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Confession #44: I resolve to eat less chocolate…Apple Bran Muffins

January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! It’s crazy to think that it’s already 2012. This makes my blog about 6 months old now, and even though I have so much more to learn in this world, I’ve already learned heaps and heaps. So what’s my resolution for the New Year? Well, it’s not to eat less chocolate (that’s a joke!). What I’m really trying to do is improve my blog, which means that a major overhaul is coming up! I’ll keep everyone informed, but just know that Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker might have a new home pretty soon ūüôā

In food news, I won’t be eating less chocolate, but I am trying to eat a little bit healthier now, particularly after all of the sweets and indulgences I enjoyed in the past month. I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I decided today was I good day to share a recipe for Apple Bran Muffins. I’ll be honest here and say that these are no sweet treat, but they are healthy and hearty. No flour+ no sugar = no guilt!

P.S. I would leave out the nutmeg in these muffins if you aren’t keen on the flavor.

Apple Bran Muffins

adapted from Play Into Love

(makes 12 muffins)

1 cup milk

1 small lemon (1-2 tablespoons lemon juice)

1 1/2 cups wheat bran

1 cup ripe banana, mashed (about 2 bananas)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup finely ground oats (oat flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

1/2 cup raisins

1 1/2 cups apples, cut into chunks

Oven Temperature: 375 F

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and line or grease 12 muffin cups.

2. Combine milk, lemon, and wheat bran. Let sit for ten minutes.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together the mashed banana, egg, and vanilla. Add to the wheat bran mixture and mix.

4. In a third bowl, sift together the oat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg (optional). Stir this mixture into the bran/liquid mixture until just combined. Fold in raisins and apples.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffins cups. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Check to make sure a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean when done. Let muffins cool for about 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy filling up and feeling good about yourself ūüôā

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Confession #43: I don’t like donuts… Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins

December 29, 2011

There are certain foods I “don’t like” that I used to like but have since stopped eating. Now I say I don’t like them, although it’s really just that I choose not to like them, and feel no desire to eat them. I used to eat donuts when I was younger (what kid doesn’t?), but now I say that I don’t like them. And really, the fact of the matter is that if given the choice of a donut, muffin, scone, sweet bread, etc., I’ll never choose the donut.

If you think that I’m crazy, or that I must be kidding with myself, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I still have some sort of a weird penchant for the little cake donuts that are covered in either chocolate or powdered sugar. The last time I ate one was at a breakfast buffet on vacation, so it’s a very rare sort of indulgence for me, but I have to admit it’s still there.Kind of like corn dogs. If you knew me well, you’d know that it’s very odd that I would like them, but for some reason, I do. Even though I never eat them.

Anyway, I “don’t like” donuts, and that probably has a lot to do with the sickly sweetness of most donuts and the idea of “frying in oil”¬†preparation. ¬†Still, there’s something about the flavor of a donut that, when infused into a muffin, makes a nice treat that isn’t so guilt-inducing. The whole concept of donut muffins is a new one to me, but I have to say, it’s a pretty cool idea. It literally smelled like donuts baking in my oven when I made these, and not in a bad way. Let’s just say, you can think donuts are amazing or disgusting, and either way, you’ll probably like these muffins.

P.S. Don’t be afraid of the nutmeg in this recipe. Apparently it’s quite crucial to the “donut” flavor. I’m very very picky about nutmeg, but it works in this case.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins

adapted from Baked Perfection

(makes 10 muffins)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¬Ĺ teaspoon baking soda

¬Ĺ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 eggs

1 cup plain yogurt

2/3 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons oil (I used olive oil)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping:

4 tablespoons butter, melted (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Oven Temperature: 400 F

1. Grease or line 10 muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla for about a minute. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined.

4. Pour batter into 10 prepared muffin cups. Don’t be afraid to fill more than 2/3 full if needed. Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, checking with a toothpick at the end to make sure the muffins are done. Meanwhile, melt butter in a bowl and combine cinnamon and sugar in a separate, shallow bowl. I only dipped the tops and bottoms of my muffins in butter and cinnamon sugar, but if you want to dip the entire muffin, make sure that the bowl with the melted butter is the appropriate size.

5. As soon as the muffins are done baking, dip one-by-one in melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place on a wire rack to cool.

Confession #42: I’m a perfectionist… Chocolate-Covered Shortbread Cookies

December 22, 2011

Have I ever told you that I’m a perfectionist?

I am, which comes into play quite often when I’m baking. For example, spreading chocolate on top of shortbread cookies seems like something that would take a couple of seconds, but when you want the surface to look smooth and beautiful, it takes more like a couple of minutes.

Then, cutting the cookies should only take a minute or two, right? Well for me it can take more like ten minutes, if I decide to cut them in nice, even diamond shapes, which still don’t turn out quite so even.

Final verdict: being a perfectionist might not be a bad thing, but it also might mean that it takes you a lot longer to get things done.

C’est la vie!

These shortbread cookies have been in my family as long as I’ve known, and the recipe is actually really quick and easy. This is my last dessert of the series of four I did for a holiday party, and it just goes to show that sometimes the simplest things to make are just as big a hit as the most difficult ones. A layer of buttery shortbread covered with an equal layer of sweet chocolate … you can’t deny that sounds mouthwatering.

Chocolate-Covered Shortbread Cookies

(makes one 18″x26″ sheet of cookies)

1 cup salted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

2 egg yolks

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for spreading batter

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 cups chocolate chips

Oven Temperature: 350 F

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar on high speed for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.

 2. Add the eggs yolks and beat well. Beat in the vanilla.

3. Add the flour to the wet ingredients and mix in at lowest speed until just combined.

4. Spread the batter out flat onto an un-greased, unlined baking sheet, about 1/4″ thick. Add more flour as necessary to prevent sticking while spreading the batter (I used about another 1/4 cup). Place the tray in the preheated oven for 15 minutes to bake.

5. After 15 minutes, remove the cookies from the oven and evenly spread 4 cups of chocolate chips over the cookies. Place the tray back in the oven for about 2 minutes, or until the chocolate chips have melted to the point that you can spread them. Evenly smooth the melted chocolate over the entire sheet of cookies.

6. Allow to cool completely before slicing. You can slice in squares, or vertically and diagonally to form diamond shapes.

7. Cookies are best served cold and can be frozen. Enjoy ūüôā

Confession #41: I’ve never made apple pie before… Mini Apple Pies

December 21, 2011

I’m not big on pie. There’s nothing wrong with it, it just doesn’t have chocolate :-/

So I’ve never made apple pie before, because I had no reason. That is, I had no reason until a few days ago. I had to realize that when I made desserts for the holiday party I’ve been talking about, not everything could have chocolate in it, because some people aren’t chocolate freaks like me. Some people love desserts with fruit, like pie. But to keep everything bite-sized, I decided to do mini apple pies. Mini pies seem to be all the rage these days, and these are REALLY mini, like mini cupcakes.

I ended up going with the first recipe I found, even though I looked at many others, and the pies were a HUGE hit. And I, the devout chocolate fan, thought they were amazing. I even, ahem, ate two for breakfast the other day. ¬†They had a delicious, light crust, and the slight sourness of Granny Smith Apples¬†blended¬†well with the brown sugar crumble on top. Plus, they’ll make your kitchen smell heavenly while they’re baking. The recipe is a bit time consuming, simply because you have to press the pie dough into 36 mini muffin tins rather than one round pie tin, but the rest of the process is easy and the end result is to die for.

Mini Apple Pies

adapted from Some the Wiser

makes 36 mini pies

Pie Crust

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks (2 sticks)

6 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks

2 egg yolks

Apple Filling

3 to 4 large Granny Smith Apples

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Brown Sugar Crumble

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (you may need more)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Oven Temperature: 375 F

Pie crust:

1. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment, combine the flour, butter, and cream cheese. Pulse just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly. Add the egg yolks and pulse to a smooth dough.

2. Fill 36 mini muffin cups with about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of dough each, pressing the dough down to evenly cover the inside of the muffin cup. Place the prepared cups in the fridge while making the apple filling and brown sugar crumble.

Apple Filling:

1. Peel and core the apples and slice into twelfths. Use a food processor with a slicer disc to slice the apples into thin pieces. Combine the apples with the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice in a large bowl.

Brown Sugar Crumble:

1. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, softened butter, and cinnamon for the crumble topping. Mix together until you have coarse crumbs. Add more flour if the mixture is too sticky and does not crumble; you may need to use up to 1/2 cup more flour.

Finishing the Pies:

1. Remove the chilled muffins cups from the fridge and fill each with as much apple filling as will fit. Sprinkle the tops with the brown sugar crumble. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Confession #40: I’ll take taste over looks… Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

December 20, 2011

As much as I love it when baked goodies look cute, it seems to me like sometimes good looks means sacrificed taste. Some of the cutest decorated cookies don’t actually taste all that great, and even wedding cakes, as beautiful as they can be, aren’t always as tasty as the not-quite-so-perfect cakes. When something looks good AND tastes good, you’ve¬†definitely¬†got a winner recipe.

If you read my last post on Peppermint Chocolate Cupcakes, you know that I recently made a bunch of desserts for a holiday party. This is recipe #2 of the desserts I made. I thought gingerbread cookies would be a nice touch to suit cookie fans while maintaining a holiday theme. I didn’t want to do plain cookies, so I toyed around with a few different ideas until I decided to make shaped cookies with a ginger frosting for decoration.¬†In Carmel, they make the most delicious gingerbread cookies (and they are super cute too). They’re dense but also soft, with just the right amount of spices. My idea was to duplicate the flavor of these cookies, and the perfect recipe sort of fell into my hands. Ever heard of Wilton’s Cookie Shapes Pans? I ended up buying some, and on the back, voila, was a gingerbread cookie recipe. With a few tweaks, I had myself the ideal gingerbread cookies, to which I added my ginger frosting.

Like the Carmel cookies, these gingerbread cookies are somewhat soft, with the perfect blend of spices. The frosting adds just the right touch to them. It’s not so much that it takes away from the cookie, but enough to make the cookies cuter and add flavor.

Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

(makes 48 cookies)

Gingerbread Cookies

adapted from a Wilton Gingerbread Cookie recipe

4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon all spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup molasses

2 teaspoons vanilla

Ginger Frosting

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cups confection sugar

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

dash salt

milk, as needed

Wilton icing color (optional)

Oven Temperature: 350 F

Note: As stated above, I used Wilton’s Cookie Shapes Pans for this recipe.

Cookies:

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.

2. In the separate bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. Beat in the molasses and vanilla.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet on lowest speed until just combined.

4. ¬†Lightly oil each indented shape of the cookie pans. Pull off a chunk of batter and press into each shape, flattening with fingers. Fill ¬†each shape no more than 2/3 of the way. I found that it was easiest to do this while wearing a rubber glove so that the batter didn’t stick to my hands.

5. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes. Cookies should be slightly golden when done and can be tested with a toothpick. Allow the cookies to cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing.

Frosting:

1. Using a stand mixer, beat the softened butter, confectioner’s sugar, ginger, lime juice, and salt at high speed until you have a smooth frosting. Add milk sparingly if needed, as you want the frosting to be thick. ¬†If desired, add a very small amount of Wilton icing color to the frosting and beat (I used leaf green). The frosting may have a strong taste of ginger, but once added to the cookies, the flavors will blend nicely.

2. Frost the cooled cookies with a piping bag; I used a Wilton #5 tip.

Confession #39: I’m peculiar about peppermint… Mini Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

December 19, 2011

What’s your stance on peppermint? Love it? Can’t stand it? Or somewhere in between? I really like peppermint, especially with chocolate, but I’m peculiar about it. ¬†I could care less about simple circular peppermints and candy canes, but I ¬†love peppermint mochas, peppermint patties, peppermint lattes, and soft peppermints.

What brings up all this talk of peppermint, you might ask? Well, I decided to offer my services making a ton of desserts for a holiday party this year, which ended up being a bit more of a task then I may have anticipated. I actually had a blast doing it, but it took a lot of careful planning. Just picking what I wanted to make was complicated, because I didn’t want to choose something necessarily “typical” or “boring”. I also wanted the desserts to be holiday-oriented. One of the things I finally came up with was Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes. I eventually realized that it would be better if things were bite-sized, which explains the mini size of these cupcakes. I’ve already said at least once that I don’t understand the whole “mini” craze. I admit, I’m sort of starting to get it… but not really ūüėČ

For the cupcake recipe, I started with the Chocolate Cupcakes¬†I posted a while ago and adjusted it a bit. I thought about going with a brand new recipe, but I’m such a picky cupcake eater and I love this recipe so much that I decided there was no reason. The cupcakes are so moist, with a divine ganache filling and the lightest, best ever frosting. There’s just the right amount of peppermint in the cupcakes and the frosting to make the perfect combination of peppermint and chocolate without being overly peppermint-y. With the changes, the recipe is still amazing; a surefire winner even for those who don’t like cupcakes.

By the way, this was my first time using a decorating bag, and yes, I had a bit of a hard time figuring out how that thing worked, but hey, there’s a first time for everything, right?

Mini Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May/June 2010

(makes about 34 mini cupcakes)

Ganache Filling:

3 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, chopped

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

Chocolate Cupcakes:

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, chopped

1/3 cup cocoa (preferably dark, dutch-processed)

3/4 cup hot coffee

3/4 cup bread flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 eggs

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Peppermint Frosting:

3/6 cup granulated sugar

3 egg whites

 pinch salt

18 tablespoons butter, softened (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)

1/2 teaspoon peppermint (add more to taste)

Oven Temperature: 350 F

Note: Parts of this recipe call for refrigeration. If you find that you‚Äôre at a certain step and can‚Äôt move on because something isn‚Äôt cool enough, just stick it in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up the process. Try not to let anything get too frozen, though (that happened to me with the ganache). Also, you can make these as 12 regularly sized cupcakes, but you’ll want to make about 2/3 of the frosting.

Begin with the cupcakes:

1.Line or grease 34 mini cupcake cups.

2. Add the chopped chocolate and cocoa to a medium bowl and pour the hot coffee over this mixture. Whisk the ingredients until smooth, and place the bowl into the refrigerator to cool completely (20-30 minutes).

Make the ganache filling:

1. Place the cold butter and milk  in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds. Your goal is to get the butter melted into the milk, so after microwaving, stir to make sure the two ingredients are combined.

2. Add the chopped chocolate and confectioner’s sugar to the bowl and whisk together. The mixture should be warm and the chocolate should melt. If you need to, stick the bowl in the microwave again to heat the mixture more. Whisk the ingredients together until smooth, and transfer to the refrigerator until just chilled, no longer than 3o minutes.

Continue with the cupcakes:

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together, the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

2. Remove the cooled coffee/chocolate mixture from the fridge and add the olive oil, eggs, vinegar, vanilla extract, and peppermint extract, whisking until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to this mixture and again, whisk until smooth.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling about 3/4 of the way with batter. Add the chilled chocolate ganache by rounded teaspoons on top of the batter for each cup.

4. Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven for 17-19 minutes. They should be rather firm to the touch when they are finished. Allow them to cool for at least 10 minutes before moving a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting: 

1. Place a small saucepan filled halfway with water over the stove, and allow to heat until simmering. Meanwhile, add the sugar, egg whites, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer (no need to mix). Place this bowl on top of the simmering water and whisk the mixture for about 2-4 minutes, until it is slightly thicker and foamy.

2. Remove the bowl from the heat and, using the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat on highest speed until the mixture is the consistency of shaving cream and has cooled slightly, 1-3 minutes. Add the softened butter a tablespoon (or so) at a time, and continue beating until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Add in the peppermint extract and and beat, adding more extract to taste.

3. Frost the cupcakes once cooled.

Confession #38: I feel REALLY guilty… Pecan and Date Bars

December 10, 2011

I’m feeling guilty because I’ve barely looked at my blog in two weeks let alone written a post or replied to any comments. It’s funny how a few months ago, I was just a girl who loved to bake in her spare time but never thought about everything that comes after baking – photographing, blogging, submitting food photos, all the things that have become part of my weekly routine. Now, it’s been two weeks since I last logged on to my blog account and I seriously have felt guilty all week.¬†Things have been so busy lately that I’ve barely had time to bake and I really haven’t had any time to think about writing a post. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to squeeze one in this weekend, but tonight I had some time and I quickly grabbed the opportunity.

The recipe I’m sharing today is for Pecan and Date Bars, another good-for-you recipe that is also a tastes-good recipe. This is one of my favorite “all natural” recipes I’ve made so far, which is surprising considering a few weeks ago I didn’t even know that I liked pecans. Little by little, I’m warming up to nuts, and I’ve actually found that pecans are pretty good ūüôā I think they taste like maple syrup! Anyway, nuts and fruits are perfect for adding flavor to baked goods without sacrificing health. In these bars, the natural super-sweetness of dates goes perfectly with the pecans.

Allie from Live Laugh Eat¬†described these bars as a mixture of pecan blondies and almond cake, and I have to admit that every time I ate one the word “blondie” kept running through my mind. So yes, these really are good, but they really are healthy too!

Pecan Date Bars

adapted from Live Laugh Eat

(makes 9 bars)

1 cup almond meal (ground almonds)

1/2 cup oat flour (ground oats)

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

1/2 cup pureed Hachiya persimmon or banana (approximately 1 persimmon or banana)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup pecans, chopped

1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

Oven Temperature: 350 F

1. Whisk the almond flour, oat flour, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whip the eggs, pureed banana or persimmon, and vanilla for about a minute.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring just until combined. Fold in the chopped pecans and dates.

4. Pour the batter into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, testing with a toothpick when done. Let cool before slicing.

5. Bars are best kept individually wrapped and stored in the fridge. For a longer shelf life, store in the freezer and allow to thaw before eating. Bars can be microwaved for faster thawing.

Happy Eating!