Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

It's no wonder why these luscious Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache frosting caught my attention. Just look at that silky smooth topping! I didn't think it was possible but this cupcake is seductive. It reminds me of those cheesy commercials you see on television for candy that is leaping through waterfalls of chocolate and landing in a bed of berries. You get my drift. It's a romantic cupcake. 

What really matters though is taste. A monstrous pet peeve of mine is "food porn" where incredibly decadent desserts make your jaw drop at their sheer absurdity mixed with genius. Then you actually try them, make a screw face, and wonder, "what the heck was I thinking?" They either don't make any sense or come out overpoweringly sugary. 

Not this cupcake. No sir.

This cupcake from Pastry Affair is a gentleman. The combination of dark chocolate and blackberries are bold and complimentary. The cocoa is very subtle and balanced while the fruit adds a slight bite to wake you up. In terms of texture, the cake is slightly dense to support the folded in blackberry bits. It has a slight crumble as you peel off the wrapper. The overall flavor is rich goodness.

What puts it over the moon is ganache frosting. This may be my new best friend in the kitchen because it's so easy to make and transport. Regular buttercreams make me nervous because they can slide or get smudged by the slightest contact. Not this kid. This is a helmet of frosting. It holds firmly, has a beautiful sheen, and can be stylized with a simple star-tip.

Other aspects to be appreciated about this recipe is it does not waste the fruit. The cake is mixed with warmed juice from blackberries that have been heated on the stove top. Rather than discard the remains, they are folded into the batter. Brains and beauty? This cupcake is a winner.

This recipe can be served vegan style with the right combination of chocolate chips and milk. I used almond milk because I appreciate it's slight nutty after taste. If you were feeling mighty frisky, you could reduce some coconut milk to thicken and enrich the flavor.

It was a bit of a bear finding these cute paper cup liners but I was smitten on sight. I tried Sur La Table and a local bake shop with no luck. And wouldn't you know it... they were at Michael's! Go figure.

Make sure that you keep a close eye on these cupcakes - they will go fast! Especially with a little fiest eagerly watching for accidents! Nice try handsome-face! I will bake you up some treats soon enough!

The recipe for these Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache frosting can be found on Pastry Affair

Remington and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) Calendar Contest

This past February, the hubby and I took an unexpected leap and opened our hearts to a new family member: Remington.

We met Remi (formerly "Mortimer") through the shelter where we volunteer, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA). It was a chance spotting on their Facebook news feed of this incredibly darling rescue from West Virginia. I instantly was drawn but knew a dog wasn't planned in our immediate future. I resisted the temptation of meeting him for two weeks. He would be scooped up in a heart beat with those beautiful brown eyes and funny left ear, right?

During that time, all Mike heard from me was Remi updates: "he's still there" or "not adopted yet." Never before had I raved about a dog at the shelter, just the occasional kitty crush. Eventually, I sheepishly raised the question if Mike would consider meeting Remi. 

He exhaled a deep sigh. It turned out he had been planning on adopting Remi as a surprise for Valentine's Day. He was so taken aback by my Remi ramblings that he knew that this dog was special. Is the man good or what?
In honor of AWLA, we decided to enter Remington into one of their key annual fundraisers, the Calendar Contest! It only seemed right to participate since they helped us find a home for Penelope, introduced us to Slade, and brought us Remi. Time to pay it forward!

All donations from the Calendar Contest are in support of the day to day activities of the shelter including medical procedures. AWLA places more than 1,500 companion animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, iguanas, chinchillas and many more, in permanent, loving homes each year. An additional 300 stray pets are reunited with their owners through the League annually. Any animal adopted through the shelter receives vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and is micro-chipped. 

Please consider supporting this worthwhile cause! Spread the word! And naturally... feel free to vote for our little Remington! *wink wink*

Since 1946, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA) has been a resource for the community and a shelter for homeless animals. AWLA operates the Vola Lawson Animal Shelter and Animal Services for the City of Alexandria. AWLA's shelter is the only open door facility in Alexandria, Virginia and takes in any animal in need. AWLA also investigates animal abuse and neglect and works hard to charge and prosecute animal abusers. The League plays a key role in promoting responsible pet care across Northern Virginia by facilitating animal adoptions as a viable option to purchasing animals from breeders, spay and neuter assistance, education and community service and outreach.

Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies

My father-in-law is a connoisseur of the oatmeal cookie. Well, that and carrot cake. He eats oatmeal on a regular basis for breakfast and will sometimes crack a raw egg into it. That's right. A raw egg. In short, I've deduced he's essentially trying to eat oatmeal cookie dough for breakfast. It's an interesting approach and respectful endeavor but I'll stick with the baked stuff : )

The usual oatmeal cookie that I bake is a Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookie with Dried Cranberries and Nuts from (surprise surprise) America's Test Kitchen. Don't let those "awesome" pictures fool you from that post... those cookies are wicked good. The real pull is the gooey chocolate chunks that create craters of indulgence. I am 110% believer that chocolate chunks are better than measly chips!

This round, I decided to switch it up and try a new oatmeal cookie recipe. These cookies were made to kill two birds with one stone: a birthday treat for my father in-law and a lovely addition to a baked goods basket being donated for a Nepal Relief fundraiser. It was my husband's stroke of genius; the recipe made more than enough cookies to go around and could rest in the fridge until needed. Super efficient.

I started gathering ingredients and that's when I did the double take. This recipe for oatmeal cookies... has no chocolate chips or chunks. Nada. What madness is this? @.@ Rest assured; the kids from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking know what they're doing.

This recipe plays its cards wisely with dark brown sugar and dried cherries to ensure just enough sweetness without overpowering the palette. It finds the line and stops right on the edge. The result is a cookie that doesn't make you feel insanely guilty. The slight tartness of the cherry is a refreshing change of pace from the traditional raisin. You can use your nut of choice but we stuck with walnuts for their subtle flavor.

As for the crowd pleasing, I heard no complaints! It was agreed though that it's not right to compare these cookies to the America's Test Kitchen recipe; it's like apples and oranges. The lack of chocolate chips creates a whole new perspective. If you're looking for something a little less decadent and more cozy, these Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies are for you.

The recipe for these delicious Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies can be found in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Top with a touch of honey if you're feeling mischievous and enjoy with some tea. 

Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache

Chai is one of those magical blend of spices that's aromatic, earthy, warm, and soothing all at the same time. Add it to some black tea, steep with a touch of heavy milk, a kiss of sweetener, and you have the perfect cup of goodness. I like chai in just about anything, from pancakes to icecream (can't wait make some)! This recipe for Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache takes things to a whole new level.

Picture it now: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, coriander, and nutmeg with a hint of a ground black pepper for gentle bite. Mix in some vanilla extract, almost equal parts flour to brown sugar, eggs, and add a generous serving of butter. So evil! Bake into blondie form (a brownie without the cocoa). Now as if that's not inviting enough, add a luscious layer of chai-tea infused, white chocolate topping. 

Don't make a face you non-white chocolate lovers! This is different... there's tea involved! I hate white-chocolate and this swooned even the likes of me. Admittedly, I halved the amount of ganache to cut back. If you're really all that adverse, try this tasty cream cheese chai frosting instead.

This is a lovely dessert because a small bite packs a lot of awesome. Initially, I cut these into 9 squares from a 8x8 pan but that proved to be serious a serving. In bite-sized form, they are perfect for parties and people quickly become addicted. The danger is lies in the delicious spices masking the richness of the blondie. It's the jungle juice of baked goods. Make at your own peril!

If you're not into tea, don't worry. These taste nothing like tea! Think of fall flavors, almost like pumpkin spice, with a very subtle pow from the peppercorn. Serve with a cup of chai if you want the ultimate experience or a glass of milk! You could even do espresso if you want a "dirty chai" - boo barista humor.  However you serve it, they're delicious!

This recipe for Spiced Blondies with Chai Ganache can be found on Raspberri Cupcakes!

Salted Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean Rice Krispie Treats

If you're ever in need of a wham, bam, thank you ma'am recipe, this is it! Fancy Rice Krispie treats! They are one of the easiest desserts to make in the whole wide world and require only a handful of ingredients. That's why when it came time to knock out a Baked Goods Basket, they immediately sprung to mind!

This was actually my first time ever making any kind of Rice Krispie treat! I've eaten the standard version before but it never occurred to me how they're a perfect canvas for creativity. Plain rice cereal and some marshmallow fluff as the base? The possibilities are endless! There are some super creative recipes out there, you could make a cook book with this Pinterest board alone.

I selected this classy version from Baked Bree: Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean. In the title of this post I added the word salted because... well... I forgot to add the salt. They still tasted good - the cereal has a touch of sodium built in. Just to be on the safe side, I lightly sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt on top and voila! A whole new dimension to the yumminess!

The aroma of the vanilla while you brown the butter is pure heaven. The bars have a slightly nutty after taste that contrasts with the subtlety of the vanilla. The flavor is mature while the texture is fun! The end result is a dessert that's easy to make, serve, keeps well in an air tight for container, and is an addictive crowd pleaser. It's a whole new perspective to a childhood classic!

The recipe for these awesome Brown Butter, Vanilla Bean Rice Krispie Treats can be found on Baked Bree!