Thanksgiving Ideas and a Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting

The holiday season is right around the corner, breathing down the calendar's neck. I've said it once and I'll say it again - Thanksgiving is my favorite! This Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Fluff frosting was just the thing to kick off the season. Yes yes yes - pumpkin is the king of fall but let's give some credit to it's cousin, the sweet potato. 

Sweet potato is underrated. It can hold it's own without all the bells and whistles that we associate with pumpkin. That beloved pumpkin pie flavor that you're thinking of is really a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The pumpkin itself is relatively plain. Sweet potato, on the other hand, can be eaten straight out of the oven. It provides a canvas that already has its own distinct flavor and depth. 

This recipe called out to me because it reminded me of the first time I ever tried sweet potato. It was my senior year of high school and the marching band (no judging!) was having a pot luck. My friend's mom made a casserole that was unlike anything I had ever seen or tasted. The entire top was toasted marshmallows which was sheer madness. The base was sweet potato and pecans. How can this be a casserole?

Turns out, Mrs. Demeter was in the know of an American classic. 

Immediately, I asked for the recipe. You can imagine the look of skepticism on my family's face as I took a savory ingredient and dumped sugar on top of it. There was a wave of awe as every one at the table took their first hesitant bite and fell in love with the combination. We shouldn't have been so surprised, in retrospect, as we make fried donuts from squash and roll it in cinnamon and sugar (love me some filhozes). One thing was agreed upon- the casserole was not savory and belonged on the dessert table. This cake embodies that casserole finally actualized into it's true form.

I reduced the amount of the brown sugar in the cake by 30 grams because the frosting needs to serve some purpose. The measurement for cinnamon is always generous in this house. Play freely with the spice ratio to meet your palette. 

This is a delicious cake that pairs the base and frosting in perfect harmony. It's slightly dense which strikes a lovely contrast to the fluffy homemade marshmallow topping. My preference is to serve the cake chilled which makes it a great "one less thing to do in the kitchen the day-of" kind of dessert.

If this recipe didn't tickle your fancy -that's okay. Here are some other ideas in the sweets department for this Thanksgiving that are tried and true:

Brûléed Bourbon-Maple Pumpkin Pie
The recipe for this Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Fluff Frosting is brought to you by the one and only, Smitten Kitchen. Happy Thanksgiving!

Caramelized-Honey Brûlée

This little number was made for someone very special, my little Fox. From college room mates to keeping me steady on my wedding day, she has been a constant force in my life. She's one of those friends that you know without a shadow of a doubt will come through and has enough ammunition to make you laugh in any situation. I'm sure am going to miss her as she undertakes a new chapter of life in Boston. But that's the stuff meaningful relationships are made of - appreciating your time together.

And so we made the Fox one of her favorite desserts with a tiny twist. Rather making a standard creme brulée, I made this delicious treat from Bon Appétit. I had actually made it previously for my brother's birthday without a real understanding of how to brulée the top. I kept it in the chamber, knowing that it would be needed another day. 

For all intensive purposes, this a standard brulée recipe but the sugar is replaced with a whopping amount of honey. It is a natural sweetness that makes putting the spoon down difficult. This flavor is easily influenced by the type of honey that you add to the mix and opens a wide range of flavor possibilities. From the powerful taste of buckwheat honey to the subtlety of wildflower, you can make a different flavor every time. Just be careful to adjust according to potency of the honey or it can come out overly sweet.

Another perk of this recipe is the vanilla. It's pretty much a fact of life: vanilla bean makes everything taste better. I keep the emptied pods in the kitchen just to sniff them (too much information?). It is such a distinct element in the kitchen. 

With a lovely caramelized top, friends and family agreed this is a five star dessert all the way. Smooth, creamy, and dreamy. Plus, it's super easy to make - all it takes is whisk and some patience.

The recipe for this exquisite Caramelized-Honey Brûlée is courtesy of Bon Appétit!

Buckwheat Banana Bread {Gluten Free}

Once upon a time, I made buckwheat pancakes and my husband reacted lukewarmly. My girlfriend and I, on the other hand, loved them. What was his hang up? The answer was simple: buckwheat. Allegedly, it has an aftertaste that I cannot detect. We had already experienced this phenomenon once before with the Rum-Kissed Banana Butterscotch Cream Tart in a Cocoa-Buckwheat Crust. With an unfinished bag of flour in the kitchen, I wasn't ready to give up on buckwheat.

That's when a few over ripe bananas made me raise an eyebrow. Could they cover this "after taste" that I kept hearing complaints questions about? It was worth a shot and oh buddy, did I find a winning recipe!

I've made my fair share of banana bread but nothing quite likes this version from Joyous Health! Ignoring the buckwheat factor all together, this fierce loaf is distinct because it doesn't rely on loads of sugar, chocolate chips, or nuts for its flavor.  It uses a smexy smidge of cardamom to create a whole new creature. I can't really explain it but I will do my best.

The texture is super light and airy. You can barely tell its on the plate. It smells totally aromatic, especially when you incorporate maple syrup for a touch of sweetness. My favorite cheat? Use maple syrup that is infused with cinnamon or vanilla bean- either is incredible and you'll start putting it on everything. The cardamom isn't overpowering but overwrites any trace of buckwheat with its notes of sweetness, spice, and citrus.  

The real test, naturally, was the hubby's approval. I casually slid him a slice without telling him that there was any buckwheat in the mix. His eyes lit up. It wasn't intended to sway us but we agreed, this is our new favorite banana bread recipe! Simple ingredients. Easy to make. Relatively kind to the conscious. And tasty. Woo hoo!

This recipe for super moist Buckwheat Banana Bread {Gluten Free} is from Joyous Health's Blog. Enjoy!

Pasteis de Laranja {Orange Pastries}

When I was a kid, dessert was treated like a formality that we only experienced on holidays and at big family dinners. It was always the same spread: traditional Portuguese fare (aletria, pudding aka flan, pasteis de nata, etc.), fruit, fruit salad spiked with port wine, and a box of Pepperidge Farm cookies. We did not deviate from the formula. Heck, the only reason we ever baked cookies was thanks to the middle school Home Economics class!

That's not to say that I'm complaining about the formula. On the contrary, I feel that it gave dessert a whole different level of nostalgia. For example, these Pasteis de Laranja are a trademark of my childhood.  I  vividly remember visiting my madrinha (god mother) in New York and there was a platter full of them on the kitchen table. They were just above my eye level so it must have been during elementary school. Maybe because they were generic and readily accessible, but it seemed everyone served them on the same Reynold's pastel cupcake liner!

So what exactly are Pasteis de Laranja? The translation is simply "orange pastries." They are a lovely concoction of milk, plenty of sugar, eggs, flour, butter, and fresh orange juice. Honestly, I have not experienced anything quite like them.

For starters, they look like golden, deflated cupcakes. The edges are a subject of great debate. Some like them browned because it gives a slight caramelized flavor. They're not burnt necessarily - just slightly singed. Others like them evenly colored and softer.

The texture is unique and is a bit difficult to explain. The center is very soft, a bit dense, and does not resemble cake at all. There is no crumble and it holds moisture; you could dig it out with a spoon. The outer edge, however, has more chew and is my favorite part to nibble.

Lastly, the flavor is super subtle. Even though it has fresh orange juice, I wouldn't mind experimenting and adding the zest of the orange as well. When I eat these, I don't really taste the orange. It's more of this hybrid of custard and cake that's magically addicting. 

The source of this recipe is my mother who never made them when she lived overseas. Instead, her best friend's cousin made them while they were visiting New Jersey many years ago. They were so smitten that they asked for the recipe and have been baking them for their families ever since. I have not been able to find them in a cookbook but have seen very similar versions listed as Queijadas de Laranja.

In keeping with tradition, I asked my mother to bake a batch with me on my birthday. She busted out her ancient binder filled with all sorts of recipes. Some are written in English, others in Portuguese, and each shares a memory. You can see time on the pages. Like many families, we don't have a "secret sauce" or one those recipes handed down generation to generation. What we do share, however, is something I would like to preserve.

Below I have included the recipe with my own notes as well as the original version that I wrote down in a Recipe Book that my mother gave me on August 12, 2003. This is the first recipe in the book. Obrigada mãe! Salude! 

Pasteis de Laranja {Orange Pastries}

3 eggs (3 ovos)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar (2 1/2 copos de acucar)
3 cups milk (3 copos de leite)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 barra de manteiga)
1 cup all purpose flour  (1 copo de farinha)
The juice of one medium sized orange ~about half a cup (sumo de 1 laranja)
*a pinch of salt is optional; you could also add a splash of vanilla extract or orange liquor 

Lightly grease 24 cupcake tins. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Warm the milk either in the microwave or the stove stop to about 110 degrees. The bottom line is you want it just warmed and with no skin forming on top. Add the butter and juice. Set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally to make sure the butter melts. Once the butter is melted, you can pop it into the fridge to chill. The key is the milk mixture cannot be warm.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar. Add the flour. When the milk is completely cooled, combine the two mixtures and pour into cupcake molds. Bake at the 350F for 35 minutes. If you don't want browned edges, check in at about 25 minutes. Serve on cupcake liners so they don't stick together.

(Ferve-se o leite. Junta-se-lhe a manteiga e o sumo. Deixa-se arrefecer. Batem-se os ovos e o acucar. Junta-se-lhe a farinha. Por fim quando o leite estiver frio, juntam-se as duas misturas e poe-se em formas. Coz-se em forno a 350 por app. 35 minutos.)

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