Monday, October 31, 2011

Moist Apple Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream

"When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam,

May luck be yours on Halloween."

~Author Unknown

Happy Halloween to you! A fun holiday indeed. I love dressing up for this delightful day. This year I will be here hoping to get at least one trick or treater. We've lived here five years now and every year we're prepared with the lights on, decorations and pumpkins adorning the porch, bowl of candy in hand, and not a one. We live in the country you see, so you'd have to walk a mile to reach just a few houses. So I don't blame them.

To celebrate in my own small way, I've made these apple cupcakes. Wow are these tasty. Full of shredded apples, they are moist, delicious, and with just enough spice. They aren't too sweet, so they pair perfectly with the sweet caramel buttercream.

Apples for garnish sliced on the mandoline, you need to get them really thin

I've garnished them with some sliced dried apples. Using a mandoline is important to get them really thin. If you don't have one, no worries. Just slice them with a knife as thin as possible. If slicing by hand, they will take a little longer to dry in the oven. Or don't use the garnish at all, they won't mind.

"When witches go riding,

and black cats are seen,

the moon laughs and whispers,

‘tis near Halloween."

~Author Unknown

"Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold."

 ~Judith Olney

"I'll bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween."

~Author Unknown

The new addition to our family, Lucien the papillon

We've gotten a new dog! Lucien the papillon. As you can see, I really wanted to dress him up for Halloween. He doesn't enjoy the holiday like I do. I could barely get these pictures before removing the costumes.

For one of his Halloween costumes he was a chicken

His other costume, a cowboy. He doesn't like dressing up for Halloween

We chose the name Lucien because my husband really wants a doberman. Our next new dog, coming soon. We wanted to give the small dog a chance to become familiar with us before getting a large dog. This new doberman will be female. Her name will be Coco, like Coco Chanel. I looked up Coco Chanel's brothers names and there it was, Lucien. And after all, he's french, so I thought it was fitting. Not so easy to explain though at the groomer.

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Moist Apple Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream

makes 24 cupcakes

An original recipe by me, Melissa aka The Alchemist

Ingredients For the Apple Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups (250 g.) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick) (113 g.), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (265 g.) brown sugar if using sweet apples, if using tart apples you might increase the sugar to 2 cups (about 320 g.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (61 g.) sour cream or yogurt
3 cups loosely packed  (447 g.) (about 1 lb after shredding) shredded apples - don't include the juice, just the loosely packed apples
Ingredients For the Caramel Buttercream
for pictures of the process of making this frosting, see this post- 
 Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Buttercream (for this version I've added less salt, and more powdered sugar so it's more fluffy for frosting cupcakes)

1 cup (200 g.) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) water
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 sticks (339 g.) unsalted butter- at room temperature- or if you use salted, just cut back on the salt, (below)
1/2 tsp.- 1 tsp  fine sea salt (depending if you want salted caramel frosting) I used 1/2 tsp and I liked it that way.
3 cups (345 g.) powdered sugar

For the dried apple garnish

2 or 3 apples, cut in half, then sliced thin on a mandoline

Start by making the Caramel Buttercream

First, get your mise en place ready for the caramel, it will go fast. Measure the cream in a slightly larger vessel than needed. Add the vanilla to it, and place it next to the stove.
In a saucepan where you can see the bottom, like stainless steel, (I used an off white color Le Cruset pan.)

This is important because you will make decisions based on it's color. So if you use a black pan for example, it will be harder to see the color. (I've done it, it is possible, but I don't recommend it.)
Over medium high heat, stir together the granulated sugar and the water. Stop stirring after the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Pull up a chair, you're going to sit and watch this for about 6-8 minutes, till it turns light golden.
During this time, don't stir it. Right when it gets to this point, remove it from the heat. You can swirl the pan a little if you feel like you can't see the color well. You must, I repeat, you must catch it right at this point. If you let it go any longer, it will turn to black in what feels like an instant.

As soon as you remove it from the heat, add the cream/vanilla mixture and stir. It will boil and sputter up. (is that a word?) The sugar will turn to a hard rock, basically. You will feel like you have done something wrong. You haven't.
Continue stirring until the sugar dissolves and becomes homogeneous with the cream. If you feel like it's not happening fast enough, go ahead and put the pan on low heat to help it along.

Using a fine mesh strainer placed over a heat proof bowl, pour in the caramel to remove any bits of sugar remaining.

Set the caramel aside until it's cool to the touch. About 1 1/2- 2 hours. You can also make this part the night before, and let it cool overnight.
While it's cooling, start making the cupcakes. (recipe below)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, (or a large bowl with a handheld) mix the butter and salt (start with 1/2 tsp., add more later when finished to taste) on medium high speed until very light and fluffy. About 4 minutes.
Add the powdered sugar. Beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then mix again. Add the caramel while the mixer is going on low. After all the caramel is in the butter, turn mixer to medium high and mix very well, until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Taste it and see if it needs more salt for your taste. (If you want salted caramel frosting.)

To make the cupcakes


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 4.
Get 2 (12 count) muffin pans ready and line them with cupcake papers.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar till fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat again. Add the sour cream (or yogurt if using) and beat well. Add the dry ingredients and beat until all is incorporated. Fold in the grated apples by hand. Make sure they are all incorporated.
With an ice cream scoop, scoop batter into cupcake papers filling 3/4 of the way up.
Bake for 23-25 minutes, until they pass a toothpick test.
Finish making the caramel buttercream if you haven't already. And frost cupcakes.
To make dried apple garnish.
Place the thinly sliced apples into a bowl with water and a few tablespoons lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Let them soak for 10 minutes or so.
Dry then off, and place them on baking sheets lined with foil, and bake for 2 hours or so on 200 degrees Fahrenheit, 93 degrees Celsius, or gas mark 1/4. Turn the apples over after 1 hour. Bake them until they are very dry.
Apply them to cupcakes by bending them in half (as if to look like a butterfly's wings), then place them into the frosting of the cupcake.

These cupcakes are best at room temperature. If you refrigerate them the buttercream will become hard, (like butter does) so bring them to room temperature before serving.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vanilla Cinnamon Poached Pears with Spiced Caramel Sauce

"It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption."

-Edward Bunyard, 'The Anatomy of Dessert'

So I had an abundance of pears. This is one of the many recipes I made using the delicious fruit. I've made many varieties of pear jam and pear butter lately, and a pear crisp. This is up my alley because I'm in love with all things caramel.

cut the bottom off the pears so they stand up easily

Especially spiced caramel sauce such as this. The flavors of cardamom and cinnamon really shine through.

It's a simple and elegant dessert as well. Perfect fall flavors. You can choose to add hazelnuts, or don't. Either way is delicious.

The caramel before turning color

This is the amber color you are looking for to tell you it's ready to add the cream

The finished caramel

It's almost Halloween! How about something pumpkin?

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Or what about some

Caramel Corn Clusters

Vanilla Cinnamon Poached Pears with Spiced Caramel Sauce

For the Poached Pears

6 pears, ripe but firm, peeled
2 or 3 (4 inch) cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean, split and scrape out seeds
6 cups of water

For the Spiced Caramel Sauce


1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoons salted butter
5 cardamom pods
1 whole clove
2 (4 inch) sticks cinnamon

For topping

Chopped hazelnuts-optional

A day in advance or at least a few hours, measure the heavy cream into a container that will keep in the fridge. Add the cinnamon sticks and clove to the cream. Using the back of a spoon, break open the cardamom pods a little and place them in the cream. Let this mixture steep for at least a few hours or overnight.

When you are ready to make the caramel, get everything ready. Take the cream out of the fridge and strain out the spices and discard the spices. Place the cream next to the stove. Measure the butter and cut it into 4 or 5 pieces and place it next to the stove. In a medium heavy saucepan that has a light color or stainless inside, (don't use a black on the inside pan, or you won't be able to see the caramel turning color) place on medium high heat and add the sugar and water and stir just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a boil.

When it reaches a boil turn the heat down to medium and stop stirring. This is important because this can burn very easily. I mean turn black in what seems like a second. Boil the sugar until it reaches an amber color. Pour in the cream, now you can stir. This will make the sugar seize up. No worries, this is what should be happening. Keep stirring and put the pan on low heat and it will all come together. Add the butter and keep stirring till smooth. If you want the caramel sauce to be thicker, you can boil it again at this point, stirring constantly on medium heat for about 5 minutes and it will thicken up. Set aside and stop stirring, or it can become grainy.

To poach the pears: Place all of the poaching ingredients in a saucepan big enough to hold the liquid and your pears. Bring it to a boil, then keep it at a simmer until your pears are tender. The time will depend on how firm your pears are. Mine were a little soft so I just cooked them for 10 minutes or so, then turned the heat off and let them sit for an hour or so to soak up the flavor of the liquid. If the pears are more firm, they will need more time cooking.

To serve, place a pear on a plate and top with the warm caramel sauce. Top with chopped hazelnuts if desired.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Fruit Loop

"Thy bounty shines in autumn unconfined
And spreads a common feast for all that live."

- James Thomson

We just returned from a weekend getaway to the Fruit Loop. The Fruit Loop is a 35 mile scenic drive through orchards, farms and wineries located an hour outside of Portland in Hood River, Oregon. It's a wonderful place to visit. We try to make the 3 hour drive at least once a year. In July, cherries are in season.  It's not uncommon to find cherries for a dollar a pound, I've even purchased Rainier cherries, the yellow ones, for the same low price. Right now, early October, it's time for pears, apples and late peaches too! If you like to make jam and can fruit, this is a great place to visit and stock up on fruit for a very reasonable price.

The Gorge White House, a favorite place of ours to stop. They sell U cut flowers, pears and apples from their orchards and they have a great selection of wines to taste.

This place is such a great place to pick flowers, right now it's dahlias mostly, acres of them.

Rasmussen Farms is a great place for family fun. They sell lots of vegetables, pumpkins, apples, pears, peaches etc. They have lots of stuff to do including a corn maze, a U pick pumpkin patch, pumpkin bowling and more.

Yup. You read that correctly, squash bowling, and yes, we did it!

And there are indeed rules to pumpkin bowling.

Pumpkin Funland is this barn full of pumpkins dressed up like fairy tales and other characters.

Sleeping Beauty, one of the pumpkins dressed up in Pumpkin Funland

Little Mermaid in Pumpkin Funland at Rasmussen Farms

This is Mountain View Orchards, they have 50 acres of pear, apple and Asian pear trees as well as peaches and cherries. They also grow pumpkins and offer a hay ride that takes you on a tour of their farm.

Hood River is the nations largest pear growing region. I took home about 10 pounds of pears for 50 cents a pound and a bunch of very tasty Asian pears.

On the hay ride at Mountain View, we saw their animal farm that included this Longhorn bull.

PO Box 168
Odell, OR 97044

Fruit Loop Map
Send email to 
The Gorge White House
2265 Hwy 35

PO Box 798
Hood River, OR 97031

Mountain View Orchards

6670 Trout Creek Ridge Road
Mt Hood Parkdale, Oregon 97041
541-352-6554 or 800-529-6554

Rasmussen Farms

3020 Thomsen Road
Hood River, Oregon 97031
(541) 386-4622
(800) 548-2243