Happy Christmas Eve!

Peppermint is one of my favorite holiday flavors. Paired with chocolate—a flavor for all seasons—I’m in dessert heaven.

chocolate peppermint

I baked these for Mala Yoga‘s Holiday Party. (Interested in me and yoga? Read my yoga story!) One of my yoga teachers doesn’t eat wheat but can tolerate spelt, so I had an opportunity to use some of the spelt flour I’d gotten from my CSA. I hadn’t baked with spelt before, and I was curious how it would go.

You will hear spelt referred to as an “ancient grain.” This is because it is an ancestor of modern wheat. Spelt has slightly fewer calories than wheat and more protein, fiber, and certain vitamins.

spelt flourspelt flour
My spelt flour came from Farmer Ground. Visit their website!

Spelt flour is NOT gluten free. It has a different type of gluten, one that is often more easily digestible for people with gluten sensitivities, but it is not suitable for those with celiac disease. Many who have a wheat allergy, however, can eat goods baked with spelt flour.

Baking with Spelt Flour

My research instructed me to reduce the liquid in my recipe by 1/4 and to let the batter rest 10 minutes before baking. Spelt apparently absorbs more moisture than wheat, or maybe it just reacts a little differently to water. Otherwise, I just used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe, substituting the spelt flour for regular wheat flour.

chocolate peppermint spelt

They were yummy, I have to say. I could tell there was something different about them, but I couldn’t tell that much. The main thing I noticed was that they were a little more crumbly, but that was no problem. I’d be happy to bake again with spelt flour any time!

I made a peppermint buttercream (my regular vanilla frosting with natural peppermint extract) and topped them with crushed candy canes.

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A friend requested I “get crazy with some rhubarb” for his birthday. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find rhubarb in August in NYC, as a local availability website said the season was May-July. However, I found some the second place I went, a fruit and veg store down the block. The grocer who stands outside to tempt passersby with fresh fruit samples led me right to a small pile, which I quickly depleted.

rhubarb

I made a rhubarb purée by cooking cut rhubarb with some water and a little lemon. I simmered until it was soft then used my hand blender. The purée went into both the cupcake batter and the icing.

I candied some rhubarb to top the cupcakes. I made a sugar solution over the stove, dipping julienned rhubarb to coat, then arranged on a foil-covered pan. I baked these sticky strips in the oven at 200° for about 45 minutes. After removing the rhubarb from the oven, I shaped them into knots while they were still pliable, then left them out to harden overnight.

candied rhubarb

The cupcakes came out a little denser than your average cupcake, tasting almost like pound cake. The rhubarb flavor came through, which was the most important thing.

For the icing, I used powdered sugar, rhubarb purée, and butter, plus a little cream cheese to give it extra punch. I hadn’t completely factored in the fact, though, that the purée and cream cheese might be too much moisture to get an icing consistency that would be easy to pipe. I prefer to pipe my icing because it is faster and usually looks nicer, but something I may have to face is that all types of icing are not meant to be piped! I did my best this time, though, adding some more butter and lots of powdered sugar to get what I wanted. I stopped my additions before they overpowered the rhubarb taste, doing my best to pipe a good amount on each cupcake, topping with a rhubarb knot.

rhubarb cupcakes

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Root beer was the flavor requested by the birthday boy, my boyfriend Jason, and I took on the challenge. I’d read that adding straight root beer wasn’t really enough to get the flavor in cake. Many recipes I found online use root beer concentrate, something I could not find anywhere in my neighborhood. (Stinky Bklyn, a local shop with a range of gourmet ingredients in addition to cheese, didn’t have any. However, they did say it sounded awesome and would look into it.) I was tempted by the Sodastream root beer flavoring I saw in one store, but that seemed like cheating. I decided to cook down a bottle of root beer, much like I cooked the beer for my Guinness cupcakes. I hoped that would work better than just root beer itself.

Root Beer Cupcake
Root Beer Barrel “Chip” Cupcake with Root Beer Buttercream Frosting (Photo by Jason Yung)

I also procured two bags of root beer barrels candy. I originally thought I would just put one on top of each cupcake, or crush and use as a topping. To guarantee more root beer flavor into my batter, though, I crushed one bag with a hammer and added them to the cake batter, much as I did the cinnamon discs for my red hot cupcakes. I didn’t let them sit to dissolve this time, so they were more like root beer barrel “chips” than a flavoring incorporated into the batter.

rootbeer chip

The recipe was otherwise basically that of a regular vanilla cupcake, though with only about 2/3 the sugar. I did add a bit more flour to balance the liquid, the root beer which I simmered until reduced by about half. The cupcakes smelled more like muffins than cake when baking, but any sweetness they lacked was made up for in the frosting.

I thought I might cook down some more root beer to add to the icing, and crush more root beer barrels to sprinkle over the top. Deciding to try a different crushing method, I stuck them in my blender. The result was a mixture of big chunks of mangled candy, still too big to sprinkle, and a sugar-like powder. I realized I’d accidentally made something that was basically root beer sugar. I filtered it out from the larger pieces of candy and used that in my frosting rather than actual root beer. The end result was very sweet and root beer-y, so much so that I didn’t put any more of the candy pieces on top.

The birthday boy got his much-loved root beer in cupcake form, as requested, at his birthday picnic!

birthday boy

cupcake eater 1

cupcake eater 2

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I made these Easter weekend, as you might guess from the decoration. Carrots, to me, also fit the spring theme. Bunny food, right?

I usually put golden raisins in my carrot cake, and no nuts. (I like nuts, but I don’t love nuts in my cupcakes.) Fresh out of raisins, I remembered I had some crystallized ginger stored away. Sounded like a good combo to me, so I chopped up the ginger and threw it in. The sugar cooked off and into the cupcakes, leaving slightly crispy chunks of pure candied ginger in with the shredded carrots.

carrot cake easter

I made a big batch of cream cheese icing, coloring some green to pipe as grass, the rest pink or yellow. I got lots of piping practice with the “grass,” for which I used a multi-opening decorating tip. I could have used icing with a slightly thicker consistency. Some of my grass looked a little like green spaghetti. The general idea came across, though! They were topped with M&M’s Speckled Easter Eggs Candy to finish the look.

All I can say is that they went fast! At the party where I served them, I ate two myself (usually I try to stick to one), and I don’t even love carrot cake. For me, the ginger made it.

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My Valentine requested cupcakes with Red Hots, but there were none to be found. Really… Was there a run on Red Hots in Brooklyn? I had to switch gears, so I purchased a store-brand bag of cinnamon discs (individually wrapped hard candies) and a box of Hot Tamales!

Supplies

How to get the “hot” flavor in the cupcakes? I just didn’t know what to expect if I put Hot Tamales in the batter, so I went another route. I crushed cinnamon discs in a baggie with a hammer (now that’s what I call fun!) and used them instead of about half the sugar in my vanilla cupcake recipe.

I put the crushed cinnamon discs in with the sugar and butter when creaming, then proceeded as normal. The candy powder and pieces were not melding with the rest, so I let the batter sit about an hour before giving it a last mix and scooping it into the tins to bake. The time I let pass allowed the color and flavor of “cinnamon” seep into the batter for a more cohesive look and taste.

Creaming butter, sugar, and crushed cinnamon discs; newly mixed batter; after an hour

Then for the frosting… I was avoiding using any real cinnamon in these cupcakes, as I wanted to get the real fake taste of “red hot” candy right! I opened up my box of Hot Tamales with an idea.

Fun fact: Hot Tamales will burn before they melt! I cooked them on the stovetop, keeping them at a low-medium temperature with a little water, but only the outer shells melted. Sure, ok, it was partially my fault for turning away for 2 seconds, but I’m calling trying to melt Hot Tamales a “Bad Idea.”

What did work, to some extent, was simmering a couple of cinnamon discs in about 1/3 cup water, letting them dissolve. I added some of this liquid to the icing, otherwise a regular vanilla buttercream, which added a little flavor and color. I could have made it stronger, but I was scared. (As as aside, I also set some mac and cheese on fire about the same time. Oops.)

Once I had piped frosting on the cooled cakes, I added—finally—two Hot Tamales.

Mine!*

I served the cupcakes to my Valentine (and me!) with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Some lucky Webgrrls enjoyed the extra cupcakes at a workshop the next evening!

They did not taste terribly spicy, but they had a little of that red-hot kick, I’d say. I’ll let my tasters comment!

*This lovely hand-stamped vintage spoon, part of a pair (the other says “Your Ice Cream”), is from Beach House Living.

A cupcake for a rose? A sweet exchange...

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