Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chocolate Nutella Cupcakes

In my department (The Finance Department - where everybody counts!) at work everyone used to be responsible for someone's birthday - you'd pick up a card (have everyone sign it), pick up a dessert and we would all sing happy birthday and enjoy the sweet treat. This year, we decided to do things a little different where we would celebrate just once a month (when there was a birthday) because some months we were having three or four cakes! April and October are two of the big months with lots of birthdays. Don't get me wrong, I love cake just as the next person, but when you are trying to watch your waistline, four cakes is a lot!

We had our first celebration in January and someone mentioned, "why doesn't just Christina make the goodies every month". I giggled, but was actually excited that the group wanted me to make the treats. As long as I wasn't sick, busy or had something else going on, I was up for it. Why not? I love to bake and better way then to test some recipes out on my co-workers. Don't worry co-workers, I won't make anything too weird. Although, I do have a garlic cupcake I want to try. I kid. Well, I kid about the part where I will make them for you. I really might make these and am willing to take volunteers to tell me what they think.

Next came February and Dennis' birthday. I know he likes tres leches cake and even requested tiramisu, but I had made tiramiau cupcakes before for Jen's wedding shower and was worried a tres leches cake might be too gooey for a cupcake. I wanted to make something chocolatey, rich and oh so good. I did a bit of googling and couldn't come up with anything that really stuck out. And then I remembered a Giada episode I had watched at the gym the previous week (I really need to stop watching the Food Network at the gym). She had made her own nutella. Perfect! Who doesn't love nutella, right? Mmm hazelnuts and chocolate. I could seriously eat that stuff with a spoon from the jar. Okay, okay. I did that when I was making these cupcakes. Don't judge. It was just one spoonful. Okay, maybe two. That was it though.

Then the chocolate cupcake filled with nutella and topped with a nutella buttercream was born. How heavenly does that sound? The cupcake is light, but moist and so so so chocolatey. The buttercream is airy, but has such a rich nutella-y flavor. The pure nutella filling is just over the top delicious and is a must. When all done, these cupcakes are heavy and are definitely a fork and plate kind of cupcake! The cupcakes were a big hit amongst the group and not to toot my own horn or anything, but several people told me this was the best cupcake they'd ever eaten. One person even said that this was a chocolate lovers dream! I couldn't believe all the good things people were saying. I even was asked if I took orders and if I'd be willing to make cupcakes for an upcoming event someone was having. Whoa. I know the cupcake was good, but was it that good? Maybe you will have to make these and see for yourself!

ingredients - I used instant coffee here, but if you have regular coffee brewing go ahead and use that.

wet + dry

wet going into dry

this recipes makes a lot of cupakes

look at this cool cupcake corer Ryan bought me. Thanks Ryan!

filled with nutella! I put the nutella in a ziploc and just piped into the holes.

topped with nutella buttercream and gold sprinkles!

Chocolate Nutella Cupcakes (slightly adapted from

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used instant coffee to make mine)

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 13-ounce jar of nutella (I used the biggest jar I could find so I could have it for the buttercream and filling or you can just buy two 13-ounce jars)
pinch of fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter between 24 muffin wells, filling each well 2/3 full (be careful not to fill them too much or you will have overflowing cupcakes that are hard to get out of the pan). Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, use a small paring knife, apple corer or a cupcake corer to remove a small amount of the center of the cupcake. Fill each hole with nutella using a spoon, piping bag or ziploc bag (with the corner cut off).

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and nutella until well combined. Slowly add in powdered sugar, and continue creaming until well blended Add salt, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk. Blend on low speed until moist. Add an additional 3-5 tablespoons of heavy cream or milk until you reach the desired consistency. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy.  Frost cupcakes and enjoy!

This recipe makes about 24 cupcakes and they freeze really well. If there are any extras, wrap each one in plastic wrap and place in a ziploc bag for up to three months. When you are ready to eat one, take out and let defrost on the counter or in the fridge. There may be a little bit of "dew" on the cupcake as it defrosts, but that is okay. It will still taste like the best cupcake you've ever had!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beef Wellington

As you know, Ryan's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and to accompany a great dessert needs to first come a great dinner. I wanted to step it up a few notches and really challenge my cooking skills with something I've never made before, never had, nor has Ryan (at least I'm pretty sure he's never had it before). I don't cook beef very much and since I know Ryan enjoys it, I knew I wanted to use beef somehow. It's not that I don't like beef, I just really don't eat it that much. Maybe it's because I'm too afraid to cook it. I think that's the issue. Glad I finally admitted that. What could I make that was challenging, beefy and super special for my birthday boy?

Beef wellington!

It was perfect and I was ready to take on the challenge. If you don't know what beef wellington is or have never had it, it usually consists of beef tenderloin (hello fillet mignon!), wrapped in ham with mushroom duxelle (fancy for finely chopped and cooked mushrooms) and then wrapped in puff pastry and baked to golden perfection. Does that sound fabulous or what? I thought so and was ready to tackle this bad boy. Now, finding beef tenderloin may not be the easiest of things. At least it wasn't for me. Luckily, I made a new friend with the butcher at Whole Foods (I shop there too much and he now knows me - great) and was able to get just what I needed and for a pretty great price. You don't have to go to Whole Foods to find it though. You can ask any meat counter at your local grocery store and I am sure they either have it in the back or they can order it for you at no extra cost. All you have to do is ask!

The good thing about this recipe is that you can make it all in one day or prepare each step the day before. My recommendation would be to at least do the mushrooms ahead of time so they can cool and be ready. I made the mushrooms the night before and then assembled everything the next morning - I was trying to prepare as much ahead of time as possible, so I wouldn't be stuck in the kitchen all night. You could even do the whole thing ahead of time, but make sure that everything is cooled completely before you assemble. If it is still warm, your puff pastry will get soggy and not puff. Non puffing puff pastry is not a good time. I know what you are thinking - this all sounds too complicated. Although there are quite a few steps, all the time it takes to put this together will be well worth your effort - I promise!

Ryan and I like our meat medium well, so it took just shy of an hour to bake the whole thing. About 30 minutes or so into the baking time, I began checking the temperature with a digital thermometer (if you don't have one, go and get one. I paid about $12 for mine and it's great. You don't have to go getting one that costs an arm and a leg! Nothing super fancy needed here, just one that works.) to ensure that the meat was getting to about 150 -155 degrees. It definitely took longer than I thought, so I just covered the top with foil to prevent anything from burning. About an hour in the oven and ten minutes to rest, the meat was ready to cut and serve. This is where I really wish I would have taken a picture of the beef wellington post baking. It was brown, puffed and looking beautiful. The meat was more medium in the middle and more well on ends. It looked pretty and tasted good too! The only sad part was that after the first slice, the meat separated from the prosciutto, mushroom and puff layer. Not sure why that happened. Maybe I just didn't cut it right. Knowing me, that was probably the case. Nevertheless, served with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus, it made for a yummy birthday meal. I also whipped up a madeira and beef stock reduction sauce to go over the top, but I think this is good enough to stand on it's own so you can taste all the flavors.

Here's how to do it, minus what it looks like when it comes out of the oven. Guess I was too excited to eat it and totally forgot. What a ding dong. Warning there are a lot of photos, but I want to make sure I show you step by step!

I used a small food processor to chop my mushrooms fine. If you don't have one, just take your time cutting them up small.

this is why you cook the mushrooms in a dry and hot pan - to cook them and get all the water out so you don't make the puff pastry all soggy ooey gooey. this takes about ten minutes (give or take).

this is what they look like when they are done. Cover and cool until ready to use.

here is the ingredient line up

most important step - brown the beef on all sides

I'm not joking - brown on all sides.

mmm, browned beef!

cool beef, then coat with mustard.

lay out plastic wrap then prosciutto and then mushrooms.

placed beef on one end.

roll up tight, wrap in more plastic wrap and then place in the fridge until ready to wrap in pasty (at least 20 minutes).

when ready, roll out puff pastry.

place covered beef and brush all sides with egg wash. then roll up.

all rolled up and brushed with egg wash. don't forget to sprinkle with coarse salt!

Beef Wellington (from

1 lb beef tenderloin fillet
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 lb mushrooms (I used half cremini or baby bellas)
4 thin slices prosciutto
2 tablespoons yellow mustard (not dijon!)
7 ounces puff pastry (needs 3 hours to defrost in refrigerator if using frozen)
2 egg yolks, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F. 

  1. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a large pan on high heat. Season the fillet generously with salt and pepper. Sear the fillet in the pan on all sides until well browned (hint: do not move the fillet until it has had a chance to brown). Remove the fillet from the pan and let cool. Once cooled, brush the fillet on all sides with mustard.
  2. Chop the mushrooms and put them into a food processor and finely chop. Heat a large pan on medium high heat. Scrape the mushrooms into the pan and let cook down, allowing the mushrooms to release their moisture. When the moisture released by the mushrooms has boiled away, set aside the mushrooms to cool.
  3. Roll out a large piece of plastic wrap. Lay out the slices of prosciutto on the plastic wrap so that they overlap. Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham. Place the beef fillet in the middle, roll the mushroom and ham over the fillet, using the plastic wrap so that you do this tightly. Wrap up the beef fillet into a tight barrel shape, twisting the ends of the plastic wrap to secure. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until ready to use. 
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet to a size that will wrap around the beef fillet. Unwrap the fillet from the plastic wrap and place in the middle of the pastry dough. Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten eggs. Fold the pastry around the fillet, cutting off any excess at the ends (pastry that is more than 2 layers thick will not cook all the way, try to limit the overlap). Place on a small plate, seam side down, and brush beaten egg yolks all over the top. Chill for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Place the pastry-wrapped fillet on a baking pan. Brush the exposed surface again with beaten eggs. Score the top of the pastry with a sharp knife, not going all the way through the pastry. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt. Bake for 25-35 minutes. The pastry should be nicely golden when done. (To ensure that your roast is cooked to your liking, test with an instant read meat thermometer. ) Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Slice in 1-inch thick slices and enjoy!

Wow, that was a lot of steps, but like I said, SO worth it in the end. This meal is elegant enough to serve for a holiday or even just because. BONUS - My wine recommendation for this (and what we had with ours) is a great pinot noir from San Luis Obispo county- Tower Brook Pinot Noir 2008. If you hurry, you can catch this bottle on the 5 cent sale at BevMo. A bottle will run you about $20 on a normal day, but with the sale, that's about $10/bottle. It's a great light red wine without all the spice. Smooth and perfect with this dish!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Guinness Chocolate Layer Cake

Two weeks ago was Ryan's birthday and making a special birthday dessert for the birthday boy was a must. The real question was what type of dessert should I make for my #1 pilot? Everything always sounds so good and it's so hard to narrow it down (I have a HUGE list of things I want to try!). That and I am slightly indecisive. Just ask Ryan. Last year I made a tiramisu cheesecake. How did it taste? We will never know. I wasn't feeling good after dinner and left the cheesecake out to take chill off and then went to lay down. I figured Ryan would have seen it, but nope. The whole thing sat out on the counter all night and went to waste. Sad, but true. Needless to say, this year I would not be making a cheesecake for fear that I would leave it out again and all my hard would would go down the drain. I have now learned to leave the cheesecake making to Ryan. Note to all readers - my man makes the best cheesecake you've ever put into your mouth. And no, I am not joking.

Okay, back to this year. So, Ryan loves chocolate as much as I do, but I wanted to step it up a notch. Cupcakes? No. I make those a lot and he might expect those. Pie? Well, as much as a lemon meringue pie sounded fabulous, I knew the boy deserved a big chocolate dessert. Everyone deserves a chocolate coma on their birthday! Now, I've made my go-to double layer chocolate cake for Ryan before, but it was hard to come up with a twist he wouldn't expect. I was looking through my notes and scribbles of all the recipes I want to try (I keep this around when I watch cooking programs!) and then, it came to me.

Guinness + chocolate = <3

How did I not see this sooner? Ryan loves chocolate and loves Guinness. Match made in heaven? I think so! This cake does take some time to make and put together, but the outcome is so worth it. You can even do the whole thing a day ahead (that's what I did) and then all the flavors have time to blend together. Of course you can do it all in one day, but I had plenty of other cooking for his birthday dinner to get started, so I wanted to get the cake done and looking pretty. This cake is three layers of rich, super dense cake with a chocolate truffle-like filling and frosting. If you didn't know any better, you'd probably never detect the Guinness, but I think it enhances the chocolate flavor and brings the cake to a whole new level. I love the way that coffee enhances the chocolate flavor in recipes, and Guinness adds a similar twist, but with a slight barley kick.

My words of advice for this one - get in your kitchen and make it! But, when you do, make sure you have a BIG bowl or mixer to hold all of the ingredients for the batter. I have a large kitchen aid stand mixer (the one with the hand crank to lift the bowl) and the thing was filled to the brim and flowing with chocolate. I am just going to admit this now - I totally took a spoon to that stuff and took a good lick. It was totally worth it. Ryan would be proud.

ingredients - there is a lot of butter and sugar in this cake, but don't let that scare you. It's chocolate cake and worth every calorie!

my tip for you - make the frosting before the cake so it has time to cool and firm up. Bring the cream to a simmer then pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for a couple of minutes, then whisk until smooth.
cream over chocolate
mmmm, smooth.

bringing the Guinness and butter to a boil

from left to right- dry, wet and cocoa powder

when the Guinness and butter are done boiling, add in the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.

here is how I line my cake plate. this makes for easy clean up and so you don't get frosting all over. if you don't have parchment paper in your kitchen - go get it!

look at those layers!

finished cake! what better to go with beer than pretzels? plus, I know the birthday boy loves yogurt pretzels.

Guinness Chocolate Layer Cake (slightly adapted from

2 cups stout (I used Guinness extra stout, but you can use whatever stout you like)
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream


2 cups whipping cream
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used a half a pound of bittersweet and half a pound of semisweet)

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray with non-stick spray,  three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper and spray again with non-stick spray or butter.

 Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly. 

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl (the biggest bowl you have!) to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30-34 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack and cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely. 

For icing:
Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate to a separate bowl and pour over the cream. Let sit for 2-3 minutes and then whisk until smooth and melted.  Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours. If the icing gets too firm, place in microwave to get it to the consistency you like. Just be careful to not melt it again (I almost did this).

To put together the cake, place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake and decorate as desired.

When this cake is finished, let me just warn you - it is huge and feeds a crowd! If you are just making this for a few people, make sure to slice up the leftovers, wrap it up with some plastic wrap and freeze for later.  This frozen cake will be a great dessert for those nights when you want something sweet but don't want to make anything. Maybe that and enjoy it with a Guinness float? Now that would be the ultimate chocolate indulgence!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

40 Days & 40 Nights

Hello readers! I know I've been gone for over month (has it really been that long?), but I am back and ready to blog and give you tons of great recipes to try (and ones I am sure you will love as much as I do)! But, before I get back into the swing of things and dazzling you with photos and laughter of yummy recipes, I want to fill you in on a recent challenge I've decided to take on. 

This time of year brings lent. Most of the people I know are deciding what they are going to give up and go without for the next 40 days. I am not catholic, but have always contemplated, "should I give something up?". As the years have gone by, I never did it, but for some reason, this year, I have decided to challenge myself and step it up a notch.  I thought about all of the things I could give up and boy was it hard to come up with something that was a challenge, but not completely crazy. Well, what I am about to tell you might seem crazy (especially seeing how much I love it), but I know I can be strong and make it through the next 40 days. Before I go telling you what I decided to give up, let me tell you about the few other things that passed through my mind while I was trying to decide:

  1. Caffeine - That wouldn't work considering I don't drink it any more. I stopped drinking coffee almost a year ago and stopped having my monthly diet pepsi last month. I'm trying to drink mostly water and staying away from artificial sweeteners as much as possible. It's not easy, but I'm determined to keep with it.
  2.  Wine - Ya, right. I'm sure I could give it up for a month, but maybe next year.
  3. Facebook - Technology is so addicting, so this one would be really really hard.
  4. Television - I am addicted to a couple of shows (my boyfriend will probably hate my for admitting this on my blog, but my guilty pleasure is Jersey Shore - sorry Ryan!) and look forward to watching them after a long work week. That and I can't miss Top Chef and 2 Broke Girls.
  5. Blogging - Since I already took a month off, I don't think I should take another month off. Most of my readers are already sad I've been gone this long!
A few other things came to mind, but nothing seemed quite right. That is until it was staring me right in the face - CHOCOLATE! 

Yes, you are hearing it right. I've decided to give up anything and everything chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights. I know I am crazy, but seeing as how much I love chocolate and love to bake with it, this is going to be a real test of my willpower and strength. I try not to eat too much chocolate so my booty won't grow, but if you put a piece of yummy chocolate cake in front of me or a big warm chocolate chip cookie, it's really hard for me to walk away. I mean, let's be real here. Who wouldn't have a hard time with that, right? 

I'm sure you'll hear my ranting and raving over the next several weeks about my chocolate withdrawals (Ryan - sorry ahead of time if I get cranky!), but I am feeling good about this choice and know I can stick with it. The best part of this is knowing at the the end, it will be my birthday, and I will be eating a BIG piece of chocolate cake. Or chocolate cheesecake. Or a big ooey gooey brownie. That I can promise you. For now, I am off to enjoy my last night of being able to have chocolate by eating a piece of Ryan's left over chocolate birthday cake. Go big or go home, right?

Now, here is my question to you - what would you be willing to give up?