. When we realized the quiches would take way longer than expected, we just went with it and axed the cheese straws — we had enough food anyway.
– Happy party planning!