Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese frosting

During this time of year give me anything with pumpkin in it, and I’m game. And then when you pair pumpkin with the spice of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, alongside cream cheese frosting — jeepers — I’m totally done for. It honestly doesn’t get better than that.

These cupcakes have made an appearance in my life a few times already this fall — most recently at my dear friend Amy’s baby shower last month. And to be honest, the maple addition to the recipe was because I was out of vanilla extract the morning of the shower. I had maple extract in my cupboard and boom — a better frosting was born. These guys are a total hit every time I make them.

I wanted to get this recipe out to you guys before the season switches from pumpkin to peppermint — so enjoy my friends. Enjoy.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin

Frosting
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1-2 teaspoon maple extract (depends on how much maple flavor you want. You could also use real maple syrup too.)

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

Beat 1/2 cup of butter, the white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the room-temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Stir in the milk and pumpkin puree after the last egg. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by beating the cream cheese and 1/4 butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time until incorporated. Add the maple extract beat until fluffy. Once the cupcakes are cool, frost with the cream cheese icing.

Our Favorite Pizza Dough

We really love homemade pizza. It’s kinda our thing. And we’ve been trying to master the art of making homemade pizza dough since month one of our marriage — we’ve been incredibly persistent. We’ve tried a lot of bad doughs out there, but this one is a winner. It’s like the perfect combination of crispy and chewy, and the crust actually tastes like something — not cardboard. Which is usually the goal. Unless you like the taste of cardboard. And if that’s the case, well then, maybe you should look for a dough recipe elsewhere. And p.s. — you’re weird.

Once you realize how easy it is to make your own dough, and just how much better it tastes than store-bought, you’ll never want to go back. (Also, I think most store-bought pizza dough should be illegal. Blah.) When you can make your own delicious dough, and have it in the freezer ready to go whenever you need it, it is every bit as convenient as any premade version. I promise.

First thing to note — a pizza stone is an integral part of really good homemade pizza. Why? The stone is preheated with the oven, producing a very hot surface for baking the pizza. When you slide the assembled pizza onto the stone, the bottom of the crust starts baking immediately, producing the perfect crisp bottom that provides the slices structural integrity, while the top portion is still soft and chewy. Make sense? I’m telling you — we’ve made a lot of pizza — we know what’s up. This is how the professionals roll. Everything I’m saying is wisdom gleaned from those much more experienced than myself. 🙂

The recipe below will actually make two batches of dough. I go ahead and make the full batch because then I can freeze one for later. To do this, mix up the dough as usual and let it rise as normal. After dividing the dough into two equal portions, wrap one of them tightly in plastic wrap and store inside a freezer-safe bag, and transfer to the freezer immediately. The double layer is important here. Even after the dough is moved to the freezer, it will continue to rise a bit before the rise is completely suspended. It always, always pops through the plastic wrap so the extra layer of protection is needed to prevent exposure.

Then, on the day you plan to use the dough, transfer it to the refrigerator in the morning to thaw in time for dinner that evening. Easy peasy.

Have fun making pizza. 🙂

Basic Pizza Dough
Yield: enough dough for 2 medium pizzas

½ cup warm water
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1½ tsp. salt
1¼ cup water, at room temperature
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the bread flour and salt, mixing briefly to blend. Measure the room temperature water into the measuring cup with the yeast-water mixture. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the yeast-water mixture as well as the olive oil. Mix until a cohesive dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook. Knead on low speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.

Press down the dough to deflate it. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball. (If freezing the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze at this point.) Cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no longer than 30 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes. Transfer the dough to your shaping surface, lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Shape the dough with lightly floured hands. Brush the outer edge lightly with olive oil. Top as desired. Bake until the crust is golden brown, and cheese is bubbling, 8-12 minutes.

Courtney’s Morning Glory Muffins

Oh Muffins. I love muffins. All of them. There’s something about a muffin that comforts me. Maybe it’s cause every time I see a plate of them I think of a sweet old lady pulling a batch of warm muffins out of the oven in her adorable, yellow kitchen.

Why yellow, you ask? Cause its a soothing color. Did you know that? The color yellow soothes us. Fun fact time: when our eyes see yellow it sends a message to the brain and we feel more happy and optimistic because the brain actually releases more seratonin (that feel good chemical in the brain). Yep, fun fact. Haven’t you always wondered why hospitals tend to paint the walls yellow? Hmmmmm…..color psychology. It’s a real thing.

Sorry. I got distracted. Back to the muffins.

Unfortunately for muffin lovers like me, most muffins you purchase out in the world are super bad for you. Like, real bad. You know those super fab muffins at Perkins that are as big as your head? I’ve always been a fan of the banana nut ones. Yeah, those are like 600 preservative-packed calories. Stay away from them. Bad bad bad.

But these muffins — Courtney’s Morning Glory Muffins — these are actually good for you. I don’t know where the name “Morning Glory” came from. My friend said it’s because they’re “glorious” in the “morning”. She’s a pretty wise woman so we’ll go with her insight.

These muffins have no butter or oil, and they’re packed with fiber, protein, and whole grains. And even some fruit and veggies. They are 150 to 200 (depending on the size) good-for-you calories. They taste fabulous. Seriously, even Erick loves them. We can’t polish off a whole batch on our own before they dry out, so I usually freeze them when they’re fresh. Then you can pull them out one-by-one and pop it in the microwave for a minute. Taste like new.

Enjoy my friends.

Courtney’s Morning Glory Muffins
adapted from Cooking Light  

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup regular oats, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (or 1/2 cup of honey if you want to go sugarless)
  • 3 tablespoons wheat bran
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice (or cinnamon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt (you can use regular yogurt too, but greek has more protein)
  • 1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2-3)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 apple, peeled and shredded
  • 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins (or dates)

Preheat oven to 350°. Place 18 muffin cups liners in muffin cups; coat liners with cooking spray.

Place raisins in a small bowl. Pour one cup of hot tap water over the raisins and allow to sit for at least five minutes. This will “plump” the raisins. Drain the water.

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flours and next 6 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine yogurt, banana, vanilla, and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in apple, carrots, walnuts, and raisins. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle evenly with oatmeal.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pans immediately; cool on a wire rack.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Do I have a favorite pie? Why, yes. Yes I do.

Do you have a favorite pie?

I really love pie. It’s such a versatile dessert, I always have the ingredients to make some variety of its pastry goodness, and I honestly can’t think of a kind I don’t like. Unless of course it’s a pie that comes from the dark side. I don’t like dark side pies.

I believe all pies fall into one of two categories:

1) The “I can’t stop thinking about you because you’re a state fair blue-ribbon prize winner/hall of fame rock star” pie.

OR

2) The “dark side” pie. Also known as the “soggy-bottomed, overly-gelled filled, pretty-to-look-at-but-awful-to-taste, stink-fest” pie.

I don’t like these pies.

This pie, my friend, is not a “dark side” pie. As Yoda would say, this one has the force on its side it does. (Have I mentioned that I also love Star Wars?)

Oh man, do I love Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, in spite of — or perhaps because of — its old-timey charm; at their best, cooked strawberries taste like cotton candy and rhubarb is the perfect almost citrusy-sour contrast. Strawberry Rhubarb is my favorite pie.

Let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, my awesome pie-making boss told me he had access to obscene amounts of rhubarb. (yes!!!) The Lord provides. Yesterday, he called to ask me how many cups I wanted. Through my pure glee and excitement over a sour plant, I said, “five, yeah, five  cups — enough for two pies. Thanks Naidl.” Awesome. Five cups of rhubarb coming my way. Then, he sweetened the deal by offering to cut it up for me. Double Awesome.

So today, I received eight cups (three more than requested!!) of pre-cut rhubarb from Ryan Naidl. Boom!! Thanks Naidl. Best boss ever.

Action had to be taken people. In between discipleship, Bible study, training and some MPD, I made pie. Don’t say you don’t have time to make pie. There’s always time for pie.


Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Your favorite pie crust
3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds, untrimmed) rhubarb, in 1/2-inch thick slices
3 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon water (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, roll half of pie dough into a 12-inch circle and carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. (I like to fold my gently around the rolling pin to transfer it more easily, then roll it onto the pie plate.)

Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll second half of pie dough into an 11-inch circle and cut decorative slits in it. Transfer it to center over the pie filling. Trim top and bottom pie dough so that their overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath itself and crimp it decoratively.

Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush egg yolk mixture over dough. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. When full cool (several hours later) the juices gel.

Do ahead: Pie should keep for up to three days at room temperature but I have never, ever seen one last that long.

Cinnamon-Swirl Bread

I really dig cinnamon bread. I think it’s the gooey cinnamon swirl, melted butter and rising yeast, and cinnamon-sugar crust that lures me in. There is just something about it that says, “homey deliciousness” to me. You agree?

When I make this bread–which is fairly often–Erick and I always say, “we should totally make french toast with this!”  Every time, because we’re so proud of our ingenious thinking, we act as if it’s the first time we’ve ever come-up with this brilliant scheme. Erick usually says, “Epic.” And I squeal like a 13 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Food gets us really excited in the Horrmann household.

While this is a great idea in theory, it never works. We always eat the bread before it has a chance to get dipped and thrown in the pan. Someday. Maybe someday. Gotta have goals in life people.

This recipe is from the Sono Baking Company. It’s this bakery somewhere in Connecticut. My youngest brother bought this cookbook for me this past Christmas and I haven’t stopped baking since. If you’re looking for an amazingly well-written, semi-advanced, but simple baking book — this is my recommendation. John (he’s the baker who wrote the book) has made me a better baker. Truly.

Okay, I’ve plugged the book enough. Happy baking.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Dough:

3/4 cup warm milk
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon coarse salt
6 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2/3 cup raisins (optional)

Filling:

2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

To make the dough: In a small bowl, pour the warm milk over the yeast and let proof for 5 minutes. Make sure it gets bubbly.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, salt, and butter and beat on low speed until the butter breaks down and dissolves completely in the dry ingredients, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the yeast mixture and the water and beeat on low speed until the flour is absorbed and the ingredients are well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. The dough should be tacky but not sticky when you touch it. It should be damp enough that the dough still attaches a bit to the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too dry, it will collect around the paddle–add water by the tablespoon. (Err on the side of too much water; you can always add more flour as you knead.)

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface. Knead by scooping the dough up from underneath with the thumb and the first tow fingers of each hand, then folding it over on itself. Give it a quarter-turn and repeat. As the gluten develops, the flour absorbs moisture; as you work it, the dough will pull together into a ball and become less tacky. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy. Pat the dough into a 9-inch round. Sprinkle with the raisins, and knead briefly to incorporate. Stretching it gently, fold in the left and right sides to the center, then the top and bottom. Place the dough, smooth side down, into a lightly oiled bowl, then turn the dough over so that both sides are coated with oil. Cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times and very soft, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough and turn the dough in the bowl so the smooth side faces up. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again in a warm place until increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, to make the filling: Stir together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup to sprinkle on the finished loaf; reserve it separately.

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, smooth side facing down. Gently stretch it to flatten it to a rectangle, about 6 by 14 inches, with a short side at the bottom. Make sure that the edges are not too thick, or you’ll end up with a loaf that sloped down in the center. Brush with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar filling, allowing a 1-inch border at the top and bottom. Rolling from the top, roll the loaf as tightly as you can into a log. Gently press the seams together. Place the loaf seam side down in a buttered 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the loaf is increased in bulk by 1 1/2 times and has risen over the top of the pan, 30 to 45 minutes.

Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet, place it in the oven, and immediately reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees. Bake, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the crust is evenly golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 40-45 minutes. Turn the loaf out immediately, on its side, onto a wire rack to cool.

Brush the cooled loaf all over with the melted butter, and sprinkle with the reserved 1/3 cup cinnamon-sugar mixture. Transfer to a wire rack and let stand until the sugar dries, about 30 minutes.

Lemon Curd

For Christmas this year I did a lot of homemade gifts for friends and family. I know … super Martha Stewart of me. I’m not usually a clever, crafty, creator of things, but I was feeling inspired by the amazing ideas I discovered on Pinterest.

Which — by the way — have you joined the crazy, addictive world of Pinterest?

Do you know what it is?

No? Don’t worry friend, I got your back.

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard — a place where you can create collections of things you love, and “follow” collections created by people with great taste. People use Pinterest to collect and share all sorts of things — wedding inspiration, recipes, style, home decor ideas — you name it, people are pinning it.

This is a pretty good description of how I felt — and now feel — about Pinterest. It’s awesome. Trust me.

*sigh* But let’s get back to the curd, shall we?

If you have a mother-in-law like I do, you may experience a conundrum each year on what to give her for Christmas. She likes to drop lines like, “I have everything I want” and “you don’t need to get me anything for Christmas. Being with you is enough.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

This is where the lemon curd comes in. My mama-in-law is a lover of all things lemon and she and I share a deep love for curd, so I made her a batch. We love it on scones, toast, yogurt, or … just by the spoonful. I put hers in a cute little jar, tied a red ribbon around the neck, and “wallah!” a Christmas gift.

Lemon curd is a thick, soft and velvety cream that has a wonderful tart — yet sweet — citrus flavor.

What I like about lemon curd is that it doesn’t use “Martha Stewart-like” ingredients: just eggs, sugar, lemons and butter. Simple, simple, simple my friends. And the only “special” tool you need is a microplane grater. You can borrow mine if you’d like. 🙂

Go make some curd.

Lemon Curd
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (5-6 lemons)
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a saucepan, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and salt and beat until light and well blended. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 5-10 minutes. To prevent the eggs from curdling, do not boil. Remove from heat.

Add the butter pieces and whisk until melted and smooth.

Pour the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Immediately place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside to cool completely, then discard the plastic wrap, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Honey Crunch Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie. There is really nothing quite like it on this planet. If you’ve never tried it — either because it’s just not a family tradition in your neck of the woods or you’ve written it off as some freaky-looking nutty concoction — you must try it this year. Unless you’re allergic to nuts. In that case, steer clear. Make apple instead.

Pie is a tradition for me. I grew up in a family who ate pie — usually three or four — at every holiday gathering. I just don’t think a party starts without pastry goodness filled with more fruity/nutty/pudding goodness. Erick’s family doesn’t roll that way. They like pie, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just not a staple. I’m trying to change the culture.

I have a special little pie cookbook my Mom gave me years ago, this epic recipe comes out of that little book. The secret, honestly, is the various layers of pecans. You chop them finer for the bottom layer, and then leave them whole for the top. I’m talking about texture people. Texture. I think it’s the key to good pecan pie.

About five years ago, I brought this pie to Erick’s family Christmas. I wooed Erick’s Uncle Tim within seconds, and impressed myself with how stinkin’ good it tasted. Ever since, this guy has made an appearance.

Maybe this year, it’ll make one at yours. 🙂

Honey Crunch Pecan Pie 

Crust
Unbaked single pie crust

Filling
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 cup light corn syrup
2 T. butter, melted
1 t. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Topping
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 T. butter
3 T. honey
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Heat oven to 350. For filling: combine eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, corn syrup, butter, vanilla and chopped nuts. Mix well. Spoon into unbaked pie shell.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Cover edge of pastry with foil. Bake 20 minutes more. Remove from oven.

For topping: combine sugar, butter and honey in medium saucepan. Cook about 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Add nuts. Stir until coated. Spoon evenly over pie. Cover edge of pastry with foil. Bake 10 to 20 minutes or until topping is bubbly and golden brown. Cool to room temperature before serving.