It's Sooo Vanilla or IS It?

Mmm.  I love a good cupcake.  I really don't know anyone who doesn't, except my husband.  Weirdo.  I force him to try them anyway.  Torturous, I'm sure.  I was browsing Tasty Kitchen one day and this picture was on their home page.  Click this (seriously).  Definitely yum, right?  Must.  Make.  Now.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
adapted from Annie's Eats

-1/2 c. cake flour
-1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
-1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
-1 cup sugar
-3 large eggs, room temperature
-1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp buttermilk, room temperature

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  I was able to get 15 cupcakes with batter.  Set aside.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk together and set aside.  Add butter and vanilla bean paste or vanilla bean seeds to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  (Can use hand mixer too)  Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix an additional minute.
3.  Add the sugar to the butter mixture,  1/4 c. at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Mix in eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  (If using vanilla extract add with the buttermilk)  Mix until just incorporated, scrape sides of the bowl and mix 15 seconds longer.
4.  Divide batter amongst liners, filling 2/3 of the way full.  Bake 18-22 minutes, check after 18 minutes; toothpick should come out clean.  Cool in pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Filling and Frosting
Adapted from Evil Shenanigans

-1 tsp. hot water
-3 1/2 oz. marshmallow fluff
-1/4 c. vegetable shortening
-3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
-2 Tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa
-1/2 tsp. vanilla
-pinch of salt

-In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the filling and whisk until completely mixed.  Place the filling into a pastry bag (or ziploc bag) fitted with a filling tip or a medium sized tip.

-Once the cupcakes are cooled, take a small paring knife, poke it into the center of the cupcake in a cross pattern about one inch deep or skip this if you have a filling tip.  Take the pastry bag and place the tip into the cross and pipe out very slowly until the filling just starts to come out of the top of the hole.  Clean the tops before frosting.

-1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-1 tsp vanilla bean paste
-3 c. powdered sugar
-1/4 cup half & half or milk or cream

-In a medium bowl combine the butter and vanilla bean paste.  Add the powdered sugar and 3/4 of the milk.  Whisk to combine.  If the frosting seems to thick or stiff add the rest of the milk and whisk.  Frost the cupcakes as desired.  Eat and enjoy!

In the cupcake recipe I didn't have buttermilk.  So I used the buttermilk substitute trick; 1 Tbsp white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup, add milk until measurement reads 1 cup.  Let stand 5 minutes and use in recipe as called for.

The filling is very tasty.  The frosting is very sweet.  These aren't my favorite cupcakes, but they aren't bad.  I think they'd just be "eh" without the filling.  The vanilla bean specks give it more "Oooh" factor too.

Sophistication is Key

Remember the good ol days; the days where you freely ate cookie dough without a care in the world?  In my wonder years, buying a roll of dough was a prerequisite for getting a sleepover started.  My girlfriends and I would unabashedly scarf down a tube of dough.  Lovely visual, right?  That was before my metabolism disappeared, before kids, and before worrying about illness from scary bacteria.  Where has all the fun gone?!  Okay, I still have fun, but not from licking delicious looking batter or dough from my you can imagine my girlish delight when I discovered this gem from Joy the Baker.  Cookie dough without the egg.  I'm running to the kitchen now!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls
adapted from Joy the Baker

-1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/3 cup granulated sugar
-1/3 cup greek yogurt
-1 tsp. vanilla
-1 cup + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-3/4 tsp salt
-3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
-10 oz. chocolate bark or semi-sweet chocolate, melted for dipping

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, (or you can do this by hand) cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
2.  Beat in yogurt and vanilla.  Mixing until combined.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
4.  Add flour mixture all at once to butter/sugar mix and stir until incorporated.
5.  Fold in mini chips, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 2-4 hours.

Using a tablespoon or melon-baller, scoop dough and form into tablespoon size balls.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place in fridge 8 hours or overnight to chill and harden.  With a toothpick,  dip ball in melted chocolate.  You can melt chocolate over double boiler or in microwave at 30 second intervals.  Place coated ball on cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.  Return balls to refrigerator or freezer.  Serve chilled and let your childhood memories take over!

Joy from "Joy the Baker" is a girl after my own heart!  Girl had her recipe making 9 balls-whoo!  I made 35 truffle size balls.  Maybe it's a sign of my age.  Since I knew I was making a bite size version, I chose to use mini chocolate chips.  Those things are so darn cute!  Either way you choose to size the balls or the chocolate chips, you can now eat your cookie dough care-free and I think, with a touch of sophistication.  Or at least more sophisticated then gnawing at a tube of dough.  *hangs head*

The Real (and not so real) Deal

Mmmm....strawberries.  When I was a little girl my grandma and I would pick those tiny wild strawberries in the summer.  She would often serve them in a shallow pool of ice cold milk with a dash of sugar.  I have fond memories and a lifelong love of strawberries.

Grocery store strawberries are masters in the art of deception.  They look pretty at a distance, but once you get close, most times, they are all bruised and/or partially rotten.  Nice.  No wonder they're $1.50 for a quart, you'll get (maybe) two good ones.  What a deal!  Other times I think they look great, but once home and washed, they lack in a nice strawberry flavor I desire.  Fed up with the antics, this spring I planted my own strawberry plant.  It has grown!  But no strawberries.  I don't even know.  Plants and I aren't generally friends.  But I will continue to water and care for it, and when I get strawberries of my own several years from now, it will all be worth it!  I'm sticking it to the MAN, the GROCERY MAN.

Now, on to sharing some very EASY strawberry flavored treats and one delicious cupcake made with the real deal.

Strawberry Oreo Truffles

-1 package Strawberry Milkshake Oreo's (this is seasonal)
-6 oz cream cheese, softened
-10 oz chocolate candy coating
-4 oz pink candy coating or sprinkles, non-pariels, etc.  (optional)

1.  Empty package of Oreo's into a gallon size ziploc bag.  Crush Oreo's using a rolling pin or whatever heavier object you have handy.
2.  Empty crushed Oreo's into a food processor, top with softened cream cheese, and pulse mixture until it appears moist and well combined.
3.  Refrigerate for 8 hours or until cool enough to form into balls.
4.  Using a melon baller, spoon, or keen eye, roll Oreo mixture into balls; tablespoon/truffle size.  Place balls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5.  Place cookie sheet in refrigerator for 4-6 hours.  Remove once balls have cooled and hardened and will be manageable in melted chocolate.
6.  Melt chocolate candy coating in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals or in a heat proof bowl over boiling water.
7.  Working quickly and with a few balls out at a time, insert a toothpick into Oreo ball and roll around in chocolate, using a spoon to help coat if needed.  Gently tap against bowl to remove excess chocolate.  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet.  Decorate with sprinkles/decor of choice if desired.
8.  Let cool and harden.  Decorate with additional candy coating if desired.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Strawberry Rice Krispie Treats

-4 Tbsp. butter
-10 oz package Strawberry flavored marshmallows (large ones were all I found)
-1/4 tsp. almond extract
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-1-2 drops red food coloring (if desired)
-6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
-1 cup miniature marshmallows (if desired)
-8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  Evenly coat a 9x13 pan with non-stick cooking spray or butter.
2.  In a large non-stick pot, melt butter over med-low heat.  Stir in package of Strawberry marshmallows.   Stir until melted.  Remove from heat.
3.  Add in extracts and food coloring.  Stir to combine.
4.  Add cereal and fold gently into melted marshmallow until cereal is evenly coated.  Sprinkle 1 cup of mini marshmallows over Rice Krispie mixture and continue to fold until mini marshmallows are evenly distributed through mixture.
5.  Turn out mixture into prepared pan and gently pat down with damp hands to evenly distribute.
6.  Melt semi-sweet chips in microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring at each interval.  Continue until melted.  Drizzle chocolate over Rice Krispie treats.
7.  Cool, cut into squares, serve and enjoy!

Pink Lady Cupcakes
adapted from Tasty Kitchen

-2 1/4 cup cake flour
-1 1/2 cup sugar
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1/4 tsp. salt
-6 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
-3/4 cup pureed strawberries, strained
-4 whole egg whites
-1/3 cup milk
-1-2 drops red food coloring (to make the pink pop)

1.  Preheat oven 350 F.  Place liners into cupcake pan.  Makes 24 cupcakes.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  On low speed with hand or stand mixer, blend for 30 seconds.  Add butter and strawberry puree and mix on low to incorporate ingredients.  Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3.  In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, milk, and food coloring, blending until light and airy.
4.  Add the whites to the batter in 3 additions.  Mixing just to incorporate after each addition.
5.  Divide batter evenly amongst cupcake liners.  I use a 1 3/4 oz. ice cream scoop or you can fill until liners are 3/4 full.
6.  Bake for 15-17 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cupcakes cool in tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Frosting
adapted from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy

-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
-8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature
-1/2 c. fresh strawberries, pureed
-2 Tbsp. strawberry jam
-4-5 cups powdered sugar

*disclaimer:  My mascarpone and butter mix did something funky and it was wet, splashing me, wet!  I ended up adding about 5 oz. cream cheese.  I added just 4 cups sugar, (it was sweet!) a pinch of salt, and used Smucker's Strawberry spreadable fruit instead of jam.

1.  Cream butter and mascarpone with electric or stand mixer until sort and fluffy, about 2 minutes (or never, if you're me)
2.  Add the strawberry puree and jam.  Mix to combine.
3.  Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and beat until light and fluffy.  (This is when I tasted, added salt, and softened cream cheese)
4.  Pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

These were awesomely yummy!  The cake is sooooo moist.  The frosting ended up being "loose" but very tasty.  I would make these again in a heartbeat.

See my strawberry plant trying to make an appearance?  Now if I could just make it produce some strawberries!