Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies

Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies

If there was ever a day of the week that you deserved a cookie, it would be today…..

Monday.

Because Mondays are just darn rough – they don’t call them Manic Mondays for nothing.

Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies

And because you’re amazing, I think you deserve to make yourself some amazing cookies –these Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies to be exact.

Browned Butter….

Dark Chocolate Chips…..

Toffee Chips….

Sprinkled with Sea Salt.

HAVE MERCY!

Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies

Slightly crispy exterior, uber chewy interior and jammed packed with goodness. And the bonus? The dough freezes perfectly. Just scoop the dough onto a baking sheet and freeze them in a single layer for a few hours before bagging them up.

The frozen dough can keep in your freezer for a few months (if they last that long!). And when you get a hankering for warm cookies, bake them frozen (don’t defrost) and add a couple extract minutes to the baking time.

Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies

Here’s to Mondays – now go bake some cookies! :)

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Browned Butter Double Chip Cookies
Makes about 18 large cookies

Ingredients:

¾ cups unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1½ tablespoons vanilla extract
1½ cups dark chocolate chunks or chips
1 heaping cup baking toffee bits (I used Heath’s)
sea salt flakes

Place the butter in a saucepan and melt over medium heat. Swirl the pan and allow the butter to bubble and foam slightly. Continue browning the butter until it begins to smell nutty and it turns a dark golden brown. Remove it from the heat and allow the butter to cool to room temperature.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and cornstarch. Set the dried ingredients aside.

Place the browned butter and both sugars into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract until combined. On low, slowly add in the dry ingredients until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chunks and toffee bits.

Chill the cookie dough for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats.

Once chilled, use a cookie scoop (ice cream scoop) and scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets about 2-3 inches apart from each other. Sprinkle the tops of each cookie with sea salt.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown and have set. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Toasted Coconut Crème Brûlée

Toasted Coconut Creme Brulee2

Happy Hump Day Folks!

Now, if you’re anything like me, it’s been waaaaaaay too long since you’ve had dessert. Something sweet, a bit decadent, and a splash of sinful…..

So head on our over to our friends at Safest Choice® Eggs where I share my latest post and recipe for Toasted Coconut Crème Brûlée because it’s never too early for a sweet treat!

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake ….Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake

Yeah….I went there.

I just had to do it.

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake

It wouldn’t be a Girl Scouts Cookies season if I didn’t bake something with them. I typically make some type of cupcake with the various cookies like my Thin Mints Cupcakes, Samoa Cupcakes, and Tagalong Cupcakes.

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake

But this year, I wanted to change it up a bit. And since my siblings and I decided to pay tribute to the Emerald Isle for our Sunday Family Dinner yesterday, I knew I had to take the opportunity to use one of my favorites in our dessert– Thin Mints.

This time, in cheesecake form.

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake

It all started with the crust that was made purely from melted butter and ground Thin Mints. Then, I took my standard cheesecake filling recipe and mixed it with melted dark chocolate. I poured a layer of the chocolate cheesecake filling over the crust and then sprinkled in mint & dark chocolate chips (more mint chip flavor, the better!). Another layer of the chocolate cheesecake filling gets poured on top and then a heavy sprinkle of chopped Thin Mints gets topped on that. The remaining chocolate cheesecake filling gets poured in and then it gets baked for about 50 minutes.

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Once baked, the cheesecake sets and ages overnight. And finally it all gets topped with mint scented whipped cream, even MORE Thin Mints and shamrock sprinkles. It is St. Patrick’s Day, after all!

Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake

This beauty was the perfect, decadent end to our Irish inspired Family Dinner. And although it was in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, it would be spectacular for any occasion—birthdays, holidays,…..or just because you’re a Thin Mints monster.

May the luck o’ the Irish be with you today—HAPPY ST.PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!

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Thin Mints Chocolate Cheesecake
Makes one 9-inch Cheesecake

Ingredients:

Crust:
11 ounces Thin Mints Cookies
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
cooking spray

Filling:
8 ounces quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate and mint chips (or other chocolate mint candies of your choice)
1 cup chopped Thin Mints Cookies

Mint Scented Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract.

Garnish:
Thin Mints Cookies
sprinkles
Preheat oven to 325 ˚F.

Prepare the crust. In a food processor, pulse the Thin Mints Cookies until they are well ground. Pour them into a bowl and mix them with the melted butter until moistened and resembles the texture of wet sand. Cover a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan and about one inch up the sides. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden and cool to room temperature.

In a heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave until smooth. Do this in 20 second intervals, stirring in between to ensure that you do not scorch the chocolate. Cool the chocolate mixture until room temperature.

Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese and sour cream until its light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the sugar.  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add  the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Mix until well combined.

Pour 1/3 of the filling over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the dark chocolate and mint chips over the filling before pouring another 1/3 on top. Sprinkle the chopped Thin Mints Cookies over the top and then cover with the remaining filling. Gentle rap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles

Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven with a pan half full of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is set. Turn off the oven and allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door propped open for about 30 minutes. (To prop the oven door, I use a wooden handled spoon to keep it ajar a few inches). Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack.  Allow the cake to cool for an additional 30 minutes.  Wrap well with plastic film and foil. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Carefully remove the sides of the pan by running a hot knife around the outside of the cake.

When you are ready to serve, prepare the whipped cream. Using a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the chilled heavy cream on high until it just holds stiff peaks. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar until you reach a thick consistency. Add in the mint extract and whip until combined.

Pipe the whipped cream on top of the cheesecake and garnish with additional cookies and sprinkles. Enjoy!

Ch-ch-ch-Chia Seed Pudding!

Chia Seed Pudding

Ch-ch-ch-Chia!

Terra cotta statuettes sprouting into fuzzy green pets?!  What’s not to love? Of course if you’re not into the responsibility of having to care for a Chia lamb, Chia Hello Kitty, Chia Scooby or even Chia Obama, you can always jump on the chia seed healthy bandwagon instead.

Since they’re bountiful in Omega-3s, fiber, antioxidants and all that jazz, I like to sprinkle chia seeds into my morning smoothies, muffin batters, or over greek yogurt. And since they take on somewhat of a “gel-like” consistency when mixed into water, they’re the perfect little ingredient to make a cheat pudding with.

There are so many variations on Chia Seed Puddings out there but I like to keep things simple with just a few ingredients: ripe bananas, almond milk, agave or honey, a dash of vanilla and of course–chia seeds. The actually consistency after it sets is like tapioca pudding and is delish when topped with fresh fruits, nuts or even granola.

And if you really want to get a little crazy, add a bit of cocoa powder to the party for a Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding. Because chocolate makes EVERYTHING better!

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Chia Seed Pudding
Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 medium sized ripe bananas
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon agave
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 heaping tablespoons chia seeds
fresh mango slices (or other fresh fruit)

In a blender, add the bananas, almond milk, agave and vanilla extract. Puree until smooth and then transfer to a resealable container. Stir in the chia seeds and cover. Refrigerate the mixture for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

Spoon the pudding into two cups and top with fresh mango slices. Serve chilled.

Valentine’s Rice Cereal Pops…Because I Heart You.

Rice Cereal Pops

Rice Cereal Treats….

Coated in melted candy….

Covered with tons of sprinkles…..

On a stick.

If that doesn’t scream LOVE, than I don’t know what the heck does.

Rice Cereal Pops

Sometimes, simplicity is best. So don’t fret over laborious desserts today — instead, consider making these whimsical Rice Cereal Pops for your loved ones.

Rice Cereal Pops

They come together quite easily and are much less cumbersome than their Cake Pops cousins. Man…those Cake Pops can be the bane of my existence at times. But these Rice Cereal Pops will be the sprinkly sunshine of our lives.

Rice Cereal Pops

And in case you still need help planning a special {and delicious} Valentine’s Day meal, check out my proposed menu below:

Cocktails: Love Actually
Appetizer: Oysters with Asian inspired Mignonette
Entree: Sriracha Crab Cakes and Filet Mignon
Desserts: Rice Cereal Pops or Double Chocolate Tart with Fresh Raspberries

And with that dear friends, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

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Valentine’s Rice Cereal Pops
Makes 24 pops

Ingredients:

cooking spray
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces marshmallows (approx. 20 large marshmallows)
1 pinch salt
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
5 cups rice cereal
20 ounces candy melts
2 dozen lollipop sticks
TONS of sprinkles

Line a 9 x 9 inch square pan with parchment paper. Cover the inside of the pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large pot, slowly melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the salt and vanilla extract until smooth. Add the rice cereal and stir until well coated. Quickly transfer the rice cereal mixture into the greased pan and firmly press it into an even layer. Refrigerate the pan for one hour.

Using the parchment paper to assist, carefully transfer the rice cereal to a cutting board. Take a serrated knife and cut the rice cereal into 24 even bars. Place a few candy melts into a bowl. In intervals of 15 seconds (stirring in between), melt the candy in the microwave until smooth. Dip the tip of a lollipop stick into some of the melted candy and insert it into the bottom of one of the rice cereal bars. Place it on a baking sheet and continue the process with the rest of the rice cereal pops. Refrigerate the entire sheet for one hour.

Place the remaining candy melts into the bowl and melt them in the microwave using the same method above. Take one rice cereal pop out of the refrigerator. Using a small offset spatula, spread a thin layer of the melted candy all over the rice cereal pop. Quickly add the sprinkles and stand the pop upright in a styrofoam block to dry.

Repeat the process with the remaining pops. You may need to reheat the candy melts in the microwave from time to time if it becomes too stiff to spread over the rice cereal.

Allow the rice cereal pops to dry for at least 2 hours before sharing them with your sweetie.

Molasses Cookies with Gingerbread M&Ms

Molasses Cookies with Gingerbread M&Ms

Have you baked your cookies for Santa yet?

No?

Then you’re in luck because I’ve got a little something for you!

Molasses Cookies with Gingerbread M&Ms

When this gingerbread lovin’ gal got my little hands on a few bags of Gingerbread M&Ms, I knew I had to pair them together with my favorite Molasses Cookies that I bake a ton of around this time of year. The original cookies are slightly chewy and have that wonderful spiced, warm flavor.

The addition of the M&Ms added great texture, and of course, extra gingerbread flavor–always a good thing. I’m pretty sure if you left these cookies out for the Big Guy, you’d score some major points.

Molasses Cookies with Gingerbread M&Ms

And with that, dear Friends, I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Christmas!

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Molasses Cookies with Gingerbread M&Ms

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg at room temperature
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1½ cups Gingerbread M&M candies
1 cup Granulated Sugar (to roll dough in)

In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, light brown sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses and vanilla extract. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Mix dry ingredients into the molasses mixture. Stir in 1 cup of the Gingerbread M&M candies. Cover and chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into walnut sized balls and roll them in the remaining 1 cup granulated sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto parchment lined baking sheets. Using the bottom of a flat glass, gently press down on the cookies to lightly flatten. With the remaining Gingerbread M&Ms, add a few candies to the top/sides of each cookie dough, pressing them slightly in.

Bake for 7-8 minutes until tops are cracked. Remove from baking sheets and allow the cookies to cool on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies

Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies

When I saw Nestle’s Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels, I knew I just had to have them—in my brownies :)

Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies

I started these little goodies with my basic brownie batter and added mint extract along with the morsels. It’s really a no fuss recipe and the flavors were scrumptious. Chocolate and mint are a classic winning combo.

Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies

And since they’re such a quick dessert to whip up, they are the perfect last minute addition to your holiday events.

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Mint Chocolate Chip Brownies

Ingredients:

½ cup unsalted butter
1½ cups chocolate, roughly chopped
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon mint extract
2 eggs
¾ cup flour
2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup dark chocolate and mint chips (or other chocolate mint candies of your choice)
½ tablespoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper for easy removal. Cover parchment paper with cooking spray.

In a heatproof bowl, melt butter and chocolate in the microwave until smooth. Do this in 20 second intervals, stirring in between to ensure that you do not scorch the chocolate. Cool the chocolate mixture until room temperature. Stir in brown sugar, vanilla extract and mint extract. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, until mixture is glossy and smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Stir in the dry ingredients into the the chocolate mixture until combined. Stir in 3/4 cup of the dark chocolate and mint chips. Spread the brownie batter evenly in pan. Sprinkle the remaining dark chocolate and mint chips over the top of the brownie batter.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the brownies completely before dusting the tops with the powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve.

Double Chocolate Tart with Fresh Raspberries

Double Chocolate Tart

Thanksgiving is rather an epic eating marathon for my family. Sure, I think many folks could say the same but what differentiates our clan is that the menu is always a fusion of traditional Thanksgiving fare with delectable Vietnamese dishes. The best of both worlds in my opinion.

We must have went through at least 5-6 different courses this year—flipping back and forth between different cuisines and let me tell ya, thank goodness I had my stretchy pants on :)

But in all fairness, I was trying to load up for our impending Black Friday shenanigans. Which, for the record, was an 18-hour marathon of shopping….I’m totally not exaggerating.

I definitely got my cardio in!

Double Chocolate Tart

For Thanksgiving, I ended up bringing two desserts. The first were mini Toasted Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting. I had initially wanted to make a Coconut Cake but opted for mini cuppies so that we didn’t have to hassle with slicing up a layered cake. Plus the minis let people grab a bite of sweetness without feeling that extra guilt. A version of the recipe can be found here.

The second dessert I made was a Double Chocolate Tart that I topped with fresh raspberries. It’s a spin off of my original Chocolate Raspberry Tart. But since I’m a chocoholic, the old version just wouldn’t do so I added cocoa to the crust and then filled it with a truffle like ganache. Boom.

And the truth is I actually hadn’t planned on posting this tart but I’ve received several requests for the recipe since I shared the pic on Facebook. So please excuse the grainy photo as I just quickly snapped a few photos with my phone that day.

But I promise you, janky photo or not, the tart is just delish. It’s deeply rich and just a small slice will definitely fulfill any chocoholic’s needs. It also pairs wonderfully with a glass of deep, dry red wine or a cup of coffee.

And guess what? Since you can make it the day before, it’s PERFECT for any Holiday entertaining you may be planning.

A definite Win-Nguyen :)

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Double Chocolate Tart with Fresh Raspberries
Makes 1 10-inch tart

Ingredients:

Chocolate Shortbread Crust
cooking spray
1½ cups flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup confectioner sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Filling
1½ cups heavy cream
10 ounces dark chocolate (60% Cacao), roughly chopped
*Fresh Raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using cooking spray, grease a 10 inch tart pan.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. In a standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract. Slowly begin incorporating in flour mixture a few spoonfuls at a time. When the dough begins to come together, transfer to the prepared tart pan and press dough into it. The dough will be quite soft. Prick the bottom of the dough all over with a fork and place in freezer for at least 10 minutes to let rest. Once chilled, line the tart with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes, until edges are lightly set. Carefully remove the parchment paper from the pie and place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until center of tart is firm. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.

Using a double boiler, heat the cream until it’s very hot but not boiling. Remove from stove and add the chocolate. Gently stir the mixture until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. You should have a beautiful glossy mixture when finished.  Pour the chocolate filling into the thoroughly cooled baked crusts.  Carefully tap the side of the pan to even out the filling. Leave tart on the counter to cool (about 30 minutes) and then move to the refrigerator to chill for an additional 2 or 3 hours. The filling should be firm when done.

Remove the tart from refrigerator and carefully slide out the outer pan ring. Transfer tart to serving platter and garnish with raspberries. ENJOY!

Raspberry Cupcakes with Raspberry Whipped Cream

Raspberry Cupcakes

Man, old, man…..There’s a Baby Epidemic going around!

Yep. In less than 8 weeks, I’ve attended 5 baby showers. Now that’s a lot of baby games!

Raspberry Cupcakes

And not to brag, but I’m kind of a pro now when it comes to guessing how many jelly beans there are in a baby bottle…..or gauging the diameter of momma’s tummy using a roll of toilet paper….or everyone’s favorite–identifying the type of candy bar that has been melted/schmeared into a little diaper. Yep, y’all don’t stand a chance!

For the most recent shower I attended, I decided to bring some cuppies to the party. My friend, who is the momma-to-be, doesn’t really enjoy overly sweet desserts so I wanted to make something light but that would still satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.

Raspberry Cupcakes

I ended up making these fluffy Raspberry Cupcakes that were flavored with fresh raspberry puree. And instead of your standard buttercreams, I topped them with rosette swirls of raspberry flavored whipped cream.

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Raspberry Cupcakes with Raspberry Whipped Cream
Makes approximately 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

Cupcake Batter:
2¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
½ tablespoon almond extract
½ cup raspberry puree*

Raspberry Whipped Cream:
1½ cups heavy cream, chilled
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup raspberry puree*

Garnish:
fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in another bowl.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat at medium speed until ingredients are light and fluffy. Beat in the almond extract and then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Mix in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, mixing until the batter is well mixed, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Continue beating the mixture for another few minutes to ensure that the batter is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Gently fold in the raspberry puree until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about ¾ full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans for a few minutes, and then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, prepare the whipped cream. Using a standing mixer fitted with the balloon whisk attachment, whip the chilled heavy cream on high until it just holds stiff peaks. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar until you reach a thick consistency. Slowly add in the raspberry puree and whip until combined.

Fit a piping bag with a fitted tip. Fill the bag with the Raspberry Whipped Cream and pipe decorative swirls on top of cooled cupcakes. Garnish with fresh berries.

**To make Raspberry Puree, add 2 pints of fresh raspberries with 2 tablespoons of water in a blender. Puree the berries until smooth. Pour the raspberry mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Depending on how sweet the raspberries are, you can also add a few teaspoons of sugar while you puree them.

We just turned F-O-U-R + Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes!

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

It’s our B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y!!!!!

That’s right Friends, The Culinary Chronicles turns four this week and we’re all grown up now!

Um, ok…kind of.

Not really, but you get my drift.

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

This past year has been filled with tons of incredible milestones for the site from new partnerships with fantastic brands, recognition from respected media and of course, the release of my cookbook this past summer.

Phew!

What a ride!!!

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

A huge— GINORMOUS THANKS to you all for the continued support and readership. I know I can be quite random and silly at times. So….

Mahalo!

Grazie!

Merci!

Cảm ơn!

Hannad! …………That’s elvish btw. #LOTRnerd

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

If I could, I’d send each of y’all a big slice of birthday cake to celebrate our blogiversary. But until I can figure out the logistics behind all of that, I’d like to virtually share with you these Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes.

A vanilla chiffon cake filled with a slightly tart, fresh strawberry compote and topped with mounds and mounds of strawberry swiss meringue buttercream.

They’re light, flirty, and just Pretty in Pink.

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

And with that folks, I can’t wait to see what crazy and delicious Foodventures this upcoming year has in store for us. Here’s to many, MANY more to come!

Cheers!

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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Filling:
2 cups fresh strawberries, roughly chopped
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup water
2 pinches of salt

Batter:
2¼ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream (from Martha Stewart):
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1¼  cups sugar
1½ cups unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1½ cups fresh strawberries, pureed

Garnish:fresh strawberry slices
sprinkles, nonpareils, etc.

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

Prepare the filling. Place the strawberries and sugar in a small pot and cook over medium low heat until the juices begin to release. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, water and lemon juice. Add the mixture to the strawberries and stir in to combine. Continue cooking and stirring the strawberries until it’s thickened to the consistency of a jam. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt. Allow to cool completely.

In a bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in another bowl. Put the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, beat at medium speed until ingredients are light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Mix in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, mixing until the batter is well mixed, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Continue beating the mixture for another few minutes to ensure that the batter is thoroughly mixed. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling each about ¾ full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans for five minutes, and then transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the buttercream.  Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, and attach bowl to a mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition. Switch to a paddle attachment. With mixer on low, add strawberry puree, and beat until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Begin assembling the cupcakes. Using a pairing knife, piping tip, apple corer, or very small round cookie cutter (I used a small biscuit ring), cut out a small cavity in the cupcake. Take a pairing knife to help pop out the center. Fill each of the cupcakes with a heaping teaspoonful of the strawberry compote. Replace the small piece of cake to cover the filled centers.

Fit a piping bag with a decorative tip and fill with the buttercream. Top each of the cupcakes with large swirls of buttercream and adorn with berry slices, sprinkles or other decorative pieces.