April 30, 2010

One...two...three flavors tartlettes


Yesterday afternoon I was craving for something good, not just for its taste. I needed one of those small treats that I used to have when I was a kid. One of my favorite afternoon snacks (without counting the infinite amount of slices of bread with Nutella, of course!) was what commercially is called "Crostatina".

A crostatina is nothing else than a small tartlette made with a crust similar to shortbread...one of the easiest and quickest crust to make, if a few tips are followed. Also, it really is a versatile recipe. You can virtually fill these little tarts with anything: marmalade, jam, chocolate cream, custard cream.....anything really. I had three different jams at home: strawberry, apricot and raspberry. Why choose one when you can  have them all?

yield 12 tartlettes

125 gr flour
75 gr butter, soft
50 gr sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
Jam, marmalade, cream or anything else to fill in

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a mini muffin pan with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Sift flour onto a clean surface and make a hole where you will put the soft butter, the sugar, the vanilla and the yolk.

Lightly work the dough by hand until the ingredients are well mixed but making sure not to work it for too long or the dough will "burn" and it will become unusable.

Wrap the dough into plastic paper and let it rest for about an hour in a cold, dry place (I actually place it in the fridge sometimes).

Roll out the dough and with a cookie cutter or a glass cut 12 rounds that you will place in the mini muffin pan to give them the shape of small tarts. Punch the bottom of the tartlettes with a fork and then fill in with your favorite filling. 

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the edges of the tartlettes only start to become brown. It is important to not over bake the dough or the tartlettes will be very hard and dry once cooled down.  

Cool completely at room temperature before trying to take the tartelettes out of pan or they will break.
Enjoy them with a cup of coffe or tea...or anything else really!


April 27, 2010

My First Daring Bakers Challange: Traditional English Pudding


The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

OMG! My first Daring Bakers Challange! When I read it was going to be Traditional English Pudding I got scared. I have never done an English Pudding before and I did not feel comfortable with the idea that my first challange was going to be something I had no clue about.  

At the same time, though, this challange brought back a lot of memories from the year I spent living and studying in London. I do miss Europe very much and I do have very fond memories from that year. This challange will be forever dear to my heart. Thank you Esther!

Another big thank you to Esther because she allowed us a whole lot of flexibility. We were in fact allowed to choose between savoury and sweet pudding and between crusty and spongy ones. Of course, between a sweet tooth, I opted for a sweet pudding. She also allowed us to substitute for the suet (the main traditional ingredient for the English Pudding). Honestly, I had nothing against using suet...I'm Italian, animal fat does not scare me :) But I did not trust myself in using it fresh and I could not find a package one as other Daring Bakers. So I chose a recipe with butter but I'm still going around stores looking for a packaged suet.

Esther also provided us with several sources to skim through to find our "ideal" pudding. I came out with my own idea and then adapted the recipe from two different ones found on The Pudding Club website and the BBC Good Food website. The result was a wonderful steamed pudding!

Apple Cinnamon Almond Pudding
yield 2 individual pudding

60 gr butter, melted
80 gr sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp milk
80 gr all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 apple, very thinly sliced or shredded
sliced, peeled almonds, if desired

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg and milk. Sift the flour and baking powder. Cut the apple into very thin slices or shredd it and mix it with the cinnamon and, then stir into the creamed mixture and fold in the flour.

Grease and flour two single portion ramekins. Spread the bottom of the ramekins with sliced peeled almonds if desired and then spoon the mixture into the ramekins. Cover with parchment papers and steam for 1 hour. Let sit in the steamer for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a dish.

And with these cute english puddings I also wish you Happy (belated) Monday!

Sources: adapted from The Pudding Club and BBC Good Food website

April 25, 2010

Follow the crumbs...it's strawberry muffins time!


Despite the wonderful weather we are having in Oakland this weekend, I was able to get sick. Really sick! Yesterday I had fever and a terrible cold. All my bones were aching. Outside there was a wonderful sun that called for nice walks, trips to the farmers' market, great food pictures and instead I was stuck in bed. I was in a terrible mood. This morning I woke up feeling better. Going out was still not an option but I couldn't resist: I had to bake something to cheer myself up.

I have many good things at home to bake with but nothing is more spring than strawberries. After the strawberries scones I decided to go for strawberries muffins to help my mood get better. If you consider that this are also low calories muffins...well, one more thing to be happy about!

I found this recipe in the Diet Recipe Blog. It says this muffins are 163 calories each. My first thought was "163 calories only? Then, they cannot be that good!" I am always a bit skeptical about low fat food and recipes. They often turn out to be good stuff but not wow! And today I really needed something to wow me. Still, in the picture of the blog they looked amazing so I decided I have to try them and....oh yeah....they are wow! I got 12 very crumby and tasty muffins, ideal for breakfast, brunch, snack...anything! So, as they are only 163 calories...I guess I can have two of them and my mood will get twice better, right? :)

Crumby Strawberry Muffins
yields 12 muffins

12 strawberries, sliced
2 oz sugar
16 oz flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 oz butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in the beaten egg, the milk and butter (the batter will not be smooth).

Spoon the batter into buttered muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 full. Press strawberry slices into batter, pointed side up and sprinkle each muffin with 1 teaspoon sugar.

Bake for about 20 minutes (or until golden brown).

April 23, 2010

Lemon bars with surprise


I really am into lemon lately! Today I realized that I still had another one at home and I couldn't resist: I had to use it. I really wanted to make something in the lemon & poppyseeds mood but it was afternoon so more than scones and muffins I was craving for some tasty bars. So I decided to make lemon bars with a poppyseed surprise.

The crust is a yummy shortbread crust made with half unbleached all purpose flour and half white whole wheat flour. The filling is a lemon-intense cream that remained softer than usual because I did not add any flour or cornstarch. In between the crust and the filling I sprinkled poppyseeds, so that some remained attached to the crust while some got mixed with the filling when I poured it on the warm crust. I really liked this twist! The only thing that did not convince me of this recipe is that the crust was a bit too dry and crumby once it completely cool down. I think this was due to the fact that half of the flour was wheat flour. I'll have to try this recipe again.

Lemon Bars with Surprise

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (half unbleached all purpose flour and half white whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup confectioner sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup butter, room temperature


4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp lemon zest

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13×9-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.
To make the crust, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut butter into chunks and add to flour mixture. Blend in with an electric mixer at low speed until mixture forms coarse, sandy crumbs. Pour into pan and press mixture down with your fingers into an even layer 1/4 inch high. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with poppyseeds and bake for 16-20 minutes, until just lightly browned around the edges.

While the crust is baking, make filling (you need to be sure that the filling is ready to be poured when the crust is ready and warm). Whisk together all filling ingredients in a large bowl.

When the crust comes out of the oven and is still warm, pour in filling mixture (part of the poppyseed will mix into the filling).

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 325 degrees and bake for about 16-20 minutes, or until the filling is set and does not jiggle when the pan is gently shaken.

Cool completely at room temperature before slicing and sprinkle confectioners’ sugar to serve, if desired.

Makes about 24 bars. Enjoy!

Inspiration: Baking Bites

April 19, 2010

Happy Monday: Chocolate Chip Banana bread with a coffee twist


It's Monday again! The last couple of weeks have gone soooo fast that I haven't even realized it's almost May! OMG. In five weeks I'm going home, for the first time with Wally! The school year is almost over. The working permit should be here soon (hopefully very soon). I don't really like when time goes by so fast. I feel I don't have the time and energy to do all the things I would like to do. For example, I keep procastinating learning how to take better pictures for my blog. I keep reading and reading and reading about people tips and tools and cameras...but I do not really take action. The result is that my pictures still suck!

So I knew that today I would have needed something very energetic to start the week. I had a couple of ripe bananas at home. What does every American do with ripe bananas? Banana bread of course. So despite not being American I decided to follow the example. However, banana alone was not enough for me. I needed a stronger "week-starter".

Wally suggestion was chocolate chip (of course, he suggests to put chocolate chip in every recipe I was to twist around!). I found this amazing and simple recipe of Chocolate Chip Banan Bread from Daydreamer Desserts. However, I thought something was still missing. As a good Italian I tought of coffee! Good coffee! Espresso coffee! Directly from my small coffee machine. The same espresso I drink every morning.

This was the result: a super soft, moisty, yummy banana bread. I think what I most appreciate of this bread is that the taste of the three main ingredients is perfectly balanced. It bothers me when the chocolate chips or the coffee cover the taste and the texture of the banana. This time it did not happen. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread with a Coffee Twist

1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 9x5x3 loaf pan with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, add the eggs one at a time and mix until combined.

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.

In a small bowl combine the bananas, the sour cream, the maple syrup and the coffee. With a fork mash the bananas into the other ingredients and stir until evenly combined.

Alternate adding the mashed banana mixture and dry ingredients into the batter mixing on low, just until combined in three batches. With a wooden spoon stir in the chocolate chips.Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Happy Monday!

Source: adapted from Daydreamer Desserts

April 17, 2010

My contribution to the Food Bloggers' Bake Sale: Buttermilk Honey Bread


Today I went to the San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale. It was an amazing experience and it was wonderful to see so many people there to help and support a good cause. There were also A LOT of wonderful goodies...it was hard to choose which one to buy myself :)
A bit thank you to Anita for organizing it!

This bread was my contribution to the bake sale: a wonderful buttermilk honey bread that I made for the first time a couple of months ago and is already a favourite in my home. For me, this is thus far he best bread I've ever made and one of the best I've ever eaten. It's perfectly crunchy on the outside and creamy and soft on the outside. I really have to say: thank you Mr. Buttermilk! I really discovered the power of buttermilk in baking with this bread's recipe. Before I tried this bread, deep inside me I always thought that it could have been possible to substitute for the buttermilk without really affecting the final result. Now I cleared any doubt about its role, at least in bread/scones/biscuits making. 

The other reason why I love this bread is that the day after it is still as amazing as the minute it comes out of the oven. Again thanks to Mr. Buttermilk but also the honey. I really love using honey in breads. They keep them soft and they give that spark of sweetness that makes the bread just perfect for every meal, from breakfast to dinner. I hope that whoever bought my bread was as happy as I am when I get to eat it :)

p.s. these pictures are not of the loaf I actually brought to the bake sale because I did not have time to take a picture of it. They are pictures of the one I made last week

Buttermilk Honey Bread

3 oz warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1/2 tbsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
6 oz buttermilk, warmed to take off the chill (or brought to room temperature)
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp honey, warmed until runny
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2-3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. milk to brush the bread

In a big bowl combine the water, yeast, sugar, buttermilk, butter, honey, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix with a fork until a dough has formed and then continue with your hands (I don't like making this bread with any food processor or electric mixer). Continue mixing the remaining flour until a smooth dough is formed that clears the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 60-75 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently punch it down. Grease one loaf pan (if using) and shape as desired. (I like making it into a loose braided wreath) .Cover the loaves lightly with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise until fully doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Twenty minutes before you want to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Center a rack in the oven. Just before putting the loaf in the oven, brush the top with the milk. Place the pan on the center rack and bake about 40-45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. Remove the loaf immediately to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing.


Source: adapted from Annie's Eats

April 16, 2010

San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale - Tomorrow!


Tomorrow is a very important date so go and get the pen and mark your calendar: I will be participating in the first Food Bloggers' Bake Sale, which is part of the Great American Bake Sale (a national campaign that mobilizes Americans to end childhood hunger by holding bake sales in their communities).

We are raising money for Share Our Strength (SOS), a national organization fighting to end childhood hunger in the United States. We will be selling our homemade cakes, cookies, tarts, pies, breads, and much more to raise funds. If you are near San Francisco tomorrow, please stop by. This is a very good reason to eat one of the goodies of the many food bloggers of the Bay Area (as if we needed one more reason :-))

Even if you are on a diet, you should stop by because the even is held at an amazing place: Omnivore Books!

The San Francisco organizer is the amazing Anita, of Dessert First. Check out her blog for more details!

The details:
San Francisco Food Bloggers' Bake Sale
This Saturday, April 17, 12-3 PM
Omnivore Books
3885 Cesar Chavez St.
San Francisco, CA 94131

Thank you all for the support. I hope to see many of you tomorrow.

April 12, 2010

Happy Monday: Strawberries!!!


I couldn't resist! The other day I was at the groceries and as soon as I stepped in I saw a counter with all the most delicious berries of this planet: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries...Unfortunately, they were also pretty expensive, excpet for the strawberries yay! I had to buy a small basket of strawberries. They were so red, so big, so enticing. My mind was already spinning at the image of all the possible cakes, tarts and pies I could do with those delicious strawberries. However, my first priority was....duh duh duh duh....of course: scones!

The other day Wally told me that I should really make sure we constantly have scones on stock in the house. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is the only way for him to have breakfast. I am already giving up the idea of having him sitting down to have a slow breakfast in the morning. Not that he doesn't have the time, but he would rather spend it in front of the computer. In this sense, he really is a "typical American" (of course, in a joky way) and he is a geek. I know he will never take up the habit of a real breakfast from me. So, I'd rather have him become the biggest consumer of scones than not having breakfast at all.
On top of it, Wally told me that my scones are better than the ones he can find in fancy coffee shops in Palo Alto...my baker's ego definitely raise to the stars. How could I possibly deny a person the pleasure of amazing home made scones??? :-)
Strong of my new baker's ego and of these amazing strawberries, I thought that there would have been not better way to start the week than with fresh strawberries scones topped with a soft vanilla glazed! My Happy Monday series definetely needed something that screamed "Spring". This is a very easy and quick recipe, as  most of the scones recipes, with the difference that the strawberries made the scones VERY moist and not at all crunchy, which I think for once was a great deviation from regular scones. Also, I added a "light" vanilla glaze that I left rather liquid and I poured over the scones while they were still warm. In this way the glaze was almost completely absorbed into the scones giving this combined strawberry-vanilla taste that I find heavenly de.li.cious!

Strawberry Scones
yields 8 scones 

 2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 TB. butter, cold, cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 to 2/3 cup buttermilk

Vanilla Glaze

1/2 to 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar (depending on how thick you want the glaze) 
2 1/2 tbsp milk
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in strawberries and enough buttermilk to be able to form dough into a ball (up to 2/3 cup).

Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead gently a few times and shape into a ball. On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, pat dough into a circle about 1/2" thick and 8-1/2" in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut wedges in the dough, being careful not to cut all the way through.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove to rack to cool.

For the vanilla glaze, melt the butter and add to rest of ingredients. Mix until creamy. Frost scones while warm.

Makes 8 scones.

Happy Monday!

April 10, 2010

How to recycle cookies...and fail (or not): Cookies Truffles!


I never thought I would have ever had the need to figure out a way to recycle cookies but today I had to. The other day I tried a recipe of apricot jam filled cookies that yielded 40 small cookies. I liked them but Wally found them a bit bland....and when Wally does not LOVE something, you can bet he is not going to eat it! On the contrary, I have a big issue with throwing away food, above all when it has a  perfectly fine taste. And I did like the cookies, so I kept them with the idea of having them for breakfast, as a very good Italian :)

However, I couldn't possibly finish all of them before they got old so today I tried to figure out a way to use the leftovers. I came out with this super easy, super cheap, super fast recipe. The cookies are smashed and mixed with cream cheese and then coated with melted chocolate. It is almost impossible not to have chocolate and cream cheese at home and I do believe these two ingredients can (almost) always save a cookie.

Well...hmmm...it ends up this recipe is not a keeper! I still like the idea and I will experiment with it again but these "truffles" were everything but truffles! They actually tasted good but they look far from truffles...I should have probably called them "double chocolate messy cookies balls" :(

Oh well...I didn't throw away  my cookies though.

Cookies Truffles
aka Double Chocolate Messy Cookies Balls

5-6 oz leftover cookies (you can really use any type of cookies, not just leftovers!)
4 oz softened cream cheese
6 oz semi-sweet and black chocolate
1/2 tsp butter

Crush up the cookies using a food processor, or you own hands. Combine with the cream cheese and make sure it’s mixed really well. Using your hands, roll into approx 36 1″ balls. Melt the chocolate with1/2 tsp of butter if necessary (it depends on the chocolate and the melting system it you use but remember that you cannot melt white chocolate in the microwave) and roll each ball in the melted chocolate until fully coated. My truffles were very messy and I try to fix them by rolling them first into the semi-sweet chocolate and then into the white chocolate, creating a double chocolate effect. Place each coated ball on waxed paper until fully set.

April 06, 2010

Happy (belated) Monday: apple cinnamon scones


Wally and I came back yesterday evening from Portland. We had an amazing trip, despite the weather, and we ate a lot of goodies. We came back too late, however, for me to bake something good for this first day of work so only today I managed to bake some scones for Wally. We had a couple of apples forgotten in the back of the fridge that were going bad so I really wanted to use them to bake up something yummy. Unfortunately, Wally does not like the texture of cooked apples...so no apple pies or apple turnover or any other type of apple intensive things for him. I remembered, however, a nice trick that my mom used to use when my brother and I were kids and very very very picky (poor woman...I still don't know how she could handle cooking for us). To have us eat apples from time to time while still having sweet things she used to grate an apple in the dough of certain cakes. I stole her trick for this apple cinnamon scones. You cannot really bite the apple but you can still taste it. Also, I have long ago learnt from my mom that grated apples in the dough makes it more moist and soft. So are these amazing scones.

Happy belated Monday!

Apple Cinnamon Scones
yield 8 scones

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter, chopped in small cubes
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 grated apple
cinnamon and brown sugar to sprinkle on top

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add milk and grated apple, stirring just until mixed. Turn onto a floured surface; knead gently a few times and shape into a ball.

On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, pat dough into a circle about 1/2" thick and 8-1/2" in diameter. Using a sharp knife, cut wedges in the dough, being careful not to cut all the way through. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with the brown sugar-cinnamon mix.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Happy (belated) Monday!

April 02, 2010

Easter cupcakes: it was my turn indeed


It was about time I was going to post something for Easter. I have seen the cutest things around my favorite blogs: carrot cakes, chocolate eggs, super cute Easter bunnies, and even cuter cupcakes. I couldn't resist anymore! I am going to Portland from Saturday to Monday so I will not have a chance to bake those days. Today I felt it was my last chance as I actually had free time. But...what to choose with all the amazing Easter decorations I have seen around? (and I am not much of a decorator yet). Looking at my first 11 posts I have noticed that I still have no post about cupcakes and after all I feel cupcakes are the one goody that gives the widest range of Easter (and non-Easter) adorable decorations.

So I have decided to make some Easter-theme cupcakes for Wally to bring to work. As I said, I'm not a great decorator and I still cannot use gum paste or fondant but I did have still a lot of icing from yesterday's Wilton class (the last of course 2! I will have to post something on that too! soon, very soon!). Anyway, I have this complex about not being a decorator (did I say it enough times now? I am not a decorator). I still do not feel creative enough to come up with an original, never-seen cupcake topping and honestly I also do not feel I have the tools yet. So I decided to do something simple, that did not require me spending the afternoon learning how to use gum paste or fondant and miserably fail (my heart and my rubber spatula could not have survived another failure, not so soon at least).

I played safe but I think this was not such a bad idea. Sometimes I feel we try to make overly complicated or innovative things instead of going back to what we already know how to do and make it better! I decided to go for a recipe that is in one of my favourite cupcake books:  "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes" by Dede Wilson. [I should update my book links...there are so many amazing things I should do on this blog...I need 9 lives like my kitties].

The cupcake is a very simple carrot cake cupcake with cream cheese frosting. What I did differently instead is that I made the carrots for decoration with the royal icing I had at home. I know...I know...but you cannot eat the carrot then! Ok, don't look at me like that...the truth is: I did not feel like going out and look around for sugar candy carrots, while, as I said, I still had a lot of icing from yesterday's class. Also, sometimes I have a thing for making everything myself from scratch. I was already not making any innovative recipe....I wanted at least to claim that I had made every single piece of the cupcake.

Anyway, these are very easy cupcakes. The good result is almost 100% sure. Oh and Wally forgot to bring them to work so I simply distrubuted them among friends. Too bad for Wally's co-workers...but there were more for us :-).

"Real Carrot" cupcakes

Carrot Cake Cupcakes (make 24 cupcakes)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil*
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots (from about 3 large carrots)
1 1/4 cups walnut halves, toasted and finely chopped
1 cup dark raisins (which I omitted)

*The book recommends to use a light-flavored oil but, personally, I do not like canola oil and I did not have vegetable oil so I used 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil instead of 3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil.

Cream Cheese Frosting (yield about 4 cups)

1 stick and 2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, whisked before measuring

1 1/2 cups ground chocolate cookie or graham crackers crumbs (I used the latter)
24 icing "carrots"

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in all wells of two 12-cup cupcake tins.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together in a small bowl to aerate and combine; set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together oil, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until well blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in vanilla extract, then whisk in eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to be absorbed before continuing. Whisk in carrots. Stir in dry mixture until almost completely blended. Add nuts and raisins (not in my case) and stir just until blended (An extra-large rubber spatula works great here).

Divide batter evenly among cupcake wells. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs.

Cool pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cooling racks to cool completely.

To make the icing ( made only half doses and it was more than enough):

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on a medium-high speed, beat butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Frosting is now ready to use. (It may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Rebeat after storing).

To assemble the cupcakes:

Frost each cupcake generously using an icing spatula or a spoon. Place cookie crumbs in a wide bowl. Hold each cupcake over the bowl. Using a spoon or your fingers, scoop up crumbs and sprinkle a row of cookie crumbs across the cupcake to mimic a row of dirt (Excess crumbs will fall back into the bowl and ca be reused).

"Plant" a carrot as shown in the photo, with carrot tops poking above icing and carrot buried below.

Source: Dede Wilson, "A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes".

Carrot on Foodista