Taking on the controversies: Chocolate or Vanilla

Vanilla with choclate frostingIt is the ultimate culinary showdown, the battle of all battles, the controversies of all controversies. Which would win: chocolate or vanilla?
Oddly enough, chocolate and vanilla were introduced to the modern world at the same time. Hernán Cortés in 1520 brought the chocolate and vanilla spices back from the Aztecs to Spain, almost spontaneously the controversy started. Well, not quite.
Before discovered by Cortés, Aztecs used coco beans as a form of currency, 100 beans could buy a good sized turkey. The Aztecs even believed that coco beans had divine properties, similar to many women’s feelings about chocolate once a month. When good ‘ol Cortés first tried chocolate he described it as “a bitter drink for pigs”, but after it was mixed with cane sugar it spread like wildfire across Spain.
While chocolate blossomed and spread over Spain, vanilla remained centralized in Central America. Why you may ask? Because that was the only place it could be successfully grown. When vanilla grows it produces a flower and only if that flower is pollinated by a certain type of bee will it produce beans. It wasn’t until 1841, when a French slave girl discovered that vanilla could be hand pollinated, therefore produced globally and used in abundance. Today we have vanilla everything: vanilla cupcake, vanilla ice cream, vanilla candles, vanilla body spray, vanilla soaps.
In a way, vanilla won. Vanilla has psychological effects that can calm you down and can prevent you from getting over anxious, it is the number one ice cream flavor in the world, and it is my mom’s favorite cupcake flavor.

My half-birthday presents! Wisk, Bowl scraper and heat resistant mat. Thanks Mom!

My half-birthday presents! Wisk, Bowl scraper and heat resistant mat. Thanks Mom!

Today I decided to test out a few things. My half birthday was April 18, and my mom sent me some cool baking supplies that she found. I got a rubber coated whisk, a bowl scraper and a heat resistant mat, all in pink, my favorite color. Also on my half birthday, my homemade vanilla extract was done sitting!!! After two months of waiting what a better way to try out some vanilla cupcakes than use homemade vanilla!!!
Making homemade vanilla extract is pretty simple, and can be cost effective. Vanilla extract is two beans per every 4 ounces of vodka, that’s it, nothing fancy just beans and vodka. Vanilla beans in quantities greater than 2 can be found online at Amazon. Twenty-four beans can set you back as little as sixteen dollars, and 4 ounce jars can also be found online for as little as nine dollars for a 12 count. Cheap vodka can be used for this, the cheaper the better! McCormick vanilla extract can cost up to ten dollars for a 3 ounces bottle. When made at home each bottle comes to costing around four dollars per 4 ounce bottle.
To make your vanilla extract take two vanilla beans and split them long ways, and then cut them in half. Next submerge the four pieces of vanilla beans into vodka in a four ounce glass container. Place your vodka and bean mixture in a dark cool place for about 2 months. Once a week shake the containers for a few seconds and then put them back. That’s it, in two months you did it! You created your very own homemade vanilla.

Homemade Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla

Anyways back to the cupcakes. These cupcakes are basic beginner style cupcakes, nothing fancy, anyone can do it. I decided to pair them with a chocolate frosting so the whole chocolate vs. vanilla controversy could come to life in my cupcake.
This chocolate frosting was probably the best tasting chocolate frosting ever, but one problem, its heavy. It was extremely hard to pipe this frosting out. I would use this frosting again, but I would use it for a cupcake filling, not a frosting. If anyone has a fabulous light chocolate frosting and they are willing to share, please, I am accepting donations.

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This vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting is the reason that there is a controversy over which flavor is better. The cupcake itself is air. The vanilla flavoring comes through very well, it is sweet but not candy land gone suicidal sweet, with undertones of the cake my mom made for my eight birthday party. The frosting on the other hand, it might as well be chocolate fudge. This is a chocolate lovers dream! With just cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar and butter, the chocolate comes to life. It is sweet, rich and smooth. I was going to drizzle the cupcake with white chocolate but an incident with a plastic bag and the microwave said that milk chocolate would have to suffice.
For a beginners vanilla cupcake, or a cupcake to show off your homemade vanilla skills I highly recommend using this fool proof vanilla cupcake recipe.

Cooling Cupcakes

Cooling Cupcakes

-Cheers!

Recipie:
Fool proof Vanilla Cupcakes: Makes 12
Ingredients:
1/2 Cup softened butter
1 Cup sugar
2 Eggs
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon salt
2/3 Cup cold milk
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 *F
2. Cream together butter and sugar.
3. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
4. Mix in vanilla.
5. In a separate bowl, stir together all dry ingredients.
6. Mix wet ingredients to dry.
7. Add butter and milk, Mix until combined.
8. Bake 18-20 minutes or until the tops are slightly golden.
Chocolate Frosting: NOTE comes out heavy, see warning in paragraphs above
Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions:
1. Sift sugar and cocoa together in larger bowl
2. In another bowl mix together 4 tablespoons heavy cream, vanilla and butter, beating till smooth.
3. Add sugar and cocoa mixture 1 cup at a time until all combined.

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Granola Bars 101: A Lesson in Summer Weather Snacks

 

Personally I love summer weather. I love going for long runs in the heat of the day, to be drenched in sweat upon my return. I love lying on the grass with friends all around me, playing guitar and singing nonsense songs. I love summer nights with camp fires and s’mores, and the wandering smell of wood burning. The weather we are currently having (mid-80’s in April) is a little early for the season, but watching lobsters crawl to class never gets old.

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As spring temperatures creep from freezing to mid-80’s, everything on a college campus changes: classes move outside, clothes are shed, and our meals become a little more health conscious in preparation for summer. 

Never in my life have I made any type of granola bars. I have made breakfast granola to put in yogurt and in fruit parfaits, but never in the form of bars, so today with desire to learn (and with hungry friends on the go asking for snacks), I’ve decided to try.

Dry ingredients ready to be mixed!

Dry ingredients ready to be mixed!

Granola Bar Lovin’:

Depending on how big you cut the bars, makes around 12 bars.

Ingredients:

2 Cups rolled oats

3/4 Cup packed brown sugar

1/2 Cup wheat germ*

3/4 Teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 Cups mini chocolate chips (or raisins for those who are super healthy)

3/4 Teaspoon salt

1/2 Cup honey

1 Egg, beaten

1/2 Cup vegetable oil

2 Teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and generously grease a 9×13 baking pan
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, chocolate chips, and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mixture will be still, mixing using your hands is easiest.
  3. Pat mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bars begin to golden. Cool for 5 minut4es, then cut when still warm or else they will be hard to cut.

*Wheat germ, I could not find it anywhere for the longest time, If your food store has specialty four or a gluten free section you may find it there.

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Red.

2 cupcakes

I hate it. I hate how teachers circle wrong answers in red. I hate how red grabs attention. I hate how it is the color of the store I used to work at. I hate how it was the color of my high school’s mascot. I hate how it is the color of the one cupcake that haunts my dreams. Red velvet, everything about the name is so suggestive. It just screams love, lust and desire, but to me it taunts me with an F marked in red pen.

Red velvet cupcakes and I have a past. They are my one culinary failure, the one cupcake I could not serve, the one thing I have ever been ashamed of. The first time I attempted them nothing worked out right, the red was wrong, the batter was too soupy and the cupcake wrappers were wrong. Yes, I have a thing about cupcake wrappers, and the only ones I had left at the time did not match the cupcakes, it drove me crazy.IMG_1216

I was sitting at work on Monday and was thinking it was time for redemption. A girl I work with is obsessed with red velvet cake, and I asked her what she liked about it so much. “The color, duh.” I asked a girl who wants to be a kindergarten teacher, I should have known better.  The one thing I can’t stand, is the one thing she likes the most.  She went on to explain it was the icing that made it, the perfect contrast of a light chocolate cake and super sweet cream cheese.red batter

I went for it, took an idea and dove in. I took the recipe I had and threw it out the window (quite literally in fact). I started from scratch with a wonderful cream cheese frosting recipe my mom had and went from there. The results shocked and surprised me. After I made the batter I tasted it, my friend once said that a good tasting batter leads to a good tasting product, it also gives her an excuse to eat my unbaked goods, but the batter was good. I knew these cupcakes were going to be the best red velvet anything I ever made.IMG_1308

And they were, everyone agrees.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes:

2 ¼ Cups of flour

1/2 Cup unsweetened coco powder

1 Teaspoon baking soda

1/2 Teaspoon salt

1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp.

2 Cups sugar

4 Eggs

1 Cup sour cream

1/2 Cup milk

1 Bottle (1 ounce) red food color

2 Teaspoon vanilla extract

For vanilla cream cheese frosting           

1 Package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temp.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp.

2 Tablespoons sour cream

2 Teaspoons vanilla extract

16 ounces (3 ¼ cups) confectioners sugar

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Beat Butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk food color and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low, until blended
  3. Spoon batter into cupcake liners, about 3/4 full. Bake 20 minutes. Cool in pans on wire rack for 5 minutes, remove from pans and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, 2 tablespoon, sour cream and 2 tablespoons vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 16 ounces confectioner sugar.