Girlie Birthday cupcakes: strawberry/strawberry and chocolate/maraschino cherry regular and minis – Part I Strawberry

Girlie Birthday cupcakes: strawberry/strawberry and chocolate/maraschino cherry regular and minis – Part I Strawberry


Pink Birthday Cupcakes



Since my kids are grown and away at school I don’t get the chance to practice my kid baking much anymore (although they do expect care packages).  Fortunately, I have friends and family that let me borrow theirs, so today I’m making cupcakes for my friend’s four year old pink girlie girl to take to school. I modified and combined several recipes, Martha Stuart’s Strawberry Buttercream, which I also made into Maraschino Cherry Buttercream,  Sour Cream Chocolate Cupcakes from Betty Crocker and Sincere Strawberry Cupcakes from Dozen Flours blog.  I’m breaking this one up into two parts as it would be quite long otherwise.  Today the strawberry cupcakes.

Here’s what I did:

First I made a strawberry filling (jam).  Starting with a 5 pound package of frozen strawberries (which I split using 4 lb for jam and 1 lb for the strawberry cupcakes).  It is much easier than you’d think to make.

Ingredients for strawberry jam


4 pounds frozen strawberries

7 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 pkg liquid pectin

Strawberries, sugar and lemon juice

Add all the ingredients except the pectin to a large pot, mix and bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes.  You can add a tablespoon of butter if you like to keep the foaming to a minimum but either way, skim off the foam on top before you jar the jam.  After 5 minutes, add the liquid pectin and boil for one more minute.  Because I intended to use mine as cake/cupcake filings, I used a stick blender to completely mash the strawberries so it would not clog up the pastry tips.  You can make it as smooth or “chunky” as you prefer.  Pour the jam into prepared jars (if you are going to preserve them) or clean jars if you plan on using right away.  Ball has a great  site full of recipes and instructions for canning.  I canned four jars for later, and kept the rest in a bowl for this project.

Strawberry jam

Obviously, you can just use store bought jam.

Next the strawberry cupcakes:

I basically followed the Sincere Strawberry Cupcakes recipe, the only difference is that I did not use the reserved strawberry juice on top like she does, but instead filled the cupcakes with the jam in a squeeze bottle (slightly warmed in the microwave so it will squeeze).  Stick the top of the bottle down into the cupcake and squeeze a little in.  If it starts to overflow stop but it doesn’t really matter as you are going to put a layer on top anyway.

fillled with jam

then put a layer of jam on top.

layer of jam on top

I placed them in the fridge to set up so it would run into the icing.  I then iced with a piping bag filled with the Martha Stuart’s Strawberry Buttercream which I made according to her recipe.  It is a great icing as it is not too sweet.  It is really great when you have to transport them as it will harden in the fridge so it keeps its shape, but doesn’t dry out and softens right back up when you bring it to room temperature to serve.

Strawberry cupcakes iced

Finally I added a small candy to the center of each to make them more flower like.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Part II, Chocolate Maraschino Cupcakes -regular and minis tomorrow.

Daring Baker’s Challenge:  BISCUIT JOCONDE IMPRIME/ENTREMET (aka fancy sponge cake wrapped dessert)

Daring Baker’s Challenge: BISCUIT JOCONDE IMPRIME/ENTREMET (aka fancy sponge cake wrapped dessert)


Chocolate and Orange Pastry Cream with Lime Curd

Chocolate and Peanut Butter

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.  I chose to make two different ones, one with chocolate and peanut butter pastry cream and one with chocolate and orange pastry cream with a lime curd top.  Overall they were tasty, quite a bit of work and a huge mess in the kitchen (sorry Husband who graciously cleans up) but I would like to make them again and try some different fillings.  I think I would be able to do it a little faster and more efficiently the next time, although probably not with any less mess – I do know my limits.  Thanks for a great challenge!

I followed the recipe provided by Asteroshe for both:

Joconde Sponge

YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan

¾ cup/ 180 ml/ 3oz/ 85g almond flour/meal – *You can also use hazelnut flour, just omit the butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 ml/ 2⅔ oz/ 75g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
¼ cup/ 60 ml/ 1 oz/ 25g cake flour *See note below
3 large eggs – about 5⅓ oz/ 150g
3 large egg whites – about 3 oz/ 90g
2½ teaspoons/ 12½ ml/ ⅓ oz/ 10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar
2 tablespoons/ 30 ml/ 1oz / 30g unsalted butter, melted

*Note: How to make cake flour:


  1. In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks. Reserve in a separate clean bowl to use later.
  2. Sift almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, cake flour. (This can be done into your dirty egg white bowl)
  3. On medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light. (If using a stand mixer use blade attachment. If hand held a whisk attachment is fine, or by hand. )
  4. Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites. Do not over mix.
  5. Fold in melted butter.
  6. Reserve batter to be used later.

But based on other’s suggestions, I halved the recipe for the:

Patterned Joconde-Décor Paste

YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan

14 tablespoons/ 210ml/ 7oz/ 200g unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups plus1½ tablespoons/ 385ml/ 7oz/ 200g Confectioners’ (icing) sugar
7 large egg whites – about 7 oz / 200g
1¾ cup/ 420ml/ 7¾ oz/ 220g cake flour
Food coloring gel, paste or liquid

COCOA Décor Paste Variation: Reduce cake flour to 6 oz / 170g. Add 2 oz/ 60 g cocoa powder. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together before adding to creamed mixture.


  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use stand mixer with blade, hand held mixer, or by hand)
  2. Gradually add egg whites. Beat continuously.
  3. Fold in sifted flour.
  4. Tint batter with coloring to desired color, if not making cocoa variation.

Preparing the Joconde- How to make the pattern:

  1. Spread a thin even layer of décor paste approximately 1/4 inch (5 millimeter) thick onto silicone baking mat with a spatula, or flat knife. Place mat on an upside down baking sheet. The upside down sheet makes spreading easier with no lip from the pan.
  2. Pattern the décor paste – Here is where you can be creative. Make horizontal /vertical lines (you can use a knife, spatula, cake/pastry comb). Squiggles with your fingers, zig zags, wood grains. Be creative whatever you have at home to make a design can be used. OR use a piping bag. Pipe letters, or polka dots, or a piped design. If you do not have a piping bag. Fill a ziplock bag and snip off corner for a homemade version of one.
  3. Slide the baking sheet with paste into the freezer. Freeze hard. Approx 15 minutes.
  1. Bake at 475ºF /250ºC until the joconde bounces back when slightly pressed, approx. 15 minutes. You can bake it as is on the upside down pan. Yes, it is a very quick bake, so watch carefully.
  2. Cool. Do not leave too long, or you will have difficulty removing it from mat.
  3. Flip cooled cake on to a powdered sugared parchment paper.
  4. Remove silpat. Cake should be right side up, and pattern showing! (The powdered sugar helps the cake from sticking when cutting.)

She also provided a great list of helpful sites:…………

As I didn’t have either almond flour or cake flour on hand, I made my own.  I used the Joy of Baking recipe for the cake flour and for the almond flour I put about 1 cup of almonds in the food processor, pulsed until fine, sifted and repulsed the rest until it was all ground finely and sifted into a bowl.  It was pretty simple and worked out well.

ready to bake

First I made the sponge wrapper, mixing the paste first.  I think mine was too thick as it was more like a dough than a paste, but it worked out ok and was actually pretty easy to decorate with.  It was a little more crunchy than the sponge after it was baked but it still tasted good.


Baked sponge

I used the left over paste (dough) to make two circles to use as a base.


I measured, sliced and filled two springform pans without any difficulty, except as I so think it may have been a little thicker than it was supposed to be and next time I would do a thinner layer.


Layering the sponge

Next came the filings:


Husband wanted chocolate (of course) and peanut butter so the first one was easy but I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the fillings because there are just so many options.  I ended up with a chocolate base, chocolate pastry cream, orange pastry cream and lime curd filling for the second one.

For this challenge, I did the real thing and used a basic pastry cream recipe with the chocolate and orange variations I found at  I modified the basic recipe by adding 1/4 cup peanut butter at the end for the peanut butter layer.  However, a great tip for a really quick and great substitute is to use instant pudding (whatever flavor you want) with heavy whipping cream instead of milk it has a wonderful texture and takes minutes to prepare.  I do it all the time using the vanilla with peanut butter, the chocolate and coconut cream as it makes a great pie too!  For the lime curd again I used a basic lemon curd recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, substituting lime for the lemon.   It was a little soft for this use though, so next time I will increase the corn starch to 2 1/2 teaspoons.

After I finished all they various fillings, I layered them and refrigerated overnight to set.


Chocolate & Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Orange and Lime





Stuffed Chuck Roast with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Stuffed Chuck Roast with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Stuffed Chuck Roast with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Since I got the big enameled cast iron pots, I’ve been on a roasting kick, chicken, pork and a lot chuck so I decided to try something a little different than the usual pot roast or beef bourgionon and do a stuffed version.  Keeping with my plan to report the not so good as well as the great, although this tasted great, tender with a wonderful gravy and I would make it again, it probably isn’t ideal for this type of meat unless there is a really good sale and you have to use it up.  It was a little hard to slice and stuff because of the amount of fat, etc it isn’t very solid.   I had to spend a lot of time tying it up which didn’t really even work all that well to hold the stuffing in.   However, the basic recipe was delicious but next time I’ll probably use a round or flank steak instead.


3 lb chuck roast

1 tsp steak seasoning

4 cloves garlic minced

8 oz Asiago cheese

1 cup fresh basil leaves

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion chopped

3 celery stalks sliced

5 carrots sliced thinly

1 bottle red or rosé wine

2 cups beef broth

2 tbsp flour



Sliced, pounded and seasoned



Slice the chuck and pound to about 1/2 inches.  The meat I had was about 2 inches thick, so I sliced it about 1/3 from the top (not all the way through, when you get close to the edge flip it out so it lays flat.  Next go back to the middle where it is thick and sliced in half again not all the way through, flipping it out to make one long piece.  Cover it with plastic wrap and hit it with a mallet or heavy saucepan until it is an even thickness throughout.  Season with the steak seasoning and sprinkle with the minced garlic.


Lay on the cheese

Next slice the cheese and layer on top of the beef.



Add the basil

Cover with the basil leaves.



All tied up


Now the fun part, roll and tie it up with string.  Note my creative tying to try to cover the holes!





Add the olive oil to the pan over high heat until it starts to shimmer – get it really hot!  Brown the tied up roast on all sides.  Don’t rush, a nice dark crust adds lots of flavor.


Browned and set aside


Remove from the pan and set aside on a platter.


Saute the vegetables

Add the onion, celery and carrots to the pan.



Vegetables done


Cook until they just start to brown.


Add the wine


Add the wine and simmer until it reduces by half.  Add the beef broth.


Put the roast in the pot


Put the roast back in the pot, along with any juices that have gone on to the plate and bring everything to a boil.  Place covered in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours.   If you don’t have any roasted garlic on hand (I still had some left from the holidays), take a few cloves, cut the top off, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and put them in for about an hour while the roast is cooking (until they are soft and slightly brown).

Remove the roast from the pot to a serving platter and tent with foil.  Put the pot back on the stove and bring to a boil.  In a small cup add about 1/2 cup water to the flour and mix well.  Add to the pot and stir until it comes back to a boil to thicken the gravy.

Add the roasted garlic to your favorite mashed potato recipe.

Slice the roast and serve with the roasted garlic mashed potatoes.




Apple Cherry Strudel

Apple Cherry Strudel

Apple Cherry Strudel

When I was in my twenties, I was friends with an elderly woman from Yugoslavia who made her own phyllo dough.  It was amazing to watch as she took a small lump of dough and using her just her thumb and fingers, turned it into one large sheet as big as a table-cloth and thin enough to see through.  Sadly, I didn’t have the patience and couldn’t really get the hang of it but fortunately, you can buy it frozen.  My dad came to visit recently, so for a quick dessert I made an apple-cherry strudel.   The combination of the crisp dough and the fruit is wonderful, especially when served warm with a little ice cream.  This makes a fair amount, so if you have any extra, I recommend that you rewarm it in the oven for a few minutes before serving the leftovers because it does tend to get soggy.  It also freezes well, just wrap and freeze before the baking step.  When you’re ready to use it, thaw for 1/2 hour and add a few minutes to the baking time.


5 tart apples peeled and sliced thinly

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 small package frozen sweet cherries thawed, drained and sliced in half

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter

1 pkg thawed phyllo dough

1/2 cup nuts  (optional)


While you are peeling and slicing the apples, add them to a large bowl with the lemon juice.  It adds a little flavor and keeps them from turning brown.  Mix the apples with the cherries, brown sugar, cinnamon, breadcrumbs and nuts if you are going to use them.

On a clean kitchen towel, take five sheets of phyllo and lay them flat and brush with butter, repeat this 3-4 times ending with a layer of melted butter.

Place a row about 2-3 inches wide of the fruit mixture one inch from the short side, then roll.   Don’t fill them to full, you should be able to get 3-4 strudel. For detailed instructions on how to roll them, see the Althens manufacturers website.  Once you get the first fold done, use the towel to roll the rest of the way.  Place on vegetable sprayed cookie sheets and brush with one more layer of butter.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until they are nicely browned and puffy.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm with ice cream.

Apple Cherry Strudel with Powdered Sugar

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli inspired by Olive Garden – Party/Freezer size

Pasta Fagioli

Even though I know it isn’t very authentic I really enjoy the Olive Garden’s soup and bread sticks lunch, which led me to make my own version of the soup at home.  Of course it isn’t exactly the same as I tend to make my soups more substantial to the point they are often mistaken for stews.  It was very tasty and a great start to my penne with vodka sauce meal although I have adjusted the recipe a little because after the soup, everyone was too full to eat much of the pasta so I added some extra liquid to thin it out.  It freezes really well, so I made the usual gigantic batch and sealed the rest in several packages for later.  (I have learned my lesson and am now much more careful about labeling as it is amazing how similar things look once they are frozen.)

Here’s the recipe:


3 TBS olive oil

3 lbs ground beef (you could use 2 pounds but I live with the meat-eaters so I go with 3)

2 medium onions chopped

3 celery stalks chopped in a small dice

6 carrots chopped in a small dice

4 cloves garlic minced

1 large can (102 oz) crushed tomatoes

1 6 oz can tomato paste

2 cups red kidney beans

2 cups white kidney beans

8 cups beef stock

4 cups tomato juice

2 cups water

1 TBS Italian seasoning (or 2 tsp oregano and 1 tsp basil)

8 ounces small shell pasta


Sauté the ground beef until it starts to brown, add onions, carrots and celery and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, simmering for another 10 minutes.

Drain and rinse the beans, then add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes.  If you like a longer simmer (I like to let it go for several hours) don’t add the pasta until about 45 minutes before serving or it will get soggy.

Pasta Fajioli Served