Creamy, sweet ricotta cheesecake cupcakes — with walnuts

Just after Christmastime, I made one of my favorite purchases of the year: new calendars. Choosing one is almost impossible for me, so I usually wind up with five or six lining the walls of my office or bedroom. The greatest find of 2011 is my cupcake calendar, though — 365 days of cupcake recipes and delectable photos!

Since I started pulling apart my page-a-days, I’ve kept all sorts of delicious concoctions for future trial and error. And last Friday I found myself wandering the grocery store with this recipe in hand, intrigued by the odd combination of flavors.

Anything with graham cracker crumbs is all right by me, friends. In fact, that’s what really prompted me to save this recipe in the first place: the promise of graham-and-honey goodness. I already had many of the ingredients on hand, by some miracle, so it was just a matter of finding the orange extract and ricotta cheese.

Don’t let a mention of “cheese” freak you out. Ricotta is creamy and sweet — the same filling used in cannoli. Adding in the walnuts gives these cheesecake desserts a nice texture, too, and some added crunch — and I love the hint of orange in the cheese batter. After trying one, Spencer mentioned that almond extract might taste delicious instead of the orange . . . and he’s probably right. I think I’ll try that next time.

The original recipe from the calendar stated this recipe would produce a dozen cupcakes, but that was so wrong. After filling 12 muffin liners, my batter hadn’t even been dented. I quickly whipped up another batch of the graham/honey/butter combination and made 12 more. The recipe below reflects my changes because I couldn’t, in good conscience, lead you kind folks to believe you’d have only a dozen of these babies when done.

Though the ricotta cheesecake cupcakes won’t help me fit into my bridesmaid dress before September, they will help me sleep better. I recommend consuming a half dozen before bedtime for sweet, sweet dreams.


Ricotta Cheesecake Cupcakes

Recipe adapted from The Cupcake Calendar by Sellers Publishing

Ingredients:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp. margarine, melted
4 tbsp. honey
2 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tsp. orange extract
1/2 cup walnut halves

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place 24 baking cups in muffin pans.

In a food processor, combine the cracker crumbs, margarine and honey. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cup, pressing firmly into the bottom. Chill until set.

In a large bowl, beat the ricotta with an electric mixer until soft. Then beat in the eggs, confectioners’ sugar, and orange extract. Fold in the walnuts. Spoon the mixture into the cups.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes and cool on a rack. Chill until ready to serve.

Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Makes 24 cupcakes.


Grab a glass of milk and one delicious hot chocolate cupcake

So Thanksgiving was a big success. We ate, we baked — and we were merry. The fridge now overfloweth with leftovers the likes of which I’ve never seen, and if I may be so bold? I’d say it isn’t because the food wasn’t tasty. The sheer quantity of delicious eats overwhelmed all of us, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating stuffed ham for the next week. (It’s very tasty on white bread with mustard.)

Among the many desserts prepared for Thanksgiving — including Grandma’s coconut pie; cranberry and apple cheesecake from Alex, Spencer’s mom; and a pumpkin crumb pie I’ll tell y’all about later — were these Hot Chocolate Cupcakes from Betty Crocker, my No. 1 girl. I thought they would be a fun addition to the table, and they definitely were! And among the creamy pumpkin treats, the chocolate stood out especially well.

Cute and tasty, these hot chocolate cupcakes call for a devil’s food cake base with a sweet marshmallow-and-vanilla frosting piped on to mimic the look of marshmallows — just like a mug of hot chocolate. A halved pretzel creates the “handle” for the cake and definitely finishes the look!

I followed the recipe closely, but I made a few additions — like a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter, per another user’s suggestion, plus a pinch of cinnamon on top of the marshmallow frosting (along with the chocolate powder). In hindsight, I should have been way more generous with the marshmallow topping — though thick and delicious, the cupcakes were very dense. They needed that sweet frosting to mellow out the weight of the cake. I dig the stars I piped on, but next time? I won’t skimp on the frosting. And I’ll throw caution to the wind and add more chocolate powder and cinnamon.

Also, this recipe calls for roughly half a box of devil’s food cake mix — and yields approximately 12 cupcakes. I made the first dozen according to directions, then just went ahead and made a second batch with the remaining cake mix. I had about 20 cupcakes when all was said and done — perfect!

If you’re hankering for a chocolate treat but don’t want a hot beverage, these may cure what ails you. Just be sure to have a cold glass of milk to wash them all down — you’ll need it.

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups Betty Crocker SuperMoist devil’s food cake mix (from 18.25-oz box)
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup Betty Crocker Whipped vanilla frosting (from 12-oz container)
1/2 cup marshmallow creme
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa
6 miniature pretzel twists, broken in half

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350°F for shiny metal pan (or 325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 12 regular-size muffin cups.

2. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and egg with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

3. Bake 17 to 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. In small bowl, mix frosting and marshmallow creme. Spoon into small resealable food-storage plastic bag; seal bag. Cut 3/8-inch tip off 1 corner of bag. (Or spoon mixture onto cupcakes instead of piping.)

If you like piña coladas (in a cupcake…)

Riding high on the success of my Key Lime Cupcakes this summer, I tried my hand at a piña colada variety the other night. We were belatedly celebrating the birthday of Eric, my sister’s boyfriend, and I was going to whip up cupcakes based on this mojito cake recipe . . . but decided that coconut, pineapple and rum would be more universally appealing.

And they were — kind of. Turns out we have some non-coconut lovers in our midst (imagine!). No matter, though; these cupcakes were delicious, light and fruity — and there was no overpowering coconut taste to speak of, at least on the ones topped with just vanilla frosting. The rest got the full treatment, which meant lots of shredded coconut on top.

Making these was really simple and fun, and I enjoy the light texture and pineapple taste of the cake. They can’t beat the key lime, though, in terms of my favorite summer desserts! I’d make these again, though. Definitely. Check out the recipe on BettyCrocker.com, my new favorite destination for, um, everything. I made a casserole based on their creations, too, and that was pretty good. But I didn’t bake it long enough and it was . . . soupy. Like chili.

But hey, I’m learning. And making progress. And fattening up everyone around me.

It’s the Megan way.



Piña Colada Cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
3 eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 container (12 oz) Betty Crocker® Whipped vanilla frosting
3/4 cup shredded coconut

1. Heat oven to 375°F (350°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat cake mix, oil, water, 1 teaspoon rum extract, the pineapple and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

2. Bake 14 to 19 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

3. Stir coconut extract and 1 teaspoon rum extract into frosting. Spread frosting on cupcakes. Dip tops of frosted cupcakes in coconut. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Getting cupcakes with Jennifer Weiner

Y’all might remember that little ol’ Pioneer Woman signing we attended in May — the one where we stood in line for four hours (four. hours.) to meet Ree Drummond. That was fun, sure, but the whole waiting in line forever thing sort of made me nervous for last night.

Because I asked Spencer to go with me to another signing. And, like last time, it was filled with ladies and hardly a gentleman in sight — all there for Jennifer Weiner! Good sport that he is, Spence agreed to accompany me — and we didn’t have nearly the issues (or the wait) for this one.

I’ve been a huge fan of Weiner’s since the days of Good In Bed, her debut novel — which isn’t exactly what it sounds like, but also sort of is. (You know, what it sounds like.) She’s an incredibly funny, talented writer — and, as it turns out, an incredibly funny and sweet woman. I would expect nothing less from an author I’ve adored for so long! (Her novel Little Earthquakes is also a favorite, and the first book I reviewed here on write meg!)

Spencer and I arrived in Bailey’s Crossroads, Va., and grabbed dinner at a lovely French cafe, La Madeleine. We waltzed into Borders at 7 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. event only to find most of the seats already taken! We secured one chair and grabbed cupcakes, most of which were also gone. That crowd of 150 people, if I had to guess, was hungry! And excited. The room was buzzing with chatter.

Jennifer took to the podium at 7:30 p.m. to the grand applause of the room, and she spoke for almost an hour. If this whole writing-books thing doesn’t work, I’m pretty sure Weiner could have a career as a stand-up comedian. She came across as confident, comfortable, down-to-earth and hilarious, sharing anecdotes about her mother meeting Rosie O’Donnell — and all the antics that ensued. Despite the fact that Jennifer can easily pepper a conversation with statements like, “When I was on ‘The Rachael Ray Show’ . . .,” she seems the opposite of snobby or rude. I loved listening to her share thoughts on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” (love those shows like crack), just as she does on Twitter, and take questions from the audience.

After the Q&A portion, Spencer and I sat down to relax and wait for our turn to meet Jennifer. After a little bit, I was spotted by sharp-eyed Melissa of Chick Lit Central and loved chatting with her! So fun to meet other bloggers, especially when it’s random. Melissa introduced me to author Sarah Pekkanen, too, and I can’t wait to read her book — it’s been on my bookshelves for a while.

Meeting Jennifer was incredibly fun, though I became uncharacteristically nervous as we drew closer in line. Normally chattering like a monkey isn’t an issue for me, but I did get a bit starstruck — until Jennifer smiled and opened up the conversation. I remember her asking me about what I was reading this summer and I froze. I only read about a hundred billion books a year, but wouldn’t you know I couldn’t think of a single book I was reading right now? Besides, you know, hers. (I eventually mentioned Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, because who isn’t psyched for that?! It’s on my calendar.) She signed my books — I’d brought Good In Bed, my favorite, and my ARC of Fly Away Home — and Spencer snapped some photos for us. (More are available on my Flickr page.)

All in all, another wonderful author experience! As I once heard someone say, authors are the “rock stars” of the literary world — and meeting them is definitely a celebrity experience. I’m so glad Jennifer comes across as fun and warm in person as she does in her novels — all of which I’ll continue to read for a long, long time.

Jennifer Weiner is on her Cupcakes Across America Book Tour now through August. See if she’s coming to a city near you!


Key Lime Cupcakes bring the tangy and the sweet

As part of my ongoing quest to make delicious food and, apparently, fatten up everyone in my life (family, boyfriend, coworkers — I’m looking at all of you), I went ahead and got adventurous last weekend: and this time? It was all about the Key Lime Cupcakes.

Katie and I decided to throw ourselves a birthday party, see, and what’s a birthday party without dessert? Since it was also a birthday party for several other friends with big days right around ours and I didn’t know how I could possibly fit five names on a birthday cake, I went with the old standby: cupcakes.

And, well — I love cupcakes. And I don’t really need any excuse to make them.

The recipe I found for the key lime variety was on BettyCrocker.com, a website I peruse whenever I want to stare at pretty food without the added guilt of having consumed it. Divided into all sorts of categories and with a plethora of different dishes available, there’s always some new item to discover. (They didn’t pay me to say this but, you know, if someone from headquarters wants to make me cupcakes in gratitude, go ahead and email me. That’s fine. Whatever.)

So I’ve got my little virtual recipe box with all my little recipes. And when I went to pick a cupcake for the party, I wanted something cool, refreshing and different. These fit the bill. Just bear in mind that the “lime” factor of the Key Lime Cupcakes is no joke, so if you just casually enjoy sweet-and-tart desserts? Use caution.

I followed this recipe to the letter and wound up with a ton of extra frosting, and I’m not sure that my homemade variety was anything better than what I could have whipped out of a can . . . but hey, it’s fun to say I made these (almost) from scratch! Next time, though, I think I will use pre-made cream cheese frosting. Especially since I was trying to finish these at 11 p.m. while dancing to Michael Jackson and being a lunatic, and I almost had a disaster going on. Why make it harder on myself? Just don’t skip the lime zest — that really added a welcome kick.


Key Lime Cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients for cupcakes:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® lemon cake mix
1 box (4-serving size) lime-flavored gelatin
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup Key lime juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 or 3 drops green food color, if desired

Ingredients for glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons Key lime juice

Ingredients for frosting:
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Grated lime peel, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat cake mix and gelatin with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Add remaining cupcake ingredients. Beat with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds; beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

2. Bake 17 to 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack. With toothpick or wooden skewer, pierce tops of cupcakes in several places.

3. In small bowl, mix 1 cup powdered sugar and enough of the 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice until glaze is smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle and spread glaze over cupcakes. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. On low speed, beat in vanilla and 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar until mixed; beat on medium speed until fluffy. Frost cupcakes, mounding and swirling frosting in center. Garnish with lime peel. Store covered in refrigerator. Yield: 24 cupcakes.

Cover art: Let’s chow down

I’m not going to dance around the issue here, friends: your girl Meg likes to eat. I come from a long line of very fine folks who enjoy a good meal, I’ll add, and no — that’s not a reference to weight! I mean, we just like food. My grandmother Wilma loads us up on the meaty stuff, piling cabbage rolls and stews on me, while my grandmother Margy provides all the sweets: sugar cookies, white chocolate-covered pretzels and her famous peanut butter cups, most especiallly.

We’re no slackers in my house, either. Brownies and ice cream are usually milling about, and Spencer and I love baking. I’m improving my own culinary skills slowly but steadily, and I’m looking forward to the day I can prepare a whole meal — from scratch. (When I have the time. So, you know, maybe never.)

So it makes sense that, when browsing for books, my eye goes straight to anything featuring a delicious treat. In fact, just the knowledge that a book features food — or a chef, baker, etc. — is enough to entice me to pick it up.

Inspired by Kay’s lovely “Artsy Shelf” posts at The Infinite Shelf, I’ve been keeping my little brown eyes peeled for any cover art that looked so good I would, well, want to take a bite. A giant one. And it just turns out the some of the covers I remember best of the hundreds (thousands?) I’ve seen feature something delectable-looking. And most of the time? Well, as you’ll see, we’re talking cupcakes.

Some of these books I’ve read — and some I haven’t. If they’ve worked their way onto my bookcase or wishlist, it’s probably because I thought they sounded like an appropriate blend of delicious food and awesome storytelling. Here’s to hoping I’m right.


Are you attracted to cover art featuring food? Why or why not?


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S’mores cupcakes? Put a little teddy in it

While I’ve stalled out a bit on my whole “learning to cook” plans, I definitely have not given up on the baking side of things. Riding high off the success of our macaroons, I sauntered back into the kitchen to try my hand at s’mores cupcakes last weekend.

Now, I’ve made an incarnation of these before — from a recipe I found on Bakerella’s (love her!) site. Y’all remember those? They were quite tasty and very, very chocolatey. It was probably all that cocoa powder I had to add.

These were faster, less intensely chocolatey — and cuter, honestly. I mean, teddy grahams? Stuck in homemade frosting? I couldn’t resist. You’ll see that I used miniature chocolate chips both in the cupcake batter and in the frosting instead of chopping up chocolate bars. You know, ’cause I’m a little lazy. They turned out great and I had plenty to share with my hungry family members, boyfriend and coworkers. Loved universally, my coworker’s 12-year-old daughter already told me that I “must make these again!”

And hey, who am I to disappoint the kids, you know?


S’mores cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients for cupcakes:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
4 bars (1.55 oz each) milk chocolate candy, finely chopped

Ingredients for frosting:
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons milk
1 bar (1.55 oz) milk chocolate candy, if desired
24 bear-shaped graham crackers, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Fold in graham cracker crumbs and chopped chocolate bars. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

2. Bake 18 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove and discard lid and foil seal from jar of marshmallow creme. To soften marshmallow creme for easy removal from jar, microwave on High 15 to 20 seconds. In large bowl, beat marshmallow creme, butter and powdered sugar on low speed until blended. Beat in enough milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to make frosting spreadable. Spread over tops of cupcakes. Divide chocolate bar into rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally in half and place on top of each cupcake. Top each cupcake with bear-shaped cracker. After frosting has set, store loosely covered at room temperature.