That which should never enter my house rides again

I blame Costco.  After a near five year reprieve from membership at the warehouse mecca, TD and found ourselves wandering its (too busy for a Friday night) aisles.  Wandering the aisles at Costco is never a good idea.  I can’t remember what we went in for but am fairly certain the case of beer, apple chips, baby naans and two huge containers of Nutella were not on the original list.

There are only two things that I don’t trust myself to casually keep on hand.  The first is Cheez-Its.The second, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is Nutella.  Late on the night of the Costco trip I could hear the chocolate-hazelnut spread calling to me from the garage in little Italian voices accompanied by an accordian.  I swear.

Something needed to be done with the Nutella…before I was done with it.

Cue the cupcakes.  I started with a great basic vanilla and buttermilk cupcake recipe from Sunset Magazine.  The recipe is simple and the resulting cupcakes have enough integrity (structurally speaking) to take on an inch or two of frosting.

Starting with my go-to buttercream recipe, I added a generous blob of Nutella.  And then I added some more for good measure.

After a quick roll in chocolate jimmies, I had, what I thought was a pretty good misdirection for the serious error in judgement that was the purchase of Nutella.  As a bonus, the cupcake recipe makes exactly 12 little cakes.  So, I didn’t even have an excuse to try one since my carrying container holds one dozen and my own sense of social propriety didn’t want to explain what happened to the missing one.

Malted Vanilla Cupcakes with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

cake adapted from Sunset Magazine

For the Cake


  • 6 TBS  unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 C plus 2 TBS sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 TSP vanilla
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C malted milk powder
  • 2/3 C buttermilk at room temp.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line pan with 12 cupcake wrappers.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, malted milk powder and salt into a medium bowl, set aside.
  3. In a bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter and all the sugar until well blended.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and beat on high speed until well blended.
  5. With mixer on low speed, beat about a third of the flour mixture into butter mixture, then about a third of the buttermilk. Repeat to beat in remaining flour mixture and buttermilk, alternating in thirds. When all the flour is incorporated, beat mixture on medium speed just until well blended.
  6. Fill paper-lined or buttered muffin cups (1/3-cup capacity) about three-fourths full with batter (about 1/4 cup in each).
  7. Bake in a 350° oven until tops spring back when lightly touched in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.
  8. Cool on racks 5 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely.

For the frosting


  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 C plus 2 TBS sugar (superfine)
  • pinch of salt
  • 12 ounces (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into tablespoons
  • 1 tsp cold espresso (optional)
  • 3/4 C Nutella


  1. In the heat-proof bowl of a stand-mixer, combine egg-whites, sugar and salt.  Set over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly by hand until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved.  The temp on an instant-read thermometer should read between 150-160 F.
  2. Attach the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low speed, and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, beat until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool (you can tell by touching the side of the bowl).  Process will take about 10 minutes.
  3. With mixer on medium-speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at-a-time, mixing well between each addition.  At some point the frosting will start to look curdled.  Don’t worry, just keep on going.
  4. Switch to the paddle attachment.  Add-in espresso and Nutella mixing on low until everything is combined.
  5. Generously frost cupcakes.



Tickled pink

The month of January has always reminded me of grapefruit.  Never mind the fact that these global citrus beauties are in-season and criminally inexpensive at the grocery.  For me, the smell of grapefruit is the smell of a new year.  It is bright and lively but also slightly bitter and undeveloped around the edges…like something waiting to unfold.  The scent is a promise that the darkest part of the year is behind us and, if we wait patiently (well, in Southern California, we need be less patient that in other locals) new and delicate things wait just around the corner.

Which is why I thought it appropriate to start the year out with a triple grapefruit treat.

We’ll start with some candied grapefruit peel.  Unlike the heartier orange peels I made for the holidays, these are fine and curly.  For this, I braved my complicated and rather abusive relationship with the citrus zester.  Every time I use this baby, it asks for a piece of flesh as payment.  And this time was no different.

Finer strands of peel means significantly less boil time.

It also means that they emerge from their final syrup bath a bit like tangled spagetti.

These would be difficult to dip in chocolate, but the results are sculptural and perfect for the purposes at hand

Next up: ruby red grapefruit curd.

I’ve made citrus curd utilizing both a stainless saucepan as well as the non-stick variety.  For curd, where continuous whisking is a necessity, I have to admit that I prefer a non-stick pan.  It seems to temper the heat a little better and reduce the opportunity for burned curd.

And now on to the cake portion of this goodie.  Angel food cake is always fun to make and while I generally associate this confection with April and strawberries, I thought the texture would be perfect for what I had in mind.

Glossy and stiff egg whites are gently combined during the final steps along with a little grapefruit zest for good measure.

Airy and light you wouldn’t think something that went into the oven looking like this.

Would come out looking like this.

And now it’s time for the grapefruit hokey pokey.  Each little cake gets a divot.

That is filled with curd.

Then topped by a simple grapefruit icing and accessorized with candied grapefruit peel.

This is going to sound odd, but by the time I have planned-for, made and cleaned-up after whatever it is I’ve created, I’m generally not all that interested in eating it.  This is generally where TD comes in.  But.  I did taste these.

For photographic purposes of course.  And was really surprised at how lovely they are.  When baked, grapefruit mellows-out and can become very subtle.  So, the triple (well, quadruple) effect isn’t overpowering.  My tastebuds also enjoyed the contrast of textures and flavor tones (good lord…did I just say that?)–creamy, springy, crunchy, sweet and puckery.


P!nk.  Of course!

Triple-Quadruple Grapefruit Cupcakes

Recipe credits: Grapefruit Curd, adapted from Sunset Magazine, May 2009; Angel Food Cupcakes adapted from Cooking Light, September 2006

Makes 18 assembled cupcakes


  • Candied citrus peel (reduce final syrup stage to 10-20 minutes and adjust ingredients as needed for amount of zest making)

For Curd

  • 1/2 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 C butter
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 8 large egg yolks

For Cupcakes

  • 1/2 C cake flour, sifted
  • 3/4 C powdered sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp grated grapefruit zest

For Icing

  • 2 C powdered sugar
  • 2 TBS-1/4 C grapefruit juice depending on desired consistency


For Curd

  1. In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, melt butter with grapefruit juice over high heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and yolks. Slowly whisk hot grapefruit butter into egg mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Pour mixture back into saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is very thick, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Transfer curd to a glass or plastic container. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the top of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

For Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Place 16 paper muffin cup liners in muffin cups. Set aside.
  3. Lightly spoon cake flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Sift together flour and 3/4 cup powdered sugar into a medium bowl; repeat the procedure 2 times.
  4. Beat egg whites and salt with a mixer at high speed until frothy (about 1 minute). Add cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle flour mixture over egg white mixture, 1/4 cup at a time; fold in after each addition. Stir in vanilla and rind.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake at 350° for 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack.


  1. Add sugar to a medium bowls and slowly whisk in juice until you reach desired consistency

To Assemble

  1. Using a serrated knife, carve out about 1/2 tsp divits in top of cupcakes.
  2. Fill a pastry bag or ziplock with curd and fill divits with curd.
  3. Ice each cupcake (be careful of the curd).
  4. Top with candied grapefruit peel or other crowning elements.

Sex and the City and muffins

I was at the gym the other day watching Sex and the City on Closed Caption while toiling away on the rowing machine.  I think it’s funny that I get most of my pop culture via subtitle while at the gym.  Of course this can lead to confusion like the time I was watching VH1 while on the treadmill and spent an entire music video thinking Menudo were the Jonas Brothers (all the while opining, ‘hey, these Jonas Brothers are way cooler than I thought…what with the retro-vibe and all’) only to find out that the subtitles were on a two-minute delay.  In this case Menudo really was Menudo.

Anyhow, as a West Coast girl, my impression of New York City is almost entirely derived from a combination of Sex and the City, the Sopranos,  SNL and old episodes of Felicity.  Oh, and of course, the season finale of Glee.

I loved S.A.T.C.–though will  admit I was a late-comer to the show. In fact, I may have missed it entirely if I hadn’t started dating TD who, on our first Sunday evening together casually said, “hey, don’t you want to watch Sex and the City.”  Which really meant, “I want to watch Sex and the City but as a manly man need to use you as my beard.”  By then, the show was in its third season.  One episode and I understand what the big deal was…even if the 27-year-old in me thought those old-broads were acting a little immature for their age.

Fast forward just over ten years to my recent time on the rowing machine.  They were showing Catch-38–the episode where Carrie realizes that at 38 she should or should-not be making some important decisions about her life.  Wait…I just turned 38…when did I catch up with the S.A.T.C. girls?  You know, those “old broads.”  Oh dear.  Oh crap.

Existential crises aside, that episode motivated me to try a recipe for New York-Style Crumb Cake Muffins from Cooks Illustrated (January 1, 2008).  If I can no longer have the fashion S.A.T.C. brought me, at least I could have a vaguely reminiscent baked good (what…I’ve stretched it too far?).

I have a weakness for crumb-topped coffee cake.  But really, who doesn’t?  You start this recipe by making the topping.  And, let’s be honest, this is the most important part.  While tasty, the muffin is just the delivery method for these buttery, sugar-cinnamony crumbles.  Melted butter, sugars and cinnamon (duh) are combined.

Until they form a dough which is then set aside to cool.

Then the muffin dough is pulled together.  Butter is added to the dry ingredients little by little until crumbly sand forms.  Then the eggs and buttermilk are added until the mixture is light and fluffy.

The beauty of this recipe is that it only makes 12 muffins–which is great for a Sunday morning treat.  After portioning-out the dough into lined cupcake molds, the topping gets broken into large pieces and arranged on top of the muffin batter.  You’ll feel like you’ve got too much crumble dough–do not worry, just pack-in-on, the muffins will rise in the oven.

Once out of the oven, you are supposed to wait 20 minutes before removing them from the pan and another 20 before eating.  Good luck with that.

These were fantastic for brunch.  And, even better,  I’m going to “transform” this recipe in a couple of weeks for a bridal shower by adding an icing and calling them cupcakes.

New York-Style Crumb Cake Muffins

Posted verbatim from Cooks Illustrated, January 1, 2008

Makes 12 muffins

Don’t be tempted to substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour, as doing so will make a dry, tough muffin. If you can’t find buttermilk, you can substitute an equal amount of plain, low-fat yogurt. When topping the muffins, take care to not push the crumbs into the batter. Cooled leftovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.


  • Crumb Topping
  • 1/3cup granulated sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
  • 1/3cup dark brown sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
  • 3/4teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8teaspoon table salt
  • 8tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
  • 1 3/4cups cake flour (7 ounces)
  • Muffins
  • 1 1/4cups cake flour (5 ounces)
  • 1/2cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/4teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4teaspoon table salt
  • 6tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3cup buttermilk
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


  1. 1. FOR THE TOPPING: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. 2. FOR THE MUFFINS: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (cups have 1/2 cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.
  3. 3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.
  4. 4. Using 1/4-cup measure or ice cream scoop, divide batter evenly among muffin cups; using small rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Following photos below, break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter (about 1/4 cup of crumbs per muffin), beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool muffins in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack at least 20 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, the nectar of a sound relationship


I was a bad food blogger and did not take process pictures of the red velvet cupcakes featured in the previous post. Bad, bad blogger.

My husband is from the midwest. I’m from Southern California. What this means is that while our native tongues may be the same, our cultural icons aren’t always. In our relationship, nowhere is this more present than at the dinner table. When we first started dating, he’d never had a churro and I’d never even heard of a strange concoction he called red velvet cake.

Back at the start of the century, when our courting commenced, red velvet cake hadn’t yet burst onto the trendy LA baking scene. In fact, I doubted its very existence. For months we had to take a stroll down the baking aisle of every grocery store we visited looking for evidence of this mysterious cake variety. Not once did we find any. So set was my husband on proving himself right however that around the holidays he had his dad send a box from Tennessee.

So, it did exist!

Well, one box of red velvet cake is all fine and good until it is gone. So, I womaned up and found a few recipes for red velvet cake. After much experimentation and too much money spent on Schilling red food coloring, I found a winner. Of course, this was just about the time that red velvet cake became the next big thing in Los Angeles. While our local grocery stores now carry the boxed stuff, and every bakery seems to offer it in cake and cupcake form, this recipe is pretty darn easy to make and much better if you ask me.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 2 round cakes or about 16 regular size cupcakes.

For cake

2.5 C all purpose flour

1.5 C sugar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

1 t. cocoa powder

1.5 C vegetable oil

1 C buttermilk at room temp.

2 large eggs at room temp.

1 ounce red food coloring (see note)

1 t. white vinegar

For frosting

1 lb light cream cheese, softened (full fat works well too through I like the lightness of the reduced fat)

4 C sifted powdered sugar

1 C unsalted butter, softened

1 t. vanilla extract

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour 2 round cake pans (8” or 9”)

Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle (or large bowl) mix together buttermilk, eggs, oil, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

With the setting on low, slowly add in dry ingredients until just combined. Batter will be very wet and oily looking.

Divide cake evenly in prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes rotating halfway through until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Removed cakes from oven, let sit for 5 minutes. Run the edge of a butter knife around the rim of the cakes, loosening them. Invert pans on to cooling racks, let cakes cool completely.


In standing mixer fitted with a paddle or a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine all ingredients on low. Once combined, increase speed to high and whip mixture until light and fluffy. Use immediately.


Red food coloring: an ounce is a small bottle of the stuff. In our neighborhood, this runs around $4. However, gel food colors such as the ones made by Ateco are less expensive and will get you more bang for the buck. You can find them in restaurant supply stores, suburban cooking shops like Sur La Table or can order them all over the place online (just enter in “Ateco food gel” as the search term).

The cakes don’t rise a whole lot. When I’m making a layer cake, I usually bake two batches and use three of the layers (you can freeze the fourth for later assuming it doesn’t get eaten on the spot like it seems to in our household).

For cupcakes, fill to a generous ¾.