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Category Archives: Cupcakes

Flavor A.D.D. – white chocolate mocha & blueberry-lemon cupcakes

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Today I took a sick day.  Haven’t had one of those in FOR. EVER.  I’ll spare ya the details, but suffice it to say it wasn’t one of those laid-up-all-day-on-the-couch-with-a-box-of-Kleenex-and-the-Hallmark-channel sick days, but just one where I had to stay home.  Had to.  No worries, though.  I’m all better now, thanks.  =) 

Anyway, I had a great cupcake order to fill for this weekend, so I used my time off pretty wisely.  The customer gave me full creative license with the flavor combos.  And I got two full batches of cupcakes baked, filled, frosted & decorated. 

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You probably think creative license is awesome, right?  Well, truly it is.  But inevitably I become paralyzed by the eleventy million ideas floating around in my head at any given time, like I have Flavor A.D.D.  I just don’t have enough opportunities to create all the great ideas I see on the blogs I follow.  Mocha, blueberry, roasted strawberry & basil are banging around in there against legal authorities on defamation, NCUA regulations, sub-chapter S of the internal revenue code, networking opportunities, blah blah blah…

Anyway, (sorry, A.D.D.) one of the flavors I’ve wanted to make for a while is a French vanilla latte or mocha cupcake.  So I did! 

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But before I did, just after I assembled all the ingredients, I had a minor freak-out. 

I had too many things goin’ on. 

White chocolate pudding, a great scratch vanilla cake recipe.  A box of French vanilla cake mix in the cupboard.  Cool whip.  White Baker’s chocolate.  Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Coffee extract.  Maxwell house mocha powder….  On top of that, I bought a whole cache of ingredients for blueberry cake & lemon cream cheese frosting. 

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Gah.  Distracted. 

I finally understood how you could accidentally put the wrong frosting on the wrong cupcake on Cupcake Wars. 

Anyway, I had to call in reinforcements. 

Luckily I have a like-minded friend or two in my phone contacts.  Instant moral support via txt is sometimes necessary in the kitchen, and it was today.  Thanks to one Wilton-trained buddy, I was able to focus on a French vanilla /white chocolate pudding cake filled with mocha whipped cream.  And trusting my gut, I made an awesome mocha Swiss meringue buttercream.  Although I haven’t tasted the combination, they look amazing and smell even better. 

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 I’m dying a little inside, though.  I’m on Day 8 of a 10-day sugar detox.  Consequently I washed about 2/3 of a cup of silky smooth, gorgeous chocolate ganache and a 1/2 cup of mocha whipped cream DOWN. THE. DRAIN. 

That’s what I call super-human self-control.  I hope these cupcakes taste as good as they are in my mind.

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Winter Refresher Cupcakes

Never fails.I become ardently inspired to create a new dessert by seeing or tasting something fabulous that someone else makes.  As soon as practical thereafter, I go to the store to get the ingredients.  And BAM!  Fail.  Said ingredients are now out of season and unavailable to me, even if they were – just moments ago – available to the person who made the inspirational dessert.  GAH! 

This time, however, I outsmarted the season by predicting that this might happen and stocking up on & freezing a few extra bags of fresh cranberries in December.  Score! 

The inspiration for this lovely flavor combo came from an ice cream, of all things (I KNOW!?  Ice cream in February?!)  White chocolate-chunk ice cream with cranberries, sprinkled with coarse natural sugar and accompanied by two thin slivers of candied meyer lemon.  It was SO beautiful, so wintery.  At first taste I thought, “mmm, this is nice.”  Then I ate seven more bites and wanted to merry the person who made it.  This was one of those ingenius desserts that just got better and better with each bite and afterward had me in a little bit of a food daze. 

So of course instantly I decided (spoon in mouth) that this was going to become a cupcake. 

Little did I realize it would be one of THE BEST non-chocolate desserts I’ve ever made.  Especially because it was a bit of an experiment.

Me and my chemistry-challenged self were starting to get cocky with different variations on this Perfect Vanilla Cupcake recipe.  But I couldn’t help it.  I’m like a mad scientist and when I get an idea in my head I need to act on it with zero regard for the properties of sodium bi-carbonate. 

And what a wonderful experiment this was!!! 

For as much as I hate doing this, I have to share the recipe because it was incredible, and frankly, because I want to be able to re-create it again as soon as cranberries come back in season next fall. 

The Winter Refresher Cupcake:  White Chocolate, Cranberry & Citrus

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes by Glory at Glorious Treats SLIGHTLY MODIFIED: 

Before assembling the cupcake batter, blanche half a bag of whole raw cranberries (2 cups or so) in simmering water for about 3-5 minutes until they pop but before they turn to mush.  Drain & cool.

Finely chop two squares of Baker’s white chocolate and mix with a 1/2 teaspoon of flour.  Set aside.  (Try not to be tempted to use white “baking chips” – I hate those.  The extra step of chopping the Baker’s chocolate only takes a sec.)

Assemble cake batter while cranberries cool.  Recipe is modified as follows: 

                Instead of 2 eggs I used 3 egg whites (changes the color & texture slightly);

                I added 1 extra tablespoon of sugar to offset any bitterness in the cranberries;

                And at the end, I stirred in the chopped white chocolate. 

Fill each cup about 2/3 full.  Drop a few of the softened cranberries right in the middle of the batter, they won’t sink!  I made mini cupcakes so I just used about 3-5 berries in each one but if I made regular-sized cupcakes I’d use twice that.  This recipe made 24 minis and one 6” cake layer.  That equates to about 15-16 regular-sized cupcakes I think. 

This is a perfectly moist & tender cupcake!  Not perfectly white-white or as fluffy as a boxed mix, but it is the best scratch vanilla cake I’ve ever had, and incredibly easy after doing it once or twice.  THANK YOU GLORY!!!

Orange-zested Cream Cheese Frosting

I use this recipe & method and at the end, mix in until just blended the zest of one orange (or less – start with the zest of half the orange; it’s quite potent).  Don’t overmix cream cheese frosting, whatever you do. 

And for this recipe I’m actually going to suggest using some kind of colored sugar for the decoration because it adds a lovely crunch.  And of course a touch of pink which I’m a huge fan of. 

Oh my gosh, I just remembered!  This flavor combo is also amazing in martini form!  Vanilla vodka, triple sec & cranberry juice.  I think those have to be on this weekend’s agenda.  {Rubbing hands together whilst bearing an evil-delighted grin!}

 

I made these for a new Fan who ordered a bunch of mini cupcakes for a small baby shower.  She wanted some cookie dough cupcakes (the reason I buy a bag of mini-chocolate chips EVERY single time I go to the grocery store) and the white-chocolate-cranberry.  They’re a great compliment, very lady-like yet youthful.  And SO DARN CUTE!!! 

Yesterday after work, Rick laid down for a nap to try & kick the cold he’s coming down with and so I had a ton of time to indulge myself in these little princesses.  And mybe have a glass of chianti for my birthday dinner 😉

I Cheated. Don’t Tell.

I am so glad none of the in-laws read this.

I was in charge of dessert for last night’s annual Christmas dinner.

And because I was still recovering from sugery and had an UBER-busy week at work, I totally cheated on my required Christmas dessert, red velvet cupcakes. 

I mean TOTALLY cheated:

Boxed cake mix is one thing.  An excellent thing, actually.

But generally I pride myself on scratch baking.  (There are days I believe it’s over-rated, however.)

Not only did I use a box, but I also used the 2-ingredient Weight Watchers recipe, using 12 ounces of pop (soda for you non-Michiganders).  Dr. Pepper is perfect for red velvet.

AND although I pride myself on my amazing frosting creations, I didn’t even make homemade frosting.  I used straight Cool Whip. 

Piped on with a 1M star tip like snowflakes. 

Cool Whip is secretly my favorite food product on earth.  Isn’t it beautiful?  Sniff. 

Shiny red wrappers and a chandelier cupcake stand and BAM!  Instant fancy dessert.

Three ingredients.  I’m a genius.  Okay, four.  I added Ghirardelli chocolate chips as a last-ditch effort, in vain, to add some class.

Then, when I got home from work yesterday with an extra half hour to spare, I made a homemade pumpkin pie and kept it all for ourselves.  Shhh.  Don’t tell.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to eat any real food for dinner so I made sure to have something soft, creamy & palatable for me to eat when we got home from the Christmas party. 

Our white elephant gift exchange was epic – “must be wearable on one’s head”.  The best ever!

Feliz Navidad! Orange Cupcakes with Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttercream

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Since I’m still recovering from surgery and can’t chew anything yet, of course all I can think about is food.  It’s Christmas, and all I want to do is bake.  I haven’t been able to make anything new for the last few days, so I’m going to share one of my all-time favorites from last year. 

Last year I made an amazing assortment of festive cupcakes to pass out to our firm’s best clients. 

For about three days, our whole house and garage was FULL of cupcakes!  I think I made 16 dozen or something crazy.  Each client’s sampler box included four flavors:  peppermint stick, gingerbread with orange-cream cheese frosting, double hot chocolate with marshmallows, and “Feliz Navidad” ~ an orange-cinnamon butter cake topped with Mexican hot chocolate buttercream. 

Have you ever experienced Mexican hot chocolate?  If not, you MUST!  It is HOT in every sense of the word.  Not too sweet, rich, dark, warm and cozy, it’s spiced up with dark cocoa powder, a touch of coffee, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  This is by far my favorite cupcake ever.  (Regardless of how many times I say that.)

It’s something a little different, but distinctly festive.  It begins with yellow cake and chocolate frosting – the makings of many a favorite birthday cake. 

Feliz Navidad Cupcakes

Cinnamon-Orange Butter Cake

Ingredients:

One “Golden Butter Recipe” yellow cake mix

Zest of one orange

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange, with enough water added to equal 2/3 cup)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup softened butter (1 Stick)

Directions:

Blend all ingredients together in a large bowl according to the box directions.

Divide batter into 24 lined cupcakes and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out with a few crumbs, but no wet batter sticking to it. 

Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttercream (slightly adapted from cupcake rehab)

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (or 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup shortening, which is what I usually do)

4 -5 cups confectioner’s sugar

3 Tablespoons – 1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s special dark)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how spicy you like it

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee (not coffee granules)

Directions:

Cream butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes until light & fluffy.

Add 1 cup powdered sugar, cocoa powder, cayenne pepper, coffee and 1 tablespoon milk. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add 2 cups sugar and vanilla. Mix. Add the rest of the sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix for 4-5 minutes, at least, until fluffy, gradually adding a tablespoon more milk at a time, up to 1/4 cup total, if too thick.  If too thin, add up to 1 cup more powdered sugar. Continue blending until consistency is satisfactory.*

Frost completely cooled cupcakes and top with cinnamon red hot candies – seriously, DO NOT omit the red hots!   

These are ridiculous.  Easy and phenom. 

I’m sharing these with a baking circle for the 12 Days of Christmas Goodies at Mom’s Crazy Cooking ~ hop on over there to see MANY more amazing ideas! 

For the Love of a Vampire: Drunken Black Forest Cupcakes

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Here I go again with the wine and cherries.  I made these even before we went to Napa!  

 I had VERY good reason –my friend Kristy’s birthday, and the fact that our “Book Club”* was going to see Breaking Dawn on opening night.

How perfectly dark and sexy and vamp is this combination:  dark chocolate cake, wine-soaked black cherries, vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream.  Rahr.  We will call these cupcakes “I Wish I Was a Cullen” (or, in my personal case, Team Carlisle.) 

I obsessed over this recipe in my head for weeks.  Originally, my super classy aunt asked me to make something for her November book club meeting and I instantly knew I had to make something infused with red wine.  She’s a true wine connoisseur.  (And yes, I did have to spell check that.)  Since I made a couple different things earlier this fall using wine-soaked dried Traverse City cherries the idea has gelled considerably. 

For my aunt’s classy book club I wanted to make something sophisticated, rich and decadent…  and just maybe a little tipsy.  Drunken black forest cake anyone?  Classic.  When Pam’s book club cancelled I couldn’t let go of the idea. 

My grandmother always had black forest cake over the holidays, but it was never my favorite dessert because the cake always seemed dry and I highly detest canned cherry pie filling.  It always seemd too red, too sweet, too sticky, too… artificial, in every way. 

So to up the game for this creation, I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder (my favorite!), frozen whole black cherries and Chateau Grand Traverse Sweet Red wine.  The rich tart cherry filling with the deep dark dense chocolate cake and creamy vanilla frosting was intense… Perfectly Cullen-worthy. 

I have to share the recipe:

Chocolate Cake by Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman (using Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder and 1/4 cup of coffee in place of 1/4 cup of the water called for in the recipe)

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream by Smitten Kitchen

My own Red Wine Cherry Filling(yields enough filling for 12-16 cupcakes)

2 cups of frozen black (tart) cherries

1 cup good red wine (use a wine you love to drink because the flavor intensifies as it cooks.  I used Chateau Grand Traverse Sweet Red)

1/4 cup sugar (if using a dry wine, use 1/3 cup of sugar)

1 T cornstarch

1T red wine

Add cherries, 1 cup of wine & sugar to a small saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes until cherries burst and the wine reduces by about half.

In a small cup or dish, stir 1 tablespoon of wine into the cornstarch to dissolve it, and gradually stir the mixture into the bubbling cherry sauce.  Let it boil for a minute until thickened.  Remove from the heat and chill slightly before filling cupcakes with it. 

To fill the cupcakes, run a knife around the top of each cupcake to cut a cone-shaped piece out. 

Fill the hole with a spoonful of cherry filling and swirl frosting on top. 

For the “fang marks” I poked little holes with a chopstick and piped in more red wine sauce with a candy bottle.  I LOVED these.  Very adult. 

 

*As you may guess, the book club is a total front.  For some reason, at this age it seems like we need an intellectual-sounding suburbian coverup for our girls-only nights out.  I would never have read the Twilight series if it weren’t for the peer pressure of my friends who called me a literary snob when I turned my nose up at the idea (I have awesome friends).  At 30-something, unlike when I was a teenager, my friends can look at me with scrunched up noses, hands on hips, cocky looks on their faces, and tell me “c’mon, everybody’s doing it,” and I cave & do it (see, great friends).  It didn’t take me long to get hooked on the Twilight books, (solely because I had to find out if Bella ever actually BECAME a vampire) and for us to form a “book club” so we could tell our men we had a legit reason to go to the movies to watch a tween vampire movie – or five!  IWIWAC Book Club Rocks. 

Pumpkin Cream Pie (er, cake)

I have an issue with Boston Cream Pie. 

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Boston Cream Pie.

But it is NOT pie.

It is, unequivocally, cake.  Cake on the bottom, creamy vanilla custard in the middle, cake on the top, and chocolate ganache all over.  Right?  Where’s the question?  Why is this called PIE?  THIS is pie:

So maybe I’m a stickler for word choice.  This gets me in trouble with Rick a lot because I like to tell him to stop being so nit-picky about semantics and he’s all like “WHATEVER word freak!”  And I’m like, “but it’s different.”  And he’s like, “No, it’s the same!”  But it’s different.  Like Boston Cream Pie – it’s not pie, it’s cake.  Same difference?

Several times I’ve almost been compelled to petition my state rep to legislate the use of certain words.  See, “insurance” and “bank” can only be used by certain regulated entities.  Well, I’m not suggesting that the words “pie” and “cake” be legislated but the word “resort” should be.  Have you ever driven up the Lake Huron coast?  Srsly, there are “beach resorts” up and down the lake, and I. am. sorry. but none of them are even close to what I would call a “resort.”  No pool, no spa, no tiki bar, no concierge…  Three little cabins and a firepit do not a resort make. 

THIS is a resort:

Ahh… San Pedro, Belize…  resorts on resorts for miles…  Jeez, it’s not even December and I’m already delving back into my Caribbean photos from last spring?  Oh boy. 

Anyway, this weekend I made a Thanksgiving-inspired cake that’s a lot like Boston Cream Pie – cake, creamy filling, chocolate ganache. 

But because it uses pumpkin, I think it tends a tad bit more toward the pie end of the scale than straight-up Boston Cream Pie.  No?  Okay, whatever, it’s a cake.  A gorgeous 4-layer chocolate chip pumpkin cake filled with light & creamy autumn-spice Swiss meringue buttercream, drenched in semi-sweet chocolate ganache. 

Dee.  Lish. 

I made a 6″ cake and 6 cupcakes. 

Chocolate-chip Pumpkin Cake slightly adapted from this one from Allrecipes

1 boxed cake mix (white or yellow)

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

3 eggs

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup water

1 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp each: cloves, nutmeg, powdered ginger

1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Here’s my secret to creating the perfectly-textured cake from a boxed mix:  use room-temp eggs (sit in the shells for 10-15 minutes in warm water) and blend all the liquid ingredients for a minute or so with a hand mixer.  Then blend the wet ingredients (in this case, pumpkin included) into the dry mix (with the spices whisked in) for a minute & a half.  Fold in the chocolate chips at the end. 

Divide batter evenly between 2 – 8″ round pans (or 2-6″ pans and 6-7 cupcakes).  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or more until a toothpick comes out with a bit of melted chocolate & a few crumbs sticking to it, but no wet cake batter.  I check it frequently in the last 10 minutes so as not to overbake. 

Cool cakes in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Run a thin, sharp knife (non-serrated) around the edge of the cake in the pan and then overturn to remove.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Then slice the rounded top of one of the layers (eat the scraps as a means of quality control) and then carefully & evenly slice each layer in half to create 4 layers.  Stack with a thick layer of Autumn-spice Swiss Meringue Buttercream (already shared this one here) betwen the layers.  Save the one rounded top half  for the very top.  Chill for a few minutes before topping the whole stack with a thick coating of chocolate ganache & a few messy frosting stars (I don’t have the heart to throw good frosting down the drain). 

Here’s my fail-safe version of ganache:

Simple Microwave Chocolate Ganache

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup milk (I always use skim because it’s the only milk we ever have)

1 tsp vegetable oil (to make up for the lack of fat in the milk)

dasha’ salt

Put all the ingredients into a heavy glass bowl or pyrex measuring cup.  Melt on high for 20 seconds, whisk lightly, and nuke for another 20 seconds if necessary – which it probably IS NOT.  The milk will heat up to a perfectly warm enough temp to slowly melt the chocolate with only20-30 seconds in the microwave.  Just be a little patient with it.  Then cool for a few minutes in the fridge to set up to a little thicker consistency.  Cool the stacked cake at the same time, and when you pour on the ganache it will set nicely and not run all over the counter. 

 This got rave reviews at the office, regardless of whether it’s cake or pie.  But maybe I’ll take it upon myself to create a scale or spectrum of desserts ranging from the classic pumpkin pie on one end and wedding cake on the other.  Input?  This might take a while…

Uh oh, here’ goes… Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes, Eventually

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(Warning: if you just want the cupcake recipe and not a long rant, scroll all the way down past the raging diatribe to the next picture.  Enjoy!) 

I’m feeling impulsive.  Big time.  Like, unreasonably-going-into-debt impulsive. 

This angsty feeling I’ve had the last month or so that I’ve tried to ignore by baking every single freaking day is going to get me in trouble.

I may have to do one of two things:

A)   Paint the entire inside of my house white, or ecru, or very very light gray.  (In order to provide a more photogenic background for my blog photos, of course.  I am deeply committed to this baking-writing hobby if you haven’t noticed.) 

or

B)   Go back to school. 

Which of the above-mentioned investments sounds less unreasonable to you?  Really, this is not a rhetorical question, I could use a little help here.  And please acknowledge that double negative so I know you’re paying attention.  (Aw quitchyerbitchin.  Did you not realize this blog would eventually try to challenge your linguistics?  Sheesh.  I will assume you don’t really want to discuss the difference between the phrases “more reasonable” and “less unreasonable,” and instead, we will move along.)

See, while some people actually buy my carefully-crafted internet persona, the truth is that I suffer cyclical bouts of major insecurity and self-doubt in both my Day Job and, surprisingly, this new blogging thing.  I just know that I could be much better at both of them.  Unfortunately it seems much easier and far less expensive to improve the skills I use in blogging (baking, writing, photography, food styling) than it is to increase my legal knowledge.  Another reason I’ve been focusing my energy on blogging rather than my real career issues is that my personality seems to work a lot better in the blog world than it does in the courtroom or the boardroom.  In baking & blogging, I can hide behind my laptop and not confront any real human beings ever, if I don’t want to.  I can even delete comments if I don’t like them.  This kind of one-sided dialogue works very well for me.  =D

I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive to criticism.  I also shouldn’t compare myself to other people but it’s impossible not to.  I practice law with my husband.  I’m pretty sure he’s the greatest lawyer I have ever met and will ever meet in my entire life.  I’m not biased, either.  He really is.  He’s brilliant, and totally cool, and a major perfectionist.  He is patient, persistent, flexible, approachable, sympathetic, understanding, creative…  Seriously, I’m not exaggerating.  He has every good quality an effective advocate, teacher and negotiator should have.  He’s also pretty darn good looking, too, which adds insult to injury.  (Luckily for me, though, he isn’t perfect.  The man is uber top-heavy and has no sense of balance so he cannot go kayaking or do yoga without falling and making himself look like a total dweeb.  Thank God he has a flaw.  I can’t tell you how much I wish I had a picture of him to insert here right now, coming up out of the water next to his kayak looking incredibly surprised and very drenched – the image in my head is priceless.)  

Okay, to my credit I do have one useful talent:  I’m generally one of the best legal analysts & writers in town.  

That’s the extent of my skills, though.  I’m impatient, skeptical, harsh, cold-hearted, inflexible and uptight.  I do not have a mind for sales or negotiating.  And my favorite word in the English language is “OBJECTION!”  Followed closely by, “facts not in evidence … attorney testimony  … SPECULATING!”  In that tone of voice, too.  With my eyes wide open in shock accompanied by jazz hands.  I have been known to mutter under my breath the occasional “pshh, whatever,” or (hissing) “liar” in court, too.  I just can’t keep my mouth shut.  

This job is for the birds.  

BUT.  I really love it.  Parts of it, anyway. And even when I really hate it, I love to hate it.  

The thing I don’t love is feeling ineffective.  I also don’t love not knowing something I want to know or should know in order to help a client move their business forward.  I also hate it when I lose the battle against my will to keep my mouth shut.  

I want to take a class on how to master the proper passive-aggressive posture and tone of voice to use when replying thusly: “Hm [thoughtful-sounding pause] interesting…” because I think that’s the single most effective and non-committal response a lawyer can make to any statement or question, no matter how crazy.  It at once acknowledges what the other person said while reserving the right to respond in substance at a later time.  Brilliant.  

I need to figure out how to do that.  

There are times I pride myself on being decisive and quick-witted.  There are times I enjoy my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings clearly, concisely and promptly. 

There are other times I want to punch myself in the face for being a Mouth and saying something I shouldn’t have or using a totally honest inappropriate tone of voice.  

Yes, I do realize there’s not a lot about these issues I could change by going back to school.  However, another degree or some audited classes could help diminish the few insecurities I can more readily control, mainly a lack of deep understanding of tax law, bankruptcy and corporate securities.  

This is so strange, looking back.  Five and a half years ago I said there was no reason I would ever need to go back to school.  I have achieved one of the highest levels of American education available.  What the heck makes me think I need another degree???  Normal people don’t even know what an LLM is (Master of Laws, fyi).  And I should probably be able to learn more about those Lost Topics by attending seminars or webcasts, or by reading on my own.  But there’s no pressure or incentive in that.  If there’s no test, no one who cares if I attend or take notes, no fear of being humiliated in class if I don’t do the assigned reading, then I’m not likely to do it.  I learned eight million random legal things for the bar exam through self-study.  I have since forgotten nine million random legal things.  I’m a pro at crashing & test-taking.  I am not so good at learning things permanently unless there’s real pressure to do so.  Honest.  I just rely on my photographic short-term memory.  How embarrassing is that?  

I disgust myself for even admitting it.  

Anyway, what should I do?  Really.  Does anyone have first-hand experience with the Dale Carnegie program and if so, is it really possible to train yourself to overcome personality weaknesses, communicate more effectively, learn how to be a salesperson or negotiator?  

It’s either personal business training or more academic education.  Self-discipline isn’t going to cut it.  

Or should I just go to Home Depot for paint? 

Oh, you came here to see pretty pictures of baked goods, didn’t you?  How about the most perfect pumpkin chai cupcakes ever?  Mmm hm, most definitely! 

I admit, these are from last year.  And – and – I made them with a boxed mix.  Why that makes me feel guilty is beyond me.  Boxed white cake mix is the BEST.  I have not yet found a comparable scratch recipe that’s so light & fluffy and bakes up dependably every time.  My use of the Box is not for lack of trying to bake from scratch or anything, it’s truly a well-informed choice.  Guilt bedamned.  So, this is it: 

Pumpkin Chai Cupcakes

Pour one dry white or yellow cake mix into a bowl.  Add 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ginger, whisk to combine. 

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized bowl, melt 1 stick of butter (or use 1/4 cup vegetable oil, depending on whether your boxed mix calls for butter or oil, I prefer a butter-recipe white mix, though), add 1 cup cooled strong tea (this is one thing that makes these subtly chai flavored), 1cup canned pumpkin and 3 egg whites.  Blend with a hand mixer for one minute.  (For the record, I reserve the right to adjust this recipe since I wrote it down a LONG time after the first time I made these, and I’m not entirely sure the measurements are perfect – this sounds like a tad too much moisture to me.)  Anyway…

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend just shy of 2 minutes. 

Portion out into 24 cupcakes using a an ice cream scoop and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch them carefully through the door with the light on the last 3 minutes. 

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then on a wire rack until the cupcakes are room temp.  

Filling – simple:  blend 1/2 cup canned pumpkin into 1 cup cool whip with a couple dashes of the same spices as in the cake mix.  Adjust to taste if it’s not pumpkin-y enough for you.  There is zero science to making cream fillings out of cool whip, it’s all taste & texture, just don’t blend it too aggressively or it will turn to soup. 

Once the cupcakes are cooled, carve a small cone out of the top and pipe the filling in with a piping bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off.  Eat the cake scraps (quality control, my friends, it is your responsibility).    

Frosting –my favorite and here’s the recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  For these cupcakes, I added cinnamon & nutmeg, probably a teaspoon of cinnamon & 1/4 tsp nutmeg.  Pipe frosting on top with a 1M star tip and then sprinkle nutmeg on top for that real Chai aroma. 

Enjoy!  Next time, you can help me decide what shade of white to paint my kitchen =D  Then we can talk about how great of a painter I am.  NOT!