The Cupcake Connection, Vol. 006 – The Fall Pumpkin Spice & Everything Nice Edition!

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October is truly the month of the pumpkin!  With pumpkin breads, pies, tarts (Dufflet owns this one with their famous pumpkin cream tarts!), roasted seeds, soups and the traditional Halloween carving of jack-o-lanterns, there’s no shortage of ways to use this friendly orange fall gourd and vegetable.  Cupcake bakeries across the city are very much in the thick of things, whipping up batches of pumpkin spice, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin and cream cheese frosted cupcakes to celebrate the pumpkin-loving month.
While I love the texture of pumpkin pie filling and the versatility of pumpkin in both sweet and savoury dishes, I really feel that pumpkin cupcakes are one of those love-it-or-hate-it, hit-or-miss type of confections.  It’s just hard to do well!  It’s not hard to give the impression of warmth and comfort or to mimic the flavour of pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice.  Rather, it’s difficult to get the texture of the cake just right.  Even though I haven’t come across a pumpkin cupcake I disliked or thought was incredibly awful per say, I will point out that some have been more forgettable than others.  The misses always seem to manifest themselves in the cake portion of the cupcake, either being too dry and crumbly or much too dense; I want to eat a yummy cupcake not feel like I’m holding a hockey puck!

Mmmm, yummy cinnamon frosting…

I’ve tried 4 pumpkin cupcakes from 4 different bakeries (Bunner’s Bake Shop, Flour Studio, Short & Sweet Cupcakes, and So Into Cupcakes) and my favourite so far has been the moist pumpkin spice cupcake with the soft cinnamon frosting from So Into Cupcakes.  The cake is the softest here and I love the texture of the frosting.  Anything with cinnamon in it and on it is fine by me!  In a close second would be Flour Studio’s pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting just because I really felt like the cake captured that mild, earthy pumpkin flavour without being too spiced in flavour (you know, the type of flavour that screams, “I’m from a can!”  Even if it is, it shouldn’t be obvious!) and the cream cheese frosting was truly delicious.  I would definitely recommend taking a few bites of cupcake just on its own though to truly get the full effect as the cream cheese frosting can overwhelm the cake.

Pumpkin Spice from Flour Studio!

Decked out for Halloween: Pumpkin Spice at Short & Sweet Cupcakes!

And here I’m going to get on my soapbox: I’m never going to stop wishing for a cupcake that has pumpkin frosting!  Cake is wonderful, yes, but I also want to see (and taste!) a cupcake topped with pumpkin frosting, just to switch things up and to try something new and different since we’re pretty accustomed to pumpkin cakes with vanilla or cream cheese frosting.  Something like a pumpkin mousse frosting would be fabulous, or a thick, creamy pumpkin frosting swirled with vanilla and sprinkled with graham crumbs!  I can dream.

Regardless, there are just as many pumpkin cupcakes that do taste great and it’ll be my mission to get to as many as possible before the season is over.  There are plenty of options (including vegan ones!) to choose from to figure out which one(s) take home the crown of most delectable pumpkin cupcake.

Bunners Bake Shop’s vegan pumpkin cupcake with their famous vanilla frosting!

Seasonal pumpkin cupcake goodies from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky!

  • Bobbette & Belle, 1121 Queen Street East: Pumpkin  ($2.95) – pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese buttercream frosting.  Seasonal flavour, daily rotation; call ahead to ask (416-466-8800).
  • Bunners Bake Shop, 3054 Dundas Street West in the Junction, just west of High Park Ave.: Pumpkin ($3.25) – vegan pumpkin cupcake topped with their premium vegan vanilla frosting and a pumpkin seed.  Seasonal flavour; daily rotation; call ahead and ask (647-352-2975).
  • Desmond & Beatrice, 750 Queen Street East: Pumpkin Spice ($2.75) – pumpkin spice cake swirled with a brown sugar cream cheese frosting.  Seasonal flavour, daily rotation; call ahead to ask (647-352-2257).
  • Flour Studio, 883 Eglinton Ave. West: Pumpkin Spice ($3) – pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, sprinkled with nutmeg.  Seasonal flavour, daily rotation; call ahead to ask (416-789-0222).
  • For the Love of Cake, 171 East Liberty St. #117: Pumpkin Pie ($3) – pumpkin spice cupcake topped with fresh whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg.  Seasonal flavour, daily flavour; call ahead to ask (416-306-6446)
  • Short & Sweet Cupcakes,1945 Avenue Road: Pumpkin Spice ($2.90) – pumpkin spice cupcake with cream cheese frosting.  Available during the month of October as their Flavour of the Month.
  • So Into Cupcakes, 2060 Ellesmere Road: Pumpkin Spice ($2.50 for regular size, $1.50 for mini) – pumpkin cupcake topped with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  Seasonal flavour, available during the month of October.
  • The Wedding Cake Shoppe, 859 College Street: Pumpkin Pie ($2.65) – pumpkin pie with buttercream frosting and pumpkin candy garnish.  Seasonal flavour, daily rotation; call ahead to ask (416-916-2253).
  • Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, 287 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market: Pumpkin – pumpkin cake with frosting and a pumpkin-shaped chocolate garnish sweet treat on top.  Seasonal flavour, call ahead to ask: (416-236-7585)
  • Yummy Stuff, 1660 Queen Street West in Parkdale: Pumpkin ($2.75) – pumpkin cupcake with brown butter frosting and candied nut topping.  Seasonal flavour, available during the month of October.

Happy First Day of Fall! Whipping Up a Batch of Butterscotch Pecan Cookie Bars

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Happy first day of fall, everyone!  Well, for those of you who enjoy four seasons that is.  The tree leaves have been changing to reds and oranges, it’s chillier, I’ve started shopping for new sweaters (my selection of cardigans is rather sad), and my craving for fall comfort food is just getting started.  So, how did I celebrate the first day of fall, my favourite season?  By sleeping in (I can’t even remember the last time I slept in until 10:45) and then hauling out my baking bags of goodies and electric mixer for some good old fashioned fall baking!  I’m already thinking well ahead into the holiday season but before I got too ahead of myself, I thought it would be nice to bake another batch of cookie bars and what better way to ring in the new season with a batch of yummy butterscotch pecan cookie bars? 

I’ve been so inspired by fall food that I’ve been doing a ton of research on restaurant items around the city including searches for apple menu items (both sweet and savoury), pumpkin, butternut squash, and pecan.  I think I’m covered on the pumpkin and butternut squash for the time being, but I’m still searching high and low for some standout pecan dishes.  Pecan pie is wonderful and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some, but aside from that, all I’m really finding is salads with candied pecans and while that’s nice, it’s hardly what I’d consider out of the ordinary, you know?  I’m going to keep digging around, but in the meantime, here’s some fab butterscotch pecan cookie bars to celebrate our first taste of fall!

Recipe for Butterscotch Pecan Cookie Bars (adapted from Chocolate-Chip-Pecan Cookie Bars recipe from March 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine).  

Makes 12 big squares or 24 smaller rectangular bars.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (1/2 a stick)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil 
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (*Deb’s Note: the original recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour but I didn’t have any and also didn’t feel like buying any so I just used regular all-purpose flour!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips (*Deb’s Note: the original recipe called for semisweet chocolate chips)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.  Spread the pecans in a pie plate and toast for about 8 minutes until golden.  Chop the pecans and let cool.  (*Deb’s Note: I didn’t toast my pecans and went straight to coarsely chopping them as they were.  It’s entirely up to you if you want them toasty or not!)
  • In the bowl of a standing electric mixer (*Deb’s Note: I used a hand-held electric mixer and a plain old mixing bowl), beat the butter and oil with the granulated sugar and brown sugar until creamy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until smooth.  In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda and salt; beat the dry ingredients into the wet mixture at low speed.  Add the butterscotch chips (or chocolate chips if you’re following the original recipe) and pecans; beat just until incorporated (*Deb Note: I didn’t use my mixer for this step, I just mixed it all with my hands).
  • Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned and nearly set in the center (*Deb’s Note: I baked mine for 18 minutes).  Let cool completely.  Using parchment paper “handles”, lift out and cut into squares or bars.

I sprinkled mine with cinnamon just before I popped the baking pan into the oven because I felt like it, but you could also drizzle some melted white chocolate over top after they’ve finished baking and cooled to jazz things up.  These would so good with some vanilla ice cream too!  For next time though, I would adjust the bake time.  I know the original recipe called for a 20 minute bake time, but I never follow it to a tee because my oven runs hot so I normally knock 2 minutes off.  I would even do for around 16 minutes the next time, just so they can be a little gooeier on the insides and a little more chewy.  I loved using the butterscotch chips though because the squares tasted like a cross between rich caramel and butterscotch brittle.

*****

Recipe adpated from Food & Wine magazine.  “Dessert Redux: Chef Recipes Made Easy”.  Food & Wine March 2011: 86.

The Cupcake Connection, Vol. 005 – Apple Cupcakes Edition! The Beginnings of Fall & Apple Orchard Season

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You might be wondering why there was no mention of my delicious apple caramel cupcake from City Cider in my post yesterday.  After all, I certainly wiggled the bait a bit with my sneak peek photo Sunday night!  I didn’t forget and I swear I wasn’t trying to be a meanie by witholding scrumptious information (who posts a photo of a drool-worthy cupcake and then doesn’t say another word about it for 2 days?!  Er, me).  There’s a good reason for the wait: this delightful tender morsel of sweet cake and apple fruit, along with the apple cinnamon caramel cupcake from Yummy Stuff, was the inspiration behind this latest edition of The Cupcake Connection: Fall Apple Edition!  I am beyond giddy about this one!  A whole post dedicated to cupcakes and apples.  And apples in cupcakes.  And apples in cupcake frosting.  I LOVE APPLE CUPCAKES! 

It’s one of the ways I get to kick my apple allergy in the pants while still maintaining a healthy dose of cupcake in my life.  It wasn’t until I ate my apple caramel cupcake at City Cider that it dawned on me: there are so many different cupcake bakeries in and around the city that go full out on fall flavour using juicy, sweet apples come September.  Just think, there’s apple cinnamon, apple caramel, apple-pear, apple spice, apple and nuts, the list goes on.  And it’s beautifully represented in both cupcake and frosting form!

Fall is the season, to me, that never lasts long enough.  Winter always drags on and on.  Spring can get a little too muddy and wet.  And summer?  Well, let’s just say this past season made me reconsider how much I truly adore those hazy days.  But fall?  I love dearly.  And the prominence of apples in sweets, baked goods, and in food in general at this time, makes me love it that much more.  Thanks to Savera’s Pretty Sweet: A Mobile Cupcakery food truck at City Cider, I was totally inspired to compile all the different apple cupcakes available in shops and on cupcake menus throughout the city! 

Let it be known though that I had no idea this adorable, super pretty cupcake truck existed until I went to City Cider on Sunday.  I was totally smitten!  Donning shades of pink, red, brown, white, and turquoise, it looked exactly like a fairy tale cupcake truck, ready to make the magic of cupcakes that much sweeter and yummier.  Because it’s a mobile, moving entity, the only way to really follow Pretty Sweet is via their Facebook page and Twitter where locations for the day or week are posted, flavours are listed, and events the truck will be at announced.  The Pretty Sweet Toronto website is still under construction, but you can still access contact info and some really beautiful photos through the original custom cake business website at Pretty Sweet Cakes HERE.

And we can’t have an apple cupcake discussion without gushing about the apple bourbon caramel cinnamon (say that 5 times fast!) cupcake from Yummy Stuff!  Both the apple caramel from Pretty Sweet and the apple bourbon caramel cinnamon are SO delicious and unique in their own ways.  The apple caramel from Pretty Sweet had much more of a sweet and sticky toffee pudding taste and feel to it with soft apple spice cake, creamy cream cheese frosting, and generous portion of caramel sauce on top.  This is the type of cupcake that doubles as a dessert in the sense that it doesn’t scream, “I’m a little cake with frosting on it!”, but rather, you can envision this as a non-cupcake dessert dish.  It’s fabulous!  

The apple cupcake from Yummy Stuff on the other hand was more like apple pie with mouthwatering frosting on top!  It was stuffed with apple chunks and a bourbon caramel sauce filling and topped with the most amazing sweet and creamy cinnamon frosting!  Oh man, THIS is cupcake frosting at its finest!  As a note though, it’s ideal if you eat theirs with a fork just because the apple chunks may fall out and get messy if you eat it straight out of the wrapper with your hands.  This cupcake at Yummy Stuff is the special September flavour, so definitely try your best to get your sweet teeth on one before the month is over!  I really do hope it stays around for the whole season though because it’s just so good.  We’ll see; they kept their S’mores cupcake for longer than a month so there’s hope!  

Look out for other apple cupcakes at these cupcake and sweet shops around the city!

  • Bobbette & Belle, 1121 Queen Street East: Apple Spice ($2.95) – apple spice cake with Canadian maple buttercream frosting.  Seasonal flavour, daily rotation; cal ahead to find out (416-466-8800).
  • Crumbs & Co./Pink Lemon Bakeshop, 10220 Yonge Street in Richmond Hill (as well as 2 other locations including their newest in North York at 399 Old Orchard Grove off of Avenue Road): Apple Pie ($3.00) – apple cupcake with honey and spice frosting.  Daily rotation; call ahead to find out (905-237-6406).
  • For the Love of Cake, 171 East Liberty Street: Caramel Apple ($3.00) – apple spice cupcake with caramel filling, caramel frosting, and topped with a caramel chew.  Daily rotation; call ahead to find out (416-306-6446) or check out their selectiom via Twitter @4theloveofcake 
  • Old Firehall Confectionery, 170 Main Street in Unionville, Markham: Apple Cinnamon ($2.89) – vanilla cupcake with apple cinnamon frosting and apple crisp and nut crumbles on top.  Seasonal, currently available.
  • Short & Sweet Cupcakes,1945 Avenue Road: Apple Cinnamon ($2.90) – apple cinnamon cupcake with caramel filling, vanilla frosting, and caramel drizzle.  Available during the month of September.
  • So Into Cupcakes, 2060 Ellesmere Road: Apple Cinnamon ($2.50) – cupcake stuffed with brown sugar apple filling and topped with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and cinnamon sweet apples.  Available during the month of September.
  • The Social Cupcake, 129B Lakeshore Rd. East in Mississauga: Apple Cinnamon ($3.00) – apple cupcake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  Daily rotation, call ahead (905-271-7612) or follow them on Facebook and Twitter @social_cupcake

Feel free to leave a message here if you know of any other cupcake shops that are dishing out the luscious apples!

The Fall Harvest Series – Like a Stack of Fluffy, Golden Pancakes with Syrup! The Eh? Cupcake From The Cupcake Shoppe

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Hallowe’en is just a week and a half away, we’re in the thick of fall, and the Fall Harvest Series has been up and running for 3 weeks now!  Although the weather here hasn’t been co-operating (can you say doom and gloom and rain?  I thank my lucky stars that I started photographing the fall farmers’ markets at the end of September as oppsed to trying to do it now!), it’s been so much fun immersing myself up to my eyeballs in fall themed foods and scrapbooking.  I love scrapbooking seasonal stuff and as I mentioned on my Twitter, the very first 8×8 scrapbook album I did was a Christmas one that will always be a special favourite in my collection.

What’s also been amazing?  Eating through the seasons at some of my favourite places in the city!  Ate by Ate will be celebrating its first birthday at the end of November and we’ve almost come full circle with many of my frequent noshing spots, hitting the seasonal menus and special seasonal flavours.  I am THISCLOSE to going 360 at The Cupcake Shoppe by Yonge and Eglinton; all I need to do is hit them up during the Christmas holidays!  However, after all the visits I’ve made to The Cupcake Shoppe, there are still cupcakes I haven’t even seen, much less tried!  Their cupcake selection operates on a system of rotation where different flavours will make their appearances at different times.  The arrangement here doesn’t work quite the same way as Short & Sweet Cupcakes though.  At Short & Sweet, the flavour selection is fixed based on the days of the week whereas as at The Cupcake Shoppe, it’s much more random.

Depending on the luck of the draw, there may be cupcake flavours that you will never come across or eat.  I’ve never even seen Sleepless in Toronto (the coffee mocha one), nor have I seen Lime n’Licious or Candy Cane Lane, both pf which are seasonal flavours.  And up until this past September, I hadn’t even laid eyes on the maple Eh? cupcake.  But that all changed on a cloudy day during the first week of September.

I was SO excited when I went to the shop and saw shiny orange pumpkins, chocolate cupcakes with bright orange frosting with cherry red candies, and a giant acorn in the front window display.  Fall was here and the cupcake shops and bakeries were decorating to the nines.  My heart fluttered even faster when I went into the shop and saw the maple buttercream cupcake!  YES!  A flavour I had never seen or tried!  Granted, even though I know the name of the cupcake is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it still makes me wrinkle my nose and grit my teeth.  For the record, as a Canadian, I do not say “eh” after all my sentences.  ANYWAY.  Both my brother and my boyfriend love maple things to pieces, so this was extra special.  And because I just love eating my way through all the flavours, there was no way I was passing up this baby!

This cupcake knocked it out of the park!  Remember how I ticked off my 3 favourite cupcakes from here awhile ago?  How I professed my undying love for the Lemon Drop, Cookie Dough, and Red Velvet cupcakes with the Naughty n’ Spice one hovering close by?  The maple Eh? cupcake kicked Little Miss Red Velvet out and is now happily occupying a spot in my Top 3.  This cupcake is SO.DAMN.DELICIOUS.  I say this often whenever I write up a post about The Cupcake Shoppe, but it’s worth repeating: I know so many people who have a love-hate relationship with the cupcake frosting here.  It’s either amazingly scrumptious or it flat-out misses the mark.  The Eh? cupcake doesn’t associate with those that miss the mark.  It hangs out with the “I-want-to-shove-this-entire-cupcake-in-my-mouth-because-it’s-so-yummy” crowd.

I opened the box to eat mine and as soon as I did, the smell of maple literally HIT me in the nose and face.  It wafted out and it was one of the most mouthwatering smells.  The frosting sits on a vanilla cupcake and it’s the frosting that makes this cuppycake a real winner.  It’s not the buttery, whippy buttercream that some have an issue with.  The maple frosting is thick and creamy and it makes you want to eat it by the spoonful and shudder in “mmm”ness.

This maple cupcake smells and tastes EXACTLY like maple syrup and pancakes.  Imagine a cold winter morning.  Imagine coming down the stairs of a lodge or cabin of some sort with the fire on and the warm, fragrant, sweet smell of fresh, fluffy, golden brown pancakes tickling your nose and rumbling that hungry stomach.  Now take that image and stick it into this sweet morsel of a cupcake.  Amazing.  The vanilla cake is like the pancake and the rich, maple frosting is the syrup dribbling down the stack and when you have a mouthful of this cake and frosting in your mouth, it’s heaven.

Now, I normally wouldn’t outright encourage everyone to start eating cupcakes for breakfast, but I have to tell you…if you want a sweet, delicous alternative, this works quite well.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll step into the shop with a whole cupcake stand of them waiting for you.

*****

The Cupcake Shoppe is located in the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood at 2417 Yonge St., north of Eglinton on the east side of Yonge St.

Scrapbooking materials used: chocolate brown, orange, burnt orange, red, cherry red, and goldenrod yellow cardstock (Recollections); gold foil alphabet stickers (Sticko); fall leaves stickers (Recollections); fall embellishment (K&Company); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); black finepoint Sharpie pen.

The Fall Harvest Series: Like Apple Pie in a Muffin – Apple Almond Muffins With Cinnamon Sugar Topping!

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It’s Friday, it’s Thanksgiving weekend for us Canadian folk, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s true that I prefer the cooler weather (remember how many times I whined about the gross humidity and heat this past summer?), but for this weekend, I’ll make an exception because it truly is beautiful out and I can’t even begin to express how excited I am about the next few days.  I’m visiting some amazing farmers’ markets, enjoying some sunshine, taking photos, and enjoying everything I’m thankful for.  And one of those things is food.  Baked goods, more specifically.  And baked goods with apples in them. 

For all of you who have the same fruit allergies as I do, there is hope!  I am going to town with the apples this fall and considering how allergic I am to the raw variety, even I’m surprised by how many different ways I’ve used and eaten them this season.  I know I’ve been going honky tonky with the apples for the Fall Harvest Series, but I promise that I have some awesome pumpkin goodies in the mix coming soon!  In the meantime though, I have another fabulous fall recipe to share with you all: apple almond muffins!  I thought the apple lemon poppyseed muffins I posted earlier in the series was a great fall recipe, but this…oh, this.  Do you like apple pie?  Fresh, hot, apple pie?  You do?  Then these are perfect for you because these apple almond muffins with cinnamon sugar topping are like apple pie in a sweet, sugary, moist tea muffin.  And yes, they do deserve the bold and italics because they are that delicious.

This is actually the first time I used a recipe I found online.  Call me traditional, but I hug my cookbooks and love my paperbacks and hardcovers to pieces.  Even though I know there’s a wealth of amazing recipes online and in blogs (hello, some of my most awesome friends have cooking blogs with recipes!), I’ve been somewhat resistent to using the internet as a crutch when it comes to this because of this. 

This changed though when I made a boo-boo buying ingredients.  Long story short, I bought one too many bags of ground almonds, thinking I had used up my supply from before only to have my mum unearth 3 bags of the stuff from my baking ingredient bags.  Oops.  Needless to say, I need to use up some of those ground almonds, and fast.  Enter the interwebs.  Thanks to a recipe I found for apple almond muffins on Eleanor Snare’s blog, The Magic Square Foundation, I was able to use up some of stash and I came away with some of the most delicious muffins I’ve ever had in my life.  I made adjustments to the recipe though (converting some of the measurements, for example), so this recipe is the one I ended up with after the adjustments.  If you want to see the original, the link is at the bottom of the post.  Looking for a knock-out fall or Thanksgiving dessert or snack?  Here it is:

Recipe for Apple Almond Muffins With Cinnamon Sugar Topping (yields 24 tea muffins if apples are cut into small chunks, 18 if apples are grated)

Ingredients for muffins

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 sticks of butter (1 cup), at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 4 small apples (*Deb’s note: I used Gala apples)
  • 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk (*Deb’s note: honestly, I just eyeballed it when I poured milk into the batter.  I’d say anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup should be good)

Ingredients for cinnamon sugar topping

  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds (*Deb’s note: it’s completely up to you how much sliced almonds you want on the muffins, so if you love them, add more and if not, add less or omit them entirely).
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 12-cup cupcake or muffin pans with paper liners (or any amount of pans that will equal to 24 spaces for 24 muffins).
  • Cut the butter into small pieces and beat together with both the brown sugar and the white sugar in a large mixing bowl until creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
  • Cut the apples into small chunks (or grate them if you wish) and add the chopped apples to the wet mixture.  Don’t beat the apples in, just mix them in with a mixing spoon.
  • In a separate mixing bowl, add the flour, ground almonds, cinnamon, and baking powder.  Mix gently with a spoon until everything is evenly distributed.  Fold this into the wet apple mixture by hand.  Slowly mix in the milk.
  • Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each cup until it is full.  Sprinkle sliced almonds on top.
  • To make the cinnamon sugar topping, mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon until combined and sprinkle over top the almonds and muffin mixture.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.

*****

This recipe was adapted from The Magic Square Foundation and the original can be viewed here.

The Fall Harvest Series – Sweet Apple Cinnamon Cupcakes and Chai Lattes on Main Street Unionville

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Hands cupped around a warm mug.  The smell of baked goods and comfort food wafting through the air, with the tastes enveloping your tastebuds in happy delight.  The sight of reds, oranges, yellows, and golds just bursting before your eyes.  The feeling of coolness and crispness in the air as you listen to the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet.  When I think of fall, I envision sights, smells, and tastes that tickle my inspiration; fall is a beautiful season that ignites the senses.  It makes me think of my first trip to the apple orchard as a kid, all the times I skipped through leaves at the park, the family trips I went on to see the changing colours, the pumpkins I carved with my aunt and uncle, and of course, the food!  I’ll never forget the amazing Thanksgiving feast my aunt put out when I was 10, the apple cider and warm drinks I had in the company of friends, and my memories of eating pumpkin pie for the first time.  In a nutshell, fall for me is comfort and nostalgia at its finest. 

One of my favourite neighbourhoods to enjoy the fall season in is Main Street Unionville in Markham, where I live.  Having lived in Markham for 13 years, I have memories of doing fun things here from every season and I will never grow tired of strolling through the old-town, Victorianesque streets, visiting the library, and ambling through the parks and pond.  When I think about taking photos of colourful leaves in the area, it gets me all excited because it’s just that beautiful.  I am so lucky to have such a scenic neighbourhood nearby to enjoy both the green (or rather red, orange, and yellow this time of year!) space and the yummies!  Photographing pretty trees, curling up with a hot drink, and having a sweet treat – now that’s the kind of fall day I love!

After going bananas during my first visit to Old Firehall Confectionery back in August, I was dying to see whether or not there were seasonal treats.  I know, I know, it’s a mecca of sugar and spice and everything nice so of course they would have seasonal desserts!  But I had to be sure.  So I went.  And internally squealed.  Fall desserts!  Pumpkin pie tarts, maple pecan tarts, maple cupcakes, and apple cinnamon cupcakes!  YES!  Where you find new flavours of cupcakes, you will find Deb.  That’s just how it works.  The devil on my shoulder wanted one of everything, but the angel on the other shoulder rolled her eyes and said no because dinner was coming in another two and a half hours.  I picked out one apple cinnamon cupcake ($2.89).  So the angel won.  This time.  The cupcake needed a friend though, so I paired it up with a nice warm drink from Timothy’s World Coffee down the street.  I plan these things out.  I’m nothing if not resourceful.

Even though I consider myself a wuss in the presence of a hot drink (I’m the one who sits there and gingerly pokes at the mug or cup to see if my fingertip gets hot before taking a tiny cautious sip), there’s nothing like the feeling of holding a warm drink in your hands with the sun shining at you through a window.  A drink that smells so good it makes you forget how afraid you are of hot liquids.  Enter the apple chai latte!  Timothy’s has two new fall drinks on their fall seasonal menu, including the apple chai latte and the chocolate pumpkin spice lattebene (I KNOW, holy schmoly.  You can bet I’ll be coming back for that one).  Back in August, I made it a mission to try as many fall-related drink out there once all the seasonal stuff hit, so there I was happily sprinkling ground cinnamon and nutmeg into my mug and taking careful sips (or maybe slurps) as I admired my apple cinnamon cupcake. 

Delicious drink with an even more delicious cupcake!  After all these years, I’ve never actually taken advantage of seasonal drinks much, so I was really happy that this one was so yummy.  The chai flavour came out crystal clear with a zing and it smelled divine with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you’re looking for a flavour comparision between apple cider and the apple chai latte, the chai latte is a lot less tart and the apple flavour is more blended and nuanced in it.  It’s wonderful.

And the cupcake!  The lemon cupcake I had during my first visit was yummy, but jeebus, the apple cinnamon one blew that experience out of the water.  This cupcake was SO creamy and moist and I almost shoved the whole thing in my mouth.  I like to savour my food and make my food last by taking small bites, but all resolve was lost on this sweet morsel of goodness.  The frosting was amazing.  It was thick (not thick as in paste-like, but thick as in not whippd cream-like), rich, and creamy with the perfect amount of cinnamon spice and apple flavour.  The cinnamon flavour wasn’t overkill and there were some apple crisp and nut crumbles on the frosting that give the cupcake a scrumptious bite of crunch. 

It’s a season that I relish in, not just for its natural beauty, but also for the happy nostalgia it brings.  Looking back makes me that much more excited to look forward to even more awesome things to come.

*****

Old Firehall Confectionery is located at 170 Main Street in the historic Main Street Unionville neighbourhood between Carlton Rd. and Hwy 7.  The dessert haven is located between Carlton Rd. and Fred Varley Drive.  Main Street is located just east of Kennedy Rd.  Timothy’s World Coffee is located just a few shops down the street from Old Firehall Confectionery.

The Fall Harvest Series – Apple Lemon Poppy Seed Teatime Muffins!

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Happy Friday everyone!  I am so excited to officially start the Fall Harvest series and I can’t wait to show you all the photos and posts I have planned for the next week or so.  I’m starting the series off with some homemade baked goods because I really think it epitomizes what fall comfort is all about: the warmth and love of homemade food, chilly mornings warmed up by some yummy baked goods, and lots of fall harvest fruits and colours.  Introducing my beloved apple lemon poppy seed teatime muffins! 😀  They’re so perfect for breakfast, an afternoon tea, or just for a midday snack to tide you over until dinner.  Stuffed with juicy chunks of apple, they show off one of fall’s best loved fruits.  As well, it just so happens that our Jewish friends are currently celebrating Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year) and apples are one of the several foodie symbols of sweetness and prosperity for the new year, so this recipe  nicely performs double duty!

I know I’ve been on a cookie baking kick for months (check out the Cookie Jar!), happily baking my way through Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen foodie murder mystery novels.  I thought it would be fitting to do muffins though and I’m so glad I did.  The muffins turned out even better than I expected because they’re so fragrant, so moist, and just bursting with flavour, and they taste even more amazing the day after they’re baked and even a few days after that!  The flavour just seems to intensify and they’re wonderfully yummy.  The lemon makes these muffins smell and taste divine, the apple gives the muffins its interior juiciness, and the poppy seeds give the muffins a great texture and appearance.  They come out with lovely golden brown tops and there’s a special ingredient in the recipe that I think really heightens the flavour and moistness: yogurt! 

I tweaked the recipe a bit to suit what I had on hand though so there are some differences between mine and the one in the recipe and book.  It actually includes a recipe for mint syrup to drizzle over top of the muffins, but I wasn’t feeling it so I didn’t make it.  You’ll see why I think mine are even better than the ones in the book based on the changes I made 😉  And the book in question is my beloved apple cookbook!  I bought this at the Blue Banana market in Kensington Market and I love it because it helps me, as a person with apple and fruit allergies, learn how to cook and do different things with apples other than biting into them raw.  Yay for baked apple goods!

Recipe for Apple Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins (yields 18 tea muffins if apples are cut into chunks, 12 if apples are finely chopped)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (*Deb’s note: I didn’t have any plain yogurt so I used a small container of vanilla and a small container of vanilla cinnamon, and just eyeballed it to make the total amount 1 cup or 250 ml.  Because I was using vanilla flavoured yogurt though, I only used half the amount of vanilla extract the recipe called for).
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (*Deb’s note: I didn’t have any Granny Smith apples, so I used two small Red Delicious apples instead).

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a 12-cup muffin or cupcake pan with paper liners (*Deb’s note: I had to line 18 spaces when I realized I had more batter because of the larger cuts of apple I had).
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, poppy seeds, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In a separate medium bowl, beat butter and sugar until smooth and creamy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.  Add lemon zest, yogurt, and vanilla extract, beating until well combined.
  • Stir in flour mixture, mixing until just combined.  Fold in apple.  Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each cup 3/4 full. 
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean (*Deb’s note: Mine baked for 20 minutes because my oven at home runs a little hot).
  • When muffins are ready, transfer to a wire rack and let stand 10 minutes before taking muffins out.  Let cool and enjoy!

*****

Recipe adapted and taken from Sarina Jackson’s Apples.  New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2010.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 46.