Category Archives: recipes

Quick, Easy Christmas Cake for Holiday Bake Sale or Cake Walk

Every year the kids’ school does a big holiday fair, with a bake sale and a bunch of other activities including a Cake Walk. (I was not familiar with Cake Walks, before having children in this school. If you too are thinking, “The what now?,” it’s where you pay a dollar to walk around a circle of numbered papers on the floor while music plays, and when the music stops if you’re standing on the right number, you win your choice of a cake from the cake table.)

ANYWAY, I bake for this fair every year. At first I only baked for the bake sale, because I don’t bake cakes. I mean, I BAKE CAKES, like for birthdays, but I use cake mixes and I don’t bake them for fun, nor do I like trying new kinds or playing with new decorating techniques. I don’t even much like cake. But one year they were DESPERATE for cake donations so I said FINE, and I made two cakes, and I was winging it but I liked how they turned out, and then I was joyful in my heart when I saw that my cakes were among the very first chosen. (And if you are tempted to point out that this was because children were the ones choosing, and children choose cheap and interesting over delicious and quality every time, I suggest you CAN IT WITH WALNUTS, SISTER.) (What does that expression…MEAN?)

I made a cake this year, too, though just one cake this time, and this time I took pictures. If I’d had any idea the photos were turning out so badly I would have…well, actually, I don’t have any ideas, but maybe I would have moved to some better light or something.

Start by making a cake mix in two round pans. Do you know to do that thing where you use a serrated bread knife to carefully cut off the rounded top if the cake is too rounded? Do that, if you need to.

Then make the frosting: a stick (4 ounces) of softened butter, a box (1 pound) of powdered sugar, a nice over-full teaspoon (5 ml, but I purposely slosh so it’s probably more like 10 ml) of vanilla extract, and 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of milk (the higher fat the better, but skim still works if that’s all you’ve got). Mix that up in the mixer, and add more milk tablespoon by tablespoon until it’s nice and spready. (I think typically I end up adding two more tablespoons.)

Because I made just one cake this year, the instructions from now on are for one cake. But if you are making two, it is a matter of doing everything twice, as I’m sure you smarties can figure out.


Put a glob of the frosting on a large paper plate, ideally a Christmassy one bought last year on 75% off. (My demonstration plate has crumbs on it because I put the cake on it first, then remembered I’d forgotten the frosting glob.) The frosting helps keep the cake from sliding around on and/or OFF the plate, when you’re carrying it in to the school or when the winner is carrying it away from the holiday fair. (Note on doubling: See, like if you were making two cakes, here you’d put one glob of frosting on each of TWO plates. Easy and also peasy.)

Do you also already know that thing where you put the cake upside down, so that you can work with the nice flat bottom side instead of the rounded/crumby top side? Do that.

Frost the top of the cake. You could do the sides, but I prefer the look of it when it’s just the top, and also that way people can see what kind of cake it is, and also that’s easier/faster and is less likely to send me into a Perfectionism Tizzy.

Make a rough triangle / tree shape out of green sprinkles. Take a pinch and sprinkle them on, then another pinch, then another until it looks okay; no need for anything perfect, and in fact rough looks better. Do some little flares out to the sides to make it look branchy. (I wish I’d done more out to the side on the bottom right of this triangle. It’s bugging me now. Let’s do a slapstick comedy where I try to break into the locked-up school to get my cake and fix it before the bake sale!)

Sprinkle some yellow sprinkles on top to make the star. I wish I’d made mine higher and less overlappy with the tree-top. To be fair, I had a 3-year-old UP IN MY GRILL the whole time I was doing this.

Brown/chocolate sprinkles for the trunk. If you don’t have brown sprinkles, use chocolate chips or, even better, mini chocolate chips. Or baking cocoa, or brown sugar, or graham cracker crumbs, or a wheat chex, or ANYTHING both BROWN and EDIBLE.

Add a layer of colored sprinkles to be the ornaments and/or lights. I had some flat round ones my mom gave me a few years ago, but anything colorful will work: the spherical jimmies, the stick-like colored thingies (like what the trunk is made of, but not brown), or maybe M&Ms (although I suspect the candy coating would get damp and mergey and fail-ish). Also please note that several “ornaments” are not even ON the tree, and yet life did not end. This is SUCH good practice for us frustrated-perfectionist types.

And now lightly pat the whole design with your fingertips, to make it stick better to the frosting.

Toothpicks around the outside, to keep the plastic wrap from screwing things up.

Plastic wrap, and a sticker with the type of cake/frosting written on it.

DONE. This recipe (the cake mix plus the batch of frosting) makes two single-layer cakes—or, if you like, a single-layer cake for the bake sale and a tray of 24 mini-cupcakes for YOU, for all your hard work.

Salt Brownie Recipe and SALT CARAMEL Toffee Brownie Recipe

I need to start by giving you my Salt Brownies recipe, because I originally published it on a web site that is now defunct. These brownies are particularly good for hormone-based chocolate/salt cravings, but I make these pretty much every time I make brownies, emotional uproar or no. The salt is definitely noticeable: the last time I published it, someone commented that they were good brownies but she could “taste the salt.” HA HA HA! Oh really? You can taste the salt in something called “Salt Brownies”?

A note to non-U.S. peeps: whenever I post a recipe calling for baking chocolate, someone asks what that is. It’s a solid chunk of chocolate, in this case without sugar though it also comes in semi-sweet (kind of like dark chocolate). In the last discussion on the topic, someone from…somewhere else (England? my memory is fuzzy) concluded there was no equivalent there—or at least nothing worth eating. If you have unsweetened cocoa powder, you can reportedly substitute 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of cocoa plus 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of butter for each 1 ounce of baking chocolate—in this recipe, you’d need about a cup (225 ml) of cocoa plus 5 tablespoons (75 ml, or about 70 grams) of butter (in addition to the butter already in the recipe). I don’t know AT ALL if it would work, but that’s the theory.

Also, I feel dumb saying “ml” for dry ingredients. Is that…right? Should I be using grams? What do metric measuring utensils say on them? (I’ll bet ml, since non-metric measuring cups are in liquid ounces, which makes sense because dry ounces can’t be measured in consistent volumes.) And what about butter, how is that measured? Grams or ml? Probably can be either, just like in non-metric where it can be measured in ounces (dry) or tablespoons (liquid).

Swistle’s Salt Brownies Recipe

5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 3/4 cup, or 170 g) butter
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) flour
rounded 1/2 t. kosher (big crystals) salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and butter a 9 x 13 baking pan (that’s like 23 x 33 centimeters, but I don’t know what sizes standard metric baking pans are). In a large saucepan (mine is 3 quarts or about 3 liters), melt the baking chocolate and butter. When melted, remove pan from heat and add sugar. Stir, then add eggs and vanilla and stir, then add flour and stir. Add salt and stir as little as possible (you don’t want the salt to start dissolving—you want big pieces). Put in pan and bake 30 minutes.

********

So then I saw Heath bar bits at the store and wanted to try them on something, and I made THESE:

Swistle’s Salt Caramel (or Toffee) Brownies Recipe

5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1.5 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 3/4 cup, or 170 g) butter
2 cups (480 ml) sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) flour
rounded 1/2 t. kosher (big crystals) salt
8 ounce (225 gram) bag Heath Bar bits (1 and 1/3 cups, if you want/need to crush your own)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 C) and butter a 9 x 13 baking pan (that’s like 23 x 33 centimeters, but I don’t know what sizes standard metric baking pans are). In a large saucepan (mine is 3 quarts or about 3 liters), melt the baking chocolate and butter. When melted, remove pan from heat and add sugar. Stir, then add eggs and vanilla and stir, then add flour and stir. Add salt and stir as little as possible (you don’t want the salt to start dissolving—you want big pieces). Put in pan and bake 30 minutes.

As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, empty the whole bag of Heath bits evenly over the hot brownies. Allow to cool. Die of love.

If you want regular toffee brownies, you can leave out the salt. But the salt PLUS the toffee gives them the coveted salt caramel flavor.

Increased-Nutrition Muffin Recipe

You guys were so nice about yesterday’s hand-wringing. Such support and reassurance! I am beginning to think I could say I had a bowl of kittens with milk for breakfast, and at least some of you would say, “Awwwwww, CUTE!”

In fact, I started feeling like maybe I COULD go to BlogHer, if I started thinking about it a year in advance, and if I took a bunch of you with me to say “Awwwww, CUTE!” whenever I ran for cover and/or said something lame, and if we had our own slogan, like, “We’re scared. We don’t do so well with personal interaction. We’re going anyway” (catchy, yes? I see t-shirts), and if I roomed with my friend of twenty years (OMG, twenty??) Astarte so I would only be HALF as fretful about sharing/snoring, and if I checked through some luggage so I could bring several large bottles of liquid, and if I just went ahead and hid in the bathroom when I felt like it but put up a sign indicating WHICH bathroom so you could join me if you were so inclined.

But I was telling my mom about it, and my mom has known me for many many years, and she said that if I started talking seriously about this she was calling a psychiatrist. She says she thinks I’m just feeling left out, and that if I were to actually GO I would be wretched, and not in an amusing, endearing, “Awwwww, CUTE!” way either. It is possible she is right. It is a little difficult to separate Social Fantasy from Social Reality.

I am ready to debut the increased-nutrition muffin recipe I’ve been working on. But first: you will need to go buy some silicone muffin cups liners, because they hugely improved everything about these muffins except the clean-up. I don’t recommend a silicone baking PAN: I tried one of those and it kept making the muffins all singed (that looks like “sing”ed, but it’s “singe”d) (well now singe doesn’t look right either) (SCORCHED, it kept making the muffins all scorched). The silicone LINERS don’t, for some reason. In fact, I am now using silicone liners in my silicone muffin pan, as well as in my metal muffin pans.

I bought three sets of the liners at Home Goods. The first set was Trudeau (same as the measuring cups/spoons I like), and I found them on clearance but the usual price is $6 for 6 of them, which is pretty steep. So the next set I bought was some other brand ( edit: okay, they’re Chef Select Ergo), and it was $5 for 12 cups, which is better—and to my surprise the CUPS were better, too: the Trudeau ones were good enough that they made me decide to switch to silicone, but the other brand were so great the muffins lifted right out of them instead of needing to be encouraged.

Encouraging a silicone muffin cup: hold the top of the muffin in one hand, and push a ripple of muffin cup all the way around the muffin with your other thumb.

So I bought a second set of the other brand—and they were not as good. Very odd. The first set was bright pink and orange, and those are the best; the second set was light pink and light blue, and they’re more like the Trudeau.

Well. Anyway. Start with silicone muffins cups, because greasing the pans did not work out for me and maybe it won’t work out for you either: not only was it messy, but the muffins tasted singed scorched. I don’t grease the silicone, but maybe I should. I’m not washing them either, but maybe I should. It’s all experimental at this point. Here’s the recipe:

Swistle’s Whole-Wheat Pumpkin Peanut-Butter Chocolate-Chip Flax-Seed-Meal Muffins
1/3 cup flax seed meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
someone’s partially-eaten banana, mashed up, OR 1/4 cup applesauce
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/2 cup peanut butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If your oven is like mine, one back burner gets hot when the oven is on. So I take a small saucepan, I put the butter and the peanut butter in it, and I let it soften/melt on that back burner while I’m getting the other stuff together. I turn the burner on for a minute or two at the end if things aren’t melty enough, but the peanut butter scorches super-easily. You could also microwave.

Where were we? Oh yes: just starting out. In a biggish bowl, mix the flax seed meal, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, pumpkin, banana/applesauce, and vanilla, and then add the melty butter and peanut butter mixture. When it’s all stirred up, add the chocolate chips and stir again.

Add the wet stuff to the dry stuff, and stir just until the dry stuff disappears. Spoon into a silicone-muffin-cup-lined muffin pan. Bake 24 minutes. Wait a few minutes, then remove muffins from silicone muffin cups and perch them on the edges of the pan to cool. (The cups are harder to remove if they cool all the way.)

I get 12-15 muffins from this recipe, depending on how generously I scoop them and how much banana someone didn’t eat.

So! Recipe notes:

• I think the muffins are mighty tasty, especially the morning they’re baked, but I increased the whole wheat and flax gradually, so perhaps it would be more of a shock going directly. I started with 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, 1/6 cup flax seed meal (rough measurement—just half of the 1/3 cup measure I used for the flour), and and 1 cup white flour.

• I also decreased the chocolate chips from 1 cup, so perhaps starting with 1 cup would be an easier transition.

• I started with 1/4 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup butter. I tried it with all peanut butter and no butter, but I thought even a tablespoon of butter improved the whole recipe.

• Since flour brands can vary tremendously, I’ll mention I used King Arthur Traditional 100% Whole Wheat Flour. I chose it for no particular reason other than “that’s the one our grocery store carries.”

• I tried it with bananas instead of pumpkin and the muffins were too sweet and too sticky. Not a failure, but noticeably too sweet/sticky. I’ll bet 1/2 cup of pumpkin, 1 banana, and 1/4 cup applesauce would be good. Or 3/4 cup pumpkin and a whole banana.

• I’ll bet it would be good with nuts, but I haven’t tried it because the children won’t eat nuts, and if I lose the “fling them on the table and let the children scrabble for them” convenience, then what, I ask you, is the point?

• We usually finish off a batch in one day, but if I have leftovers I like to heat them up in the microwave to make the chocolate chips melty again. Ten seconds for a muffin works well in my microwave.

N.P.B.W.W.F. Muffins

I’m attempting to modify my muffin recipe to increase the nutritiousosity (including the fiber, Jane!), since we eat those things pretty much every day. Amy suggested using peanut butter instead of butter, which not only improves the Fat Quantity/Quality situation, but also increases the protein and fiber. My Peanut Allergy Consultant Kelsey says she thinks this could also be done with SunButter, a peanut butter alternative made from sunflower seeds.

I’m also experimenting with replacing some of the white flour with whole wheat flour and flax seed meal. This morning I made a double batch, which uses 3 and 1/3 cups of flour. I used 1/3 cup flax seed meal, 2/3 cup whole wheat flour, and 2 and 1/3 cups white flour, and the muffins were way drier and way less yummy. But! Everyone ATE them.

When making such changes, I recommend first depriving the children of muffins for a week. If you have Delicious Buttery White Flour muffins on Monday, and Nutritiouser Peanut Butter Whole Wheat Flax muffins on Tuesday, you may find yourself in the midst of a protest. But if you have D.B.W.F. muffins on Monday, Boring Unappealing Cereals for a week, and then N.P.B.W.W.F. muffins the following Monday, you will (we hope) get more of a “Yay, muffins!” reaction.

Another change I’m making is I’m greasing the muffin cups instead of using papers. Reynold’s finally pushed me too far: The papers used to cost 39 cents for 50. Then they were 59 cents for 50, and I was still on board. Now they are 89 cents, and the package only has 35 papers in it. No! I DRAW THE LINE!

So I’m Crisco-ing (I tried pan spray first, but it didn’t work well), and then having to wash the pans afterward, and I am split in my opinion of this. On one hand, it is easier than I’d thought it would be (though I did have to get a new muffin pan, since one of mine wasn’t coated). On the other hand, I find it makes me less inclined to make muffins, and when a batch DOES stick to the pans for some reason, it makes me LOSE MY BAKIN’ MIND. So there’s that. But I am absolutely not paying nearly 3 cents EACH for BAKING CUPS.

Recipe Needed: Chocolate Brownie Coconut White-Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Heads up: we have a cookie emergency here, people. Sally writes:

I have a cookie emergency! Ok, not really but I have an upcomming event and I really want to take a cookie that I CANNOT find a recipe for. [Swistle note: This = emergency.]

The cookie – A brownie cookie from the bakery of my local supermarket. But not just any brownie cookie – a moist and delicious brownie cookie made with coconut and white chocolate chips that is SOOOO good. I started with the obvious and asked at the bakery for a recipe but it seems they get them shipped in frozen and merely bake them in the store. I tried the store’s website (Hy-Vee) and got nowhere so I turned to the internet at large. I found brownie cookie recipes and coconut brownie recipes but nothing in the middle. I’m ready to start experimenting but I don’t really know where and this is where you come in.

I know you are a master of the baked goods in general and brownies in particular so I ask you: Have you ever made or eaten such a cookie as I have described? Generally speaking, is a brownie cookie made of different ingredients than a brownie or just baked in a different form? I suspect merely adding coconut and white chocolate chips to a brownie cookie recipe will make it too sweet and possibly too moist to hang together. Thoughts? Helping me with this project will result in a LOT of goodwill coming your way from me and my family . . . plus you will have a DELISH cookie to add to your repertoire that freezes really well and you know what that means – cookies on demand!

It is hard to match a good bakery cookie. Our grocery store bakery makes a caramel coconut chocolate chip one that I have tried IN VAIN to even APPROXIMATE.

I have one recipe for brownie cookies. Betcha we could modify it to include coconut and white chocolate chips (I think my first try would be to add 3/4 cup of each, in place of the chocolate chips), but also betcha it wouldn’t much resemble the cookies you have in mind.

Let’s spread wide the net! Do any of you have a recipe for chocolate/brownie coconut white-chocolate-chip cookies?

Chocolate Mint Muffins, or Possibly Cupcakes

On a whim I tried a new variation on my favorite muffin recipe and it came out TOO YUMMY. It is not really muffins anymore, it is more like cupcakes. Like brownie-muffins. And yet, nutritionally about the same as muffins. I altered it so much, I’m just going to post the new recipe, rather than saying “instead of this, use this” a million times and getting everyone including me all messed up.

Chocolate Mint Muffins (or Possibly Cupcakes)
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 ten-ounce bag (like, 3/4 – 1 cup) mint chocolate baking chips
2 eggs
1 cup mashed stuff (pumpkin and/or banana and/or carrot baby food)
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Mix dry stuff in one bowl. Mix wet stuff in another bowl. Mix dry with wet. Divide evenly into 12 paper-lined (or greased) muffin cups. Bake 350 degrees F. for 23-24 minutes. Say, “OMG!”

You can instead make 12 regular muffins (dividing evenly makes slightly larger-than-usual muffins) plus maybe 8-10 mini muffins. In that case I’d put the regular-sized muffins in for 22 minutes and then put the mini muffins in when there were 12 minutes left on the timer.

Don’t get confused: this is a double batch, so it’s 24 muffins plus 22 mini-muffins.

Baby Food Muffins

Every time I go down to our “pantry” (a set of shelves in the middle of our basement), I look glumly at row upon row of baby food jars. When Gerber was switching to the plastic containers, Walmart cleared out the glass ones for something lovely like 20 cents each. The twins were babies, and one of the baby foods on the “do not make at home” list is carrots, and carrots are so vitamin-Ariffic, and long story short, I bought…100 jars? 200 jars? A LOT OF JARS.

I went through a most of them with the twins, of course, but I still had a bunch left over. I’d thought I could use them for Henry, but then he had his little issues and one of the foods we were supposed to avoid was carrots. So there the little jars sat.

Eventually it occurred to me to donate them to a food bank, but by then they’d expired. Expiration dates don’t make me nervous with things like jarred carrots (I do a sniff test, that’s all), but what was I going to DO with them?

Today, inspiration struck: MUFFINS. I made my favorite muffin recipe, using three small bananas that had reached the Emergency point, plus 2 (four-ounce) jars of carrot baby food. This was for a batch of 24 muffins. For the optional spices, I used 3 teaspoons of cinnamon, and for the optional chocolate chips I used nearly 2 cups of chocolate chunks. For the optional extract, I used 2 teaspoons of vanilla. I didn’t put in any optional nuts/fruits.

They are YUM.

Buzz Muffins (Caffeinated Muffins)

I MADE UP this recipe for caffeinated muffins. For reals, I did! And so I am not even going to Google anything about it, because if someone else already made it up I will be so disappointed! And what at if they, too, came up with the name “Buzz Muffins”? Life will seem so grim, so repetitive, so “There is nothing new under the sun.” It is not worth the emotional stress. So if you already have this recipe, be kind to me and don’t tell me. …Unless we’re talking about knee-breaking/jail-term kind of repercussions, in which case tell me.


There are two basic variations: the ones that taste kind of like coffee, and the ones that don’t.

Buzz Muffins: The Ones That Taste Kind of Like Coffee
1/2 cup very strong coffee
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
5 caffeine tablets, 200 mg caffeine each
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Icing (optional but recommended)
1 cup powdered sugar
1.5 tablespoons very strong hot coffee

This recipe is going to sound like a lot of FUSS, because I can’t just say “Mix this and that together,” but it wasn’t too fussy to DO, it’s just fussy to EXPLAIN.

Preheat over to 375 degrees F. See? This isn’t too fussy yet!

I started by brewing the coffee. I used two tablespoons of Starbucks ground coffee and 8 ounces of water. When it was done brewing, I poured the coffee into a cup and then back into the filter basket (NOT into the water part of the coffee maker, but right on top of the grounds, slowly) and let it trickle through the grounds again. I used a cup so I wouldn’t have the coffee pot in my hand when the coffee started re-trickling down, especially since I needed to pour it kind of slowly. Allowing for the water lost to steam and to making the grounds all soggy, I ended up with almost exactly the right amount for the muffins plus the icing plus a wee swig for the cook (I mixed it into a cup of hot chocolate).

Meanwhile, I melted the butter in a 4-cup glass bowl in the microwave. When it was melted, I stirred in 1/2 cup of the coffee.

I put the caffeine tablets (my Target sells the Jet-Alert brand, and they’re right next to the sleeping pills—a little hard to find because it’s such a small section) into a little bowl, and I used the handle of a wooden spoon to grind them into powder. Then I stirred the powdered caffeine tablets into the butter/coffee. I used the tablet-crushing bowl to fork-whisk the eggs, then added the eggs to the coffee/tablets/butter bowl.

In another, larger bowl I mixed the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Then I poured the coffee/tablets/butter/eggs into there and mixed it up. It makes a relatively soupy muffin batter, almost like thick pancake batter. I divided it among 12 greased or papered muffin cups (my #20 disher was perfect for this: 12 level disher-fulls almost exactly) and baked for 22 minutes at 375 degrees F.

While they baked, I made the icing. I mixed the powdered sugar with about a tablespoon and a half of hot coffee and stirred the dickens out of it until there were no lumps.

When the muffins are out of the oven and have cooled for a few minutes (five?), peel off the muffin papers (if you used muffin papers), put the muffins on plates or a cookie sheet or something, and put about a half-spoonful (whatever Regular-Sized Spoon came with your flatware) of icing on top of each muffin. It will drip down the sides of the muffins; this is why we take the papers off, so we don’t face the choice of licking muffin papers or consigning delicious icing to the trash.

The batch of 12 muffins has about the same amount of caffeine as 11 eight-ounce cups—so, nearly a cup of coffee per muffin. If you felt like adding a couple more crushed tablets to up the caffeine, I think that would probably work fine—but I’d start getting nervous about UNEVEN DISTRIBUTION, and also it’s nice to make them light enough on caffeine that people can eat two, or can eat one WITH some coffee. You could also REDUCE the number of caffeine tablets, of course.

If you don’t like the taste of coffee but want the caffeine, substitute milk or juice or water for the 1/2 cup of coffee in the muffins, and also substitute milk or juice or water for the 1.5 tablespoons of coffee in the icing, and also add a sixth crushed caffeine tablet to the recipe. This will make a very PLAIN-tasting muffin, but you can add flavored extract (orange, vanilla, lemon, etc.) to both the batter and the icing: about 2 teaspoons to the batter and 1 teaspoon to the icing, depending on the strength of the flavoring (if adding to the icing, reduce milk/water/juice by the amount of extract you use; in batter, it doesn’t matter). Here’s a version I tried:

Buzz Muffins: The Ones That Don’t Taste Like Coffee
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
6 caffeine tablets, 200 mg caffeine each
2 eggs
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 teaspoon dried lemon peel
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Icing (optional but recommended)
1 cup powdered sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 tablespoon hot water

And the instructions are just a modified version of the ones above:

Preheat over to 375 degrees F. See? Basically the same.

If you think of it ahead of time, put the eggs and the orange juice on the counter for awhile before you get started, so they’ll be room temperature. Otherwise their coldness can make the melted butter clump up. If you don’t think of it ahead of time, put the eggs and orange juice in a pyrex bowl and put it on the OFF back burner of your pre-heating oven, assuming your oven vents extra heat out the back burner like mine does. This’ll warm them up a bit while you work on other steps.

I melted the butter in a 4-cup glass bowl in the microwave. When it was melted, I stirred in the room temperature orange juice and egg.

I put the caffeine tablets into a little bowl, and I used the handle of a wooden spoon to grind them into powder. Then I stirred the powdered caffeine tablets into the butter/juice/egg. Then I added the lemon extract and dried lemon peel (you could use fresh here, or you could use one and not the other, or whatevs—I was just winging it with what I had on hand; it’s hard to get a nice strong lemon flavor in baked stuff, without resorting to that stuff they use in Hostess fruit pies) (mmmmmm, Hostess fruit pies).

In another, larger bowl I mixed the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Then I poured the juice/tablets/butter/eggs into there and mixed it up. It makes a relatively soupy muffin batter, almost like thick pancake batter. I divided it among 12 greased or papered muffin cups (my #20 disher was perfect for this: 12 level disher-fulls almost exactly) and baked for 22 minutes at 375 degrees F.

While they baked, I made the icing. I mixed the powdered sugar with a scant half-teaspoon of lemon extract and a tablespoon of hot tapwater (oooh, I should have used orange juice), and stirred until there were no lumps.

When the muffins are out of the oven and have cooled for a few minutes (five?), peel off the muffin papers (if you used muffin papers), put the muffins on plates or a cookie sheet or something, and put about a half-spoonful (whatever Regular-Sized Spoon came with your flatware) of icing on top of each muffin. It will drip down the sides of the muffins; this is why we take the papers off, so we don’t face the choice of licking muffin papers or consigning delicious icing to the trash.

Other ideas:
It would also be yummy to add chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, or use melted chips in place of the icing, and I’m going to see if I can come up with a Coffee Creamer Flavor by using milk and adding vanilla and nut extracts.

Caution: These are kind of like Caffeinated Jello Shots: a novelty item not for kids to get into. I’m planning to store these as “out of reach” as I store the caffeine tablets themselves—maybe a little MORE out of reach, since the tablets look like medicine and the muffins DON’T. I also labeled the ziploc with “CAFFEINATED MUFFINS” in huge letters.

Swistle’s Favorite Muffin Recipe

Dr. Maureen asked me a few days ago for a muffin recipe, and I remembered about it this morning while I was making muffins. I have a flexible recipe I use for a couple different kinds of muffins. It comes from one of those fundraising cookbooks where many people contribute recipes, and the contributor of this recipe says it originally came from the Shedd’s Spread Country Crock Classic Muffin Recipes Book, but I’ve messed with it some to make it work for several varieties. Here’s the “base” recipe:

Dry:
3-1/3 cups flour (regular, not self-rising)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-6 teaspoons spices (optional)
1-1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Wet:
4 eggs
2 cups mashed stuff
2 sticks (1 cup) margarine or butter, melted
extract (optional)
1 cup nuts (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup dried fruit (optional)

You’ll need two big bowls. I mix the dry ingredients in the big plastic bowl we use for big batches of popcorn. I mix the wet ingredients in the largest glass mixing bowl from a set of three mixing bowls.

You’ll also need two 12-cup muffin tins, lined with muffin papers or else greased (and maybe floured? I don’t know, because I always use muffin papers in spite of Alton Brown’s “We’re not making CUPCAKES” stinging in my ears). I also use a mini-muffin pan for any extra batter, and then I put three mini muffins per small ziploc and put them in the freezer to use as lunchbox snacks.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the dry stuff in the dry bowl and the wet stuff in the wet bowl, and then add the wet bowl to the dry bowl. You can also do it the other way around, which makes clean-up easier because then only one bowl is covered in muffin batter, and the other just needs the dust rinsed out. But if you want to do it that way, switch your bowls: use the bigger bowl for wet ingredients and the smaller one for dry.

Fill the muffin cups about 3/4ths full (or use a disher—Paul gave me this one as a gift and it IMPROVED THE QUALITY OF MY LIFE). Distribute extra batter evenly among the cups, or use it to fill the mini-muffin cups about 3/4ths full. Bake for 20-25 minutes (in my oven, 23 minutes is perfect); if you have mini muffins to bake, put them in when there are 13 minutes left on the timer. It takes me about 10 minutes to do the dishes, so I put the muffins in, then wash up, then put in the mini muffins.

Now! Variations! The kids’ favorite, and so the one I make most often is chocolate chip. I’ve used chocolate chips and chocolate chunks successfully, but my current favorite is to use mini chocolate chips: it fools my dim children dear children into thinking there’s more chocolate than there is, and it means even the mini muffins have a nice distribution of chocolate. (I keep the bag out so I can sprinkle a few more into the batter if needed when scraping the bowl at the end.)

When I make chocolate chip muffins, I use mashed banana and/or canned pumpkin for the “2 cups mashed stuff.” The smaller (1-pie, I think it’s 15 ounces) can of pumpkin is close enough to 2 cups (it’s a little skimpy, so if a kid abandons half a banana at breakfast you can add that in too), or you can scoop 2 cups out of the larger-sized can and freeze the rest in 1- or 1/2-cup baggies/containers (if you use thawed frozen pumpkin later, put it in the microwave with the butter/margarine you’re melting, to improve the texture/stirability of the pumpkin). Two bananas are roughly 1 cup, so you can use 4 bananas, or you can use 2 bananas and 1 cup pumpkin, or you can use 1 banana and 1-1/2 cups pumpkin, or you get the idea. I base it on how the bananas are doing that day, because it’s such a good way to use up browning bananas—but I prefer the pumpkin for nutrition.

Where was I? Oh, yes! So for Chocolate Chip muffins, I use banana and/or pumpkin. For spices I use 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, which keeps the non-chocolate muffin material from being too bland, but isn’t enough cinnamon to make them assert a cinnamon flavor. I use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, and I don’t use any nuts or fruit.

Another favorite is Pumpkin Spice muffins. In that case I generally use all pumpkin, but it’s still fine to use all/some banana. For spices I use 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon cloves—or you can use 5-6 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice. For extract I use 2 teaspoons of lemon extract, which is kind of expensive so you could cut it down to 1 teaspoon, but don’t cut the lemon out entirely (because it’s so good for the flavor, not because it’s literally essential); you could use grated lemon zest (the colored part of the peel) instead, if you have that more readily available. I like to use walnuts or pecans (but the kids hate nuts so I don’t often get to make them this way), and I don’t use any dried fruit but the original recipe suggests golden raisins, and I suppose those would be okay.

Promises to Keep

I have a bunch of little miscellaneous things to get to, mostly things I promised to do and haven’t done. So let’s get cracking!

Do you want to see how the Swistmas Package came out? Mimi did a post showin’ the stuff.

I promised Pseudostoops that I (1) had and (2) would post, the recipe for “those delicious things that are like rice krispie treats but with peanut butter and a thick coating of chocolate on top.” The recipe is from a booklet called Nestle Best-Loved Cookies, which I bought from the impulse-buy section of the grocery store a LONG time ago, back before Paul and I were married, or maybe shortly after. Like it matters. Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Butterscotch Cereal Bars
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 ounces) butterscotch chips

Combine sugar and corn syrup in large saucepan [I use a 3-quart]; bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in peanut butter. Stir in cereal. Press into greased 9×13 pan.

Microwave chocolate and butterscotch chips until melted. Spread over cereal mixture in pan. Chill in pan for 20 minutes or until firm. Cut into bars.

*****
Now, if I remember correctly, I TWEAK this recipe a little. For example, I think I use more chocolate and butterscotch chips than called for. Like—half again as many? And also, I don’t get too vigorous when I’m pressing the cereal mixture into the pan, because it can get hard to bite into if it’s too dense. I press it in a way I’d call “firm but considerate.”

Okay, next up! Do you remember when I won this gorgeous prize box from Amy Quarry? One of the things in the box was a gorgeous dress for Elizabeth from Amy’s Etsy shop. I promised Amy I would send her some pictures of Elizabeth wearing the dress, and did I follow through? NO. Well, until today.

This is how the dress looked when she was wearing it this summer with a short-sleeved white shirt. It was even cuter without the shirt (skinny little shoulders!), but she’s always a little on the chilly side.


And this is how it looks when she’s wearing it in fall/winter, with a long-sleeved shirt and tights. I don’t know WHERE the child’s shoes are. Nor do I know where this child’s mother’s IRON is, but maybe she (the mother) could FIND it from time to time. Just saying.

I ALSO won a contest over at Cerebral Palsy Baby, from her Etsy shop Small Grapes. The prize was a letter/number shirt of my choice, and I asked for a “3” shirt in gender-neutral colors so both twins could wear it. She sent me this shirt. Here’s a picture of Edward wearing it:

Every time he wears it, he says, “It’s THREE! Like ME!!!” Heady stuff for a toddler.

I have a new baby picture of my little spruce sprouts!

There are FOUR of them! Pretty soon I’m going to need to buy them their own little pots!

I tried a variation on the baked oatmeal recipe. I had some leftover frozen berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries), so I thawed them most of the way, sliced a knife around in the container to break up some of the larger berries, and put it into the recipe in place of the apple and pineapple (I still used the banana). It came out nice. Not as good as with apples, I’d say, but good—and a good way to use up some fruit that was getting all freezer-burnt.

There! Are we caught up? Or did I forget something I promised you?