Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes

These cupcakes are such a light treat, and they’re perfect to indulge in with a glass of sweet Riesling on a warm summer afternoon, especially if you can use fresh, local strawberries (and fresh, local Riesling 😉 ). This recipe was my first experience with mascarpone cheese, a sweet, spreadable Italian cheese that is similar to cream cheese in texture, though not as tart and not as inexpensive. It can often be found in the specialty cheese section of your local grocery store. It’s very easy to work with and very versatile, but most importantly, it’s DELICIOUS with strawberries! If your budget doesn’t have the flexibility to purchase the costly mascarpone, cream cheese is a suitable substitute, but it won’t be quite as light and airy. The following recipe is from the fabulous Giada de Laurentiis, but the additional topping of frosting and strawberries is my own incorporation.

Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 1 box French vanilla cake mix (you can cheat every now and then!),
    and eggs, oil, and water specified on package
  • 1 8oz container mascarpone cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup thawed and drained frozen strawberries
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar, plus ½ cup
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • Fresh strawberries, sliced
  • A stand mixer, a food processor, or a trusty electric hand mixer

How to Do It

  1. Line a muffin pan with paper cups. Make the cupcakes according to the package instructions on the French vanilla cake mix. Bake according to package directions, and let cool on a wire rack.
  2. Using a food processor, a stand mixer, or your trusty electric hand mixer, whip the mascarpone cheese, strawberries, ¼ cup granulated sugar, and lemon juice. Transfer the strawberry mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a small tip, and push the tip gently to the center of the cupcake. Squeeze the bag lightly until the cupcake begins to plump. Don’t squeeze too hard, or you may end up breaking the cupcake. When you are finished filling the cupcakes, refrigerate the remaining filling. If you’ve used most of the filling, make a second batch, and refrigerate.
  3. In a small saucepan, bring the ½ cup granulated sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved. In a medium bowl or a stand mixer bowl, combine the vanilla syrup with the confectioner’s sugar. Whip until smooth. Transfer to a non-metal bowl (if necessary).
  4. Giada recommends that you use a rubber spatula to spread the warm icing quickly onto each cupcake. Here’s what works better: dip the top of each cupcake into the syrup, lightly spin the cupcake so the top becomes covered and smooth, and use a butter knife to trim off any excess, messy syrup. If the icing begins to firm up and become too sticky, place it in the microwave for a few seconds to retain consistency. It should remain the consistency of Elmer’s glue and should lay on top of the cupcake. Place on top of a wire rack to dry.
  5. Take the remaining strawberry filling and put into a pastry bag with a round tip. Frost a medium sized dollop in the center of each cupcake. Place a fresh sliced strawberry in the icing.

Recipe courtesy of www.foodnetwork.com .

Tip: It’s easy to slice strawberries beautifully enough that they make fantastic embellishments to your desserts. Use a paring knife to slice the top of the strawberry (with the stem) off so that the strawberry can stand on its own. Cut the short sides of the strawberry so that you have a flat, even edge on both sides of the strawberry. Continue to make thin slices with the paring knife so that you’re cutting perpendicular to the natural angle of the strawberry. Voila! Beautiful strawberry slices!

Lighten It Up! Use a reduced sugar cake mix instead of the heavier version, reduced fat cream cheese instead of mascarpone, and frozen strawberries packed in water instead of syrup (which I recommend anyway!).

Pumpkin Cupcakes!


New England fall is absolutely my favorite time of year. I love when the days cool down and when the nights get crisp, I love the array of earthy oranges, reds, and golds the leaves turn, and most importantly, I LOVE fall baking. Especially pumpkin, and especially these cupcakes. These little cuties have become a staple dessert for me, and they represent the kickoff of the fall and holiday seasons. I have not altered the ingredients in the cupcake recipe from Martha Stewart because I think they’re perfect, but I’ve perfected baking times and a cream cheese icing recipe that never fails.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Makes 24-30 small cupcakes

Stuff You’ll Need

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp ground ginger
• ¼ tsp ground allspice
• 1 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree

Tip: Make sure that the butter is cooled. You will be adding the butter and eggs to the recipe at the same time, and if the butter is still hot, it may partially cook the eggs and leave small pieces of egg in your batter. It makes a not-so-pretty batter.

How to Do It

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together your flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
2. In a large bowl or stand-mixer bowl, whisk together your brown sugar, granulated sugar, melted butter, and lightly beaten eggs. Gradually add dry ingredients, and whip until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, and whisk until blended.
3. Divide batter among liners, and fill each cup no more than half way to two-thirds. Bake until cake tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans once if necessary. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Recipe courtesy of www.marthastewart.com.

Tip: Use a small to medium ice cream scoop to measure out your batter when filling the cups. You’ll always have a consistent size, which will guarantee even baking, and cleanup will be easy.

Extra Tip: I’ve found that these cupcakes bake perfectly at 22 minutes in my gas oven. I let them bake for 11 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake another 11 minutes. They are perfect every time. For those of us who don’t have convection ovens, it bakes the cupcakes more evenly.

Why is it best to cool on a wire rack instead of a sheet pan? By cooling your goodies on a wire rack, you’re encouraging air to circulate all around the treats. This helps the treats cool faster, and as a result, you can eat them sooner.

Cream Cheese Icing

Frosts 3-4 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients

• ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
• 2 8 oz containers of cream cheese
• 1 tsp almond extract
• 4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Directions

1. Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-blended and smooth in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer.
2. Add almond extract, and blend.
3. Gradually add confectioner’s sugar. Generally, 1 cup at a time works best, and whip until creamy between each addition.
4. For a fun, polished fall look, add a few drops of orange gel coloring, and use a decorating bag with a star tip to apply the frosting.

Tip: Soften the cream cheese and butter by placing them on your stovetop while your cupcakes are baking. This eliminates the use of a microwave and cuts the time the products are out of the refrigerator in half. It will save you time, cut the risk of bacteria from the dairy products at room temperature, and save you electricity. 🙂

Lighten It Up! Use a combination of reduced fat, fat free, and regular cream cheese, and you’ll save some calories. Use vegan-friendly buttery sticks, and you’ll save even more. Sweet!

Start of Summer Winesday

Smoked Salmon and Fresh Dill Appetizer

Serves 4

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 7oz smoked salmon
  • 4oz plain cream cheese
  • 20 crackers (cocktail rye toast, wheat crackers, or
    whole grain crackers work the best)
  • 1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • Fresh lemon juice

How to Do It

1.  Assemble crackers by spreading cream cheese on each and topping with slices of smoked salmon and chopped dill. Sprinkle fresh lemon juice over crackers, and enjoy. 🙂

Original recipe courtesy of Miss Emily.

Spinach Artichoke Stuffed Shells

Serves 4

Stuff You’ll Need

  • Salt
  • 20 large pasta shells
  • 1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 7 to 8 leaves basil, torn
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 10-ounce box chopped frozen spinach, defrosted or 3/4 pound fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • Nutmeg
  • 1 10-ounce box frozen baby or regular artichoke hearts, defrosted and chopped
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

How to Do It

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil the pasta. When the water reaches a bubble, salt it well, drop the shells in and cook them to al dente according to package directions. Drain the cooked shells, and shock them under cold water to stop them from cooking.
  2. While the shells are cooking, mash up the tomatoes in the bottom of a casserole dish. Stir in the butter, basil, some salt and pepper into the dish, and set aside.
  3. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add the garlic to the pan and cook until aromatic and light golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the spinach, and nutmeg to the pan, and cook to heat through.
  4. Transfer the spinach to a large bowl and stir in the artichokes, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon zest, thyme, egg yolk, parsley, some salt and pepper. Fill the reserved pasta shells with the mixture, arranging them on top of the sauce in the casserole dish as you complete them.
  5. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and turn the oven up to 425˚F. Continue cooking until the filling is golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes more.

Recipe from www.rachelrayshow.com

I found this Martha Stewart recipe while scanning through the pages of her book on tarts and pies. Maybe it’s the warm summer air, the lack of air conditioning in my apartment, or just the desire to try something new, but I’ve been very into the idea of tarts lately. I knew I wanted to make something a little more special because Jess and Emily would both be there, but I wasn’t sure of what either of them disliked. I came across the photo of this while I was in Williams & Sonoma (a luxurious heaven for those of us culinary enthusiasts who wish to dream of having such cool tools) while on vacation with Amber, and I nearly ripped out the page to save it. I took the more conspicuous route and typed it on my iPhone notepad. Once I was home, I easily found it on Marthastewart.com. It’s a fairly easy recipe that can be modified in several different ways. I added strawberry preserves to the filling because I knew it would break up the rich chocolate and give it a lighter taste. I considered adding fresh strawberries, but it was easier to work with preserves. Also, rather than use ground espresso beans, I used Mocha Nut Fudge flavored coffee from Green Mountain. A K-Cup is approximately two tablespoons (and a bit less expensive than espresso beans though not as bold), and the strength and flavor of the coffee you use in the recipe could have a strong effect on the outcome of the dessert. Martha’s recipe calls for a 14 x 4” rectangular flan pan to give the tart a beautiful presentation, but I used a round 10” tart pan because I didn’t have the called-for cookware. Presentation was still lovely, and the taste, of course, was still delicious. I love using mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese because it has a softer texture and a more mild taste. It acts as a great replacement for cream cheese to make a lighter dessert also, but because it doesn’t quite have the density of cream cheese, it won’t hold up as firmly when it’s used for frosting. In this recipe, the mascarpone stands alone, and it cuts the richness of the bittersweet chocolate.

 Chocolate Espresso Tart

Serves 8

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 percent cacao), chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality ground espresso beans
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for parchment paper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup strawberry preserves
  • Tart pan or rectangular pan

How to Do It

  1. Begin by making the chocolate ganache. Put chopped chocolate into a medium-sized stainless steel or other heatproof bowl. Bring 1 ¼ cups heavy cream and the espresso to a boil, and remove from heat. Use a fine sieve if the espresso beans were not finely ground to pour hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for two minutes, and then whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature and firm texture, 1 to 2 hours.
  2. Next, make the tart shell. Sift flour, salt, and cocoa powder into a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar by using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the 3 Tbsp of heavy cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Do not over mix. Shape dough into a thick rectangle (or ball if you are using a tart pan); wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the dough is cold, about 30 minutes. Dough will be soft and moist.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out cold dough between 2 pieces of lightly floured parchment paper to a 16-by-6” rectangle, ¼” thick if using a rectangular pan. Roll into an even circle about ¼” thick if using a tart pan. Press dough into gently into pan, and trim the top edges by rolling the rolling pan once along the top edges of the pan. Remove extra dough, and prick all over the bottom of the shell with a fork. Place pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake until firm, 18-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely before unmolding.
  4. When the tart shell is completely cooled, spread mascarpone cheese along the bottom of the shell with an offset spatula. Spread strawberry preserves on top of the cheese.
  5. Put the cooled chocolate ganache into the bowl of an electric mixer. Use the whip attachment to beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a pastry bag with a star tip.
  6. Pipe ganache rosettes on top of the strawberry preserves to completely cover the tart.

Adapted from MarthaStewart.com www.marthastewart.com

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