White Russian Cupcakes

Alright, so I need to catch up to my Food and Fiction Reading Challenges…but I haven’t really read a book lately that garnered any inspiration to cook good food. Alright, correction, I haven’t been inspired at the moment to cook good food. Besides the homemade tortilla pizza the other day, but that doesn’t count, ’cause that also wasn’t a Food and Fiction-y creation.

This one isn’t, either. But I’m going to post it anyway.

March came the return of my therapeutic baking, and this time I come bearing alcoholic gifts! For the past two years, I’ve actually made Guinness cupcakes with chocolate whiskey ganache and Bailey’s cream frosting. This year, I didn’t want to go all out. I mean, I already had an Irish Cream in the fridge, but I really didn’t want to have to work with another bottle of Guinness, because honestly, I hate drinking up the leftovers. Most beers and I do not often mix.

So this time, I decided I’d try to make cupcakes that threw vodka into the mix. And still make it a bit St. Patrick’s Day-themed.

Behold the White Russian Mini Cupcakes!

I actually wished I had green mini cupcake filters, but didn’t have the time to head to the store to grab some, so I made do with the ones I got. That said, I think they came out adorable! And the ganache has got to be the best one I’ve managed to do so far. Or maybe I’m just biased, because I am a vodka girl and not so much a whiskey one…

I got the recipe from Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen, although in all honesty, it was a bitch to have to convert everything from the Euro-measurements to the American ones (blast our weird non-metric system sometimes!). Thankfully, most things are Google-able now so I didn’t have to look too far to figure out whether 135 grams of unsalted butter meant a stick or two.

For the Euro measurements, you might as well head over to Charlotte’s recipe, she’s got quite a lovely blog.

For the Americanized version, here were my approximate conversions:

White Russian Mini Cupcakes

Ingredients

Vodka Ganache

  • 2 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 tsp vodka

Cake

  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 50 ml Irish cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt

White Russian Buttercream

  • 1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 2 cups confectionary sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Irish cream
  • ½ Tbsp vodka

Making the Ganache

  1. Place dark chocolate in a small saucepan and heat very gently until melted.
  2. Remove from the heat immediately and pour the chocolate into a bowl. Add the heavy cream and mix until combined.
  3. Add vodka and mix until combined.
  4. Leave to cool in the fridge until it ganache is at pudding consistency.

Making the Cake

  1. Pre-heat oven 350F.
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk heavy cream cream to stiff peaks. Once stiff, add the vanilla extract and gradually add the Irish cream.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg until just frothy.
  4. Add egg to the whipped cream and whisk for a couple of minutes.
  5. Gradually add the granulated sugar, whisk in each addition before adding more. Once all of the sugar is added whisk on a high speed for a couple of minutes.
  6. Sift the remaining dry ingredients into the cream mixture and carefully fold them together until thoroughly combined.
  7. Spoon the cake batter into the cupcakes cases.
  8. Bake for 18-20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Once baked, transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Making the Buttercream

  1. Beat butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually add some of the confectionary sugar 1/2 cup at a time, making sure to mix thoroughly before the next. Combine Irish cream and vodka into the mix and add remaining confectionary sugar until you get desired buttercream consistency.

Construct the cupcakes

  1. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the center of each cupcake.
  2. Fill the center with ganache.
  3. Pipe the buttercream onto the top.
  4. Serve.

Some changes:

I used Molly’s Irish Cream and a splash of Grey Goose vodka, which was what I had in handy, and the cupcakes came out just as delicious! There were a few things I altered in the recipe, such as the amount of confectionery sugar I really used (around 1 1/2 cup as opposed to 2) and the order in which I did the recipe. To be honest, I tend to do the ganache first because I like my ganache to set for a bit before I pipe it into the cupcake.

Make note: this is, right now, my favorite ganache recipe, so I will definitely be doing it again!

(That said, it also helped that I purchased my dark chocolates from Jacques Torres, which made the ganache doubly amazing.)

Once the cupcakes were assembled, off they went! Honestly, I didn’t even leave any at home, the staff in school loved it, and I had to literally fend off any more takers to save the last one for myself.

Verdict: The frosting was a little too sweet for me, though the Irish cream flavor did show through. The best part was always going to be the ganache, because chocolate and vodka makes Mari happy.

Bon appetit!

Food and Fandom: Winter King’s Pirozhki

bearnightingaleNot gonna lie, the entire time I read The Bear and the Nightingale I kept thinking about the old-school baking that was happening in the oven at Pyotr’s hearth. Every single time, Dunya was always baking something, and Vasya almost always tried to steal some of the food that came freshly out of the oven.

Vasya, thinking of cakes, went meekly to her stool. There was a heap of them already cooling on the table, brown on the outside and flecked with ash. A corner of one cake crumbled as the child watched. Its insides were midsummer–gold, and a little curl of steam rose up. Vasya swallowed. Her morning porridge seemed a year ago.

So naturally, I turned to Russian inspiration for this Food and Fiction Challenge, and there were several descriptions of food that made me think about what I wanted to do.

They dined outside, on eggs and kasha and summer greens, bread and cheese and honey. The usual cheerful muddle was subdued. The young peasant women stood in knots and whispered.

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Mmm…apples and cheese are the best.

One thing I did note was that there was a lot of bread and honey involved. So from the get-go, I wanted to do something with bread and honey. And honestly, bread with honey just sounded lovely and traditional and simple (well, not too simple, considering bread tends to take more time with the whole rising thing).

The table was laid with two silver cups and a slender ewer. The scent of warm honey floated through the room. A loaf of black bread, smelling of rye and anise, lay beside a platter of fresh herbs. On one side stood a bowl of pears and on the other a bowl of apples…

Cautiously, Vasya picked up an apple and bit down. Icy sweetness dazzled her tongue. She reached for the bread. Before she knew it, her bowl was empty, half the loaf was gone, and she sat replete, feeding bits of bread and fruit to the two horses.

And then it hit me. Why not put apples INSIDE the bread, too? Isn’t there some kind of Russian dessert that does that?

So I found that there was. Say hello to the pirozhki.

Morozko’s Pirozhki

In essence, pirozhki are baked or fried bread buns filled with stuffing inside. Stuffing can be either savory or sweet, and the dough can be formed into various shapes so long as it holds the stuffing properly inside. Typically, people use meat like beef to stuff inside a pirozhki. Personally, I always go for the sweet stuff, because why the heck not.

This brought me into thinking about the book, The Bear and the Nightingale itself. For the most part, I was struck by the scenes in the winter-king’s home. I swear he always tried to feed Vasya, so whenever Vasya woke, she always found an abundance of fruit, bread, and mead at the table. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Morozko HAD put in some apple pirozhki for Vasya to eat at some point. They sound super-delicious.

I got the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen, along with the apples and then-some. I really didn’t do anything differently from the recipe, so I won’t re-hash the steps and ingredients again. I mean, there was some point where I ALMOST forgot to put the second half of my divided sugar, which would have been a BAD idea, but I remembered at the last minute, so it was all good.

Just something to think about, though, as far as playing with yeast: I do not have a thermometer (I really need to get one, considering…) nor do I have a proofing chamber, so I improvised by turning on my oven, letting it heat up for a couple minutes, then turned it off again and let it cool. Once it was relatively warm, but not too warm, I put my dough in the proofing chamber and let it rise. The effects were roughly the same as a proofing chamber, and honestly, the bread baked so well that I have no complaints.

I also didn’t process the apples, choosing instead just to dice them and then lightly cook them with sugar. Nothing fancy. Next time, I may add some cinnamon, though.

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I did run out of apple filling, so for the last two batches of dough, I broke them into pieces, rolled them into round shapes, and then doused them with honey before baking them in, too.

Verdict: The results were MAH-VELOUS, dahling. I could taste the warmth of the hearth and of gold and sunshine, etc. etc. Now all I need is a bit of mead…

Food and Fandom: Rephaim Chestnuts

I had planned to include this in my book review of Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season but Winter had other plans. I mean, I couldn’t exactly get myself groceries when the snowstorm pretty much last weekend. And okay, I may be exaggerating the degree of the weather, but no way was I driving in it on a darn Saturday morning.

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Anyway, that really isn’t the point. The point is, this is officially my first entry into my Food and Fiction Reading Challenge. I’ve already said what I had to say about the book itself, which I highly recommend, so I just wanted to focus a little bit on some of the foodie-things in the pages.

Chestnuts Roasting on a Rephaim Fire

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Firstly, Rephaim don’t really eat. Not in the human sense. What they feed on is more menacing, and relates to voyant aura (actually, it pretty much IS voyant aura). However, because the Rephaim do keep amaurotic (“non-clairvoyant”) and voyant (“clairvoyant”) humans on Sheol I with them, it makes sense that food is still a viable product of the society. Not only that, Paige is getting a pretty good deal out of it, considering how much Warden tends to like feeding her. I suppose his reasoning runs along the lines of keeping her fit enough to mind-fight some Emim, but I’m pretty sure he just likes watching humans eat. Some people are like that.

The boy returned with a pot of coffee. He placed the tray on the table with a generous plate of baked chestnuts, dusted with cinnamon. Their sweet smell made my mouth water. There was a vendor near the Blackfriars Bridge that sold them in the winter months. These ones looked even better than his, with cracked brown shells and velvety white insides. There was fruit, too: segments of pear, glossy cherries, soft smiles of red apple…

I plucked a chestnut from the plate, still hot from the oven. It tasted like warmth and winter.

(The Bone Season, p. 252)

Considering it’s snowing AGAIN as I look up from my computer, I find this passage highly appropriate. It also reminded me somewhat of those roasted nut carts scattered around New York City, where they often sell a pack of nuts that are either lightly salted or sweetened, depending on the vendor (and omg, the smell of roasted almonds and pecans are AMAZING). But in all my wanderings around the city, I don’t think I ever encountered chestnut vendors. Then again, I’ve never really had much experience with chestnuts to begin with.

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I don’t remember much of the taste of chestnuts, though after opening up the pack of peeled chestnuts, I was reminded that I actually DID try chestnuts before. That said, I wasn’t sure which ones were better, so I ended up purchasing two different types: peeled and unpeeled.

They were both ready to eat, but I wanted them “still hot from the oven” as described, so I dusted a bit of cinnamon on top and popped them into the oven for a few minutes. Then I proceeded to make tea. (Yes, not coffee, but only because I already had my coffee earlier in the day, and I prefer the comforts of tea to go with my snacks. Also, Paige mentioned having tea at some point in the book as well, so there’s that, because, you know, she’s in the friggin’ UK, lol!) On top of that, once the chestnuts were finally baked a bit, I added some dried fruit to the side. I didn’t want to get too literal, mostly because I don’t like pear and I figured an assortment of dried fruits would help me figure out which ones tasted really well with the chestnuts.

Verdict: Oh yum. They seriously did taste like warmth and winter in your mouth! That said, The cinnamon wasn’t utterly necessary, because the chestnuts themselves have a nice sweet potato-ey taste. The unpeeled chestnuts were my favorite of the two, because you got that extra smoky baked flavor after biting into the chestnut. Probably because the heat gets trapped inside, what with the shell covering most of the insides to begin with.

Reading Challenges 2017

So I thought I did pretty well in 2016 as far as the two reading challenges went. Last year, I took part in Flights of Fantasy and the Fairy Tale Retelling reading challenges. I’d challenged myself to do 30 books in fantasy and 10 books in fairy tales, and I surpassed both, so yay for me! My Goodreads goal of 60 was also surpassed by the fact that I went ahead and read 90ish books in total (which is a big deal for me, considering I am usually a slow reader). Aaand as far as my 25 Reads Project went…erm…I at least got through 11 of them? Maybe I should have also signed up to do an ARC reading challenge, because my NetGalley ARC reading and reviewing has been behind, too.

In any case, fun stats:

bookstats-2016

For a more comprehensive list, check out my year in Goodreads.

That all said, it’s time to up the ante and join up on the 2017 reading challenges! I did two relatively well last year, so I decided this year I’m going to do a few more. I’m also excited about hosting my first ever Food and Fiction Reading Challenge, and I hope you’ll join me on this one!

So here are the challenges I’m participating in for the year:

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hosted by Mari @ Story and Somnomancy

I’m going to try and do 12 food and fiction posts, which which will be added to my Food and Fandom page on top of the other random geeky foods I tend to do.

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Hosted by Alexa @ Alexa Loves Books and Rachel @ Hello, Chelly.

I participated in this one last year and it was a lovely challenge. Again, I’m pushing myself to doing 30 fantasy book reviews, maybe surpass this number again. As a fantasy reader on a regular basis, this should not be a problem. I did rather poorly on the FOF Book Club discussions, so I might also try that again (and at least this time, there’s a bigger time allotted per book!).

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Hosted by Nicola @ Graphic Novels Challenge.

So I decided 2017 is the year of me branching out and reading even MORE graphic novels. Not that this is out of my comfort zone. I actually read graphic novels when I can get to them, but I always find that I never read enough. So this year, I decided I’d do a graphic novel/manga challenge. I hope to read at least 12 graphic novels by the end of the year, though if I actually read a series (like, oh, finish Fables once and for all), this number will definitely go up.

Then I also wanted to do more steampunk reading. Occasionally I’ve picked a few up last year, but I admit, last year, I was severely lacking in good steampunk books. I want to change this in 2017 and actually take the effort in reading at least 10 steampunk books. Time to get steampunkin’!

I’m also going to be doing my 25 Reads Project again, though this time around, I’ve only put in books that carried over the last two years. Once I’ve finished that list, that’s when I’ll start picking books out of my book jar again. Hah, good luck to me. (Though in defense, I’m about halfway done with An Ember in the Ashes and have Snow Like Ashes on my high priority list.)

I’ve created a page that will help me keep track of the challenges I’ve signed up for here. Wish me luck!

Are you signed up for any reading challenges this year?

Food and Fandom: Hodor

The fall season is practically the funnest and busiest time for me, and honestly, most of the “busy” bit tends to fall on October and November, especially since I’m spending half that time baking goodies for relatives and friends. I also have two siblings sharing the same birthday month, so I definitely had to step it up and make them something extra creative. My sister already got a Nyan Cake, so at this point, I was all caked out.

Which meant when my brother’s turn came, I wanted to do something else.

Cue the brownies. And the zombies. And the Game of Thrones reference.

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Thank you, Erin Browne, for the Ooey Gooey Fudge Brownies Recipe! I’ve made these brownies a few times now, and they’ve always been real delicious (although, yes, again, I made alterations according to my semi-sweet vs. dark chocolate taste buds).

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 Tbsp flour for coating chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven 350 F. Coat 8×8 baking dish with light layer of cooking spray (or, well, if you want to take the brownies easily out of the dish, line the dish with parchment paper).

Combine sugar, butter, vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Sift dry ingredients in different bowl. Beat eggs slowly into sugar mixture until combined. Add flour mixture 1-2 cups at a time, mix until combined.

Coat chocolate chips into 1 Tbsp flour, then fold into brownie batter. Pour into pan, level with rubber spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Some Changes: I actually like adding a bit of a dark chocolate glaze to smooth out the top of the brownie, but for this particular case, I didn’t, because my sister wanted a rougher look to our “brownie door.” I also didn’t have any dark chocolate chips in my cupboard at the time, but I did use my last batch of Jacques Torres dark chocolate (which is AMAZING, by the way), so I just broke that up into pieces and tossed it into the Tbsp of flour. For pans that are larger than 8×8, I would suggest lessening the baking time, which I did. I think 20 minutes was my maximum, to be honest. The only other thing I would also point out is that I found this set of brownies was a little less gooey than the previous times I’d baked it. I’m thinking it’s because my eggs were medium-sized, so I’d probably go with larger eggs whenever I make these brownies again.

Hodor Brownies

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not watched the latest season of HBO’s Game of Thrones and don’t plan on getting a face-full of spoilers, you might want to skip the rest of this post altogether, because uh, yeah. For the brownie is dark and full of spoilers.

Onto the decorations…

My sister and I had already decided early on what we wanted to do for our brother on his birthday. In fact, it would have been PERFECT had we managed to get the Hodor Funko Pop doll, but it was already vaulted, and neither of us were too keen on paying an exorbitant amount of money just for a tiny decorative figure (even if it IS Hodor). So we decided on the next best thing:

A Hodor cake. Because my brother must always be taught that we respect men who hold doors.

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Too soon? Yeah, my brother thought so, too.

With my sister’s help–because she’s the more artistic one–we proceeded to gather up some colored melting chocolates to use as our brownie topping. Using this picture as reference, my sister began her awesome piping skillz and started sketching out the epic Hodor image that continues to haunt my siblings and me even now.

Alright, you can stop crying now, guys.