Category: mint

Freshly minted.

Fresh mint! Turn it into jelly in less than 15 minutes!

One of the best parts of having a garden in the summer is the fresh herbs. I use my cilantro in tacos, salsa, guacamole & jasmine rice while the green coriander seeds go into pickles, I use the basil & oregano on fresh pizza, Caprese salad or in tomato sauce as well as drying some, the dill goes into pickles & gets dried for winter soups & sauces, the tarragon goes into flavored vinegar & gets dried, same goes for the sage, etc. Everything gets used, ultimately, whether it gets used fresh… or dried.

Mint is excellent when used fresh. It’s awesome in water or lemonade, or as a garnish on ice creams/sorbets. But if you’re growing mint & not making homemade mint jelly, you’re seriously missing out. Even if you don’t like it you probably know someone who loves to smear it on lamb chops or a leg of lamb, so gift it to them.

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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Ye olde Irish dark chocolate Guinness pudding.

Nothing I am about to show you today is traditionally Irish.

guinnesschocolatepudding

Nothing.

Actually… I’m lying. The Guinness is. Other than that, it’s a conglomeration of the Americanization of Irish culture; throw something green in there & it’s automatically Irish! But that’s okay with me, really. Look at how we celebrate the Chinese New Year with orange chicken & fried rice. Or how we go to an Italian restaurant & eat “chicken parmigiana.” None of that is realistic or authentic. That’s just how we roll in America, and as someone of Irish descent who knows better (and corned beef isn’t really authentically Irish either, folks), I’m still okay with it. I like green cupcakes & bagels. It’s fun. Better to be celebrated in that way than overlooked, right? America was built on the backs of immigrants, many of them Irish, so in whatever way we choose to celebrate them, it’s better than ignoring them. Do I wish that it was more to people than just a day to get drunk? Of course. But look at the 4th of July or Memorial Day- most people use them as excuses to have barbecues & get hammered.

And I alone can’t change that. So I keep these holidays in my way, and you can keep them in your way. And I like to keep them in a fun way, even if it isn’t 100% authentic.

And naturally, there’s really nothing that screams ‘SAINT PATRICK’S DAY” in America more than Guinness stout.

Dark chocolate Guinness pudding with creme de menthe whipped cream!

Guinness (pron.: /ˈɡɪnɨs/ gin-is) is a popular Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) at St. James’s Gate, Dublin. Guinness is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide. It is brewed in almost 60 countries and is available in over 100.[1] 850 million litres (1.5 billion imperial or 1.8 billion US pints) are sold annually.[1]

A feature of the product is the burnt flavour that is derived from roasted unmalted barley, although this is a relatively modern development, not becoming part of the grist until the mid-20th century. For many years a portion of aged brew was blended with freshly brewed beer to give a sharp lactic flavour. Although the Guinness palate still features a characteristic “tang”, the company has refused to confirm whether this type of blending still occurs. The draught beer‘s thick, creamy head comes from mixing the beer with nitrogen when poured. It is popular with Irish people both in Ireland and abroad, and, in spite of a decline in consumption since 2001,[2] is still the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland[3][4] where Guinness & Co. makes almost €2 billion annually.

Guinness stout is made from water, barley, hops, and brewer’s yeast. A portion of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its dark colour and characteristic taste. It is pasteurised and filtered.[citation needed]Making the product requires knowledge in the sciences of microbiology, mycology, bacteriology, and thermodynamics.[26] Despite its reputation as a “meal in a glass”, Guinness only contains 198 kcal (838kilojoules) per imperial pint (1460 kJ/l),[27] fewer than skimmed milk or orange juice and most other non-light beers.[citation needed]

Until the late 1950s Guinness was still racked[clarification needed] into wooden casks. In the late 1950s and early 1960s aluminium kegs began replacing the wooden casks; these were nicknamed “iron lungs”.[28]

Draught Guinness and its canned counterpart contain nitrogen (N2) as well as carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy.[citation needed] The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge” (the widget in cans and bottles achieves the same effect). The perceived smoothness of draught Guinness is due to its low level of carbon dioxide and the creaminess of the head caused by the very fine bubbles that arise from the use of nitrogen and the dispensing method described above.[citation needed] “Original Extra Stout” contains only carbon dioxide,[29] causing a more acidic taste.

Contemporary Guinness Draught and Extra Stout are weaker than they were in the 19th century, when they had an original gravity of over 1.070. Foreign Extra Stout and Special Export Stout, with abv of 7.5% and 9% respectively, are perhaps closest to the original in character.[30]

Although Guinness may appear to be black, it is officially a very dark shade of ruby.[31]

Bottle conditioned Guinness Extra Stout was available in the UK until 1994, and in Ireland until early 2000.[32]

My idea here was that there’s really nothing more fun than a good chocolate pudding. So why not make it a grown-up pudding? I thought of doing Jameson at first, but then I decided Guinness would go so much better with the chocolate. And I had some Lindt semisweet baking chocolate here just dying to be used up. So I really had to make this.

What? I did.

Dark chocolate Guinness pudding topped with creme de menthe whipped cream. Originally made for St. Patrick's Day but would also be great for Christmas! Substitute a chocolate or cream stout if desired.

So you’re remembering that ginger cake, or whatever, and you’re sitting there thinking “This bitch really loves Guinness.” And you’d be right. But even if I didn’t, it’d still be an easy to find stout that just works. It’s flavor just lends itself perfectly to baked goods, but it’s reasonably priced and can be found ANYWHERE. However I will say this: a chocolate or cream stout would work just as well. If you’re workin’ with the Irish theme then obviously I’d stick with Guinness. But in theory any rich, dark, thick, sweet stout would knock this pudding out of the park.

DARK CHOCOLATE GUINNESS PUDDING

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup Guinness stout (I used extra stout, feel free to use whatever you want… like I said, a chocolate stout would work well too)
  • 1ounce very good semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Pour the Guinness into a measuring cup, and set aside. Let sit until the foam subsides.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and thick in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium-high speed. On low speed, add the cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt. Bring the milk & Guinness to a boil in a medium saucepan and, with the mixer on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the chocolate mixture. Combine well, then pour the mixture back into the pan.
  3. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until thickened. If the mixture begins to curdle, remove it from the heat and beat it vigorously with a wire whisk. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chocolate, butter, vanilla, and heavy cream, and mix until the chocolate and butter are melted and fully incorporated.
  4. Strain through a sieve if desired or needed.
  5. Pour into serving bowls or glasses (or jars!). Place plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding, and chill thoroughly. Serve with whipped cream… if desired, the creme de menthe whipped cream below…

CREME DE MENTHE WHIPPED CREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons good quality Crème de Menthe
  • 1 drop green food coloring (if you want the color brighter)

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the first three ingredients together with the whisk attachment until they’re thickened. Check the taste, add more sugar or Crème de Menthe as needed, by the 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. Continue beating until the whipped cream is the proper thickness, but don’t whip too much… you’ll get mint-flavored butter! Ew.
  3. Add a drop of green coloring to brighten the color if needed or desired.

Dark chocolate Guinness pudding topped with creme de menthe whipped cream. Originally made for St. Patrick's Day but would also be great for Christmas! Substitute a chocolate or cream stout if desired.

The flavor of the whipped cream reminds me of that infamous “Shamrock Shake“- so if you’re not a fan of that, you probably won’t like this. It’s a very straightforward mint flavor. If you’re unaware as to what it is, or you’ve never had it:

Crème de menthe (French for mint cream) is a sweet, mint-flavored alcoholic beverage. Its flavor is primarily derived from Corsican mint. It is available commercially in a colorless (called “white”) and a green version (which obtains its color from the mint leaves or from the addition of coloring, if extract and not the leaves are used to make the liqueur). Both varieties have similar flavors and are interchangeable in recipes, except where the color is important.

Crème de menthe is used as an ingredient in several cocktails, such as the Grasshopper and the Stinger, and is also served as an after-dinner drink and can be used in food recipes as a flavoring (see Mint chocolate).

The traditional formula involves steeping dried peppermint leaves in grain alcohol for several weeks (creating a naturally green color), followed by filtration and the addition of sugar.[1]

I’m a fan of anything mint, especially when paired with chocolate, so I love it. But I will agree that it’s an acquired taste. Another idea is to use peppermint extract & green food coloring, you can also just make regular whipped cream and color it green with just a drop of food coloring. And ANOTHER idea? Make it a Bailey’s Irish Cream whipped cream by substituting Bailey’s for the Crème de Menthe. The pudding recipe can be halved, but it doesn’t make such an exorbitant amount that you’d need to, unless there’s only two of you. Or one of you. I still don’t understand that because I can eat two 16-ounce jars of this all by myself… but oh well.

It would be super cute to tear off little shamrocks from a shamrock plant and use them as garnish for this! Not edible, but sure as hell cute. Damnit. Wish I’d thought of that before.

And Guinness in no way provided me with anything nor did they ask me to write this recipe up. Oh how I wish I was gifted with a gigantic case of Guinness stout! But alas, no. All ideas/recipes/opinions/etc are mine & mine alone, apropos of nothing but years of delicious Guinness imbibery (is that a word?).

Santa Claus is coming to town…

AND HE’S COMING IN 21 DAYS.

(Better pick up that phone…)

;

Wow. So it’s really December! Holy crap, right? Thanksgiving has come & gone. Black Friday is over, as is Cyber Monday (which sounds very dirty to me, sorry I’m a child of the ’90′s when “cybersex” was the big parental fear, not “sexting”). The pumpkins are gone & being replaced with lights. ‘Tis the season of Christmas cookies, Hanukkah recipes & gifts of all shapes & sizes. ‘Tis the season of peppermint everything & mistletoe, snow & fireplaces, Christmas lists & long lines. Toys & sleds. Snow & red noses.

I love Christmas time, but really, it’s enough to make you want to crawl under a down comforter until February. So let’s ease into it all, shall we? How about easing into it with some polka dot cupcakes, and some hot cocoa? Sound good to you? Vanilla cupcakes, with little green dots made from the same vanilla batter. So easy!

(Mugs & plates from Target. And yes, the mugs & plates are small… the cupcakes aren’t huge!)

;

It’s so simple. Here’s what you do:

  1. Just pick your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, make it, then take about 1/2 cup of the batter, maybe even just 1/4 cup, and put in in a separate bowl.
  2. Tint it whatever color you want (you can also do a few different colors by dividing the batter further).
  3. Pour the plain vanilla batter into cupcake liners, as usual.
  4. Then take the colored batter & spoon it into a disposable pastry bag, snip off the very bottom and carefully pipe “dots” on to the tops of your unbaked cupcakes. Or, you could use a very small round piping tip if you have one. My dots were uneven… what else is new, haha- but once they were baked you couldn’t even tell anyway.
  5. You can do red & green dots on vanilla cupcakes, plain vanilla dots in red velvet cupcakes, chocolate dots in vanilla cupcakes, vanilla dots in red velvet cupcakes, red dots in chocolate cupcakes, etc, etc, etc. The possibilities are endless!

I didn’t frost mine so the dots were visible. If you want, you could probably pipe the dots in layers so that you get polka dots all the way through the cupcakes. Never done it myself, but it’s worth a shot. The liners are from Michael’s, not sure what brand they are. You can definitely get similar red/white polka dot liners at any number of places, though: sweet estelle baking supply, Layer Cake Shop, Bake it Pretty, The Cupcake Social, Sweet Cuppin Cakes. Wherever you like to shop. I think dotted liners in a contrasting color look so cute, but stripes would be adorable too!

And of course… the cupcakes wouldn’t be complete without some hot cocoa!

;

CUPCAKE REHAB’S HOT COCOA*

Makes about 6 servings, depending on the size of your mugs *wink*

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use dark, too)
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • Candy canes, mini marshmallows, whipped cream & peppermint schnapps/peppermint syrup (all optional)

Directions:

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir in the hot water & bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk and heat, but do not boil. Remove from the heat & add vanilla. Pour into mugs.
  3. Add a dash of peppermint schnapps, if desired, then add whatever you like on top: whipped cream, mini marshmallows or both. Add a candy cane stirrer (or crushed candy canes on top) & enjoy!
*this hot cocoa also works well with a dash of cinnamon sugar & a pinch of cayenne pepper instead of peppermint schnapps & candy canes.

If you’re caught without candy canes (hey, it’s only the BEGINNING OF DECEMBER!), some hard peppermint candies will, when smashed, work the same way. Or, you can use a squirt of peppermint syrup in the cocoa and skip the crushed candies on top. The peppermint is optional altogether, however, so don’t sweat it. I personally like a little peppermint in my hot chocolate, but this cocoa happens to be good enough on it’s own to stand up without any fancy stuff.

On that note, I look forward to spending another holiday season with all of you. Sláinte!

Playing in the dirt.

I thought I’d do a quick little update on the garden while things were a bit slow around here due to today’s excessive heat & sunshine that’ll blind you.

(Alright, I’m lying. It’s not that slow around here, nor is it that hot – it’s around 91° F, which compared to our 101° temps last week is nothing. I just wanted to do a garden update. Whatever.)

And so I’ll begin this written portion of the program by saying that while every other woman in the country (seemingly) is squealing in excitement for the final film installment of The Twilight Saga and/or reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve been gardening, cooking, baking, canning, beaching, grilling, strolling, sunbathing, and generally enjoying the outdoors. Not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned activities. I’m just saying. Summer goes by quickly, folks. Enjoy it while it’s here! The winter is loooong.

But right now, it’s pretty much hotter than hell most days. That sun I photographed above beats down relentlessly (when it’s not pouring rain & thundering, oh the joys of high humidity!) on everything making the sidewalk so hot I could fry my peppers outdoors. This poor little guy was one of the (probably many) casualties of the heat. I call him The Jesus Lizard, because a few weeks prior, I found a lizard laying in quite the same position, and assumed him dead. Yet when I went to brush him off the walkway into the flowerbed (I don’t know why, my version of a lizard burial I suppose) he flipped over and scooted away. This time… however… he was 100% definitely dead. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is that very same lizard. So of course, what else would I call him but the Jesus Lizard? Somewhere, many other lizards are awaiting his second coming. Until then, rest in peace little dude.

The heat is no joke. This is why they tell you to check on the elderly & young’ns and make sure your pets have plenty of cold fresh water. Anyway… let’s get back to something pleasant: my container garden! Prepare for lots of photos.

Cajun Belle pepper

Green Zebra heirloom tomato

SuperTasty Hybrid tomato

Herbs; dill, cilantro, rosemary

Oregano

Variegated oregano

Mint

Rosemary

Lavender (not edible)

Basil

The “Mystery Plant”

So yeah. That’s pretty much that.

The interesting thing is that “Mystery Plant” there. Whatever it is, it’s a plant from last year that I thought was just dead wood. However, I failed to remove it from the pot at the end of the season in October, and the tag that told me what it was went missing over the winter. So I was surprised to see that there was green life coming from the dead-looking brown stalk a month ago, and I decided to leave it and see what came of it. It’s gotten bigger, with more green growing, but I’m not 100% sure what it is. It’s possible it’s my Habanero plant, or it could be a Bell pepper. It’s definitely not a tomato, and I doubt it’s an eggplant. But I guess we’ll see, right?! Whatever it is, it’s a pleasant surprise, and a testament to life and nature. It’s so true what my grandma used to say: where there’s life- there’s hope! Except for Jesus Lizard, that is.

I did have one little casualty. A Cajun Belle fell off the vine prematurely. It was so cute, and so perfectly formed… but so tiny! So I tossed it into the grass for the local bunnies or my friendly raccoon family to nibble on.

My mint is struggling to come back full force, which kinda sucks- I have a feeling by the time it’s huge the season will be over and it’ll be time for me to cut it down and dry it. It’s turning brown slightly on the edges. Blah. I’ll update again once more things start to come around. Basil? For a while it wasn’t doing too well- it seemed to be shrinking. But now it’s better. My cilantro took a nose dive, though. My tomatoes are taking an extra long time, trying my patience, for sure. I lost two buds (one from each) in a bad thunderstorm that lasted over 12+ hours and it took forever for the other teeny buds to catch up. Ugh. Hurry up tomatoes!

At least I hope they get here before Breaking Dawn pt. 2.

Kidding.

North Pole cupcakes.

I know I’ve been posting a few Christmas-y goodies, but no cupcakes. How is that possible? There are like 12 days until Christmas & I haven’t posted any Christmas cupcakes!? Well things are gonna change, as of right now. The funny thing about these is they’re a rip-off of a cupcake I saw in one of those little baking booklets on sale at the supermarket checkout line. I loved the idea of the red/white swirled cake & thick white frosting topped with crushed candy canes. But see, I’ve done that particular angle before (quite a bit, too, actually). So instead I used some of these Andes peppermint crunch baking chips that I bought back in October on top.

And of course, my grandma’s little vintage elves had to get in on the act. Are you prepared for the cuteness overload?

Super duper über cute. Those elves (or pixies?) are the coolest. I also have ones that are “candle huggers.” I think they were made by a company called Gilner in the 1940′s & 1950′s (and I think even some go back to the 30′s). These are from the ’40′s, when my grandparents were first married. Apparently they’re very collectible.

I kept the rest of the cupcake true to the original I’d seen, of course my own spin on it since I didn’t have their recipe. Peppermint twist “North Pole” cupcakes (topped with Andes Peppermint Crunch chips)! I bought this bag of Andes chips before Halloween… because I’m crazy. Well that & also because I knew I had to use them to bake with this year. I didn’t know at the time what I would make, but I knew it’d include those. Then I saw that little booklet of baking ideas with its adorable red & white striped cupcake on the cover. Brilliant. I could incorporate the Andes baking chips with red/white peppermint cupcakes- without having to use the tired old candy cane method! ‘Cause yeah, that’s cute & all, but let’s face it- it’s been done to death.

So I did what that little baking booklet did!

Or rather, my version of it.

‘NORTH POLE’ PEPPERMINT TWIST CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • ½ cup + 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • red food coloring (please remember to use a good quality NO-TASTE red food coloring!)
  • Andes Peppermint Crunch baking chips (or crushed candy canes)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° degrees F.
  2. Line a cupcake pan with baking cups; depending on how big your cupcake tins are, you can make between 8 and 12 (I got 12 but I could’ve easily filled mine more). Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Place the unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar; beat on medium speed until well incorporated. Add the egg, mix it in slowly. Combine the vanilla extract and milk in a large liquid measuring cup.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then gradually add ⅓ of the milk mixture, beating until well incorporated. Add another third of the flour mixture, followed by a third of the milk mixture. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk mixture, and beat just until combined.
  5. Scoop about ¼ – ½ of the batter into a separate bowl. Mix in the peppermint extract well, then mix in the red food coloring, drop by drop, until red color (not pink) is achieved.
  6. Spoon plain vanilla batter into baking cups, filling each about halfway. Add 2-4 teaspoons of the red batter to it & using a knife or toothpick, swirl & swish it around until there’s a swirled pattern. DO NOT THOROUGHLY MIX IT- you’ll end up with pink cupcakes, not red swirl. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
  7. After frosting, sprinkle baking chips or crushed candy canes on top.

Elf not included.

The frosting tip is this one, and the frosting is a plain ol’ vanilla confectioner’s sugar buttercream (an Italian meringue or Swiss meringue would be nice too). For cupcakes like this, I prefer to use a plain white liner so that you can see the swirl through it, but do whatever works for you. And like I said, I seriously stress the no-taste red color. If you don’t use it, you might taste an unpleasant bitter or chemical-y flavor that will overpower the peppermint & vanilla. Some good choices are Wilton’s No-Taste Red gel food coloring and Americolor Super Red gel paste food coloring. Same goes for making red velvet cupcakes, although with the cocoa powder I find it isn’t as noticeable.

I told you I was all vintage inspired this season. So on the kitchen table, in addition to these lil’ pixie people, I used my grandma’s vintage Christmas tablecloth & some of my mom & grandma’s vintage Santa’s. My mother has a Santa collection that would make Martha Stewart cry; you need a certain kind of Kris Kringle? Ask her. She has a bunch that belonged to my great-grandmothers, my grandma, and ones that were hers from when she was a child. Not to mention the tons of them she’s gotten as gifts or bought herself over the years. She has every single type of St. Nick you could ever want- Victorian, Colonial, 1950′s, 1920′s, plastic, metal, plaster, hollow, solid, papier mache, German Santa’s, Irish Santa’s, folk Santa’s, traditional Santa’s, modern Santa’s, American Santa’s, Santa’s in cars, Santa’s on sleds, cat Santa’s, happy Santa’s, sad Santa’s, angry-looking Santa’s, tall Santa’s, tiny Santa’s, etc. I’m not joking. Any type of Santa you can imagine, she’s got. But I just chose to borrow some of the 40′s/50′s/60′s ones for my little retro display. It seemed they’d be more fitting with the tablecloth.

Even though my grandma isn’t here physically this Christmas, her things are all around & in that, she is here. Here are a few close ups of the tablecloth. It’s so cute. I’m going to try & look through some old pictures & see if I can find any of either my grandparents’ apartment or their house at Christmas with this on the table. I mean how amazing is this? So stylized. It’s right out of Christmas in Connecticut.

Basically, this all boils down to the fact that I love all things peppermint & candy cane-like, I love all things vintage and I love baking with them & using them as inspiration. Luckily, my family saved a lot of their fantastic vintage stuff for me to swoon over. I’ll never understand people who don’t like vintage items! What is WRONG with you people?! This stuff is phenomenal. They just don’t make things like this anymore. Not to mention, a quick look on eBay or Etsy & you’ll see, this stuff goes for quite a bit of money. So if you’re lucky enough to have it, you’re sitting on a goldmine. Especially the Gurley candles (which I have a TON of, for every holiday), some of them go for a fortune!

Not that I’d ever sell. But anyway, I do love seeing/hearing about other people’s Christmas goodies that have been in their family for ages (or at least a few years), so if you feel like sharing, please do! You can add links to pictures or stories or whatever you like in the comments. I’m a nosy bitch so humor me…

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.

I made this mint jelly when I couldn’t sleep one morning at 2:30 a.m. No joke. It was the easiest fucking thing I have ever made in my life, bar none. It was done in less than 30 minutes, and jarred up and cooling, and I was back in bed. The hardest part was going outside & cutting my fresh mint… in the dark.

I actually forgot that I made this. I made it, took some pictures the next day and then promptly forgot about it once it was labeled & on the shelf with my other jams, probably because not only were the jars small, but mint jelly isn’t something often eaten. It’s usually eaten with lamb, but some people like it with pork chops. I like neither, so now that it was all ready to go, I gave it to my parents. I read that real mint jelly is not only rare & hard to find most times, but sorta expensive. I wasn’t aware of this fact at all, but then I remembered when I was a little girl, whenever we’d go meet our family at a restaurant for Easter dinner & they’d order lamb, the mint jelly came in a teeny tiny little cup. And most times, if you asked for more, it seemed like a big deal. Maybe that’s because it was real mint jelly. Apparently, mint-flavored apple jelly is more common than real mint jelly, and it’s cheaper. Which to me is so bizarre, considering mint plants are so cheap & this recipe was so easy. You can have a mint plant in your kitchen year round, or you can even use dried mint! But nowadays you can even buy fresh mint in little bunches at the supermarket, so there’s really no excuse.

Just goes to show you how stupid society has become. It cost me a total of $4.00 for the jars (a 4-pack of 8 oz. wide mouth Ball® ‘Collection Elite™’ jars costs actually a few cents less than that at Walmart), the mint was already growing in my garden from previous years, the pectin was about $3.50 for a double pack (also Walmart), the water is straight from my faucet and the lemon juice was already in my fridge (although I had organic lemons here too I could have used, but it only required such a small amount). So for $7.00 I made 4 little jars (32 ounces) of 100% pure, homemade, homegrown mint jelly. Just for one example, Polaner Real Mint jelly costs roughly anywhere from $2.79 – $3.90 per 10 oz. Either price, I still win.

Good jelly is clear and sparkling and has a fresh flavor of the fruit from which it is made. It is tender enough to quiver when moved, but holds angles when cut.” – R. Berolzheimer, 1959

I opted to not use apple juice, because I didn’t want a brown-tinted “mint-flavored” apple jelly, I wanted a bright, crystal clear, pure mint, sparkling Kelly-green one (which I think I achieved, don’t you?). But there are tons of apple-based recipes too, so take your pick. I’m not a purist. I’d personally rather use some pectin if it gives me a nice colored, aesthetically pleasing jelly. I don’t want to eat something that looks like aspic, even if it smells like mint. But even if you’re one of those people who’d prefer to make it without the green food coloring, the color of this jelly is a nice, pleasant, not-brown pale green. I am not one of those people. I like fake colors, my hair used to be a variety of them. I used Sure-Jell for this particular batch, it was my first time using it (I usually use Ball® RealFruit) and it was great. I have no complaints with either brand.

This is a true mint jelly with a delicious, mild yet definitely mint flavor, no apple to be found. Increase the mint if you want it really powerful. If you like pieces of mint leaves left in it, then by all means, do leave some. Just make sure they’re small & easily chewed or they’ll ruin the texture (which is lovely).

MINT JELLY

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh mint, washed thoroughly or ½ cup dried mint leaves
  • 3 ¼ cups water
  • green food coloring (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1.75 ounces (3 ½ tablespoons) pectin
  • 4 cups granulated white sugar, sifted

Directions:

  1. Chop and crush mint leaves in a saucepan, then add the water. Bring to a rapid boil.
  2. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for about 10 minutes. Strain the leaves out & discard.
  3. Add food coloring (if desired) and lemon juice, stir well. Add pectin, dissolve and bring to a rapid boil. Add sugar. Cook fast, stirring occasionally until it comes to a rapid boil that cannot be stirred down, then cook 1 minute more.
  4. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool in water until you can safely remove it. Then set in a cool, dark place until ready to open. Refrigerate after opening, of course.

This recipe makes 2 pints, or four 8 oz. jars, or eight 4 oz. jars. I’d recommend using the either the 8 oz. or those cute little 4 oz. jelly jars as people don’t really use that much of this, and they make adorable gifts. In theory, I should’ve waited until St. Patrick’s Day & made a bunch to give away, tied with little shamrock ribbon! Ah, hindsight is 20/20. As with most things, this will last on the shelf for 6-8 months, maybe a year. I’d use it before that, though.

I’m here talking about mint jelly while Jay is in Muotathal, Switzerland playing the Mountains of Death festival with his band. Oh the glamorous life of a rockstar wife girlfriend; mint jelly & death metal music. Yes, you all read that correctly, I wrote Switzerland. He is actually in Switzerland, playing bass in his death metal band at an open air festival. Clearly, someone is having a not-quite-midlife crisis, no? Haha. Kidding. I do miss him, though. He went to Illinois last month on tour, but it seemed like it wasn’t really so far. Switzerland is, like, totally far away from NY! *sad face* Good luck, Jay! I love you, get home safe & bring me back some Swiss chocolate.

Minty Green tea & honey granita.

That’s a mouthful, innit?

Before I continue with this recipe, I want to remind you not to forget to enter to win a gorgeous Shabby Apple apron! Yep, if you’re a U.S. resident you’re eligible to win this super adorable Wildberry Pie apron. The giveaway ends July 2nd, so make sure you go here, read the details, and enter. Also, a few days ago Michelle (from Kissed by Sweets) gave me a blog award! Thank you, Michelle. Lil’ ol me getting a blog award! Mama always said I was special. Anyway it’s called the Versatile Blogger Award, and with this award comes responsibility. I must give the award to other blogs I’m currently loving, so here goes:

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I happen to be THE WORST commenter ever, so if you’re the owner of one of the aforementioned blogs, don’t expect to see many from me. But I really do read them all the time and love them. So with this award I’m also supposed to tell you a few things (like 7) about myself…  and you all who I mentioned, are in turn, supposed to do this same thing. Although I’m not a stickler for rules (ha!), so I won’t whip any of you with wet noodles if you don’t. Let’s see, 7 things about me, which is kinda rare here. I mean, I talk about myself all the time, but not in minute unrelated-to-baking detail… so I’ll just wrap this up quickly: I’m sunburned (for one of the few times in my born-&-raised-in-NY life I could be called a ‘redneck‘), I have my natural haircolor for the first time in like 8+ years, I’m currently wearing a NOFX t-shirt, I’m currently listening to (very old) White Zombie, I’m planning on making Meyer lemon curd & cream cheese pound cake later on this week, my nail polish is currently Velvet Voyeur by Essie and last but not least… I’m awesome.

So here’s the deal with this recipe. I don’t like Green tea (more on that later). I don’t like Mark Bittman; yeah, sure he’s got some good recipes but he’s such a whiny sourpuss bastard (I’m sorry Mark but you are, and the curmudgeon bit is getting old). The entire time I watched Spain… on the road Again, and the scene featured him, I wanted to slit my throat with all of his bitching & complaining. I don’t really like honey; it’s good in honey cake or some kinds of tea but I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan. I’m more into raw sugar/German rock sugar in my tea. I do like mint, though, and I grow it in my garden. There’s a whole lot about this recipe I’m not a big fan of, but as they say, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Plus- it’s hot, granita is easy to make, and I’m lazy. I’ve made it before & I have to say, there’s probably nothing simpler. And when it’s so hot out the devil himself knocks on your door & asks if you’ve got central air, you don’t want anything complex.

Granita is an Italian dessert, specifically Sicilian, traditionally made from sugar, water, and flavoring. The most popular in Italy being lemon and almond, it has expanded into chocolate & other flavors. The texture can run the gamut from sorbet-like to snow-cone-like and everything in between. This one is a chunkier, icier one. I like all the different textures, myself, my favorites being the smooth Italian ice kind and the really ice crystal-y kind.

So like I said above, if I can be brutally honest (and when am I ever not?)… I love tea. I really do. I love all kinds of teas; herbal, chai, black, white, oolong, etc. However… personally, and pardon my French… but I think Green tea sucks hardcore balls. It’s not good, at all. And if it is good, it’s because it’s combined with other flavors & sweeteners (i.e. honey, lemon, orange, pomegranate, etc). But I totally get the health benefits of it (source):

1. Lowers your risk of cancer. Although the studies of how green tea affects cancerous cells are still in their infancy, there have been human trials which indicate that it does inhibit cells from developing cancer. EGCG in green tea regulates and inhibits cancer growth by killing cells that are growing inappropriately. In Japan, a study of 500 women with Stage I and Stage II breast cancer found that increasing their green tea consumption before and after surgery significantly lowered the risk of recurrence. Another analysis of 22 studies of the correlation between green tea and lung cancer concluded that by increasing your intake of green tea by two cups a day may reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by 18%.
2. Eases the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Study results reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that polyphenol antioxidants in green tea benefits suffers of arthritis by reducing the incidence and severity of the disease. EGCG protects cartilage destruction and reduces joint swelling and pain. This leads many scientists and health professionals to recommend green tea as a legitimate remedy for treating arthritis.
3. Stabilizes your cholesterol levels. Researchers believe that green tea lowers your cholesterol levels by reducing its absorption in your digestive tract and increasing the rate of which it is excreted. However, your body does need cholesterol to build cell membranes, insulate nerve fibres and create hormones. For this, green tea benefits you by preventing the conversion of LDL cholesterol into it’s more dangerous, oxidized form. Oxidized LDL is one of the main factors in the development of atherosclerosis (the build of plaque that blocks your arteries as LDL gets sticky and clings to your artery walls) and increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. The amazing antioxidant effects of green tea protect this, helping to keep your arteries clean.
4. Prevents cardiovascular disease. A Japanese study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed significant reductions in deaths from cardiovascular disease among green tea drinkers. The study found that over an 11 year test period, individuals who drank more than 5 cups per day had a 16% less chance of mortality and mortality related to cardiovascular disease when compared to individuals who drank less than one cup per day. They also found that green tea was especially beneficially in preventing strokes, due in large part to the antioxidants and how they prevent clogged arteries.
5. Boosts your immune system. Catechins, the antioxidant polyphenol compounds, have been shown to have a major impact in your immune system. Research conducted by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2003 revealed that theanine, found in green tea, boosted the activity of the gamma delta T cells that form part of our adaptive and innate immunity. The study followed a group of coffee drinkers and a group of tea drinkers who each drank 600ml of their drink daily. Blood samples taken four weeks later quite clearly showed that production of these anti-bacterial proteins were five times higher in those drinking tea.
6. Promotes weight loss. Both green tea and green tea extract have been shown to fight obesity and lower LDL cholesterol – both of which ultimately lead to a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. The polyphenols in green tea are extremely useful for dissolving triglycerides, a substance in the liver and small intestine made up of mostly sugar and fat, and this is thought to be the reason green tea benefits fat loss. EGCG is also known to stimulate your metabolism and accelerate weight loss. When combined with the caffeine in green tea, this causes your central nervous system to release fat into the bloodstream to be used as fuel which burns your body fat off.
7. Reduces tooth decay. Antibacterial properties found in green tea are also used by your body to kill the bacteria that causes plaque on your teeth. Research by the Journal of Periodontology has also shown that for every cup of green tea you drink, there is a decrease in indicators for gum disease. Fluoride is also found in green tea which helps to protect against cavities.
8. Effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In 2007, Dr. Orhan Aktas from the Institute of Neuroimmunology conducted a study of how green tea benefits sufferers of multiple sclerosis. While current patients do not have many options to prevent tissue damage and disability, he found that the flavonoid EGCG found in green tea could have a huge impact on multiple sclerosis. He concluded that EGCG is capable of directly protecting against neuronal injury in living brain tissue and that EGCG constituents may open up a new therapeutic avenue for treating MS by combining anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective capacities.
9. Slows the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A recent report published in the journal Phytomedicine has found substantial evidence that the enzymes found in green tea protect your brain cells from damage. Another study conducted by the University of South Florida looked at the effects of antioxidant EGCG. It was shown to be a protein blocker which prevented the chemical reactions that can lead to nerve damage that can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
10. Fights the cause of allergies in your body. Methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been shown to block a cells receptor involved in producing an allergic response. By blocking the production of histamine and immunoglobulin E (IgE), two compounds in the body that are chiefly involved in triggering and sustaining allergic reactions, EGCG could very well be the compound which prevents you from having watery eyes, sneezing and coughing.
11. Helps to fend off infections. Again, as one of the main benefits of green tea, EGCG has been highlighted by a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology as being able to prevent infections, including the HIV virus. EGCG binds with CD4 immune system T-cell receptors and stops HIV from doing the same to reduce the risk of infection. While it is still way too early to peg green tea as a cure for HIV, an Egyptian study has shown that combining antibiotics with green tea significantly boosts the effectiveness of the antibiotic. In fact, when tested against 28 disease-causing microorganisms, green tea enhanced the bacteria killing power in every single case.
12. Reduces and prevents acne. Green tea benefits acne in a number of different ways. It’s antibacterial properties attack and kill the acne bacteria while the anti-inflammatory benefits of green tea reduce the swelling and redness. Antioxidants fight against free radicals which damage the skin and make it more susceptible to acne also help to balance hormone levels to help prevent future breakouts from happening.
13. Slows the aging process to prevent wrinkles. One of the latest benefits of green tea is the effect it has on your skin and the aging process. It is again down to the antioxidants that prevent cell oxidation and damage that can make you look older than you really are. Studies are mixed on this particular green tea benefit as new research has come to light which suggests the full benefits can only be had by applying green tea topically to your skin. However, many people have found that potent green tea extracts do have a positive effect on their skin, leaving it softer, more supply and younger looking.

So yeah, I see how it’s worth it to imbibe in it once in a while. For me, it’s easier to do so if it’s in a icy, sweet, minty & refreshing form like this granita.

Despite Mark Bittman being annoying, this recipe went over big on a super hot June day when I was at a loss as to what kind of dessert to make. Thanks Mark. Or actually, thanks to the real author of the recipe, Freya Bellin.

MINTY GREEN TEA & HONEY GRANITA

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 green tea bags, or 2 tablespoons loose green tea
  • ¼ cup fresh mint
  • ¼ cup honey, or more as needed
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Directions:

  1. Bring 3 cups water almost to a boil. Add the tea and mint, cover, and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes, then strain to remove the solids. Stir in the honey and lemon juice. Taste and add more honey if necessary to make a nicely sweet blend.
  2. Pour the mixture into a shallow glass or ceramic pan and freeze for at least 2 hours, stirring to break up the crystals every 30 minutes or so. It should be slushy and crunchy with ice crystals.
  3. If the granita becomes too hard, pulse it (do not puree) in a food processor before serving, or set it in the fridge for a bit and stir once in a while to bring back the desired texture.

Keep in mind, as it freezes it will lose some sweetness, so add the honey accordingly. Also, you could do this with almost any kind of tea, herbal or otherwise. Granita lends itself so well to almost any kind of flavor or liquid. I used fresh lemon juice to make lemon granita, and I used P♥M Wonderful pomegranate juice & orange juice to make pomegranate granita last year, just take off from that stepping stone. Next time I think I’ll try a black tea with some lemon & sugar. Or maybe the traditional almond… mmm.

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Garnished with fresh mint (as I garnish all the granita’s I make), it’s a deliciously refreshing summer treat, that you don’t need to sweat your balls off in a hot kitchen to make. Those cute little glasses are from Ikea & they’re drinking glasses, but a perfect size for serving granita, mini-parfaits or ice cream.

Get yer leprechauns ready…

Ah, I love St. Patrick’s Day. I love the parade, I love Bailey’s, I love Guinness, & I even like a little Jameson in my coffee. I’m aware that’s not the meaning of the holiday, but come on. Lighten up. St. Patrick would’ve loved to down some Jameson or green beer while chasin’ those pesky snakes out of Eire.

Saint Patrick’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig) is a religious holiday on the 17th of March. It is named after Saint Patrick (circa AD 387–461), the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of Ireland. It began as a purely Catholic holiday and became an official feast day in the early 17th century. It has gradually become more of a secular celebration of Ireland’s culture.

Little is known of Patrick’s early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the 4th century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave.[3] It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.[citation needed]

In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianize the Irish from their native polytheism. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on 17 March 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish Church.

Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick’s day grew.[4] Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century.[5] He is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day.[6][7] In the 1798 rebellion, in hopes of making a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17 March in hopes of catching public attention.[4] The phrase “the wearing of the green”, meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing, derives from a song of the same name.

Well now that I’ve given you all a little history lesson, let me just say this is a great holiday to cook & bake for. While I do not like the “traditional” corned beef & cabbage, I love beer, Irish cream, Irish cheddar, and potatoes. And since I did one of these little compilation thingies for Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas & Valentine’s Day, I’d be remiss if I overlooked this holiday. So, friends, céad míle fáilte to my post of favorite St. Patty’s Day confections & treats!

One of the most popular cupcakes I’ve posted, and one of my favorites! A delicious way to enjoy Bailey’s without drinking it. Find the recipe here: Luck o’ the Irish: Bailey’s Irish cream cupcakes.

Another alcohol-enriched cupcake, this time made with Guinness stout. Even if you’re not a fan of stouts, you’ll LOVE this. It tastes like a deeper, more intense chocolate. I actually used plain vanilla buttercream, but the recipe includes a whipped cream cheese frosting. Get the recipes here: Guinness stout cupcakes with whipped cream cheese frosting.

These are some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever made. Ina Garten is nuts. The amount of butter & eggs in it are also nuts, but it’s worth it. It’s even worth it to halve the recipe, which is what I usually do. Amazing really. Get the details: Coconut cupcakes, a la Ina Garten.
These cupcakes… these cupcakes I had some issues with. It’s from the book 500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connolly. I found them to be a bit dry, more muffin-y. However the frosting redeemed them. It tasted like melted mint chocolate chip ice cream. I think it’s still a great recipe, it just needs a little tweaking. Are you the one to finally tweak it perfectly? Find out: Happy March Mint Chocolate Chip cupcakes.

So there you have it. Four awesome cupcake recipes/ideas for St. Patrick’s Day. And if you’re not into cupcakes, or don’t like things that are too sweet, I have one more recommendation for you: Irish soda cake.

This Irish soda cake recipe was given to my mother by a friend of hers, Alice, many years ago. Alice came from Ireland & brought this recipe with her when she came to the United States. It’s not like traditional Irish soda bread; it’s slightly sweeter, with a sugary top. It’s dense, more like a bread than a cake, but it’s definitely sweeter. No raisins, no caraway seeds. Just plain ol’ fashioned goodness. Get the recipe here: Irish Soda Cake.

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Another cute idea would be to make shortbread cookies (or sugar cookies) in the shape of shamrocks. Use green colored royal icing or Candy Melts to decorate them. Yes, shortbread is Scottish, not Irish, but it’s fucking delicious. As far as savory items go, a good Shepherd’s pie, with Guinness or without, is a great idea. I hope these suggestions help you in your quest to find the perfect St. Patrick’s Day treat. I plan on adding more this year in the coming weeks. Now you can go help yourself to some Irish coffee. Go ahead, you’ve earned it.

*Shamrock Photoshop brushes used in the above images are from Obsidian Dawn

Candy Cane cupcakes.

You know what a gingerbread man uses when he has trouble walking? A candy cane! HAHAHA. I know, I’m hilarious, especially to the 5-year-old set. But if you’re a hit with them, you’re golden. They’re the best audience to gain favor with! They’ve got all the fun toys and candy.

Speaking of candy.. er, candy canes:

A candy cane is a hard cane-shaped candy stick. It is traditionally white with red stripes and flavored with peppermint or cinnamon (also known respectively as a peppermint stick or cinnamon stick);[citation needed] however, it is also made in a variety of other flavors and may be decorated with stripes of different colors and thicknesses. The candy cane is available year-round, but traditionally surrounds the Christmas holiday, particularly in the Western world.

In its early form, the candy cane began as a simple white stick of sugar for children to enjoy – there was no “cane” shape or stripes to speak of. While it is uncertain where the first canes originated, it is clear that by the mid-17th century, if not earlier, its use had already become widespread across Europe.[1] These were made by confectioners who had to pull, cut, twist, and (in later years) bend the sugar sticks by hand, making it a time-intensive process. Candy cane production had to be done locally, since they were easily damaged and vulnerable to moisture.[3] The labour required, and difficulty of storage, combined to make these candies relatively hard to get, although popular.[4]

The distinctive “hook” shape associated with candy canes is traditionally credited to a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, who, legend has it, in 1670 bent straight candy sticks into canes to represent a shepherd‘s crook, and gave them to children at church services.[5] The shepherd’s staff is often used in Christianity as a metaphor for The Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. It is also possible that, as people decorated their Yule trees with food, the bent candy cane was invented as a functional solution.[6]

The stripes are made similar in fashion to a barber’s pole, with the red stripes twisting around the white stick of sugar.[9] These signature stripes did not become part of the candy cane until the 20th century.[10][11] It is uncertain who first started using the stripes, but evidence of their use only appears after the turn of the century. At around this time, candy makers began using peppermint as a flavor.[12]

Nowadays, candy canes come in just about every color and flavor you can imagine. I’m still a big fan of the original but I enjoy the spearmint ones, Jay loved this Hawaiian Punch kind I bought him a few years ago (but sadly haven’t found ever again), and I know someone from High School who used to like the Sweettart ones. However, I happen to think the more Christmas-y of the lot are the red & white OG canes. This recipe is from the book 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson, which some people look at as a kind of cupcake bible. She calls them Peppermint Candy Cupcakes, but for our purposes, and the season, let’s go with Candy Cane cupcakes, shall we?

As I mentioned once before, I’m playing with the settings on my camera so bear with me if the quality of the pictures vary in each post. I can’t seem to find the perfect setting…

And do you see the adorable big Christmas cupcake there!? Isn’t that cute? It’s weird, I hate Kohl’s, but every time my mother gets me a cute cupcake item it’s usually from there. That just so happens to be a candle- you take off the “frosting” and light it. So cute. Maybe I judge them too harshly? It’s just that every time I’ve been in there, the clothing has been horrendous, the shoes were a joke, and the only thing worthwhile was the housewares department. Oh, and the decorations. They have cute holiday stuff. Remember my Halloween cupcake cookie jar?

You can also make these with starlight mints, either the spearmint or the plain peppermint ones. But it’s more fun to use candy canes, especially now. So this is the kickoff to my holiday 2010 cupcakes & confections! Aren’t you excited?

CANDY CANE CUPCAKES

Get yourself this here stuff:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp  baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped candy canes (about 4 medium)
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped white chocolate
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • ½ cup  buttermilk

And then:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.
  2. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in chopped candy canes and chocolate.
  3. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together sugar and butter until well combined. Add egg whites, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, making three additions of flour mixture and two of buttermilk, beating until smooth.
  4. Scoop batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on rack. Top cooled cupcakes with frosting.

ITALIAN MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:

Makes 4 1/2 cups

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Continue boiling until syrup reaches 238° degrees.on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).
  2. Meanwhile, place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry; do not overbeat.
  3. With mixer running, add syrup to whites in a stream, beating on high speed until no longer steaming, about 3 minutes. Add butter bit by bit, beating until spreadable, 3 to 5 minutes; beat in vanilla. If icing curdles, keep beating until smooth.

The liners, with their little canes & candies…

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Okay so, these are sticky. Well, no, not sticky exactly. They were just very… moist? Alright, yeah, who am I kidding. They’re friggin’ sticky. The candy canes make them pretty hard to eat in one piece. They taste wonderful, I loved them and so did everyone else, but they’re tricky to eat. I topped them with a peppermint Italian meringue buttercream (Martha’s recipe, I halved it and got more than enough for the 16 cupcakes the cupcake recipe made) and more crushed candy canes. red & white sparkling sugar and peppermint candy toppers. The liners have peppermint candies and candy canes on them too…  totally cute, right?

Let me say that Italian meringue, for some, can be an even bigger pain in the ass than Swiss meringue. But keep at it, it will eventually come together. If not, chill it for a while and try again. You can use any flavor extract in it, or even preserves for a fruit frosting. It’s delicious. I have to say, and I’m not being snooty here, I promise: I’ve never had a problem with it. Swiss meringue, yes, but only because I’ve attempted it on humid days (it just doesn’t happen). But Italian, no. Mainly because I only ever made it on dry days in the fall or winter. Both meringue buttercreams are the same amount of work, and yeah, the cooking takes time and so does the beating. But when it comes together it is so delicious you’ll be hesitant to make a confectioner’s sugar frosting ever again. Or at least until the humidity rises. If you have trouble with either of those buttercreams, or just have questions on storage, etc… this site is a great informational tool.

I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night at the Garden City Hotel, so that really means that the season has started! I didn’t really get into it despite seeing all the houses decorated right after Halloween- that turns me off. But now it’s December, and it’s time. So as hard as it is for me to believe that it’s Christmas-time,  my tree is up, my lights are lit, it’s snowing on the blog and I can’t wait to start making some more holiday treats.