Foodbuzz

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Aunt Bills Brown Candy

The year was 1936. During this year: the Hoover Dam was finally completed, Joe DiMaggio made his baseball debut, the 40 hour work week law went into place and aviation gasoline was first produced commercially.  Along with all of this, was the creation of an unforgettable candy. The recipe was named after its creator, Aunt Bill, and is known as Aunt Bill's Brown Candy.

This candy falls mid-way between praline and fudge in consistency and flavor. However, it is not much until the pecans are added. Just imagine an 8 inch square that is 3/4 inch high that includes one pound of chopped toasted pecans. That makes the candy part more of just a coating to hold all those pecans together.  Also, it adds just enough sweetness to the pecans to have you craving for more than one piece.

We all have our own favorites we create for the holidays, but it is nice to add a little something different to the repertoire of desserts.  One bite and you will know why this recipe keeps popping up on the net and in magazines year after year.

Aunt Bills Brown Candy
adapted from Bon Appetit/ Dec 2008

Ingredients
1 lb or 4 cups of chopped toasted pecans
3 cups sugar, divided
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup half and half
5 tbs butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup water
4 tsp baking soda

Prepare an 8X8 inch square pan by dotting the interior bottom with butter and buttering the interior sides.  Then line with parchment paper in the bottom and two sides, leaving a little overhang on each side.  Butter the face up side of parchment as well.

In one saucepan, add 2 cups of sugar and half and half.  Place over medium heat and stir constantly.  When the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and set aside.

In the second saucepan, fill with remaining 1 cup sugar and water.  Stir and then place over medium low heat.  Continue to stir until sugar is dissolved.  Cease stirring and turn heat up to medium or medium high.  As the mixture boils, use a wet pastry brush to brush down the sides.  Within 8 minutes the sugar water will change to a deep amber color.  Remove caramel from heat and turn down heat to medium low.

Pour caramel into cream/sugar mixture and place over heat. Stir and cook until smooth. At the start the caramel will seize up, but this is fine.  After heating and stirring, the caramel will melt and meld with the sugar/cream.  

Once smooth, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.  Turn heat up to medium and continue to stir and let cook, until mixture reaches a temperature of 244 degrees.  This should take about 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in baking soda.

Then stir in butter cubes until melted.  Once the butter is melted, leave mixture to rest undisturbed until the temperature drops to 160 degrees.  The cooling process takes about 20 minutes.  After the candy has cooled, stir in the vanilla extract.

Transfer to a stand mixer bowl.  Using the batter blade, beat the candy on medium for about 4-5 minutes or until it becomes very thick and loses its gloss.  Stir in the nuts and then transfer to the prepared pan. Press lightly with wet hands until the candy evenly covers the bottom and all corners of the pan.  Let cool and cut into 30 squares with a sharp knife.
                              **LAST YEAR:Chocolate Orange Sweet Rolls*

Sunday, November 16, 2014

PBC Cookie Biscotti Sticks

There is something special about turning out something tasty from the kitchen in a short amount of time.  Yes, you can easily do that with a box mix, but creating it from scratch makes it so much better.  Recipes like these should be filed under "magic time". That way when you are in a pinch for time your resources are easy to get to. Outside of the two to three hours chilling time, these bars can be assembled and baked in a little over 30 minutes. That factor, as well as the taste, definitely qualifies for being special.

This particular recipe has 2 layers.  The bottom layer, much like a granola bar, is baked and consists of packed oats coated with a sweet mixture of brown sugar and peanut butter.  Topping it all off is sweet blend of butterscotch, chocolate and peanut butter.  The peanut butter and chocolate (PBC) combination does have quite a number of fans, so do not expect these to last long.

PBC Cookie Biscotti Sticks
adapted from Southern Living Christmas

Ingredients/ bottom layer
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup butter
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup light brown sugar
3 1/2 cups oats (regular, not quick cooking)

Ingredients/ top layer
1 12 oz package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbs shortening
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a 9 x 13 inch pan with foil.

For the bottom layer, melt butter in a large saucepan placed over medium heat.  Stir in brown sugar and corn syrup.  Let cook and continue to stir until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove saucepan and add peanut butter and vanilla extract to mixture. Stir until peanut butter has melted and and is evenly dispersed through the batter.  Then stir in oats in 1/2 cup increments, making sure that there are no dry oats left, all are coated with the batter.

Empty mixture into prepared pan.  Using the back of a spoon or clean hands, press the mixture evenly in the pan covering all edges and corners.  Place pan in oven and bake for 20 to 22 minutes.  When done, it should be a golden brown hue and the oats more solid and crisp.     

The other layer starts by setting up a double boiler.   Once the water starts to simmer in the lower pot, cover with the top pot. Fill pot with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and shortening.  Once you see the chips starting to melt, mix with a spoon.  Then let the mixture rest 2-3 minutes and then stir again. Repeat that process until all the chips are melted and batter is smooth.  Add the peanut butter and stir until completely blended.

Pour chocolate mixture over bottom oat layer.  Smooth out evenly and top with chopped peanuts.  Place pan on cooling rack and let sit for 20 minutes.  Cover pan and place in refrigerator to firm up for a few hours.

Remove and let sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes.  Then cut into 12 one inch wide strips.
                                 **2 YEARS AGO: Chocolate Pumpkin Layer Cake**
                             
                                 



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blackberry Focaccia


It seems like I can never get out of the grocery store without blackberries.  While I do love to eat them as a snack, they make for a super item to have for breakfast or dessert. Since I had gone a little overboard in the quantity, I wanted to put them to use in a recipe.  Finding that special recipe that sparks my interest sometimes takes longer than the whole process of creating and posting.  After several hours of research, I was happy to come across this particular recipe.

This particular recipe makes me think of muffin tops.  We all know that muffin tops are the best part of the muffin.  There are times when that is all you want and the rest of the muffin seems to be too much sweet bread to devour.  If so, then it is time to consider converting the savory focaccia into something sweet.  Less bread, more topping---count me in.

This bread is still made with the original choice of olive oil but it is interesting in how this ingredient is incorporated into the topping.  The almond brown sugar streusel and the tart, juicy berries make for a perfect balance of flavor on top of the focaccia bread. Thicker than a pop tart but thinner than coffeecake, one piece will make you happy you stopped midway between the two.

Blackberry Focaccia
adapted from Baking For All Occasions

Ingredients/Bread
1 lb bread flour (approx 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water (approx 90-100 degrees)
5 tbs olive oil

Ingredients/ Streusel
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp gnd cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbs flour
5 tbs cold butter, cut up
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups blackberries

To make the bread, start by pouring warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Then sprinkle on the yeast and a pinch of sugar from the measured teaspoon.  Let rest for 10 minutes.  Pour in the olive oil first and then add the flour on top.  Sprinkle in the salt and remaining sugar.

Using a dough hook, beat the mixture on low speed for 12 minutes or more. Beat until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and balls up around the dough hook.  The dough should be smooth and elastic, but still retain a slight stickiness.  Take hook out of dough and remove bowl from the stand.  Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap.  Let set in a warm place until doubled in size.  This should take about 30-35 minutes.

While this is rising, complete the process for infusing the olive oil.  The initial step is to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then pour the almonds on a baking sheet and place in oven.  Let them toast for about 8 minutes in the oven.  Remove the pan and pour nuts into a small ramekin or bowl.  Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil over the almonds, making sure all are submerged.  Set aside to cool. Turn off the oven. Once the nut mixture cools, strain out olive oil and reserve nuts in a smaller bowl.

After the dough has completed the first rising session, you will need to prepare a baking sheet.  The baking sheet size should be 15 1/2x 10 1/2 x 1 inch, like a jelly roll pan.  Grease the interior of the pan and then line the bottom with parchment paper.  Brush the surface of the parchment paper with some of the reserved almond infused oil.  Punch down dough and then stretch to fit evenly in the bottom of pan.  You may have to stop at a few intervals to let the dough rest for a minute if it seems to resist the stretching. However, it should not take long to get the dough stretched evenly, covering the bottom of the pan.  Cover lightly and place in a warm place for the 2nd rising.  For the 2nd rising , it should take about 60-70 minutes to double its original size.  The end result is dough that does not spring back when a light indention is made.

During second rise, pull out a food processor for preparing the streusel.  Fill the bowl with the reserved almonds and salt.  Pulse about 4 times, chopping the nuts in two.  Add the flour to the nuts.  Then sprinkle in sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Drop the cubes of butter on top.  Pulse the mixture repeatedly until it has a coarse texture and forms small pebble-like clumps. Pour in 1 1/2 tsp of almond infused oil and pulse 10 times. Add mixture to a smaller bowl and refrigerate until 2nd rising is completed.

Uncover dough after 2nd rising and brush with some of the reserved almond/olive oil.  Press blackberries into dough at 1 inch intervals.  Lastly, sprinkle the streusel evenly over the surface.  Cover again and place in a warm location and let rise its final and 3rd time until double.  This should take about 30-35 minutes.  While dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Once the 30-35 minutes rise time has passed, place another indentation in dough with your finger.  As before, it is ready if the dough does not spring back once your finger is removed.  Place in oven and let bake until edges are golden and blackberries are bubbly, about 40-45 minutes.  Be sure and rotate pan at the half way point of baking.  Let pan cool on rack about 30 minute before cutting into 3 inch squares.  These can be served warm or at room temperature.

Tips and Notes:
1. It is important to have the correct size pan and making sure the dough is evenly stretched over the bottom of the pan. Otherwise it will be crisper in some areas and fluffier in others.

2. How much spread and bubbliness you have with the blackberries depends on if you use them at room temperature or right out of the refrigerator.  As you can see by the picture, mine were used right out of the refrigerator.

3. The original recipe states that weighing the flour makes a difference from the cup measurements, so use your scale if you have one. Also, it makes note that ingredients should be added in order as stated.

4. Be patient on the beating of dough at low speed, it may take sometime to get to the right consistency, but running your mixer on high will make for very tough bread.
                                 **LAST YEAR:Peppermint Patty Cake**

  


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Roman Holiday Cream Cake


If you could see my liquor cabinet you would think having a cocktail or two is part of a daily routine. In reality, most of it is for the sake of baking. Recently I found myself in a outlet liquor store- that's right - outlet.  There were grocery carts at the front and it seemed like endless aisles of varieties to choose from.  I did not go to the cool case section with the beer, but I am sure it covered the all the beer brewers on the planet.

There are a lot of delicious recipes out that us booze as an ingredient but I was drawn to this recipe of a cake infused with almond liqueur. I have always enjoyed Italian cream cake and the addition of the almond liqueur proved to be a delicious benefit. Fluffy cake studded with chunks of pecans and coconut topped with a cream cheese amaretto icing.. it is quite a nice addition to afternoon tea as well as a sweet ending to a meal.

Besides the wonderful taste, this cake has such an elegant appearance it gives quite an impression. Now let's get down to baking!

Roman Holiday Cream Cake
adapted from Big Oven

Ingredients/Cake
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup almond liqueur
5 eggs, separated
1 cup or 2 sticks butter (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sweetened coconut
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
3 cups flour
2 1/2 cups sugar

Ingredients/Frosting
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks or  3/4 cup butter (room temp)
12 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup amaretto
4-5 cups powdered sugar
Whole pecan halves ( for decoration, optional)

Prepare 3 nine inch round cake pans by buttering interior and lining the bottom with parchment.  Butter the face up side of the parchment.  Dust the whole interior of each with flour.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In another bowl cream together butter and 2 cups of the sugar.  Once mixture is fluffy, add 1 egg yolk and beat 30 seconds on medium high speed.  Continue to add each egg yolk and beat until all have been incorporated into the batter.

Pour egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using a clean dry batter blade, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then, while the mixer is still running, slowly pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until you reach the stiff peak stage.  Then set bowl aside.

Using a small bowl, stir together both extracts, baking soda and buttermilk. Set this bowl aside also.

Divide out 1/3 of the sifted ingredients and fold into the creamed butter batter.  Stir in 1/4 cup of almond liqueur and 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture.  Then fold in 1/2 of the remaining sifted ingredients.  Add the remainder of the buttermilk and almond liqueur, stir and finish by folding in the last bit of sifted ingredients.

Add the egg whites to the batter and carefully fold in, using a spatula.  Lastly, stir in the coconut and pecans.

Pour the batter evenly into each of the round cake pans.  Place all three in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes or when tester indicates done.  Once done, remove from oven and let cakes rest in pan for about 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto rack and let completely cool prior to frosting.

For the frosting, place butter, vanilla extract and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth.  Sift 2 cups of powdered sugar into batter and mix until all is evenly distributed.  Then stir in the almond liqueur.  Add the remaining 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat again.  Should it be too thick, add some more almond liqueur.  Once the desired consistency is reached, fill and frost the cooled cake. Decorate as desired, placing the pecan halves around the top edge of the cake making a complete circle.  

Tips and Notes:
1. I had to mix up another 1/3 of the frosting recipe to finish covering the cake.  How much frosting
    you need is personal preference.
2. It states to store the cake in the fridge, but be sure that it is at room temperature when serving.
3. Measuring your batter and dividing by three will insure that each layer will be consistent in height.
                                 **LAST YEAR: Brandy Apple Cake**

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Banana Nutella Bars


I have made banana bars before, but I felt that they needed a stronger, additional flavor.  Chocolate would have been a nice pick, but when I saw this recipe using Nutella, I had to make them.  It is easy to find people that do not eat Nutella because of nut allergies.  However, finding someone that purely does not like the taste is not that easy.

I have been on a banana kick lately.  Especially because it seems to be the main component of smoothies.  I recently had an "Elvis" smoothie but it was more like a milkshake- Peanut butter cup ice cream, bananas, protein powder and low fat milk.  Very filling and very good.

Back to the bars...this recipe had compliments concerning the great moist texture of the cake part and , of course, there were requests for more icing.  The recipe comes from the UK so there are quite a bit of modifications. The first being baking in a 9 inch square pan vs 7 inch.  A seven inch pan is too small for the number of servings I needed.  I have a seven inch pan but have not found much occasion to use it.  The second would be the measurement type (cups vs grams) and amount.

Banana Nutella Bars
adapted from uktv.co.uk

Ingredients/ Bars
1/2 cup plus 5 tbs butter
4 eggs
3 pureed medium size ripe bananas ( should yield about 1 cup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup self rising flour
3 tbs Nutella

Ingredients/Icing
1tbs plus 1 tsp cocoa
1 cup powdered sugar
1tbs plus 1 tsp butter
2 tbs milk
2 tbs Nutella
2/3 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 9 inch square pan by greasing the interior and lining the bottom and 2 sides with parchment paper.  Leave some overhang on the sides to use as handles to pull the bars out of the pan after they cool.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth.  Then add both sugars and the extract and beat on medium high for about 1 minute.  Mixture should be fluffy.

Add one egg and 1/4 of the flour and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds.  Add the next egg and beat again for 30 seconds.  Continue with adding the rest of the eggs, beating 30 seconds after each addition.  Using a wooden spoon, fold in the remaining amount of flour, until no dry streaks remain.

Stir in the pureed bananas.  Measure out the batter and pour half into the prepared pan.  In a small bowl, warm the Nutella in the microwave for about 10 seconds.  Then dot or drizzle the Nutella onto the first layer of batter in the pan.  Then use a toothpick or small knife to marble it evenly.  Add the second layer of batter and smooth the top.

Place pan in oven and bake until done, about 45-50 minutes.  When done, cake would have just started to pull away from the edge of pan, but you can use a toothpick tester to detect when done as well.  Place pan on rack to cool.

Melt the butter in a small bowl and set aside.  Using the bowl of a standard mixer, sift cocoa and powdered sugar together.  Then add the melted butter, stir until blended.  Once blended, add the milk and Nutella. Beat on medium speed, until the mixture is smooth.

Pull the cooled cake out of the pan by using the excess parchment paper sticking above the sides of the pan.  Then remove parchment and place on a cake board or serving platter.  Smooth the Nutella icing on top.  Lastly, evenly scatter the chopped nuts on top of the Nutella icing.  Now its ready to cut and serve.

Tips and Notes:

1. The more ripe your bananas are the stronger the flavor, so keep that in mind when you are shopping for bananas or considering the ones that have been sitting on the counter awhile.

2. The recipe could have used more Nutella between the layers, but consideration must be made regarding the sinking factor.  The nut spread is thicker than the cake batter.  You want the layer of Nutella in between the batter, not at the bottom.
                                    **LAST YEAR: Chocolate Sugar Cookies**




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pineapple Cottage Cheese Pufflets


Through the years of blogging, I have seen lots more dairy products incorporated into recipes.  Goat cheese has been cropping up in pies and even ice cream.  However, one dairy product that never comes to mind is cottage cheese.  I am not one to eat cottage cheese on its own, but I was curious about how it would do as an ingredient.

It turns out that cottage cheese adds some wonderful flavor to pastry.  To me, these little pufflets remind me of a fried donut.  While a fried donut is good, a filled, fried donut is even better- so I decided to go all out and reach for some pineapple jam at the grocers for filling these dainty pastries.  A lot of my recipes in the past have used raspberry jam, so pineapple was a good change.

As far as taste, let me first state that this recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan.  In the preface to the recipe, she made a note that these were addictive.  Turns out that she was absolutely right.  This recipe has landed on my "keeper" list.  I had to put these baked morsels away up before they were all eaten by my company, exclaiming they could not stop.  I am glad I saved some dough back and put in the freezer for another time.

Lastly, do not let the above picture fool you in size.  These are little filled pastries made with 2-3 inch squares of dough folded in half. Using a 2 1/4 inch square cookie cutter, this recipe makes about 4 dz pastry cookies.  Be sure to allow for the chill time of 3 hours or more for the dough when planning to make these.

Pineapple Cottage Cheese Pufflets
adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours

Ingredients
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)
3/4 cup or 8 oz cottage cheese
1/4 cup pineapple jam (or any favorite jam, marmalade or preserves)
2 tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup flour
confectioners sugar (for dusting)

First, the butter, salt and sugar will need to be creamed together.  Place those ingredients in the bowl of food processor or bowl for a hand or stand mixer.  Run the food processor or mixer on medium high for one minute.  Then scrape down bowl and run again for another minute.  The mixture will turn from lumpy to smooth.  Add the cottage cheese and vanilla extract to the bowl and repeat the beating process as outlined in the previous sentences.

Fold in the flour in 3 increments with a wooden spoon or the pulse function on your food processor.  Once a dough is formed and there are no streaks of flour, it is ready to be chilled.  Place dough on plastic wrap and form into a flat rectangle, then cover completely and place in refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours.

While the dough is chilling, dust a flat surface with flour. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  15 minutes prior to taking the dough out of refrigerator, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove dough and divide in half.  Place one half on the floured surface and cover one half with plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator.  Dust a rolling pin and lightly dust the surface of the dough.  Roll out until the dough is only 1/8 " thick.  Then cut the dough using a square cookie cutter.  The square cutter can range anywhere from 2 1/4 inches to 3 inches.  The dough should be cut and rolled into about 2 dz cookies, if you are using a 2 1/4 cutter and less with a larger cutter.

Place the dough squares about 1/2 an inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Place about 1/4 tsp of jam off center onto each dough square.  Moisten all  the dough edges with water using your fingers. Then fold dough over and press down to seal.  The end result is little pastries that look like miniature turnovers.  Also, since the dough does puff during baking, poke the center of each with a toothpick to allow the air to escape. 

Take one filled baking sheet and put in oven and let bake until done.  When done, the pastries will be golden brown on the edges. The bake time is approximately 10-15 minutes.  Once the pastries are done baking, remove pan and transfer pufflets to a cooling rack.  While still warm, dust with confectioners sugar.  Complete the same forming, filling and baking process until all the dough is baked into pastries.  Then finish dusting the baked pufflets with confectioners sugar.

Tips and Notes:
1. Be careful using the jam filling, taking care so that you do not overfill the pastry and the dough edges are sealed.  If any filling seeps out it will either carmelize or burn. The measurement of jam suggested above is based on the 2 1/4 inch square cookie cutter.

2. The recipe states you can create the pufflets in advance and freeze them.  Just pull them out of the freezer and bake, adding only 2 more minutes for baking.  Advance freezing can be up to 2 months as long as they are sealed tightly.

3. If I made these again, I would probably make them larger so I could use more filling.

4. A flat, floured surface is the easiest method for rolling. Rolling between 2 sheets of wax or plastic wrap (as the recipe suggests) makes for easy clean up, but there is more chance that the dough may stick, especially to the sheet that covers the top of the dough.

5. These can be served warm or room temperature.

                               **THREE YEARS AGO: Cinnagrog Pie**

Sunday, October 12, 2014

After Eight Cupcakes



The so called "after dinner mint" in the form of creme de mint and dark chocolate has always been just a tease to me.  At restaurants, I find myself looking at the little green foiled morsels and passing on getting one.  My thought has been....let's not get started on those because one does not satisfy.  As far as the red/white peppermints, I can deal with one of those.  A simple breath freshener.

Since most restaurants are not creating chocolate mint desserts nor do they have any plans to, time to get to work in the kitchen!  These cupcakes are all about those extra components.  You have the chocolate mint cake part, which is tasty enough to stand alone.  Moving on, you will find the baked in goodness of cream de mint/chocolate chips studded on top.  Then, the slight crunch from the minty butter cream frosting that supports a pool of ganache.   Yum..but wait, (l almost forgot)- the cupcake is finalized by floating a mini peppermint patty on top.  

This recipe makes about 1 dozen cupcakes. The original instructions for creating the cupcakes are stated below, however the tweaks I enlisted for success are at the end. After reading this post all the ways through, the other initial step would be to have all your ingredients out and ready for use.

After Eight Cupcakes
adapted from Cupcakes Galore

Ingredients/Cupcakes
3/4 stick or 6 tbs butter
2 eggs
2/3 cup half and half 
Mint extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup miniature chocolate mint chips

Ingredients/ Frosting
2 tbs milk
Mint extract
1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup butter(cubed and at room temperature)
2 cups powdered sugar
Green food coloring (optional) 

Ingredients/Topping 
2/3 cup heavy cream
5 oz dark chocolate
1 dz mini peppermint patties

Prepare a one dozen cavity muffin tin by greasing the upper edge of the cavities and lining with cupcake papers.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder.  Set aside.  Place butter and sugar in another bowl and beat for two minutes on medium high or until fluffy. Add in one egg and beat for 30 seconds. Repeat with the second egg.

Using a wooden spoon, mix in sifted ingredients and half and half in increments.  Stir in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 cup of half and half and repeat, ending with the last 1/3 of the sifted ingredients.  Stir in a few drops of mint extract.

Fill cupcake papers evenly with batter.  Sprinkle the top of each cavity of batter with the chocolate mint chips.  Place muffin tin in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, turning pan at the halfway point. Cupcakes are done when tester comes out clean.

Let cupcakes rest in pan for 2 minutes then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, add the butter to a large bowl and beat until smooth.  Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.  Continue to add 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and stirring until all is blended together.  Then stir in the milk and mint extract.  Lastly, add a few drops of green food coloring if desired. Spread frosting evenly on top of cooled cupcakes.  Let sit in a cool place until the frosting has hardened.

For the ganache, set up a double boiler and let it come to a simmer.  Then add chocolate and cream to the top pot.  Once the chocolate is completely melted and the cream is mixed in, remove from heat.   Let the ganache cool for about 20 minutes.  Then dip the tops of the cupcake in the chocolate, making sure that there will still be a frosting border around the edge of the cupcake.  Lastly, top each with a miniature chocolate mint patty.  Once the chocolate has completely set up, they are ready to serve.

Tips and Notes:

1. To make sure the mint flavor is easily distributed in the batter and frosting, mix it with the cream or milk instead of adding separately.

2. Sift the powdered sugar into the batter, it will eliminate issues with lumps in the frosting.

3. For a better presentation, use the back of a spoon dipped in water and make well in the center of the frosting on the cupcake, then spoon the ganache into the well.

4. Dip the tops of the peppermint patties in the ganache before putting on top for a more blended look of the two.

5. The amount of frosting was spot on, however, due to the method change in topping the cupcakes with ganache, I ended up with extra.  The rule is you can always make more, but you cannot go back and separate your mixture into its original state, so start with 1/2 the recipe of the ganache.  That would be 1/4 cup and one tablespoon or 2.5 oz of dark chocolate and 1/3 cup of heavy cream.

6. No need to buy all the separate types of dairy.  Skip the half and half and use a mixture of 1/3 cup of heavy cream and 1/3 cup of milk in your cupcake batter.
                            **LAST YEAR:Pineapple Coconut Squares**