Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

Cupcakes. I love cupcakes. Think about it: they are cakes, but they fit in your hand. Cakes that you can justify eating more than one of because they’re so gosh darn tiny and cute. Cupcakes = Love.

My husband recently had a birthday, which was inconveniently placed among our Thanksgiving travels. As such, he didn’t really get the full birthday treatment (although, we did indulge in some alcohol at 34,000 feet, which we never do). So when we got home, I promised him I’d make him any birthday treat he wanted. When he requested Cookies & Cream Cupcakes, I was more than happy to oblige!

Since we had just returned from a week-long trip, and bags were still exploding all over our apartment, I didn’t want to invest a million hours into baking. I love this cupcake recipe because it is quick, simple, and requires almost no specialty ingredients. Also, they’re amazingly delicious.

First order of business was running to the grocery store. Normally, I have a pretty well-stocked baking pantry (blog post coming soon on how to have a well-stocked pantry). However, due to life and stuff, I haven’t been baking very much this last year (which is going to change!). Still, even with a bare-bones pantry, I only had to buy Oreos and powdered sugar. Not too shabby!

Now, we could get to baking. There is a reason these cupcakes are so simple. If you know anything about baking, you know that 99% of cakes are made via the “creaming method,” which involves whipping butter and sugar together and then alternating dry ingredients with wet ingredients. It’s not a difficult process, but it does take a little time. These cupcakes are made via the “muffin method.” This method simply mixes the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then mixing them together. Easy peasy cupcake squeazy.

These cupcakes have a super simple American buttercream frosting. Often, when I make a big fancy cake, I’ll invest my time in a good Italian buttercream, which involves making a syrup and whipping butter into it. It’s incredible, but it’s time consuming and riddle with possibility for error. American buttercream is great. It’s butter, sugar, and maybe some flavoring. Whip it up and commence with the sugar high.

Now that I’ve convinced you that these cupcake are amazing and easy, let’s get baking! A couple notes about this recipe:

  1. It makes more than 12 cupcakes. I’m going to give instructions for just 12, since that is the standard muffin tin. You can do anything you’d like with the extra batter. I made two mini cakes in personal sized pie tins. You could add a couple Oreos to the recipe and make probably 4 extra cupcakes when the first 12 are out of the oven. Or you could just eat the extra batter. I don’t judge.
  2. The coffee in the recipe won’t make your cupcakes taste like coffee. Coffee has this incredible ability to boost chocolate flavor. I HIGHLY recommend it, but you can just use water if you are really opposed to coffee.

    Cookies & Cream Cupcakes

    1 1/2 cups flour

    1/2 cup cocoa powder

    1 1/4 cup sugar

    3/4 tsp baking soda

    1/4 tsp baking powder

    1/2 tsp salt

    2 eggs

    1/2 cup vegetable oil

    1 tsp vanilla

    3/4 cup milk

    1/3 cup coffee OR hot water

    26 Oreos

    1/2 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

    1 lb powdered sugar

    1 tsp vanilla

    2 tbsp milk

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.
    2. Break up 1 Oreo into each cupcake liner. You could also just toss a whole cookie in there, but I recommend breaking it up. The pieces float to the top and create a beautiful cupcake.
    3. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until blended.
    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, vanilla, 3/4 cup milk, and coffee.
    5. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until just blended.
    6. Using a ladle, spoon the mixture into the cupcake tins. You want each tin about 3/4 full. (You could also transfer the batter into a large measuring cup and pour into the tins…or you could just pour from the mixing bowl if you have a steady hand.)
    7. Bake for 16-18 minutes. You can tell when cupcakes (and cakes, muffins, etc.) are done by lightly tapping your finger to the surface of the cake. If it sinks or indents in, you need to bake longer. If it springs back, it is good to go!
    8. Let cool for about 10 minutes and then remove from pan. Let cool completely, or your frosting will be sad.

    Frosting!!

    1. Crush 2 Oreos into little crumbs. I did think with a mortar and pestle, because it was fast and easy to wash. You could toss them in a baggy and beat them with a rolling pin or pan. You could put them in a bowl and just use your fingers. Just make sure they’re tiny crumbs.
    2. In a mixing bowl, using either the whisk mixer attachment or your hand mixer, whip up your butter until smooth.
    3. Add powdered sugar. You could add it all at once, but it is actually faster to add it in 3 or 4 additions.
    4. Once all the powdered sugar is incorporated, drizzle 2 tbsp milk in with the mixer running. You want your frosting to be a smooth, malleable texture (but not runny).
    5. Mix in the Oreo crumbs.
    6. Frost your cupcakes! I used a piping bag and a piping tip, but you might not have that lying around. You could load your frosting into a big ziploc bag, cut off the corner, and pipe onto the cupcakes. Or, you could just spoon that delicious fluff onto the cupcakes and call it a day.
    7. Finally, stick an Oreo on top of each cupcake and chow down!

    These cupcakes are shelf-stable for a short period of time. If you are planning to eat and/or share all of them in a day or two, you can just store them (covered) on your counter. If it’s going to take you longer to gobble them up, put them in the refrigerator. If that is your choice, you *might* want to leave the Oreo topper off and add it before eating. The Oreo will get soft in the fridge – which isn’t really a bad thing (it tastes like an ice cream sandwich when it’s soft), but not everyone will like that.

    I hope you enjoy this delicious and easy cupcake!

    Note: My last two entries on this “Real World Healthy” blog are decadent, indulgent recipes. The irony is not lost on me. But, as you may have gathered from my past posts, I’m a BIG supporter in moderation!! So make these cupcakes. Indulge in one or two, and then give the rest to your friends. Or save them and indulge in them over several days. Just remember to balance with good foods and exercise!

     

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    Mushroom Thyme Risotto

    According to the fancy blog tracker on my blog dashboard, it’s been about two years since my last post. I can’t say I’m surprised. Remember way back in August 2013 when I started this blog – which is the 3rd blog I’ve attempted in my life – that I said I was really bad a blogging? Now you know I didn’t lie to you.

    I’m just going to gloss over the fact that I’m REALLY bad at blogging and jump right back in! I still think I think I have a ton of important and genius ideas, so I’m going to lay them out here in my personal part of the interwebs. If you like it, awesome! If you don’t…I don’t care. You can make your own blog and talk about how much you don’t like my blog. (Please don’t do that…do something more productive with your time.)

    Two years ago, I was writing about healthy eating and exercise. I’m probably still going to write a lot about those things. I’m probably also going to write about family life, mental health, and mommy things. But really, none of that matters, because the name of this entry is “Mushroom Thyme Risotto”, so let’s stop talking about my lack of blogging skill and talk about FOOD!!

    If you’ve read any of my past entries, you’ll know that I adore food. My mom was a great cook, my grandma was a great baker, and I was a great watcher of Food Network in college. I love cooking and eating. But here’s what I don’t like to do: follow recipes.

    WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA???

    Ok. That was an over-reaction. It’s true, though, I don’t like to follow recipes (unless I’m baking, which is different). What I like to do is learn methods. I like to learn the science behind how a recipe works and then use that to make a million other things. In my blog, you’ll see a lot of method cooking. I’ll still post recipe along with it for those of you who are less confident cooking and measuring by guesstimation.

    I also don’t like spending money. So, more often than not, these recipes will be pretty doggone cheap.

    I also like good food. I am a big supporter of eating healthy. But I’m also a big supporter of food that tastes good! My recipes are always the best of both worlds. I do not follow a low-carb, low-fat, paleo, anything-free, or anything diet. I try to eat in moderation. This recipe is a bit heavier on the moderation scale. So I balance it with healthy choices throughout the day and maybe serve it with a salad.

    Now, without further ado, let’s talk risotto!!

    Risotto, in and of itself, is a method. You can make any kind of risotto you want. Just change the veggies, change the cheese, and BOOM! New risotto.

    Step one will be getting the correct rice. Now, this is the one budget splurge item of this dish. You MUST get Arborio rice. You cannot make risotto without Arborio rice. There’s a lot of science here, but it boils down to the amount of starch and the type of starch in the rice. Not all rices are created equally, and Arborio is the only one that will do for this dish. (Full disclosure: there are other types of risotto rice. I’m guessing they are much harder to find and more expensive than arborio.) I buy this big jug at my regular grocery store for around $10. It’s definitely more costly than your average rice, but I can get many nights of luxurious risotto from this package.

    Step two is gathering your other ingredients. In my case, I gathered mushrooms & thyme (duh) plus some aromatics of onions and garlic. I highly recommend keeping the onions and garlic, but you could substitute any veggie and herbs you’d like (or none at all). For risotto, I like my veg chopped fairly small. I like to dig in to the unctuous rice with a spoon, so I want everything to fit.

    Step three is heating your stock. The classic method of risotto making involves slowly adding ladles of stock into the rice. This works much better with hot stock.  Use any stock you’d like. I default to chicken stock, but vegetable stock would totally work. I always heat up more stock than I think I need, and then just refrigerate any leftover.

    Step four…we RISOTTO! Crank up a pan – preferably a heavy bottomed wide pan with a good lip like this one – on medium high heat.

     Toss in a bit of butter AND olive oil. You could just do butter, but then you might burn it during the process (butter has a low smoke point). You could also just do oil, but then you don’t get the buttery goodness of butter. I do both!

    Once your pan is hot, toss in the onions and garlic for a couple minutes. This releases all that aromatic deliciousness we want from aromatics. Then, toss in your veg and herbs and sautee until mostly cooked. Make sure you add a good pinch of kosher salt!

    Now, the magic starts to happen. Melt in a just a little more butter (because, BUTTER) and throw in your magical Arborio rice. Stir a bit and let it soak up some buttery love and get a little toasty. Then – if you want to be very classic – pour in a little white wine. You don’t have to do this. You could just put in a ladle of stock. Either way, here we begin the real risotto process.

    Risotto does not cook like other rice. For our risotto, we want to the rice to release all its starchy goodness sloooooooooowly. That’s where our creamy goodness comes from. To do this, we must add liquid slowly. Add a ladle or two…stir until absorbed…repeat. Eventually, you’ll end up with creamy, al dente rice that you want to bury your face in. When you get close to the end (you’ll know, because it starts getting a really creamy consistency), start testing the rice. If it’s still crunchy, keep risotto-ing.

    Now, let’s take a break and talk about something. Risotto has a bit of a bad reputation. Some people think it takes too long. Some people think you must babysit it and stir it constantly. Neither of these things is true. Risotto takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. And, really, you don’t HAVE to stir it constantly. You can add the liquid, stir it, walk away to do something else, come back and stir, add more liquid, stir it, etc, etc, etc. You can’t walk TOO far away, or for too long, but you certainly don’t have to stand at the stove the whole time (in fact, when I made this last, I managed to wash all our twins’ bottles from the day in the time between liquid additions).

    To finish off your risotto, I recommend tossing in a bit of cheese. You certainly don’t have to, though. The risotto is creamy enough all on its own. But…its cheese.

    Now all that’s left is dishing it up and shoveling it in your face. Easy, right? This is definitely a dish that looks and tastes gourmet, but it’s really very easy. So get out there and risotto!!

    Mushroom Thyme Risotto

    **This recipe makes enough for 4 dinner size portions (more if you’re serving as a side dish). If you want to make less risotto, just cut down on all the portions. Measurements don’t have to be perfect, as long as you have enough liquid to cook your rice. Remember to heat up more stock than you think you need – you can always save the rest. Don’t be afraid to adjust amounts. It’s cooking, not rocket science.**

    2 tbsp butter, divided

    1 tbsp olive oil

    ¼ onion, chopped

    3 cloves garlic, chopped

    8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped

    1 tbps fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)

    1 ½ cups Arborio rice

    6 cups chicken stock

    2/3 cup white wine, optional

    ½ cup shredded parmesan, set aside some for serving (optional)

     

    1. Preheat stock in a pot. Keep on low.
    2. Heat oil and 1 tbsp butter in a heavy-bottomed wide pan. Add onions and garlic. Sautee until translucent.
    3. Add mushrooms and thyme. Sautee until mushrooms are browned and give up some of their moisture. Add a good pinch of kosher salt.
    4. Add 1 tbsp butter and rice. Sautee rice for one minute.
    5. Add white wine OR add 1-2 ladles of stock. Stir.
    6. When rice has absorbed all the liquid, add 1-2 ladles of stock. Stir.
    7. Continue adding 1-2 ladles of liquid, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb all the liquid before adding more.
    8. When risotto beings to look creamy, test rice for doneness. If it is still crunchy, continue with liquid additions.
    9. Risotto is done when there is a creamy sauce and the rice is soft, but not mushy (you want it al dente, just like pasta).
    10. Add cheese, if desired, and stir in well.
    11. Serve with a little cheese on top and a sprinkle of thyme leaves.