High-Altitude (and Sea-Level) Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

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My life of late has been one big mess of a situation, and normally when that happens, I like to revert to simplicity rather than complicate things with multiple different factors.  Aside from a number of other difficult life events happening, last week I lost my grandmother unexpectedly.  Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be a gloomy post :).  While of course I am incredibly sad, I also have some amazing memories of my grandma, growing up visiting her ranch out in Washoe, Nevada and riding horses.  My grandma loved Native American history and traveled around Nevada for archaeological digs. She had a huge passion for animals, particularly horses and dogs, and she loved making large, comforting meals for the family – and the dogs.  True story.  One time, my aunt had a friend over, and when she learned that the 2 roasted chickens resting peacefully on the counter were for the dogs, she may have lost her faith in humanity.

However, that was my grandma.  She was quiet, but she always made me laugh with her simple, non-obvious sense of humor.  Before we went shopping one day, we were walking out the door, and she raised her fist in the air and said with passionate spirit, “Let’s go kill something!”.  She could go to Sephora and spend $400 on just eyeshadow and nail polish.  She loved going to restaurants and talking to me about my plans for my education and travel.  She taught me to never take no for an answer.

And yellow cake with chocolate buttercream was her favorite cake.  She passed that on to the whole Hunt family, and aside from a special recipe for chocolate cake, this was always a family favorite that I associated with my grandma.

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Going back to simplicity, I think yellow cake with chocolate frosting is one of those classic recipes that everybody has some kind of connection with.  I love when food has a story behind it, and I definitely can think of happy memories behind this recipe.

Since moving to Reno, I have not been able to make a normal cake without it sinking and turning crusty.  I can make any other type of baked good, and it comes out beautifully, but cake does not come out ever.  I have since resorted to using high-altitude cake recipes, which at first I was sad about, because I have a perfect sea-level cake recipe, but luckily, I was able to find an amazing high-altitude cake recipe that I have tweaked to my liking.  It’s super easy, delicious, simple, and adaptable.  (But no worries!  If you live at sea-level, I have those adjustments for you also).

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*Adapted from Good Life Eats

cupcakes

Sea-level adjustments: Use 1 Tbs. baking powder, 1 1/4 c. buttermilk, and 1 1/2 c. sugar.  Bake at 350*F for 14-16 minutes.

Cheers to an amazing lady.  I love you Gram!

XO SaraLynn

*Song of the Day: Songbird by Fleetwood Mac

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Girl Scout Samoa Nanaimo Bars

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Hihihihihihihi.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel like nothing goes right?

And then you realize that literally everything you’re sad about is just a bunch of first-world problems, and nothing is actually wrong and you’re just being a princess about everything…?

Because I had that kind of day on Friday.

First, I woke up really early (at like, 6 a.m.  On my day only day off…) and could literally hear my next door neighbor’s TV.  Please note: I live in a house.  Not an apartment.  Not a condo.  A house.  And I could hear their TV.  Because only at 6 a.m. do I have superpower hearing.  After laying in bed staring at the wall for a few hours, I got up and *attempted* to do my hair and makeup, but no matter what I did, I looked like a hot mess.  After about 1 1/2 hours, I finally was able to make myself look how I do every single day.  It just took twice as long..  I finally decided that I would grab lunch and watch movies.  But then I dropped my lunch on the ground 1 bite in (and ate it anyways because at that point, I had no limits).  I also couldn’t find half of my Disney movies.  So to solve that problem, I had a meltdown.

I am almost 20 years old and I cried over not being able to find my Disney movies.

Eventually, I decided to go grab a coffee, talked to a cute barista, and ended up at an 80’s party wearing a Risky Business costume.

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Me attempting to accomplish Tom Cruise’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” dance in my costume. And failing…

The day ended up pretty great, and I realized that I just needed to take a deep breath, and understand that my problems were really not that bad.

Because they weren’t.

But they were kind of funny and now you can mock me a little.

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Plus, I had these sitting in my fridge, so how bad could my day really be?

Since I know most of you are probably thinking, “What’s a nanaimo bar”, here’s a brief history:

The Nanaimo bar was invented in none other than Nanaimo, Canada.  That’s about all I know.  The actual dessert is made up of 3 layers.  The first is a no-bake crust made with chocolate, nuts, coconut, and graham crumbs.  The second layer is traditionally a custard buttercream, and it’s topped with chocolate.

But since it’s Girl Scout Cookie season (because obviously that’s a season), I decided to make them using Somoa cookies.  Which already have chocolate, coconut, and a graham-like texture.

Plus caramel which is never a bad thing.

As previously stated, traditional nanaimo bars have a custard buttercream filling.  Which is really good, but really rich, and really sweet.  To make it a little less dense, I decided to make a swiss meringue buttercream filling.  And add caramel to enhance the Somoa theme.

Result = something you need to make now.

Note: Please don’t be scared.  3 layers sounds like a lot.  Swiss meringue buttercream sounds intimidating.  SO NOT.  These are very easy and don’t require that much time.  Be brave, bakers.

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Ingredients:

Bottom Layer:

1/2 c. unsalted butter

3 Tbs. sugar

1/4 c. cocoa powder

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 c. Samoa cookie crumbs, crushed + 1/2 c. chopped roughly for garnish

1/2 c. almonds, chopped

1 c. sweetened coconut

Caramel SMB:

3 egg whites

1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

Pinch salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 c. caramel sauce, homemade or store bought

Top:

4 oz. baking chocolate

1 Tbs. butter

For the bottom layer, melt the butter, sugar, and cocoa on the stove over medium heat.  When it’s combined, mix 1/4 cup of the mixture into the egg to temper.  Add egg mixture back to the chocolate mixture and stir over the heat until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in Samoa crumbs, almonds, and coconut.  Press into a greased 8×8 or 8×11 baking pan.  Freeze for 20-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1-2 inches of water in a medium sized sauce pan on the stove until it starts to simmer.  In a heat-proof mixing bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar.  Place mixing bowl on top of the sauce pan and stir the mixture until a candy thermometer reads 140-150* F.  Remove from heat, and whip egg mixture until stiff peaks form and mixture is cooled.  Add butter, 1-2 Tbs. at a time until frosting forms.  If it appears curdled, keep beating until it forms, or add butter 1-2 Tbs. at a time until the texture is creamy and smooth.  Add vanilla extract, salt, and caramel sauce.  Pour mixture and spread evenly over the crust layer.  Refrigerate until buttercream is firm.

While the buttercream firms, heat the chocolate and butter over low heat until melted.  Spread chocolate evenly over firm buttercream layer.  Sprinkle chopped cookies over the top, and refrigerate until chocolate is hardened.  Cut into bars, or bite sized pieces.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 16 large bars or 64 bite sized pieces.

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I hope you all had a wonderful Sunday.  I laid in bed until 11, went to my favorite coffee place, and watched Friends for hours.

What did you do?

SerendipitybySaraSig

*Song of the Day: Pedestrian at Best–Courtney Barnett

Orange Drop Cookies

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This is the first time I have left the kitchen all day.  Literally, I have been in the kitchen since I woke up this morning.

(Granted, I slept in til 10:30, but that is irrelevant).

Every single year my mom makes this whole big deal about how “we’re not doing any holiday baking this year!”

And then I say, “Hahaha okay, if you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen baking cookies” (Because baking around the holidays is just a thing.  It’s the only time you can eat as much as you want and blame it on a holiday…?!?!)

We then proceed to make about 100 more baked goods, because once you start, you can’t stop.  Luckily, we have a good compilation of holiday recipes going on.

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These orange cookies are one of my family’s favorite recipes.  It’s my grandma’s recipe, and the family always gets excited when these are around.  We make them for all occasions, but I thought they’d be good for Christmas since oranges are a winter fruit (although I always associate them as summer-y?)

They pretty much taste just like cupcake tops with sticky, melty icing, which would normally be my worst nightmare, but when something is this good, exceptions can be made.

Thanks to Grandma for passing this recipe along.

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Ingredients:

1 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

1 c. shortening

2 eggs

1 c. buttermilk

1 scant tsp. baking soda, dissolved in buttermilk

1/2 tsp. salt

3 1/2 c. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

Grated rind of 1 orange

Juice of 1/2-1 orange (about 1/2 cup)

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350* F.  Cream the shortening and sugars until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time.  Mix in buttermilk, orange rind, orange juice, and vanilla.  Add flour, salt, and baking powder until smooth.  Drop by the spoonful on a greased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.  They will seem too soft and will dent if you press them in, but they will be done and slightly browned on the bottom.  Frost with icing.

Icing:

3 c. powdered sugar, sifted

1 Tbs. butter, softened

3 Tbs. orange juice

1 Tbs. orange rind

1-2 Tbs. milk, or enough to desired consistency

Mix ingredients together with a mixer until desired consistency.  Frost slightly warm cookies with icing and let it harden before stacking and storing!

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To make them more Christmas-y you could even add dried cranberries!  That might be my project next year…

Keep an eye out for more holiday recipes in the next few days!

XO Sara

Song of the Day: This Girl’s in Love with You (cover)–She & Him