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PYO at Hartland Orchards: Blueberry Coffee Cake

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In 2011 we tried our hand at a “pick your own” orchard. This was not our first time–we had picked apples at an orchard before, but this time we went in the summer to get some peaches and blueberries. Something about picking your own fruit makes it taste so much better.

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Each time we make the decision to head out west to the part of Virginia where these farms are, we try to pick a different one. I want to be able to compare the different orchards and offerings to decide which one I like best, so that I can spread the love when find “our” place.

We’re still on the search for a perfect place. Last year we went to a place that had blackberries, peppers, and squash, but we got a flat tire on the way back, so that soured it a bit for us.

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We also picked a peck of peaches (say that 10 times fast!). Most of the peaches were eaten as-is and I gifted some to my mom since it’s her favorite fruit. I also made a horrendous peach “cobbler” with some of the peaches. I’ll spare you that anecdote.

But, these blueberries. These blueberries were small, firm, tart, and after a quick wash, they didn’t need any more adornment or modification. But they were screaming to be made into what could be called our household’s favorite treat: Blueberry Coffee Cake.

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This cake is soft and moist and just the right balance of tart and sweet. The crunchy, sugar-y topping is what makes it perfect though. I snagged a copy of this recipe from my mother-in-law and taped it into our recipe book. It’s been time-tested and proclaimed “excellent!” time and time again. This sure is a delicious way to get your daily dose of fruits.

We usually make this for Dan’s birthday since he doesn’t like traditional cakes. But, to be honest, we make this any chance we get! It goes well in the morning with a cuppa tea or coffee, but also holds it own with ice cream or whipped cream for a light yet satisfying dessert.

You can add some red berries and really make this a red-white-and blue affair to celebrate the 4th of July! I’ve made this same recipe and subbed the blueberries with blackberries, peaches, rhubarb, or even frozen mixed berries; they are all delicious renditions.

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Rhubarb Ginger Crumble Bars

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Have you ever tried rhubarb? I’ve met many people who had never tried it, and of those that have tasted it, it seems people have a love/hate relationship with it. If I had to describe rhubarb, I’d have to say it’s as if strawberry and celery had a child. It goes well in baked recipes paired with sweet berries, or in this case, zingy ginger.

This week at my office we’re having a bake sale and holding raffles for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure®, ending with attendance at the race in DC. I’m thinking I might take a risk and make these rhubarb crumble bars. They’re pink and festive for breast cancer awareness, but will anyone buy them? Or maybe I’m secretly hoping no one buys them so I can eat them all.

You can use this recipe as a base and swap out any fruit you like. I prefer it with a touch of cardamom in the crumb topping, but you can swap it out with a different spice or omit it altogether. Pink peppercorn would go nicely and be extra-festive.

Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes for St. Patrick’s Day ♣

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I usually don’t do anything for St. Patrick’s Day other than wear something green to avoid being pinched. This year, the holiday fell on a weekend and a delicious recipe popped up in my RSS Feed – these Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes from Oishii Treats.

I’ve been wanting to make green tea cupcakes for a while, but have been a bit wary. Green Tea is an acquired taste and I was worried how these would go over with my taste testers.

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I replaced half of the flour the recipe called for with whole wheat flour, which went well with the earthiness of the matcha, though it probably kept the cake from being more green. I also used almond milk instead of regular milk. Since green tea is an acquired taste, I opted to swirl the frosting so that it’d be half matcha and half regular cream cheese frosting. This kept the cupcake from being a matcha-overload while adding a nice flair.

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The best thing about these cupcakes are the smell. I love the way they smelled coming out of the oven and when I opened my carrier up to bring them in to the office. You’ll definitely want to use a nice quality matcha since they’re the star ingredient here. And, this is the way that you’re getting a dose of green, naturally!

Mini Blueberry Cheesecakes with Trefoils™ Cookie Crust

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The baking with Girl Scout Cookies® saga continues! Trefoils™ are sometimes seen as the plain, boring cookies that you always have extra boxes of after a booth sale. My sister had an extra box of Trefoils™ from last year and gave them to me on the condition that I bake something with them. Also, did you know that February 8th is National Girl Scout Cookie Day?

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I was a little burned out on chocolate, as crazy as that may sound, so I wanted to make something for my office for Valentine’s Day that was decadent, but lighter. I made my Mini Blackberry Cheesecakes recipe and replaced the blackberries with blueberries. I also replaced the vanilla wafer cookies with the buttery, fragrant Trefoils™ and added some almonds in too (omitting the almond extract in the original).

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It was easy to convince my office-mates to try these treats. The fruit on top makes it “healthy”; they’re bite-sized; they have Girl Scout Cookies® in them, which makes them “limited edition”. The crust on these are delicious and it goes well with the tanginess of the cheesecake and the tart berries.

Feel free to sub your favorite fruit on top or replace the cookies with what you have on hand. I had some extra filling and crust and swirled in some chocolate chips and crunchy cookie butter for a rich Valentine’s treat.

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Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes With a Secret Ingredient

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I made these cupcakes last year and they were gone so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take pictures. Luckily, everyone loved them (some people ate two!), so I knew what I was going to make when it became peppermint season again this year. I love peppermint mocha lattes and get them whenever I get a chance. I’ve had the version from Starbucks, but I actually prefer one made by a local smoothie shop called South Block where they have tons of alternative milks. I get my peppermint mocha with almond milk and Intelligentsia espresso and it hits the spot.

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This year I upped the decadence and dipped the cupcakes in a dark chocolate mint ganache before frosting them. The secret ingredient in these cupcakes is the type of coffee I used in it. Instead of using regular coffee, I used some very special Kopi Luwak that my friend Elly gifted me. For those that don’t know, Kopi Luwak is a rare and expensive coffee that is made from coffee berries that a tropical jungle cat has digested. Some people were a little put off by the idea of cat-poo-treated coffee, but surprisingly, most everyone embraced it and loved the quirkiness of it.

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I used a few different recipes combined together, and the end result leaves nothing to be desired – this really is an edible peppermint mocha! Coffee-infused chocolate cake with mint pieces folded in, dark chocolate mint ganache, a mint cream cheese frosting, and a chocolate drizzle. Some lucky snackers picked some out that had mint chocolate penguins on them that I purchased from my Girl Scout troop.

I also tried something new with my Martha Stewart cupcake liners. The liners look pretty, but bake horribly! To solve this problem I lined them with a white liner before putting the batter in and was very pleased by the result.

Rainbow Bridging Cupcakes (& Cake Push Pops)

With Hurricane Sandy approaching, I thought it might be a good idea (while we have power) to post about these rainbow cupcakes.  I’m not sure that there will be a rainbow after Sandy, but you can make your own with these cupcakes!

I made these cakes for a Girl Scout Ceremony where a troop was bridging from Cadettes to Seniors. As a result, they get a rainbow-bridge patch to signify their “bridging”.

I used light color liners so that the colors would show through. If I had to do this again, I would omit the white swirl in the rainbow and keep it to only colors. The addition of the white swirl made it look more like paintball or graffiti cupcakes instead of a true rainbow.

I used Duff Electric Color Gels that my Mom gave me as a gift a while back. Because they are “electric” colors, they are a bit off compared to primary colors which are much deeper. For the red, orange, and yellow I used Williams-Sonoma Vivid Food Pastes. If you don’t want dyed skin, wear gloves. I didn’t care so ended up with rainbow fingers.

Mixing the food coloring into the batter was tricky because of the cake recipe I chose. I used the simplest White Layer Cake recipe I could find from Martha Stewart and I did not like the taste or process at all. I was wondering why everyone that made rainbow cakes started with a box mix; I figured that making a white mix from scratch and then coloring it 7 different colors and then swirling it wouldn’t add too many steps. Sadly, the cake I picked required folding in of egg whites at the end which just made it bake weird. The worst thing? After baking it tasted like box mix!

But, these cupcakes weren’t really about taste. It was about presentation. I went to a local drugstore and picked up some rainbow strips and mini-marshmallows. I dyed a simple cream cheese frosting blue to simulate the sky and cut the strips. You’d think that over 8 feet of rainbow strips would be enough, but I ran out and soon had to improvise. I cut some mini-marshmallows in half and fashioned hearts out of them. I had to cut all the mini-marshmallows in half anyways because un-cut they would not cooperate with the cupcake tops.

This was also my first time ever making cake push pops! I bought the containers from The Baker’s Kitchen, but am not sure I would buy them again in hindsight. At over $1 a piece, you better believe I was going around to all the kids and collecting them for wash and re-use.

To make these cakes, I made one 9″ cake by dropping in white and colored batter and swirling it together. After baking and cooling, I cut it in half. Some of the cake was overdone and some was still gummy. This was probably because of the pockets of egg whites that the recipe had me fold in. I then used a 1⅞” cutter to cut rounds of cooked cake, plopped them in, and layered with icing.

I tried to keep the icing to a ring just around the outside of the cake when layering because I did not want them to get too sweet. Since the main audience for these cakes was children, I didn’t fret too much over the disappointing flavor of the cake. I made extra for my office, which unfortunately, has been spoiled by the quality of my previous baked goods.

Everyone loved the novelty of the push-pops and asked where they were purchased from. My home, silly!

Quadruple Strawberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes have four different types of strawberry in them - Strawberry Cake, Strawberry Lime Gin Compote Filling, Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting, and a Chocolate-dipped Strawberry on top. Needless to say, my strawberry-allergic-sister got no where close to these. I made these cupcakes for a surprise baby shower that we threw for a co-worker. The cake was very moist, maybe even a little too moist, but I’ll attribute that to the liquid-y filling. I actually made these the night before and for once, a swiss meringue frosting turned out! Unfortunately, I chilled it overnight and it separated. No amount of beating or adding of powders could solidify it again. I took the remaining strawberry gin compote and tossed it a traditional cream cheese frosting which tasted just as good.

These cupcake liners are Martha Stewart. I splurged on a bunch of them because they were on sale at a local craft store. I wish I would have tried the liners before buying so many – these are not worth it! You would think that Martha Stewart products for the price would be good quality, but these liners are equal or less quality than grocery store brands for about 6x the cost! This is a light, yellow cake with a dark purple and white liner and you can barely see the pattern. *sigh* I might be able to salvage them by baking a pastel muffin liner inside them, but I don’t know if it’d be worth it.

 

Zucchini Bread

When my boyfriend was growing up, he had a neighbor that grew zucchini. Every year he would bring over a basket of zucchini and Dan’s mom would make some zucchini bread for him in return. This recipe for zucchini bread comes from his family and has been been tested and approved through all the years. This recipe makes two larger loaves, though sometimes I opt to make half in loaf format and half in muffins, or just halve the recipe to make one loaf. Sometimes I top the bread with a sugar glaze, granola, or nuts.

Last Sunday we went to Hollins Farm to pick fruits and vegetables, including zucchini. Truthfully, I picked five small zucchini (about the size of my finger) just for their squash blossoms. After harvesting the squash blossoms, I grated the zucchini and had just enough for one loaf of bread. Waste not, want not!

Update: This bread always go so fast, so I originally published this post with Instagram photos with the promise of updated pictures and an attempt at zucchini bread with pineapple or dried fruit in it to make this bread perform double duty. I’m happy to report that I was forced to improvise this version recently when I was short a ½ cup of zucchini and 1 egg. I added in ¼ cup pineapple, ¼ pineapple juice, and a couple handfuls of dried pineapples and walnuts. The batter was looking a little thin so I added a couple spoonfuls of Crunchy Biscoff Spread before popping them into muffin liners and topping with granola, banana chips, and chia seeds to make them “healthier”. I tasted one and they were incredibly moist and delicious even two days later. This version is great, but some people hate nuts or pineapple in their baked goods, so know your audience well.

Recent Creations

Here’s a little of what I’ve been up to lately in the realm of home cooking, baking, and general creation of delicious things.

I made chocolate whoopie pies with vodka caramel cream cheese filling (tinted green) for a co-worker’s going away celebration in March around St. Patricks Day. The cookies in a bag are from my boyfriend’s mom and are molasses spice cookies (I think the recipe is on the side of the Grandma’s Molasses jar). She also made the delicious chocolate cake in the bottom left. My boyfriend and I made the oatmeal raisin cookies in the bottom right (recipe from the Quaker Oat’s container).

For a work potluck, I made a simple blueberry and quince tart by layering blueberries and poached quinces on top of a pie crust and topping it with a simple crumble. Some parts of the quince were a bit tough since I didn’t remove the parts near the seed pods all the way, but it was a great way to use up fading fruit!


Around Christmas last year I made gingerbread houses with my family and spent two days during December making homemade truffles (Oreo, Fleur de Sel, and Hibiscus Tea) and peppermint bark for family, friends, and co-workers with my bestie Stephanie. We packaged them up with twine, artist tape, and stickers for the season. If I get around to it, I’ll post our truffle adventures, including a truffle class and recipes.  I also made gingerbread cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and milk chocolate espresso cookies since exchanging cookies during the winter is a family tradition.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Frosting and Quince-Ginger Compote

Last Thanksgiving I was looking for ways to mix new and familiar flavors together in order to get people to try new ingredients. When I saw the recipe for Pumpkin Layer Cake with Goat Cheese Frosting and Quince-Ginger Compote from a local food blog Bitten Word, I knew I had found the perfect fit. These cupcakes were such a hit at my office that I made them once for our group Thanksgiving Potluck and a few weeks later for our organization’s Holiday Bowling party.

The frosting is basically half goat cheese and half cream cheese, which makes the final product thicker and tangier. This way, it doesn’t compete with the spicy cake or become too sweet when paired with the quince topping. Since I used the recipe for a two-layer cake and adapted it into cupcakes, there was a lot of quince topping left over. This just meant that the second time I made the cupcakes I didn’t have to make the topping again! The topping also goes well with yogurt, oatmeal, or could be baked into a dessert of its own. I also drizzled some of the quince syrup on top of the cupcakes to add some more moisture and flavor.

If you aren’t able to find quince in your local grocery store, try substituting with Asian pears. The peak for the quince market often depends on your physical location and by the time you hear whispers of quince, they’re already gone!

This recipe has been deemed a "hit at home" and is one of the tastiest recipes on Hapa-tite!