Month: March 2014

Bakery Review: Tamara’s Cakes


I’m reviewing Tamara’s Cakes – located in Oshkosh, WI!

  • My hometown of Oshkosh doesn’t have many bakeries left. All of the old-fashioned bakeries (Schoenbergers!) have gone out of business and Appleton had been our next closest city for good bakery. Tamara’s has been around for a few years and recently opened a new shop on Oregon Street.
  • Tamara’s business revolves around making wedding cakes, specialty cakes, cupcakes, bars, brownies, and an assortment of other treats.
  • Truth time: the first time I went to Tamara’s, I wasn’t impressed. The cupcakes were dry and just kind of blah.
  • But things have improved! It seems as if they’ve hired more bakers and are consistently producing a fresher (and better) product.
  • I visited Tamara’s twice over spring break to sample a variety of cupcakes.
  • My favorites: cherry Dilly bar (oh my god, my favorite cupcake!), salted caramel, peanut butter, and circus animal.
  • My least favorites: strawberry lemonade (sadly, it was flavorless) and carrot cake (though to be fair, I never enjoy carrot cake)
  • Tamara’s changes their cupcake menu daily — so you never know what to expect when you walk through the doors.
  • My only complaint about their physical store is that it is poorly lit. The one and only window is blocked by huge displays of fake cakes. Guys, natural lighting is always best and can do nothing but make your product look better! Don’t waste that window!
  • So if you ever find yourself in Oshkosh, WI (unlikely, I know), visit Tamara’s and try a cupcake!

Note: I’m not being paid to promote this bakery. I just like to try new places and I’ll take any excuse I can get to eat a few cupcakes.


Peanut Butter M&M Cookies

At the risk of sounding like a tween, let me just say: OMG OMG OMG OMG! These cookies were amaaaaaaaazing. I can’t even.

Ahem, OK, back to adult-speak. These cookies really were fantastic. Law school has been particularly challenging this semester. The old saying goes: 1L year they scare you to death, 2L year they work you to death, and 3L they bore you to death. The 2L year really is working all of us to death. Every Monday I bring in the treats I’ve made over the weekend — so we can all eat our worked-and-stressed-to-death law school feelings.

I really do hope next year leans more toward the side of boring us to death. ;)

Peanut Butter M&M Cookies
Recipe source: Bake at 350
Print Recipe

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1 and 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (not all-natural)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 (11 ounce) bag peanut butter M&Ms, divided

1. Preheat oven to 325. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the peanut butter until combined.
4. Add the egg, vanilla, and corn syrup, beating until mixed well, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.
5. In two additions, beat in the flour mixture on low speed. Mix just until combined. Reserve 1/4 cup M&Ms, folding the remainder into the batter.
6. Scoop the dough onto the prepared sheets using a 2 tablespoon cookie scoop. Press 1 or 2 of the reserved M&Ms onto the top of each cookie.
7. Bake for 11 minutes. (The cookies will not spread.) Cool on the cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.


Banana Cupcakes

Anyone else out there love Sally’s Baking Addiction?! I certainly do! I love Sally’s recipes, photography, love of sprinkles, and her sweet personality (and Jude’s love of peanut butter). Sally’s cookbook was released earlier this month and I am obsessed with it. The cover alone will sell you (I’m judging a book by its cover – in a VERY good way here!).

I’ve wanted to make these banana cupcakes for a while now. I’m not crazy about banana-related baked goods, but these involve peanut butter and chocolate frosting, soooooooo I was convinced to try them! And I had those cute monkey decorations sitting around…waiting to make their debut.

I encourage you to check out Sally’s blog, as well as her fantastic cookbook. And I’m not being paid or gifted with something in return for saying that. I just really enjoy her blog and I hope you do, too.

Banana Cupcakes
Recipe source: Sally’s Baking Addiction
Print Recipe

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 large very ripe bananas)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (careful not to overmeasure)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup mini or regular semi-sweet chocolate chips

Milk Chocolate Frosting:
1 and 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
salt, to taste

Peanut Butter Frosting
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons (45ml) heavy cream or half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line two 12-count muffin pans with 18 cupcake liners. Set aside.
2. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together in a large bowl on medium speed until creamed. About 2-3 minutes.
3. With the mixer running on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla, beating on low speed for about 1 minute.
4. Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together in a medium bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 additions, stirring by hand after each addition. Add the milk and stir until combined. The batter will be lumpy. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Spoon the batter evenly into 18 cupcake liners. Fill the unused cups one-third full with water to prevent warping. Bake each batch for 17-19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For the chocolate frosting:
1. Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder to assure there are no lumps. Set aside.
2. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes.
3. Gradually add the sifted sugar/cocoa powder alternately with the heavy cream and vanilla. Beat on low speed after each addition. Once all added, beat on high speed until creamy and combined for at least 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.

For the peanut butter frosting:
1. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter and butter on medium speed until creamy and completely smooth – about 3 minutes.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Mix on medium until combined. Add the cream and mix on high until creamy, at least 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.

Frost cooled cupcakes with a knife or with a piping bag/tip. I fitted a pastry bag with a star tip, then I filled the pastry bag with both kinds of frosting — that’s how I achieved the swirl look. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Sally has a tutorial on her blog.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days and in the refrigerator up to 5. This recipe will make about 18 cupcakes.

Harry Potter Hogwarts House Tie Cookies

Raise your hand if you are Harry Potter obsessed! I am. I adore the story, the characters, the setting, and everything else about J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal imagination. And let’s be real, none of us will look at the word “Always” the same way again. When Andrea and I went to Disney back in January, we took a one-day detour and visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal. It is so, so, so awesome! The butterbeer is delicious (get the frozen version though… trust me), the attention to detail is ridiculous, and the rides & shops completely immerse you in Harry’s world.

To celebrate my love of all things Harry Potter, I made Hogwarts house tie cookies. I’ve made golden snitch cake pops and butterbeer cupcakes in the past.

What Hogwarts house would you choose? If you need a reminder:

Gryffindor: values bravery, daring, nerve, and chivalry (colors are scarlet and gold)
Hufflepuff: values hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play (colors are yellow and black)
Ravenclaw: values intelligence, knowledge, and wit (colors are blue and bronze)
Slytherin: values ambition, cunning and resourcefulness (colors are emerald green and silver)

I would choose Ravenclaw — because I look great in cobalt blue. ;-) Here are the specifics on how I made these cookies (and scroll to the end of the post to see some pics from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter):

  • I bought the necktie cookie cutter off of Amazon
  • I didn’t have a way to make bronze icing, so I borrowed from the HP movies and made Ravenclaw blue and white instead
  • I used Wilton gel food colorings; the Gryffindor red was created using No-Taste Red + a few toothpickfuls of purple (it helps to create a more maroon color); the other colors used were Buttercup (Gryffindor stripes), Yellow, Leaf Green + a few toothpickfuls of Teal (to create the emerald color for Slytherin), Royal Blue, and Black.
  • I covered the stripes on the Slytherin ties with silver sprinkles, because I didn’t have a way to make silver icing.

If you are a new to decorating with royal icing, here are some helpful tips and links:

  • I used my grandma’s sugar cookie recipe, which is listed below.  Another good cut-out cookie recipe can be found at Bridget’s wonderful Bake at 350.
  • I used a royal icing recipe from Annie’s Eats, which is listed below.
  • If you are new to decorating with royal icing, please visit this post by Annie’s Eats, which will teach you about outlining and flooding.  Bake at 350 is also a great resource for cookie decorating and ideas (I love Bridget’s book, too!).

Omi’s Sugar Cookies
Print Recipe
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Beat butter and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream, and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients gradually. Chill the batter overnight or for at least 4 hours. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350F until golden (in true fashion, my grandma didn’t give a specific baking time. I baked the cookies for about 8 minutes).

White Royal Icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tablespoons meringue powder
5 Tablespoons water

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes).  Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.


Tagalong Cupcakes

TAGALONGS! My favorite! So as I mentioned previously, the Girl Scouts set up shop at my local grocery store. On my first visit they were sold out of Tagalongs (a tragic day in my life), so I stocked up on Thin Mints. On my second visit (on Valentine’s Day), they were stocked with all cookie varieties and were giving handmade Valentines to anyone who bought cookies. I nearly died from the cuteness. A hand-drawn and colored Valentine plus Tagalongs? I’LL TAKE ALL THE BOXES, PLEASE.

[side note: does anyone know why they’re not branded as Tagalongs anymore? “Peanut Butter Patties” just isn’t as charming. Update! Reader Jen told me that there are two different bakers – and one calls their product Tagalong, the other Peanut Butter Patties. Mystery solved!]

Much like my post about Thin Mints, I made homemade Tagalongs a few years ago — and made a cupcake version this year. I hope you are enjoying spring!

Tagalong Cupcakes
Recipe source: Modified from My Baking Addiction
Print Recipe

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil’s food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
+ 36 Tagalong Cookies (24 for cupcake centers; 12 (each cut in half) for garnish)

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream (if using milk, amount will be less)
+ A few Butterfinger Minis, crushed, for garnish

Note: the original recipe (if you click on the link to My Baking Addiction) included a chocolate ganache. I left this out because I didn’t have heavy cream or the right kind of chocolate. Instead I used Butterfinger crumbs to garnish the cupcakes. Feel free to do whatever you prefer!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with paper liners or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl with a hand mixer, add the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes until all ingredients are well combined and the batter is mostly smooth.
3. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of batter into 24 cupcake wells. Add a Tagalong cookie on top of the batter. Cover the cookie with one more tablespoon of batter in each well.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow cupcakes to cool inside muffin tins for about 10 minutes.
5. Remove cupcakes from muffin tins and allow to fully cool on a wire rack. Once cupcakes are cool, prepare your frosting.

For the Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting:
1. In a large bowl with a hand mixer, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and peanut butter on medium speed until fluffy. Turn your mixer down to low speed and slowly add in the confectioner’s sugar, and continue mixing until well blended.
2. Add vanilla and 4 tablespoons of heavy cream (I used milk). Blend on low speed until moistened. Add an additional 1 to 4 tablespoons of heavy cream (or milk) until you reach the desired consistency. Beat at high speed until frosting is smooth and fluffy
3. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes.
4. Garnish with Butterfinger crumbs and a Tagalong cookie cut in half.

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.