Birthday Funfetti Cupcakes!

I love birthdays, and I love celebrating birthdays with my friends and family. One of the easiest and most appreciated gifts that I can give is always a yummy baked good. It gives me joy to spend time baking in the kitchen on a weekend, and I get to give away the finished product to a very grateful receiver.

When it comes to baking, I always ask if the recipient has a request for flavor/type of baked good. If they do, then I can hunt down the best recipe for what they’re requested. (If I don’t all ready have a favorite).  If they don’t have any requests, I can spend hours pouring over websites and blog posts trying to decide what to make.

This is exactly what happened today. I knew I wanted to bake cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, but she had no specific preference in mind. So I started searching the web, and I kept coming back to funfetti cupcakes from scratch. As a kid, I loved going to the bake sales and seeing a funfetti cupcake – it was always my first choice! Which is odd, because I love all things chocolate, but there is just something about those yummy sprinkles (or jimmies, for those of us Pittsburgher’s)!

So I searched a few funfetti recipes, and settled on this one, from Sweet Peony. It was simple and didn’t require any separating of eggs or cake flour, etc. Just basic ingredients that I always have on hand in my pantry for baking. These didn’t take long at all to make, and they’re delicious. They are soft and fluffy with they yummy addition of sprinkles for some fun!

This is also the first vanilla buttercream that has turned out well for me! Maybe it’s because I sifted the icing sugar, or maybe it’s because I finally bought a food scale and used the right amount of butter! (Here in Doha, all the butter is in Grams, so  a stick is slightly less than a full 1/2 cup, and I always need to add a little extra). Either way, it’s delicious and you’ll have to try really hard to not lick it right off the spatula!

So if you have a friend having a brithday and you want to bake them something fun, give this recipe a try! I think it will bring back good memories for anyone!


Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes  (From Sweet Peony)

Makes 12-14 cupcakes (Mine made 16 even)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup assorted colored sprinkles + more for sprinkling on frosting

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a cupcake pan with liners.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until lightened in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Lower speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping the bowl as needed.  Add vanilla and mix until combined.

Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the milk and mixing just until incorporated.  Fold in sprinkles with a rubber spatula.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool in pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Frost with vanilla buttercream (recipe below) and top with sprinkles.

Vanilla Buttercream
Ingredients:
2 sticks butter, softened but cool
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract (to help maintain bright white color)
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk (if needed)

Directions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream butter on medium-high until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar.  Add vanilla then increase mixer speed to medium-high, beating 2-3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.  If the frosting is too thick, add heavy cream or milk 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.  If the frosting is to thin, gradually add powdered sugar until it thickens.

Frost cupcakes as desired and top with sprinkles.

Good News!

I am sorry that it’s almost May and I am finally posting a new update. I just don’t know where the time goes! I cannot believe it’s been so long since I have last posted a blog entry. I apologize for that, first and foremost! I’ve been meaning to, and it just hasn’t happened. So I’m jumping back in now!

As I mentioned in a previous updates post, we’ve been waiting to see what the future holds for us.  While waiting to find out if we’ll get to stay in Doha, Dave has been busy applying for jobs, and we went to the US at Christmas time so he could attend a conference/go on interviews.  Due to a very tough job market, no promising leads came out of the job search.

So we returned to Doha in January, with the hopes that we would have an answer soon. On Dave’s birthday, January 16th, the Dean called him into his office, and said that he would like for him to stay and continue to teach Philosophy for another 3 years! We were relieved and happy to have an answer, and be able to celebrate!

It took about a month to get the offer letter and have it signed, but it’s been signed and it’s official, we’ll be staying in Doha for 3 more years, until 2015!

Yellow Butter Birthday Cake

So my husband’s birthday was last week, and he always requests the same cake every year – yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I always save recipes as I come across them, and knew exactly which one to try this year when his birthday came around :-)

This one, from Annie’s Eats looked perfect! I like everything I’ve tried from her blog, so I knew this would be a winner.  I am pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any yellow cake, but this one came together quickly and was really moist and delicious.

I looked at the frosting recipe, and realized I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, so I decided to search for a different chocolate frosting recipe, and I came up with Smitten Kitchen’s Instant Fudge Frosting.  Once I read you make it in the food processor, I was sold! It was so easy, and I’m pretty sure it’s some of the best chocolate frosting I’ve ever had!

If you have a yellow cake lover in your life, try this soon. You won’t be sorry you did! I like to enjoy my cake with a glass (or mug in this instance) of cold milk :-)

So without delay, here are the recipes for my husband’s birthday cake!

Yellow Butter Cake (From Annie’s Eats, originally from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)

Ingredients:
For the cake:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pans
1½ cups cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1¼ cups milk

Directions:
To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.  Butter and flour the edges of the pans, tapping out the excess; set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk together to blend well and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk.  Beat each addition just until incorporated.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking pans.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the pans to help remove the cakes.  Invert the cakes onto the rack and peel off the parchment.  Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.  Level the cakes if necessary.

To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a serving platter.  Top with 1 cup of the chocolate frosting and smooth over the top of the cake.  Top with the remaining cake layer.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting as desired.  Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.  Let come to room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.

Instant Fudge Frosting (From Smitten Kitchen, adapted from a Sky High recipe)

Makes about 5 cups

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.  (Seriously, that’s it. Could this get any easier?)

Sorry for disappearing…a few updates!

I am sorry for not blogging in over two months :-(  And I didn’t finish blogging our summer trip :-( I will work on that!

Things have been good, just busy. I am still working full time, and I’ve been Zumba-ing three times a week, which takes up most of my energy. Then on my nights off, I don’t want to do much of anything :-P  On the weekends, I just want to stay in my PJ’s all day and not even leave the house :-P

I’ve decided to become a Zumba instructor though, so that’s exciting! I will be traveling to Kuwait with a friend for the Zumba certification class! We’re both pretty excited. We’ll be able to be back up instructors for our current instructor, and we may start a class at the hotel where my friend works in Doha – so we’ll see.  It’s a great opportunity and will be a nice certification to have – regardless of where we end up!

Speaking of which, we’re also waiting to find out what our future holds. While we’re loving our time in Doha and would gladly stay three more years, there’s been a change in the administration at the university, so Dave doesn’t know if he’ll receive a renewal or not. In the meantime, he’s been applying for jobs in the US. I’m optimistic and hopeful about what the future may hold!

We’ve also had some visitors! Dave planned a big event for students, called Campus Conversation about Climate Change, and his advisor from his Master’s thesis came to help with the event. It was a wonderful experience, and the students really seemed to enjoy it. I am so so proud of him. He’s doing really amazing work and I hope he can be somewhere where it is appreciated!

We’re looking forward to another visitor – Dave’s sister in January! We can’t wait! :-) We are excited for her to see where we live, meet our kitties, and show her all around Doha! I’m gonna get her to a Zumba class too :-)

We are lucky to be surrounded by a great ex-pat community, and we were invited to 2 Thanksgiving dinners this past weekend, and they were both a lot of fun! I can’t believe Thanksgiving is all ready over, and I know Christmas and New Year’s are right around the corner! As of now, we’ll be in Doha, doing our usual Christmas thing, trying to make the desert feel wintry :-P (Which won’t be too difficult – it’s been surprisingly cold and rainy recently)!

I’m gonna start my resolutions early this year – and that’s to blog more often :-) I’ve baked a lot of stuff and need to share it :-)

Hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving!

Los Angeles, California (Part One)

I can’t believe it’s all ready September! I think I better start Christmas shopping, since December will be here before we know it!

Before summer completely slips away, I wanted to finish blogging our trip to the US before I forget about all the fun things we did! We had an awesome time visiting Dave’s sister in LA, and I’m so glad we got to visit her there! We were able to celebrate her becoming a PhD, and see her favorite places before she heads to the East Coast to embark on her new career! :-)

We did a lot of fun things in LA, and the first thing was to eat at In n Out!

The one and only...In and Out Burger

I’m not kidding, it was literally the first stop we made after getting off the airplane :-) Dave had been to the one in Vegas and had raved about it. I got a single cheeseburger, animal style and it was delicious :-) Makes me wish we had an In n Out in Doha!

After our yummy lunch, we went to Erin’s apartment to drop off our stuff. We stopped at Trader Joe’s, which I have missed so much! Then we decided to go see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  This may not seem very exciting, but we rarely go to movies in Doha, so it was a treat to get to see a movie. We got a big bag of buttered popcorn and soda, and I was shocked – when did this become a Medium soda?!!

The next morning, we headed to a cute little cafe in Westwood, called The Novel Cafe. They had a great breakfast and it was a cute little restaurant that we went to a few times :-) It was really delicious food and good coffee!

We also went to Diddy Riese! Our friend Disco had told us about Diddy Riese, and we knew we had to go. You can make your ice cream sandwich for only 1.50! You choose whatever kind of cookies you want, and what ever ice cream you like in the middle! Yum!

We also headed to Santa Monica Promenade to do some shopping and grab some lunch :-) We decided to check out an Irish Pub there, and this was the first thing we saw when we walked in:

Yay Steelers bar in LA! I swear, they are everywhere :-) After having a bite to eat, I left Dave and Erin at the bar and I got to go to shopping at Anthropologie and a few other stores, so I was happy!

The next day, we went to another breakfast place called Amadine Cafe, and I had french toast with the freshest and most delicious strawberries I’ve ever had!! They were so sweet! We sat outside and enjoyed the gorgeous LA weather. It was always about 60 degrees and breezy :-) Perfect!

We also went to the Hollywood Bowl to see the LA Philharmonic! It was so much fun! The Hollywood Bowl is an awesome venue, and you can bring in snacks, alcohol, drinks, etc. We hopped on a shuttle bus to take us there, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way out to Hollywood :-P It was a great way to spend the evening, under the LA stars!

And then the next day we left for Montana! We attended a family reunion and a wedding, and we also stopped at Glacier on our way home to Helena. More to come on that in the next post! :-)

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Do you ever just feel like baking? If a weekend passes and I haven’t baked something, I always feel sad. Something about the weekend just makes me want to bake. I am pretty sure this comes from growing up and seeing my mom bake often. I always remember watching her bake a cake, brownies or cookies before heading off to work at the rehab center from 3-11.  It wasn’t that she was craving sweets, she just really enjoyed baking, trying new recipes, and sharing the finished product.

I definitely learned this from her, and I am very similar. I love to try new recipes and bake for friends, even if it’s something I don’t like! I always have a batch of oatmeal raisin cookie dough in my freezer – not for me, but for a good friend of mine, so I can throw some in the oven when she comes over. I just love baking, particularly to give away to friends – there is truly no better gift that I can give.  I know baking does not come easily to a lot of people, and I feel lucky that I learned to bake when I was younger.

Saturday night rolled around and I hadn’t baked a thing, so I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies! While I have a standard recipe I tend to use, I saw this on Annie’s Eats and wanted to try it.  (Check out her blog for better pictures and a ton of delicious recipes)! I started these at 9 and was enjoying one warm from the oven in less than an hour! It’s quick, easy and delicious. Try it soon, you won’t be disappointed!

Enjoy! :-)

20110827-102705.jpg

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

From: Annie’s Eats

Ingredients:

2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

12 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions.  Preheat oven 325°. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.  With electric mixer, or by hand, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly combined.  Beat in egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined.  Add dry ingredients and beat at low-speed just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll a scant half-cup of dough into a ball.  Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull apart into two equal halves.  Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball.  Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy (approximately 11-14 minutes).  Do not overbake.

*(I accidentally baked them at 350 F, and I think they took about 12 minutes. They are still delicious) :-)

Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Source: adapted from Blonde Ambition in the Kitchen, originally from Baking Illustrated

New York City (Part 1) – Jul 2011

When we were planning our summer trip, Dave suggested we stay overnight on the East Coast before flying all the way to the West Coast.  It just so happens that my sister lives in NYC, and Qatar Airways has a direct flight to JFK, so we planned a 24 hour layover there before we headed out to LAX.

We arrived around 2:30 PM or so on a Friday, and breezed right through customs. We had arranged for a taxi for pick us up, so we called when we landed, and they came in about 10 minutes. We hopped in the car and headed to the Bronx, where my sister lives.

Unfortunately for us, we arrived on one of the hottest days in New York! It was 104 degrees! While we are certainly used to the heat, but we’re also pretty accustomed to air conditioning everywhere. We arrived at my sister’s apartment where she had made us fresh, delicious bacon sandwiches! It was the perfect thing to welcome us back to the US!

After eating, we just took some time to relax and get settled, and then it was time to head to Eataly, where we had reservations at the roof top beer garden! While it was really hot, it was still a really neat place! Eataly has a bunch of restaurants and shopping center on the main floor, but we wanted to do the beer garden :-)

Here’s Dave and I with the Empire State Building behind us!

Here’s my sister and her boyfriend Allan :-)

After a yummy dinner and a few beers, we were exhausted and it was time to go home for some rest!

The next morning we hopped on the subway and headed to a cute little place called The Smith. We met up with Aja, a good friend of my sister’s from Cincinnati who had just recently moved to NYC. I met her when my sister lived in Cinci, so it was great to see her again! We had great brunch cocktails, food and conversation! I had the best Eggs Benedict!

After that we headed back home so we could go to the airport to head to LAX. Little did we know, we wouldn’t be going anywhere that day :-(  We got to the airport super early, and were all checked in, and about an hour before we were supposed to leave, we were told our flight was canceled due to mechanical issues.

After a lot of waiting, we were told a new flight had been created for us and we were re-booked at 8 AM the next morning. So we picked up our luggage and headed to the information desk to find a hotel close by for the evening. We found a Holiday Inn Express that had a shuttle to and from the airport, and had a vacancy, so we booked it. They handed us some menus at check in, and we ended up just ordering a NY style pizza for dinner and spending the night relaxing.

We also stopped in NYC at the end of our trip, and that will be another post – too much to put here! Stay tuned for Part Two :-)