Tag Archives: classic desserts

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Icing

Y’all.  These cupcakes have me crazy.  They are PERFECTION and the best to enjoy with a Hallmark Christmas movie.  I know… I know.  Sappy, schmaltzy and totally predictable Hallmark movies are sweet and romantic and what most girls want during the Christmas season.  Back to these cupcakes.  I hadn’t made them in eons and thought I’d bake a quick batch to put up here on the blog.  I had forgotten how dense and rich they are… almost like pound cake.  And this icing… any thoughts of sticking to a diet are rapidly going through the window.  I had to get them out of the house and my reach so I took them over to our neighbors who have twin boys in middle school.  They’re all skinny… let them be tempted!  Anyway, these cupcakes are wonderfully flexible in that a variety of flavorings may be added to the batter and also the icing to suit your mood and craving.  If extracts are added to the icing add them sparingly as they can be awfully strong.  For instance, I added 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract to the whipped cream whereas if I were making a vanilla icing I would have added 1 tablespoon.  So almond, peppermint, coconut and rum extracts are capped at 1/2 teaspoon.  That said, feel free to use up to 2 tablespoons of liqueur to flavor the cream.  Coffee, raspberry, Irish cream and orange are, singularly, heavenly additions.  And with so many vibrant and richly colored sprinkles, crystals and decorations on the market, (Home Goods is a treasure trove!), a girl can go crazy.  The paper baking cups and liners are also a way to transform your goodies to a higher level.  I keep my baking cups and liners in a designer bag on the top shelf of my closet and when I take it down and spread all those lovely boxes on my bed it’s like an Italian fashion show.  Oh, the colors and prints!  The next time you’re in a discount designer store take a leisurely stroll down the baking aisle and prepare to be enchanted.  Until then enjoy these goodies with the one you love and a sweet Christmas flick.

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Peppermint Whipped Cream Icing


  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk, whole milk will do but it’s not as rich
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened but not melted
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° and set baking cups on a baking sheet or line muffin tin with paper liners.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium size bowl combine eggs, milk, vanilla extract and mix well.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix until completely combined.
  4. Add the butter to the flour mixture and, using a hand-held mixer set on low, mix until the pieces of butter are no larger than baby peas.
  5. Add the egg mixture and mix on low for 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue mixing on medium for 60 seconds.
  6. Fill each baking cup or paper liner 2/3 full.  I use an ice cream scoop that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick baking spray.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden on top and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Cool completely on a cooling rack prior to icing.

Whipped Cream Icing

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint, almond, rum or coconut extract or up to 2 tablespoons flavored liqueur
  1. In a medium size bowl add the confectioner’s sugar and place the beaters on top.  Place the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the cream to the chilled bowl and whip on medium for 30 seconds.
  3. Change speed to high and whip until soft peaks form.
  4. Add extract or liqueur and continue whipping until the peaks are almost stiff.
  5. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 6 hours.  Whisk for a few seconds prior to using.
  6. This is also great over fresh, macerated berries.



Chocolate Truffles

How do YOU say “thank you” to someone?  Or “happy birthday”?  Maybe you want a little special something to present your favorite hostess the next time you’re invited to her celebration.  I consider a bottle of wine a somewhat thoughtless gesture.  I mean really, all you’re doing is reaching into your wine stash and grabbing the bottle you were planning on drinking that night.  And that exquisitely slim, leather-bound volume of poems you love is a real shot in the dark and, I don’t know about you, but the only flowers I can afford are the grocery store variety and, quite frankly, if I don’t want them in my house I certainly wouldn’t take them over to yours!  But a gift of chocolate is always, always welcome.  These nubby little nuggets of flavor are soooo easy to make, easy on the wallet and easy to pop in your mouth.  I started making them to give away back in the ’70’s and they’ve been a hit every time I’ve shared them.  The beauty of Chocolate Truffles is they can be made with or without liquor.  And just about any kind of liquor is a magnificent addition.  I’ve used Bailey’s, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Amaretto, Chambord, Metaxa even dark rum.  It’s all good.  Except maybe Jaegermeister.  Although it may taste good…I’ve never tried it.  I just don’t think something that tastes like cough syrup would marry well with rich, dark chocolate.  The recipe doesn’t call for a  large quantity of chocolate so make certain you’re using the best quality you can find.  The truffles do need to be refrigerated and are best served after sitting out for 15 to 20 minutes.  Enjoy!


Chocolate Truffles

  • Servings: 20- 22 truffles
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons liquor, optional
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet or sweet dark chocolate
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • any of the following to roll the truffles in: unsweetened cocoa, confectioners sugar, toasted, finely chopped pecans, toffee bits, coconut, chocolate flakes, sugar sprinkles
  1. In a small, heavy pot boil the cream until it has reduced to 2 tablespoons.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the liquor, if using, and the chocolate.  Stir well until the chocolate has completely melted.  Return to low heat if necessary continuing to stir.
  3. Stir in the butter, mixing until completely smooth.
  4. Pour into a shallow container, cover and chill in the refrigerator 30-40 minutes or until firm.
  5. With a small melon baller, scoop out 1″ portions and shape into balls with your fingers.  You can also cut out 1″ portions with a small knife.  I like the balls roughly shaped as they look better than perfect spheres.
  6. Roll the balls in cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar or any ingredient you wish.
  7. Cover truffles and store in the refrigerator.
  8. Allow to sit out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.



Sour Cream Banana Cake with Cream Cheese and Pineapple Icing topped with Grilled Pineapple


How disheartening and defeating is it when your own mother laughs then lightly dismisses your secret, chosen, dream profession?  I knew in my eight year old heart-of-hearts that I was meant to be a nun.  I had a serious girl crush on my Saint Anthony catechism teacher, the young and beautiful, hip Sister Cathy, and I was going to be just like her.  Down to her cream colored habit, I  too would have a glossy, black rosary swinging back and forth  from my waist as I quickly made my way to…. oh, I don’t know…. vespers?  And I would look just like Audrey Hepburn in “The Nun’s Story”.  Yes, I was ready to give my life up to our Lord and look good doing it.  So when Mama laughed in the kitchen and pooh-poo’d my top-secret confession I was astounded and overwhelmed.  How could Mama discount my desire so lightly?  Mama… who, my entire life, maintained we could do and be anything we wanted with hard work, perseverance and a few phone calls to the right people.  Straight away she understood my sincere sadness, that she had hurt my feelings and knelt down in front of me.  Cupping my face in her hands, she smiled and sweetly suggested, “Cielo, I know you love Sister Cathy.  Why don’t you bake her a cake?”.  I recall thinking, “Okay.  I can do that!”.  I had never baked a cake in my life but I thought of it as a simple undertaking, much like pouring a bowl of cereal or making a sandwich…I mean, how hard can baking a cake be?  I took down Mama’s one cookbook, The Joy of Cooking,  flipped over to cakes and began perusing.  I wanted a cake that was rich and it HAD to be exotic.  After all, if it was to be for Sister Cathy it had to be exceptional and flawless.  And I had found it.  Banana Cake.  In retrospect I probably decided upon that particular cake because while we never had chocolate in any form, we always had bananas.  We also lacked butter but that was easily replaced by the oleo margarine Mama used and although I had not the time nor the patience to let it soften to room temperature I felt certain that if I just beat the margarine harder the cake would be just fine.  For some unknown reason we had flour in the pantry and it truly is a small wonder as Mama never baked nor fried.  I quickly discounted the baking powder and baking soda called for in the recipe not knowing their purpose.  Besides, we didn’t have any.  We had plenty of eggs, milk and sugar and, quite frankly, I felt that was all that was needed.  And it was perfectly fine that we didn’t have measuring cups or spoons because at such a young age I didn’t know those things existed and, anyway, what difference could they make?  I used tea spoons,  soup spoons and Mama’s formal, china tea cups for measurement.  For those of you who don’t know, Mama didn’t know how to cook or bake but she could dress an exquisite table.  No. Cooking and baking were overrated in her world.  There was always someone to do that for her and if not, well, you either ate the charred, black food she had prepared or you went to bed hungry.  It’s your choice.  Not knowing any better,  ingredients which were to be at room temperature were incorporated ice cold.  Flour and sugar were not leveled and I didn’t feel the need to mix the ingredients in the suggested order.  They were all going to end up in the same pan, right?  I remember cold, pale blobs of margarine suspended in the weighted batter.  The recipe clearly stated to be gentle with the batter and only stir in the ingredients until they were just incorporated.  But how would I get rid of all the lumps if I didn’t beat it?  Arms flailing, I beat that batter until I no longer had life in my arm and into the oven it went.  In one pan.  Because we didn’t have cake pans.  We had one pan.  So although it was meant to be divided into layers it was baked in.one.pan.  “It’ll be fine.”,  I thought.  Clearly I had tired of that chore and only wanted to get my beautiful creation over to Sister Cathy.  The cake finally finished baking and although it smelled wonderful it was so dad gum heavy I could barely pull it out of the oven.  It had browned nicely but with no leavener never rose.  Breaking off a tough crumb I tasted it.  The cake was flat tasting…and kind of salty.  It was a disaster.  And I didn’t care.  Looked good, though, so maybe the inside was okay?  I’ll never know but I’m pretty certain that cake was an inedible, culinary catastrophe.  I couldn’t wait for it to cool; I had to see my girl crush.  I danced with excitement.  I knew this cake would open her eyes to the perfect miracle of ME and she would favor me above every other classmate.  Mama called the rectory or the convent at Saint Anthony and was told Sister Cathy was at the parish school taking advantage of Saturday hours, alone, doing busy work in her classroom.  Mama drove me over; the church and school  only minutes from our house.  I sat with the leaden cake in my lap, the hot plate slowly burning through to my thighs as I looked out the window and felt my shyness take over.  What if Sister Cathy didn’t like it?  What if she didn’t like ME?  Oh, those “what ifs”.  They have plagued me all my life.  Being the weekend, the school was deserted, Mama and I walked through the courtyard and  I called for my heroine.  It was hot, and muggy out, the plate was so darned heavy and the heat radiating from the cake had turned my small hands red.  Looking up to the second floor of the lovely Spanish style building I could see into her classroom but no Sister Cathy. I called and called as I liked but to no avail.  I put the cake on the ground.  I picked up a rock.  And then this tomboy whipped it at her classroom window.  Well, that got her attention!  Her window popped open and out came her head looking for the hoodlum, the rabble rouser who was throwing rocks.  Her angry face melted into a sweet smile when she saw it was me… just a student, a little girl.  “Sister Cathy!  I have something for you!”.  She hurried downstairs and met me outside.  She was so kind and gracious with me.  She pulled me close, her eyes sparkling, as I explained I had baked this cake for her…and no one else.  Earnestly I urged her to keep it for herself, not to share it with ANYONE!  Can you imagine?  Advising a nun not to share? Ha!  She probably took my advice as I imagine the cake probably tasted beyond awful.  Sister Cathy probably didn’t share it because it was inedible!  It didn’t occur to me to ice it.  Or follow the recipe.   Bleah.  But she knew I adored her.  All the girls and boys did.  I believe she was only in her mid to late 20’s but she had such grace and love for us all, far beyond her actual age.  She made us want to be the best little Catholics we could be.  And today, 50 plus years later, I am eternally grateful.  Wherever you are, Sister Cathy, we were blessed to have you!


Like most baked goods containing bananas, this cake is best baked when the bananas are really ripe.  Certainly not rotten, but good and ripe; yellow with lots of little, dark speckles.  And, as with all cakes, the less you mix the batter, the lighter and more tender the final product.  The consistency of the icing depends on the moisture content of the pineapple.  I like a loose, somewhat runny icing so I pressed and pressed the juice out of the fruit through a sieve.  If you prefer a thicker, more dense icing then you would need to squeeze all the juice out through a clean, linen kitchen towel.  The excess juice may be frozen for future use.

Sour Cream Banana Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Icing




yield: two 8-inch layers

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 medium sized ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Grease two 8-inch cake pans and set aside.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes, don’t over beat.
  4. Add eggs and mix until just combined.
  5. Add sour cream, mashed bananas and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.
  6. In a separate bowl mix all the dry ingredients then add to banana mixture mixing only until all the ingredients are well combined.
  7. Divide batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until cakes pull away from the sides of the pans.
  8. Cool on rack 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and allow to cool completely on rack.
  9. Ice cakes.


  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces crushed pineapple, all the moisture having been squeezed out
  • 5-6 cups confectioner’s sugar
  1. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add vanilla and pineapple mixing until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add 5 cups of sugar and mix.  Add additional sugar if a thicker icing is desired.

Over the Top Holiday Pumpkin Pie with Rum Sweetened Whipped Cream…and better the next day!


I look at our glorious Christmas tree and it brings me such happiness.  Now not working, I had the luxury this past week of decorating the tree and the house leisurely and deliberately with enjoyment and all my corny carols.  In the previous years I’d come home from work at the very least tired, knowing I still had dinner to prepare and the inevitable put-the-lights-on-the-tree skirmish between father and son to deal with.  Every year I had hopes of having Christmas carols on, Christmas cocktails in hand, spontaneous teasings and laughter…the dog would have his Christmas collar on with its little bells ringing every time he took a step…it was a delightful aspiration just short of a Currier & Ives Christmas card.  I’d put so much pressure on myself, everything had to be perfect.  And that means perfect by MY standards, MY set of rules.  I turned into a beast.  I could feel it.  The bone weariness of work, shopping, cleaning, baking, cooking and decorating.  Fingers throbbed from polishing drawer upon drawer of silver.  I walked with the slow heaviness of a primordial tortoise, my feet screaming with pain at every step.  And no amount of stretching or twisting could touch that dull, tortuous ache in my lower back.  In the middle of it all I could easily turn around, my eyes falling on a shelf in the kitchen where I’d forgotten sat a row of silver platters, black with tarnish, waiting patiently for the day I’d spend polishing them.  And there was the year I opened my closet late on Christmas Eve to find all the boxes and bags of gifts I had forgotten to wrap.  Too many late nights, early mornings and long days and I morph into the “Sea Hag” from Popeye, snapping and scowling, muttering curses under my breath…it’s positively hideous.  And for what?  So I can say with pride that prepared the most savory vitello tonnato on the planet?  So I can hold my head up high knowing deep in my heart that my table is equal in grace and elegance…wait, no! Surpasses Queen Elizabeth’s at Sandringham?  Oh, please.  I discovered several years ago that not only is it not worth it and highly unattractive to behave in that manner, like a kitchen witch, but there is an easier way, a way that all in my household are happy and that peace and warm feelings are a constant.  A little planning, a stable of tried and true outstanding recipes and a realistic timetable.  Lists are invaluable; they will keep you on task and they will give you the sense of reassurance that you ARE in control.  At your office when you might normally pop over to Facebook to see what’s going on COMPOSE YOUR LISTS.  Believe me, everyone else is doing it.  When you look over at your co-workers and they’re hunched over their computers do you really think they’re working on the Henderson Report??  Oh, hell no!  They’re at their calendars figuring out how many days are needed for their 22-pound bird to defrost in the refrigerator.  How far in advance can the potatoes be mashed and maybe this is the year we use nice paper napkins instead of the family damask ones.  I’m tellin’ ya, make a list, stick with it and don’t freak out about the legions of people you’re expecting.  And you’ll see how lovely it feels when, task completed, you can check off said chore on your list you so wisely composed.  I no longer bake two or three different kinds of pies each Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I choose to prepare my pies with handmade crusts so, to make it easier for me, I serve only pumpkin pies.  Some years back I discovered that of the 15-20 friends and family members in my house none, NONE, really were interested in the apple pies.  And they’re kind of labor intensive as the apples have to be peeled and cored.  Pecan pies were barely touched and that was only after having scarfed down the star of my desserts…the smooth and sensual pumpkin pie.  My people are all over that like a duck on a June bug.  AND, for all my Southern peeps, this pie can be made with plain baked sweet potatoes in place of the pumpkin.  (But my Southern folk know this already.:)  I make my own pie crust, one which originally started as Craig Claiborne’s recipe but, many years later and hours tinkering with it, has evolved into my own version.  That said, I am also a true believer in the store-bought, rolled up crusts in a box, perfect for a last-minute baking session.  This pie is positively magnificent and, true to the saying, easy as pie.  Make it easy on yourself.  It is exceedingly better a day or two after baking, (that’s pretty great!), served chilled from the refrigerator with a fat dollop of sweetened whipped cream.  The subtle flavors of the pumpkin, rum and warm spices unfold to bring about a swirl of deep and complex tastes that give these spices their celebrated status.  This is the pie that will make your life easier AND have your guests swooning!

With the bits of leftover dough I fashioned a spray of stars and scattered some decorative shimmer sugar on the end of my comet. Too much time on my hands?
With the bits of leftover dough I fashioned a spray of stars and scattered some decorative shimmer sugar on the end of my comet. Too much time on my hands?

Again, this pie is much more delicious made a day or two in advance and well chilled.  I often use a tart pan rather than a pie pan for no other reason than it’s what I’m in the mood to bake.  The tart is served on top of the bottom of the tart pan with the collar or side having been removed so it’s a bit prettier.  If you’d rather not include the rum in the pie or whipped cream that’s fine.  It’s still a fabulous pie!

Over the Top Pumpkin Pie

yield: 1 10″ pie or tart

Pre-heat oven to 325°

  • 1 15-ounce can plain pumpkin puree
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 partially baked 10″ pie crust or tart shell
  1. In a small bowl mix cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger and allspice until well combined.  Set aside.
  2. Using a large bowl combine pumpkin, condensed milk and eggs.  Mix until combined.
  3. Add rum and vanilla to the pumpkin mixture, stir until barely combined then add spice mixture to pumpkin and stir all until combined.
  4. Place partially baked pie crust or tart shell on tin foil lined baking sheet.  Pour pumpkin mixture in crust or shell and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour.
  5. Check for doneness by ever so gently touching the middle of the pie.  It should be barely firm, not “jiggly” at all.
  6. If not quite done, bake another 10 minutes and again check for doneness using the pad of your finger.
  7. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 12 hours or overnight.

Rum Sweetened Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream, ice-cold
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Place mixing bowl in the freezer with beaters in the bowl to chill for several minutes.
  2. When the bowl is cold pour the cream in and beat at low to medium speed until the cream is slightly thickened.
  3. Add the confectioner’s sugar, rum and vanilla and beat on medium then high until soft to almost firm peaks form.
  4. Serve immediately with each individual slice of pie.