Sunday, December 5, 2010

Toffee Crunch Bars

Since life has been quite crazy as of late, I have been putting off my next blog post for some time now, unfortunately. I've been itching to get one up between work and rehearsals, and finally, I've had a chance to sit and write. I've baked quite a bit for the little amount of free time I have had recently, but hey, it's my stress reliever---I've gotta find time to do it, even if it does keep me up a little too late!

I have been dying to share this recipe. I've made it a handful of times in the past month since I was introduced to its chewy toffee bar counterpart by someone at my dance studio. She brought in this addictive little treat to share with everyone and immediately, I was begging for the recipe. Her version was a chewy bar, but I've altered it from what she did to make it a crunchy toffee bar. I've had the chance to play around with it a little, research a bunch of different recipes and variations, alter it slightly, and test different baking times. It's now number one on my list for the perfect bring-along-treat to any party, get-together, or absolutely anything (upcoming holiday parties, anyone?). Not only does it travel & store nicely, but it's definitely a crowd pleaser and its extremely easy. Trust me, it's been tested and confirmed....several times! And I've given it my own name, Toffee Crunch Bars, instead of its original, to disguise the secret ingredient (which will be revealed below).

Not only does this perfect little recipe impress, but it requires minimal ingredients and minimal time---something that's extremely important to me with the tiny amount of free time that I have! All you need is butter, brown sugar, chocolate, some chopped nuts, a little vanilla extract, and saltines. Yes, saltines. Sounds weird, right? Oddly enough, the plain little cracker is what makes this recipe. And you guessed it---that's the secret ingredient. These were originally called Saltine Toffee Bars, but that just gives too much away! Most people are surprised when I tell them what it is and their mystery is half the fun. The balance of the salty and the crunchy with the sweet of the toffee and the chocolate is utterly perfect. And just one warning----they disappear so much quicker than you would expect!

Toffee Crunch Bars
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp of vanilla
about a sleeve of plain saltine crackers
12 oz of chocolate chips
chopped walnuts (or any nut of your choice)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan, rectangular cake pan, or cookie sheet with ledges with tinfoil. Grease tinfoil with butter. (Make sure you grease it well so that the toffee doesn't stick to the tinfoil!) Line the pan with saltine crackers.

Melt 2 sticks of butter and brown sugar on the stove until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it starts to boil, keep it on the heat and keep stirring for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract and stir immediately. Pour the toffee mixture onto the saltines and spread evenly.

Bake in the over for 1o minutes. Remove and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Return to the oven for one minute. Remove and spread the chocolate with a spatula and sprinkle the chopped nuts on top.

Put the pan in the fridge until the chocolate has hardened. Remove and break into pieces or cut into squares. Store in the fridge. Serve cold or at room temperature (I prefer them cold!)

all photos © Bunhead in the Kitchen, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Perfection

If you aren't already a pumpkin advocate, I can almost promise that this will convert you into one. When I was younger, I rarely associated pumpkin with food---back then, its sole purpose was for picking and carving around Halloween time. I think sticking my hand into the gooey insides of a carved pumpkin as a child is probably what turned me away from wanting to try pumpkin flavored goodies. Well, I am proud to say that has significantly changed over the years and the fear of the inside of the pumpkin is far behind me. Pumpkin is another one of fall's most delicious flavors, and one of my favorites in fact, whether it's in a coffee, a bread, a pie, or in this instance, a mini cupcake.

My fear of pumpkin has truly turned into an unhealthy obsession... I have been compiling pumpkin recipe upon pumpkin recipe. The amount of recipes that I have saved is quite ridiculous. Like I mentioned in my last post, I tried a pumpkin butterscotch cookie recipe (that was ridiculously good, by the way), which really made me want to experiment with that recipe in ice cream form. Unfortunately, I have yet to make this pumpkin butterscotch ice cream, nor have I really had the time, but I had been dying to use my new mini cupcake pans that I had found for an amazing deal during my lunch break one day.
One of my friends from high school had posted online that she had made pumpkin spice cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese icing. OH. MY. GOSH. Right then and there, I knew what pumpkin recipe I was making next that wouldn't be as time consuming as experimenting with pumpkin butterscotch ice cream. Not only that, but I could totally put my new mini cupcake pans to good use!

I was on a mission and I tracked down a pumpkin spice cupcake recipe that I already had all the ingredients for, just to make life a little easier. I also came across a simple cream cheese icing I wanted to try, which I would obviously add cinnamon to for even more flavor. And let me tell you---these were some AWESOME recipe finds. So good that I made them twice within two weeks.
Now, this recipe definitely made more than enough for two 24-count mini cupcake pans. I had already anticipated that I'd have leftover batter, so I had my regular-sized cupcake pans out, lined and ready to go. The extra batter gave me enough to make 12 regular-sized cupcakes in addition to the 48 minis. Those regular-sized ones are quite dangerous---at least the mini ones made me feel less guilty if I had more than one! This recipe is pretty simple and you can obviously use it to bake whatever sized cupcakes you desire... or you could even make a cake, if you're feeling extra ambitious!

These cupcakes have been graciously taste-tested by my family, all the girls at my dance studio, and people in my office at work----they have definitely been given the seal of approval! They are not only addictive, but they hold the staple flavors of the season. The combination of the cream cheese, the pumpkin, and the spices round out this little treat to perfection. They are unbelievable right out of the oven without any icing on them. And they are die for when they are cold and stored in the fridge...that cream cheese icing is just heavenly!
Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing
adapted from

makes approx. 48 mini cupcakes and 12 regular-sized cupcakes
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (not the pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (See previous post to make your own! Also, the recipe called for 1/2 cup buttermilk, but I just made it a full cup for an extra moist cupcake.)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg (If you can grate it yourself, then it will taste so much better!)
makes 5 cups (I had enough icing to make the cupcake recipe TWICE!)
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • add cinnamon to taste or to your liking :)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your cupcake pans with liners. (If you decide to make a cake rather than cupcakes, grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans -- use unsalted, softened butter then a handful of flour. Tap out the excess flour and you should have no problem getting your cakes out!)

Cream softened (not melted) butter until smooth in a stand mixer or a large bowl with an electric mixer set on medium speed. Add the sugars and mix until smooth. Add room temperature eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until the mixture is smooth and light. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin purée, buttermilk, and vanilla and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg and set aside. In thirds, alternately add the dry mixture and wet mixture to the butter mixture, blending well after each addition until smooth.

Fill cupcake molds ¾ of the way and bake for approximately 10 minutes for mini cupcakes and 21 minutes for regular-sized cupcakes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. (If making cakes, pour batter into the prepared pans and bake until done, approximately 35 to 40 minutes.)

Allow your cupcakes to cool completely before icing. Don't jump the gun on this one, or you'll have a giant melty mess!

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the butter and continue to beat for 2 to 3 minutes more. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time and beat until smooth and no lumps of sugar are visible. Add the vanilla and the cinnamon and beat until combined.

Frost cupcakes any way you choose... pipe them, spread the icing on, whatever you prefer :) I piped my icing on---I piped a tiny swirl on some of them and for others, I piped the whole thing. I personally don't like a whole lot of icing, but I know others do, so I did a combination of both. However you end up frosting them, make sure you don't forget to sprinkle a little cinnamon on top!

all photos © Bunhead in the Kitchen, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

For the Love of Fall

As much as I love the summertime, there are two upsides to it ending. One being the fact that I get to pull out my scarves and my boots... and the other being the fact that I can finally do some fall baking. It's my absolute favorite. In my opinion, nothing is better than apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin, cranberry, pear, and pretty much every fall ingredient imaginable. So, as soon as I got the opportunity, I went out and bought some fresh apples for my first fall baking adventure. Apples seemed like a good place to start. I'd been eyeing up a handful of different recipes, but the Caramel Glazed Apple Bread seemed to be the one that I kept coming back to. I took my first free moment on a Saturday afternoon to whip up two loaves and I'm already trying to clear a few more hours in my schedule to make more. It's delicious for dessert, for a quick snack, or even toasted in the morning with some butter slathered on it. The freshly shredded apples make it unbelievably moist and the hint of cinnamon and nutmeg just round out the flavors of the fall. Especially when it's warm. It's the absolute epitome of a fall bread.
And that caramel glaze.... oh my gosh. It's to die for. It just completes this recipe. I had never made caramel from scratch before, so that whole process was new to me and luckily, it came out perfectly! I could have eaten it straight out of the pot from the stove (...and I'm not going to lie, but I may or may not have taste tested it right from the stove...a few too many times!) And although I'm not the biggest nut fan, I do have to admit that the chopped pecans were just the cherry to top it all off.
Although I wasn't able to take pictures, I do need to share that I already had a second fall baking adventure with a friend of mine. I waste no time taking advantage of this season. We baked them at her house and unfortunately, I forgot my camera (which is very much unlike me... I usually bring that thing everywhere!) We made pumpkin butterscotch cookies and they were so incredibly delicious that the flavor combination inspired me to turn that recipe into an ice cream recipe. The combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, and butterscotch would probably make the most delicious fall-themed ice cream and once I tackle it, I will be sure to post some pictures...and the recipe of course. And for those cookies... I will probably be making them again shortly, so no worries, I will post that recipe as well!

I really love this time of year and I especially cannot wait to go to a farmers market to pick some fresh apples and pumpkin. So be sure to stay tuned because I can assure you that there will be PLENTY more where this came from.

Caramel Glazed Apple Bread
adapted from
Apple Bread:
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded peeled baking apples (2 large..I used Granny Smith)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (see previous post to learn how to make your own!)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tea spoons bak­ing soda
  • 2 tea spoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tea spoon salt
  • 1 tea spoon ground nutmeg

Caramel Glaze:

  • 2 table spoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottoms only of 2 (8x4-inch) loaf pans with cooking spray or shortening.

In a large bowl, stir together shredded apples, 1 cup brown sugar, buttermilk, oil and eggs. Stir in remaining bread ingredients just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into the 2 loaf pans.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 min­utes on cooling rack. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top sides up on cooling rack. Cool completely (about 1 hour).

In 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; reduce heat to low. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling; remove from heat. Cool to luke warm, about 30 minutes.

Gradually stir powdered sugar into glaze mixture. Place saucepan of glaze in bowl of cold water. Beat with spoon until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. If glaze becomes too stiff, stir in addi tional milk, 1/2 tea spoon at a time, or heat over low heat, stirring constantly (I had to add quite a bit of milk, so don't be concerned if it becomes too stiff). Drizzle glaze over loaves and sprinkle extra pecans on top.

Wrap tightly and store at room temperature for up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

all photos © Bunhead in the Kitchen, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Beginning of a New Addiction... Homemade Ice Cream

Even in the dead of winter, ice cream is by far my favorite treat... honestly, it's really my favorite food, if that counts. And no, I'm not talking about a giant sundae piled up with every topping known to man. I'm talking about plain & simple ice cream...chocolate to be exact. No chocolate syrup. No whipped cream. Nothing fancy. Just a plain bowl of chocolate ice cream. Occasionally, I'll crave crushed Oreo to top it, but its a rarity that I even bother. I'm not one to go reach for the candy bowl or the cookie jar when I'm craving chocolate or sweets. I go straight to the freezer. And no, vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup will NOT cut it.

So upon the purchase of my brand new red KitchenAid stand mixer (my birthday present to of the best purchases I have ever made!), I decided the first attachment I had to get was the ice cream maker attachment. I have never made homemade ice cream before, but I've always wanted to try...especially since I consider ice cream not only my favorite treat, but my favorite food. Sure enough, a giant box wrapped in pink wrapping paper, with ribbon on top, was sitting on my kitchen counter when I came home from work on my birthday. And of course... what flavor do you think was first on my list? You guessed it...chocolate.
Like I said, I always eat plain chocolate ice cream, but since making my own ice cream is a new adventure, I decided that I needed a new adventure in terms of flavor. Of course my first ice cream making adventure would NEED to involve chocolate, but I wanted to jazz it up...just a bit. After a lot of searching, I found the perfect recipe--- chocolate mint oreo ice cream. I love mint & I love oreos and I'm pretty sure I do not need to bring up my love for chocolate ice cream yet again...just the thought of that flavor combination makes my mouth water!
I had been pre-warned that making your own ice cream is a big pain. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how much easier it was than I expected! Despite the fact that it does take quite long to get to the end result, the process itself was pretty simple. I only ran into one difficulty, which might be solved upon a purchase of an actual double boiler, rather than using the makeshift version--- a bowl on top of a pot method. (The bowl started to slide around when the cocoa powder was added to the melted chocolate and then the cocoa powder caused the chocolate to firm up. It became almost impossible to mix the chocolate & pour the powder simultaneously. Luckily, my mom was around to be my second set of hands and hold the bowl still until the milk dissolved the chocolate).

If the thought of making homemade ice cream scares you away, fear not. It's really this simple--- you make your desired batter, stick it in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight), pour it into your ice cream maker, and then simply walk away for about a half hour....the maker does the work. You just have to put it in a freezer safe container afterward and wait for your desired result---if you want soft serve, your ice cream will be ready to eat in as little as a half hour in the freezer (according to my ice cream maker attachment) and if you want hard ice cream, you will obviously have to wait longer. Since I'm a huge advocate of hard ice cream, I left the container in there overnight...and voilà! Ice cream perfection.
And I'm really not kidding when I say ice cream perfection. It REALLY is. This is the perfect chocolate ice cream---rich and creamy with a hint of peppermint. Not an overpowering peppermint flavor, but just right. The occasional crunch from the mint just tops it all off, while teaming up with the peppermint extract in the ice cream Oreos to round out the flavor. After wolfing a helping of this ice cream down in record time, there is no other thought in my head besides... I WANT MORE!

Chocolate Mint Oreo Ice Cream
adapted from Ben & Jerry's &
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream (or whipping cream)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract1 cup Mint Oreos, roughly chopped

Melt the unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot (not boiling) water. Gradually whisk in the cocoa, stirring constantly, until smooth. (If the chocolate clumps or "seizes", like it did to me, don't worry - the milk will eventually dissolve it!). Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and heat until blended. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl or stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and peppermint extract, and whisk to blend.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream mixture and blend. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 1 to 3 hours (or even overnight).

Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's directions. (My ice cream maker directors told me to let it churn for 25-30 minutes, so I let mine churn for the full 30 minutes.) During the last 1-2 minutes of churning, add the chopped Oreos into the ice cream. Remove from the ice cream maker and store in a freezer safe container. Freeze overnight to meld flavors and serve. Makes 1 quart.
all photos © Bunhead in the Kitchen, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bananas, Blueberries, and Blogging...oh my!

If you would have asked me over a year ago at my college graduation where my life would be right now, in August 2010, I definitely would not have thought I'd start writing a food blog. Nor would I have thought that I would have acquired yet another hobby and that it would be baking. And by baking, I do not mean the occasional holiday or birthday baked good. I mean a new recipe almost every single week. Multiple times a week...if I'm lucky.

Over the past year, baking has not just become a hobby of mine. It's become a passion. It's become a stress relief. And I've learned a lot. The days I'm able to come home from work and bake something are some of the best, most healing days ever. Okay, I know I sound like a loser, but that's what brings me here. I started posting all of my baking adventures on my Facebook and from the continuous & encouraging responses I got from my friends who claim to be drooling over my photos, I knew I wanted to keep sharing those adventures. What better way to do it than in a blog!

I already have so much to share and I really had a hard time trying to figure out what to write about first. However, this past weekend was the deciding factor. I spent it with my boyfriend (who is moving in a few days...and yes, despite the distance, we'll be fine! :] ) and he requested that we make pancakes together before he leaves. What could possibly be better for a first post than breakfast food?! How appropriate---first post, first meal of the day? (Alright, that's terrible, I know.) Anyway, breakfast really is my favorite meal of the day and I spotted a delicious banana pancake recipe a while ago. I just HAD to try it. Especially since I'm pretty sure I've never made pancakes completely from scratch before.
And let me tell you, I don't think I can EVER make pancakes from a mix ever again. These were just way too delicious. Not only were they perfectly light & fluffy, but the bananas made them super moist. And even though I love bananas, I'm not usually the biggest fan of bananas in my food. The flavor that the bananas bring is absolutely perfect---not overpowering, but just right. And thanks to this recipe, I think that I will have a hard time making pancakes without bananas from now on! (Oh, and if you're feeling extra adventurous, add some chocolate....the bananas, chocolate, and blueberries make an unbelievable combination! See photo above.)

Don't think I'm done talking about these yet. My dad, who is the culinary genius in our household, suggested making a fruit compote of sorts to use instead of regular maple syrup since he thinks its way too sweet. So there he was, using the leftover blueberries from the ones I bought earlier that morning for my brother's blueberry muffins (that I made later in the day), brandy, sugar, and butter to create the most delicious blueberry topping for our pancakes. He told me I could name them Caitlyn's Blueberry Brandy Pancake Sauce :)
And speaking of those blueberry muffins, immediately after finishing our pancakes, I whipped up a batch of them for my brother since he has been begging me to make them ever since I bought my stand mixer. Muffins are not something I make often, so I was a little weary, but they turned out insanely good. They are everything you would want a muffin to be and the lemon zest just pulls the whole recipe together. I still think I have to work on perfecting my muffin skills (I mean, come on, I am my own worst critic!), but that just calls for an excuse to make them again. They're even better the next day, especially after being popped in the toaster oven for a bit!

What a wonderfully smelling house we had Sunday and what a combination....bananas, blueberries, and blogging. Perfect for an early morning palate and perfect for a first time blogger.

Here are the recipes:

Double Banana Pancakes


2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk (see below to make your own!)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
coarsely chopped chocolate, optional

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center.

In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and butter. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir by hand until the batter is evenly moistened.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and grease it lightly by brushing or spraying with oil. Right before you make the pancakes, fold the mashed bananas into the batter. Drop about 1/4 cup of pancake batter into the hot pan, spreading them into circles (or to the size of your choice... we decided to make some of them jumbo pancakes!) Leave about 2″ between pancakes.

Cook until small bubbles appear and the edges are set (about 2 minutes) then flip using a spatula. Cook on the second side an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the pancakes are golden brown. (Makes 4-8 servings. Note: If you double this recipe--which we did because we thought that it wouldn't be enough-- it pretty much triples it! It makes a ton of pancakes!)

We also added coarsely chopped chocolate pieces into part of the batter for Chocolate Double Banana Pancakes. Fold in the chocolate with the bananas right before baking.

Also, if you don't keep buttermilk around the house, or you just simply don't want to go buy it, you can make your own! Add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a measuring cup and then fill it up with milk until it reaches a cup. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. That's it.

Blueberry Brandy Pancake Sauce

(recipe compliments of my Dad)

1 cup of fresh blueberries
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 ounce of brandy

In a small saucepan, on medium-high heat, combine 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cook it down for a minute and add a cup of the blueberries. Stir. Pour brandy into the mixture and continue stirring. Flambé the mixture and use immediately.

Blueberry Muffins


2 eggs
1 cups + 2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
1/2 cup melted butter1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sour cream (or yogurt)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (stems removed)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and grease muffin pan or line with 12 muffins cups. In a separate side bowl mix the flour, salt, and baking soda. In your mixing bowl beat the eggs and sugar until evenly combined, about 1 minute. Continue beating and slowly pour in the melted butter and mix until well combined.

Add in extracts and mix until evenly combined. Add the flour, salt and baking soda mixture alternatively with the sour cream (or yogurt) and mix until just combined (a few dry specs of flour is ok). With a spatula, fold in blueberries. Pour batter into muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. With five minutes left, sprinkle the sparkling sugar on the tops of the muffins and bake for another 5 minutes (20 minute bake time in total).Take out of oven and allow to cool in the muffin pan for five minutes. Remove to a colling rack and allow to cool completely.

all photos © Bunhead in the Kitchen, 2010