• Chocolate Mocha Cake ft. Peppermint Frosting + Chocolate Peppermint Ganache
    sampled from: here / here / here / here / here

    This year's holiday remix is a redux of last year's Ugly Sweater remix, since there are surely infinite ways to don an ugly sweater. I went with an argyle pattern this year, using a diamond paper template as my guide, though this one came in a close second place for inspiration. There's always next year...

    If your holiday isn't defined by the Ugly Sweater and the parties that go with it, then perhaps it is defined by the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha and the ubiquitous red cups which go with that. This remix is made of a rich coffee-and-chocolate mocha cake, a fresh peppermint frosting (made with melted candy canes - or you can use peppermint extract), and coated with a peppermint ganache.

    I made the ganache with red chocolate and not the red candy melts (which do not mix well with liquids). You can heat the red candy melts and simply pour on the cake to coat - just leave out the other ingredients. If you use chocolate (dark, white, etc), add the peppermint syrup and heavy cream to make the ganache and then whip with the powdered sugar and milk to create a fluffier frosting to spread on the cake.

    The history of the candy cane originates in 17th century Germany when a choirmaster requested candy  sticks be produced and given to children as a twofer - to keep them occupied during the worship service and as a symbol of the shepherd's canes at the birth of Jesus. Eventually the peppermint flavor and stripes were added, and now candy canes are mass-produced in flavors based on other candy and for the more daring: in pickleSriracha, and bacon flavors.

    This remix relies on the traditional peppermint candy cane and is by far one of the easiest and most festive cake/frosting combinations. Just crush some candy canes to garnish, pop in that Mariah Carey song, and you're ready to deck some halls.







    chocolate mocha cake
    1 box chocolate cake mix
    4 oz. chocolate pudding mix
    4 eggs
    1 c. strongly brewed coffee
    1/3 c. vegetable oil
    --
    Brew a pot of coffee and let cool to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, sift cake mix and dry pudding mix together. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs together and then use a mixer to beat in coffee and oil for 1 minute on low.  Slowly add dry mix into the large bowl, beating well after each addition. 

    Slowly add in cake mix, beating well after each addition. Pour batter into greased cake pans until each is 2/3 of the way full and bake for 30-35 minutes. Use a toothpick to check doneness - if the toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cakes, remove from oven and set on cooling rack.

    peppermint syrup
    3-4 candy canes
    1/2 c. sugar
    1/2 c. water
    --
    Heat sugar and water in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium-high heat, and once boiling, add candy canes. Keep stirring to keep from mixture from sticking. Once candy canes have completely dissolved and thick syrup has formed (mixture has reduced to half the original amount), remove from heat and let mixture cool.

    peppermint frosting
    1/2 c. butter, room temperature
    4 c. powdered sugar
    3-4 tbsp. peppermint syrup (see above)
    2-3 tbsp. milk
    --
    In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, peppermint syrup (see above), and milk until blended. Slowly add in sugar and continue to mix on high until frosting forms. Add more milk if frosting is too thick.

    red chocolate ganache
    10 oz. chocolate (or white chocolate), chopped
    1 c. heavy cream
    3-4 tbsp. peppermint syrup (see above)
    1/2 c. powdered sugar
    1 tbsp. milk
    1 tbsp. butter
    --
    In a small saucepan on the stovetop, bring cream to a boil. Remove from heat, added in chopped chocolate and peppermint syrup, and whisk mixture until blended. Let liquid ganache cool to room temperature and thicken without hardening.

    Add powdered sugar, milk, and butter to ganache and beat for 1-2 minutes until a fluffier frosting forms. Quickly use a spatula to frost cake or cupcake (whipped ganache will start to harden again within a few minutes). Refrigerate.



    ugly sweater 2.0 cupcakes
    For cupcake versions, use an ice cream scoop to fill liners with batter and bake on 350 degrees for 22-24 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

    For candy cane cupcakes, use an angled spatula to spread frosting onto cupcake in a thick layer, and run the spatula around the rim to create a smooth edge. Use a food processor to crush candy canes into fine crumbs. Before frosting has hardened on cupcakes, roll the edge into the bowl of candy cane crumbs.

    For ugly sweater cupcakes, use a spatula to spread freshly whipped ganache on top of cupcake before it starts to cool and harden - create as smooth a surface as possible. Use frosting in a pastry bag and tip #2-4 to pipe an argyle pattern across the top and a back-and-forth motion to create a woven border.





  • Butternut Squash Cake ft. Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Frosting + Cranberry Sauce
    sampled from: here / here / here / here / here

    Tis the season - for everyone from Martha Stewart to Pinterest to Buzzfeed to kick into high gear and overwhelm you with the infinite ways to cook your turkey, mix up your side dishes, and revamp your pumpkin pies. Most people stick to their beloved traditional menus which have stood the test of time but if you have the chance to contribute a flashy new dish to the table, there are some a-m-a-z-i-n-g- recipes floating around the Internet this time of year - check 'em out.

    This one is simple and sweet and draws its flavors from typical Thanksgiving ingredients: earthy and savory butternut squash, pumpkin spice, and of course - cranberries. I had never made cranberry sauce before, so cross that off the culinary bucket list, and it adds a tartness in contrast to the nuttier flavors in the cake and frosting. It also works well on the cupcakes as a drizzle and as a marbled texture - will definitely add a pop of color to any dessert table.

    The cornucopia is a symbol of harvest and abundance, and its texture can be replicated in frosting form with a small round tip and the basketweave tip. I once used that tip on a sombrero cake and it works just as well here for the braided border.

    Happy Thanksgiving, be thankful, and get yer elastic waistbands ready.



    rosemary butternut squash cake
    1 box yellow or spice cake mix
    1 tsp. nutmeg
    1 c. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
    honey
    rosemary
    1 tbsp. maple syrup
    1/2 c. vegetable oil
    4 eggs
    --
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse, peel, and cut butternut squash into 1" cubes. Spread cubes onto a baking tray in one layer, drizzle with honey, and top with rosemary. Roast in oven for 30-35 minutes until squash has softened and browned. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Remove rosemary sprigs and use a blender or food processor to puree squash cubes, maple syrup, and oil until smooth.

    Decrease oven to 325 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, sift cake mix and nutmeg together until well mixed. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and butternut squash puree. Slowly add in cake mix, beating well after each addition. Pour batter into greased cake pans until each is 2/3 of the way full and bake for 30-35 minutes. Use a toothpick to check doneness - if the toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cakes, remove from oven and set on cooling rack.

    pumpkin spice ricotta frosting
    2 tbsp. butter, room temperature
    1/3 c. ricotta
    4 c. powdered sugar
    3-4 tbsp milk
    1 tsp. pumpkin spice
    dash salt
    --
    In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, ricotta, milk, salt, and pumpkin spice until blended. Slowly add in sugar and continue to mix on high until frosting forms. Add more milk if frosting is too thick.

    cranberry sauce
    1 c. water
    1 c. sugar
    12 oz. cranberries, fresh or thawed
    --
    Bring water and sugar to boil in a saucepan on top of the stove. Once boiling, pour in cranberries and lower heat to a simmer for 10-12 minutes. Stir the mixture every few minutes and the cranberries will start to burst and froth as they heat up.

    Once you remove from the heat, the sauce will start to thicken. While it is still hot, whisk until smooth and then pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl through a wire mesh strainer - the goal is to leave the cranberry skin and carcass behind (perhaps serve along with other T-giving dishes?) and move ahead with the cranberry sauce in liquid form.








    thankful cupcakes
    For cupcake versions, use an ice cream scoop to fill liners with batter and bake on 325 degrees for 24-28 minutes, testing doneness with a toothpick. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

    Fill a large pastry bag with a 1M star tip and starting at the center of the cupcake, swirl frosting outward in a circular motion to form a rose. Pour cranberry sauce into a squeeze bottle and drizzle back and forth over cupcake to garnish.

    For the marbled cranberry cupcake, drizzle cupcake with cranberry sauce and use a small spatula (dipped in hot water) to smear the sauce into the frosting until smooth - read more about hot knifing here.








  • Smoked Apple Cider Cake ft. Brandy Maple Frosting + Trail Mix Streusel
    sampled from: here / here / here / here / here

    Since last year, I've had this dream of capturing the smell of fall in a cake - homey spices, crisp leaves, burning firewood. But sadly without access to a bonfire, charcoal grill, or a smoker, I had to resort to ye olde oven to smoke this cake (though not like this or this). You can smoke meat in your oven by slow-cooking at a lower temperature with wet (or not) wood chips, which release a smoky flavor as they heat up. So why not cake?

    The experiment was a semi-success as the oven and kitchen were soon filled with the smoky aroma of the heated wood chips. As for whether that translated to a smoky flavor in the cake, let's just say I'm still waiting for the day I can try baking a cake over an open flame.

    This remix is inspired by everything autumnal, but mostly the colors of changing leaves, that smell of burning firewood, the taste of spiced apple cider, and the visuals of The Cider House Rules film. If you can find a Spice cake mix, use that as your base; if not, then double the amounts of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice) in the recipe with a yellow cake mix to create the same flavor.

    This remix can get really sweet really quick, so make sure to add a dash (or two) of salt to the frosting and streusel to balance out the cider, brandy, and syrup. I chose Macintosh apples which adds a tartness to the mix, and the baked apple slices on the top or bottom of the cake (depending on how you serve it) keep the cake moist and almost pie-like.

    The topping - streusel (German for 'something scattered or sprinkled') - is typically a combination of flour, sugar, and spices, clumped together with butter and sprinkled on top of pies and coffee cakes. This trail mix streusel contains M&Ms, nuts, and granola... but mostly M&Ms because, I mean, come on - let's be real.





    smoked apple cider cake
    2 c. apple cider (reduced to 1 cup)
    cinnamon sticks
    wood chips
    1 box spice cake mix (or yellow cake mix)
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1/2 tsp. nutmeg
    1/8 tsp. allspice
    1/8 tsp. ground cloves
    1/2 c. applesauce
    2 tbsp. brandy
    3 eggs
    1/4 c. vegetable oil
    1/2 c. thin apple slices
    --
    Wet wood chips and let soak in a glass or aluminum roasting pan for 1 hour. Adjust oven racks so that the upper is directly above the lower. Preheat oven to 250 degrees, set pan of wet wood chips on the lower rack, and let chips heat in oven for 20 minutes while preparing the cake batter.

    To reduce the apple cider, pour 2 cups of apple cider into a saucepan with cinnamon sticks, and simmer on the stovetop on low heat for 30 minutes, until cider has been reduced to half. Let cool completely. Peel the skin from 2 medium apples and use a vegetable peeler to cut apples into thin slices. Grease cake pans with butter or a non-stick spray like PAM and lay a thin layer of apple slices in the bottom of the pans.

    In a medium mixing bowl, sift cake mix and spices together until well mixed. In a separate bowl, whisk together apple cider, applesauce, brandy, eggs, and oil. Slowly add in cake mix, beating well after each addition. Slowly add in dry mix, beating well after each addition.

    Increase oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour batter into greased/apple-lined cake pans until each is 2/3 of the way full and bake for 50 minute. Use a toothpick to check doneness - if the toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cakes, remove from oven and set on cooling rack. Unmold from cake pans and let cakes cool completely, apple side up.

    brandy maple frosting
    1/2 c. butter, room temperature
    4 c. powdered sugar
    3 tbsp. brandy
    3 tbsp. pure maple syrup
    dash salt
    --
    In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, salt, brandy, and maple syrup until blended. Slowly add in sugar and continue to mix on high until frosting forms. Add more brandy or milk if frosting is too thick.

    trail mix streusel
    1/2 c. flour
    1/2 c. brown sugar
    4 tbsp. butter
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1 c. trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms), chopped
    salt
    --
    In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well mixed. Cut in butter and trail mix and use hands to mix until crumbly.










    cider house cupcakes
    For cupcake versions, place a layer of thin apple slices in the bottom of each cupcake liner. Use an ice cream scoop to fill liners with batter and bake on 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

    Fill a pastry bag with large round tip (I used Wilton #807) and brandy maple frosting. Starting in the center of the cupcake, pipe outward in a circular motion until the entire top is covered. Use a spoon to make a divot in the frosting and sprinkle/press trail mix streusel onto cupcake.