Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

It’s not that I need to have cake on my birthday. I’d already had ice cream, and that was key. Making this cake was more about trying out my new birthday presents.

You see, amidst a flurry of Christmas cookie baking, my trusty mixer that had blasted its way through who-knows-how-many pounds of flour, sugar, butter and eggs to make who-knows-how-many hundreds of cookies, cupcakes and cakes – finally died. I heard it dying slowly through several recipes, as the motor whirred loudly in a rumble that sounded like it belonged inside of my car, not my kitchen. At the most opportune time – just when the ingredients combined to form my final batch of frosting for the last batch of sugar cookies before Christmas Eve – the mixer started moaning at a dreadful new low as the beaters finally stopped beating. My mixer had mixed its last.

old messy hand mixer beaters baking

Farewell, fair mixer.

Somehow, I managed to save the birthday presents my family sent back with me at Christmas until the big day: Sunday, January 4, The Big 3-0. I needed something to look forward to when turning 30, after all, so I unwrapped gifts that morning. There were cute polka dot storage bins from one sister, filled with caramel sea salt hot cocoa, warm vanilla sugar and white lily hand soaps. A monogramed black-and-white chevron Thirty One bag from the other sister. And from my mother – who has heard me gripe about the strange noises coming from my mixer and the excessive, uneven heat coming from my crappy old stove: an oven thermometer and a fancy new beater.

birthday presents

showing off my birthday spoils

I had to try it out, right? So I heated up my oven with the thermometer hanging inside, and learned that I only have to set my oven to 225 to reach 350 actual degrees. Having an accurate temperature reading makes it so much easier to bake consistently!

I chose this recipe for Chocolate Cake with Jack Daniels Fudge Icing that I pinned from Pizzazzerie. As delicious as this recipe looks, I made a few changes. I’ve always preferred white cake to chocolate, and I didn’t have a chocolate cake mix anyway, so I used marble cake mix and omitted the chocolate chips. I didn’t have any Jack Daniels either, but I did have a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 (which I’ve had since a birthday quite a few years ago) so I used it instead, and reduced the amount because I didn’t want to overpower my cake with chocolate-flavored Turkey sauce.

Here’s the recipe I came up with (thanks to my new hand mixer).

Soft Marble Birthday Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

For the cake:

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Fudge Marble Cake Mix (or use chocolate, or yellow cake, or whatever you like)
  • 1 box (3.4-oz) instant pudding (I used cheesecake flavor)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 4 eggs

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, until batter is fluffy. Using new beaters with a slower lowest setting makes it easy to mix these quickly without splattering a cloud of wet dust over your countertop!

If you’re using a marble cake mix, scoop out 1 cup of batter and mix it with the provided cocoa pack to make your swirl. Pour the large bowl of white batter into your greased pan (I used a silicone Bundt pan). Then, dollop the chocolate batter over it and drag a knife through to marbleize. Bake at 350 for about 38-45 minutes in this type of pan – follow the times suggested on the box for others.

For the glaze:

  • ¼ cup bourbon whiskey (the original recipe called for Jack Daniels whiskey; I used about 2/3 this amount of Wild Turkey 101. Just experiment with what you have – you can’t really go wrong with whiskey and chocolate.)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk
  • ½ cup milk chocolate chips

I waited until the cake had baked and started to cool before I started to make the glaze, because you have to pour it on immediately before it sets – and I wanted to let my cake cool so I could pop it out of the pan before glazing.

When you’re ready (maybe after a few shots of whiskey for yourself), combine the butter, sugar and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring regularly, until it comes to a rolling boil. Stir constantly at this stage for one minute, then remove from heat. Pour over cooled cake immediately.

Soft Marble Birthday Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze

This is a great glaze for Bundt cakes – whether they’re chocolate or not – because it drips down the sides beautifully. So there you have it, a slightly improvised late-night birthday cake concoction I call Soft Marble Cake with Chocolate Bourbon Glaze.

The cake gets an A, as do the oven thermometer and mixer. (Thanks, mom.) Here’s to new baking experiences in 2015!


old hand mixers replaced with new Hamilton Beach hand mixer

Messy old mixer, meet your shiny new replacement.


Turning 28: I think I’m turning 28, I really think so!

8:15am: My birthday morning began with a running-late rush to work, as usual. So as usual, I was speeding down Warren, looking for slowpoke commuters to dodge and yellow lights to breeze through so I could shave minutes off my trip and clock in on time.

I didn’t even notice the sky until I was about halfway to work, and once I did, I was like, man, Brooke, how did you not realize how pink the clouds are from the sunrise? Or how they pop out from the lavender sky? And I don’t know why, but it immediately made me think of my Grandpa Russie’s ‘famous’ quote to “Never be too busy to stop and enjoy the clouds floating by.” 

(IMAGE UNAVAILABLE…Unfortunately, even in my moment of slowing down to take it all in, I was still in too much of a rush to pull over and take a picture – or even dig out my phone for my more common on-the-go landscape shot. After all, I did promise the Cleveland Department of Public Safety, via Twitter (@CLEsafety), that safety would be of utmost concern today. But believe me when I say that this was powerful enough to change my outlook for the rest of my day!)

Just imagine this stock photo, more glorious in real life:

sunset clouds

Gee, I must be getting older, and turning more into my mother, because this silly little birthday morning story makes me tear up. But at least now I will slow down and notice the things that make my first day of my 28th year so special! 🙂

Pistachio Cupcakes with Pink Champagne Frosting

My new boss is crazy about her birthday. One birthday celebration lasts until the next birthday. That kind of partying calls for the fanciest of cupcakes, especially when the birthday girl loves cake as much as I do.

I know she loves her birthday, and I know she loves cake. But there was one small problem: I wasn’t sure what kind of cake. With aspirations of fanciness, I couldn’t settle for just chocolate. So, through Facebook, I sent her boyfriend on a covert op to find out, and he reported back the results: pistachio.

I found a lot of easy recipes for pistachio cupcakes, using white cake mix and pistachio pudding. That might cut it for some, but where’s the fun in that? I was raised to bake from scratch, and this festive occasion was certainly no exception. I want to bake pistachio cupcakes from scratch.

Some made-from-scratch recipes for pistachio cupcakes use pistachio extract or pistachio oil, and I don’t even know where to find those. I was considering substitutions until I finally tracked down this recipe that incorporates ground pistachios and almond extract, which tastes nutty just the same.

So, Pistachio Cupcake Recipe from Scratch, here we go. The directions for baking these cupcakes start from the top down, with this recipe for Pink Champagne Frosting, which I found paired with pistachio cupcakes here.

I recommend starting the frosting before you start making the cupcakes. The very first task is simmering 1/2 cup of champagne to reduce it to a couple tablespoons, making your champagne extract. I used Dibon Brut, but a rose would probably be nice. There, you have homemade champagne extract to sub into the frosting recipe, ’cause I dunno where you’d find that in a store.
how to make champagne exxtract for pink champagne frosting



But wait — you’ve just popped a bottle of champagne only to use half a cup, and you know it won’t keep. What to do? This is actually smart planning by the baker, because this way you can sip some bubbly while you bake. You also need to cook then chill the first few frosting ingredients, so you can work on the cupcakes while the frosting cools and you throw back a few.
Here’s the full recipe for Pink Champagne Frosting (of course, you can make it any color you want.)

Champagne Frosting Recipe:

  • 2 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup half + half
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons champagne extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla

In a saucepan, whisk half + half, extracts and flour until the lumps disappear. (Instead of half + half, I mixed heavy whipping cream and 2% milk after teaching myself the substitutionality of dairy.) Then, heat the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly until it boils. Keep whisking and cooking until it thickens. Remove from heat and stick in fridge.

I recommend making the cupcakes now while this cools. We’ll come back to the rest of the frosting directions at the end.

Now, for the cupcakes, the first step is to ground the pistachios, which I bought shelled to save some work. As you can see, my method for grounding nuts is the same way I crush ice: with a Ziploc bag and a hammer. Good aggression release, too. If you don’t need to release any aggression, you could always buy ground pistachios to start with, but I like having extra pistachios, extra coarsely ground, to top the cupcakes.
Tackle the rest of your baking prep work now, too: heat the oven to 350 and line cupcake tins with adorable papers, like these from Paula Deen (and she’d be proud, because together, these two recipes use almost a whole box of butter.)
a balanced diet is a cupcake in each hand paula deen cupcake liner
You’ll have several different bowls going to stir up your ingredients for pistachio cupcakes, so clear some space. Here’s a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to make room for:
Pistachio Cupcake Recipe from Scratch:
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup ground pistachios
The first bowl is for dry ingredients. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into this one.
flour salt dry ingredients for baking pistachio cupcakes from scratch
In bowl No. 2, whisk milk and egg whites. Of course, I only use free range, hormone-free brown eggs (right from the coop when I can) and milk just as fresh, local and natural in jugs I can return to be refilled. Keep that in bowl #2.
eggs and milk baking pistachio cupcake recipe
 Now get bowl No. 3 (the dirty dishes are stacking up in your mind,  I know, but it’s worth it),
beat the sugar and butter for about 3 minutes, till creamy.
pistachio cupcake ingredients
Beat the ground nuts and almond extract into this bowl with the sugar and butter.
pistachio cupcake nut
Now, you alternate ingredients from the three bowls you’ve collected. Into a fourth and final bowl, beat in a third of the dry ingredients, then beat in a third of the milk mixture, then a third of the nutty butter, and so on, until it’s all mixed together. Keep beating for a couple minutes to make sure it’s good and blended.
Spoon the batter into your prepared cupcake tins, between 1/2 and 2/3 full. Pop into your heated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cupcakes are springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let them cool while you finish whipping up your cooled frosting.
Start by beating the butter and sugar 5-7 minutes until it’s fluffy and glossy. Take your cooled mixture from the fridge and add it to this. Beat 5 minutes. Add color, if you want, and frost. I added red and blue food coloring to make the frosting purple, my boss’s favorite color. Because this is such fluffy frosting, I packed it into a Ziploc bag, nipped the tip, and used that to pipe the frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes.
To finish, I ground some extra pistachios to sprinkle on top. The green and purple look really springy, great for an early April birthday.
Ta-da: Purple Pistachio Party Cakes.
pistachio cupcakes with pink champange frosting from scratch
So, you’re dying to know: What did she think? She was speechless. But maybe that was because her boyfriend orchestrated her birthday, down to the flavor of the cupcakes, all the way from Afghanistan. When it came down to the cupcakes, though, her reaction was simply one word: Perfect. She snapped this delicious picture of her Purple Pistachio Birthday Cupcake, before swiftly devouring it.pistachio cupcake recipe from scratch with pink champagne frosting

Birthday Baseball Cupcakes

General consensus: the cupcakes I made for my CEO’s birthday/Indians home opener party came out delicious and adorable. And I didn’t even have to slave in the kitchen all night like I feared I would.

I started with these Chocolate Chip Cupcakes from Taste of Home, but left out the chocolate chips and replaced the chocolate frosting with homemade vanilla buttercream, as my co-workers had requested a chocolate alternative. Thus, they became…
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream Frosting

Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream
1 package yellow cake mix (I used a Golden Butter Recipe Cake Mix)
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter (substituted for the canola oil called for in the original recipe)
4 eggs

Combine all these ingredients and beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then beat on medium for 2 minutes. You can stir in 1 cup of mini chocolate chips at this point, or skip them like I did. Pour this batter into paper-lined muffin tins, filling two-thirds full. These only took about 12 minutes to brown and set in a 375° oven, even though the original recipe stated 18-22 minutes. 
Between my butter substitution and the vanilla pudding mix, this recipe made a buttery melt-in-your-mouth cake. I made a few mini cupcakes for practicing my decorating techniques, and I don’t want to admit how many I ate — even before they were frosted at all. One of my co-workers said she could detect an extra creaminess, but couldn’t decide what it was. Pudding makes softer chocolate chip cookies and now, I know, softer cake.
I probably got more feedback about the decorations, though. On top of the vanilla buttercream icing, I piped baseball laces. I also made a Birthday Plate with some cupcakes topped with blue and red stars. The little baseball laces were not nearly as meticulous or time-consuming to pipe as I imagined. But I should have remembered how impossible it is to make red frosting; it just turns darker and darker pink. When you’re making cupcakes for a boy, that may not be the best choice. Maybe buying red icing is the way to go – I was just really excited to make my own frosting so I could use my new Pampered Chef decorating kit.
Home Run Vanilla Pudding Cupcakes with Baseball Buttercream frosting

You can see the coloration difference between the creamy homemade buttercream frosting (on the star cupcakes) and the unnaturally white vanilla frosting (on the Happy Bday cupcake) – I turned to pre-made frosting after I ran out.

The second batch, Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes from Taste of Home, were also delicious — this coming from a girl who only eats chocolate cake when it’s the only option; in other words, it’s not my preference. While the result was good, the recipe was a holy mess and needs a few modifications. Here’s how I adapted…

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes
For the filling:
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Then beat in egg and salt until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and set aside.

For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine these dry ingredients in one bowl. Then, in another bowl, whisk together:

1 cup water
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Stir this into the dry ingredients until just moistened.
Fill paper-lined muffin tins half full with this batter. Drop a heaping tablespoonful of cream cheese filling in the center of each one. Bake at 350° – mine were done in 20 minutes, but the original recipe called for 24-26. You’ll know they’re done when a toothpick inserted in one comes out clean.
Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcake Recipe
The original recipe also included a chocolate frosting to top these off, but it was disastrous so I’m not even going to waste your time with it. Use your favorite chocolate frosting recipe or frosting from a can instead. Or skip it altogether, like I did – the chocolate chip specked cream cheese dressed up the cupcakes enough to forgo frosting.
My first sign of frosting failure should have been that the recipe involved dumping certain ingredients into a bowl in specified amountsand blending. This is a red flag for me, because frosting is a fickle sweet; that’s why I usually follow my mom’s approach: starting with some some soft, maybe melty butter (not melted), lots of powdered sugar, and enough milk to make the right consistency of frosting – adding vanilla or other extract. If you were still waiting for my Buttercream Frosting Recipe, that’s it. For the chocolate version, just cocoa powder.
Unfortunately, the proportions in this recipe were way off, and quickly swung past the delicious balance frosting requires. It was very runny, even after adding additional powdered sugar, and the vanilla was so overpowering it tasted like alcohol – and not in a good way. I followed the recipe precisely, which I rarely do for frostings. Apparently, the eyeballing method serves me well, because this recipe was just nasty.
There were other issues with this recipe, too. The cream cheese filling could easily be cut in half if not third, because I had two or three times as much filling as I had cupcakes to fill. The leftovers are in the fridge, waiting to be refashioned into something else – perhaps a chocolate cake with chocolate chip cream cheese swirl, or maybe mini chocolate chip cheesecakes on Oreo crusts. In fact, the wreck of an attempt at frosting is in there too, hoping to be salvaged. (Edit: The chocolate frosting was later sacrificed instead.)
So the lesson here, kids, is to never take a recipe’s word for anything. Play around, substitute, experiment. And the best part is: you can (usually) eat your mistakes.

Birthday Cupcake Planning

My company asked me to make the cupcakes for our CEO’s birthday party/Indians’ home opener celebration lunch on Monday. Which was a compliment to me, because they could have just as easily bought a cake. My boss keeps joking that I should open up a bakery in the back of the office — and I kind of wish he wasn’t joking, because I would be totally satisfied doing that.
This request came at the perfect time, because I had been planning to make cupcakes this weekend anyway, to try out the Pampered Chef decorating kit I bought at my co-worker’s party a few weeks ago.
So I’ve been sifting through my cupcake recipes this evening trying to decide. I have to make chocolate cake to appease the CEO, but several other people have requested a white alternative. One co-worker specifically requested buttercream frosting.
Here’s what I’m planning:
Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes, but instead of the nuts on top, with some extra decorative frosting. Just the picture makes me drool.
Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, but instead of the plain frosting with extra chocolate chips, with buttercream frosting and decorated like baseballs, with red stitching, thanks to my new decorating bottles and tips. I’ve never thought of adding pudding mix to cake mix, but it makes wonderfully moist chocolate chip cookies, so why not?
Oh man, that sounds like a good midnight snack right about now. Which is precisely why I didn’t make them tonight, because I’d be eating them tonight. And tomorrow. And our CEO would be lucky to get one.