Christmas tree cupcakes with chocolate and strawberries

Delightfully decadent, that’s how I would describe those cute little christmas tree cupcakes. There is a lot going on here: let’s start from the chocolate cupcakes. I added zucchini (yes, zucchini, the vegetable!!) to the mix so that the taste is more delicate and the texture nice and moist. I was really happy about this addition and nobody could guess the secret ingredient once baked. My family couldn’t believe they were eating zucchini cupcakes without even tasting zucchini ;-)

Chocolate and strawberries are a very well known match and they work very well in this recipe too. We really liked the freshness of the strawberries in contrast with the dark chocolate deep taste. Finally, the buttercream frosting was a perfect addition to the overall flavor: creamy and smooth texture with sweet, but not too sweet thanks to the lemon, taste.

This is all you need to prepare 32 mini tree cupcakes:

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xmas cupcake ingred

How to proceed:

– Start finely grating the zucchini. Place them in a colander and let the extra liquid drain for 5 minutes

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– Meanwhile place all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl: the flour, the cane sugar, the cocoa powder, the baking powder and the pinch of salt. Mix and set it apart.

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– In another medium bowl add all the wet ingredients: eggs, canola oil, yogurt and vanilla extract. Stir with a whisk or a fork. Slowly add the dry ingredients.

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– Add the zucchini to the mix. If you see that they are still a bit watery, squeeze them with your hands to remove the extra liquid before adding them. Mix.

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– Add the chocolate chips.

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– Prepare a mini cupcake pan with all the liners. Fill them to 3/4 and bake them in a preheated oven at 350 F. for 30 minutes. Let them cool down.

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– While the cupcakes are cooking you have time to prepare the frosting. It is very important that both the butter and the cream cheese are at room temperature if not even a bit warm. Place butter and cream cheese in a kitchen mixer and let it work at high speed for 5 minutes. You want to obtain a white shiny cream.

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– Add the lemon juice. It will help the frosting not to be over sweet.

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– Sift the powdered sugar and slowly add it to the creamy mix at low speed.

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– Add the green food coloring. I added a full gel stick. If you want a deeper green, add a bit more.

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– wash the strawberries and pat them dry or let them dry out very well otherwise the frosting will not stick to them nicely.

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– Using a pastry chef bag squeeze a teaspoon of frosting in the center of one cupcake and place one strawberry nicely on top.

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– Using the pastry chef bag you can start decorating the strawberry like a tree. I decided to go for tiny peaks, one next to the other.

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– Final touch: some sugar decorations all around and a nice yellow sugar star on top.

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posted on December 18, 2014

Gluten free Pumpkin bread with sugar crumble

I still had some homemade pumpkin puree’ in the freezer from one of my previous posts and I was very curious to try a new gluten free flour mix (Red Mill brand) that I bought at the grocery store…that’s how this recipe was born.

Considering that I used a gluten free flour mix I was quite impressed by the final result of the pumpkin bread: so moist, fluffy and delicate. Definitely a go!

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The real hero of the recipe is the sugar crumble: it really elevates the pumpkin bread to an upper level. We loved the delicate taste of the pumpkin bread together with the rich taste of the sugar crumble. Also, the crumble has a grainy texture that is a lovely match with the smooth fluffy texture of the pumpkin bread. The kids really enjoyed it and it was gone in three breakfasts ;-)

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The quantities I’m giving you will make a BIG loaf (as you can see from the images..) or you can prepare two standard size ones or you can even use the small holiday loaf paper molds and prepare 12 mini pumpkin breads. Just remember to adjust the baking time considering the size of the baking pan you are using: the bigger, the longer; the smaller, the shorter. To help you judging if the pumpkin bread is ready you can always insert a toothpick in the center of the bread and, if it comes out dry, it means that the bread is done!

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Can you substitute gluten free flour with regular one? YES! I prepared the pumpkin bread for a celiac friend of mine, but if you do not need the bread to be gluten free you can easily substitute the GF flour with all purpose one or, even better, whole wheat one.

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How to proceed:

– preheat the oven at 400 F

– in a medium bowl mix all the dry ingredients: the gluten free flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir and set it apart

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– in another bowl mix all the wet ingredients: the pumpkin puree, eggs, apple sauce, vanilla extract and sugar. Mix everything and add the dry ingredients. Mix again. If you would like to prepare your own homemade pumpkin puree, check the recipe here (Homemade Pumpkin puree). Same thing for the homemade applesauce, see the recipe here (Homemade Applesauce). You can always prepare them in advance and keep them in the freezer ready to be used when needed. The pumpkin bread will taste much much better ;-) If you do not have time for the homemade puree, no worries, a good brand of pumpkin puree and applesauce will be fine too!

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– Pour the smooth orange mix in a baking pan. I used a huge loaf pan, but you can reduce the size (see above).

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– Let’s prepare the sugar crumble. In a small bowl place the gluten free flour, the sugar and the melted butter. Stir everything with a fork up until all the ingredients will be nicely mixed. You will obtain a crumbly granulated mix.

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– Pour the crumble on top of the pumpkin bread mix and bake at 400F. for 60 minutes. Let it cool down few minutes and enjoy!!

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I think that the best way to store the pumpkin bread is in a big air tight container, that’ how it will keep the moist and prevent from drying. Considering that it’s winter I keep the pumpkin bread outside, not in the fridge.

Enjoy! ciao

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posted on December 15, 2014

Chocolate cookies Christmas tree

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is giving a nice basket of homemade cookies to neighbors and friends. It is a very kind way to show that you care, that you used your time (so precious nowadays!!) to prepare something special for them. In addition to that EVERYBODY loves cookies, you cannot be wrong ;-)

Baking cookies is not difficult at all and it can be a lot of fun most of all if you ask your kids to help you in the cookie cutter and decoration phase: you will create unusual and fun shapes!!

Today I used a family recipe for the cocoa cookies and a traditional Italian recipe for the sugar icing. I played a bit with the sizes of the Christmas trees. I started with the idea of having a big tall cookie Christmas tree and I ended up liking more the petite tree option: it’s cuter and it’s a one portion nice size. The big tall tree is perfect if you want to decorate the holiday table, but when it comes to eat it you will need to break it in pieces ;-(

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Here you are the quantities for 2 big trees and 2 small ones. If you want to prepare only small trees you will be able to make 8/9

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Let’s see together how to proceed:

First thing we need to prepare the cookie dough. Easy!

– in a medium bowl mix together all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder.

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– add the wet ingredients: the melted butter and the egg yolks

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– mix everything with a fork. When the ingredients will start combining themselves in a crumbly dough, you can keep mixing with your hands up until you will obtain a nice chocolate ball.

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– cover the dough with some parchment paper and place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to get cold and compact.

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– 30 minutes later remove the dough from the refrigerator and place a second foil of parchment paper on top of the dough. This is a trick not to use any flour to roll the dough and keep the cookies moist! With a rolling pin roll the dough in order to obtain a 1/4 inch thickness.

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– It’s time to play with the cookie cutters!!! I bought a set of 12 star shape cookie cutters and I used 6 sizes on the smaller side. If you like the idea of the mini trees you can use only 2 cookie cutters: a very small one for the top decoration and a medium star for the body of the tree.

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– place the cookies on a parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake them in a preheated oven at 400F. for 10 minutes. Do not over bake them…even 2 minutes more will make the difference. I’m talking from my experience…if you have a close look at the images you will see that I almost burned one batch of cookies ;-) that happens!!!

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– while the cookies are cooling down, you will have plenty of time to prepare the sugar icing. In a small sauce pan place the water (room temperature) and the sugar. Turn the heat on at low and start whisking.

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– when the sugar mix will start bubbling, keep whisking for 5 minutes. Thanks to the heat the sugar will react with the water forming a nice sugar syrup. Let the syrup cool down.

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– Place in a dry medium bowl the egg whites and a pinch of salt. Beat the egg whites untill stiff and dry with an electric beater.

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– Slowly add the sugar syrup, the vanilla and delicately mix with a whisk. Add the powdered sugar and mix.

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– you will obtain a nice, smooth, shiny and thick cream.

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– it’s time to have fun with the trees. Take the biggest star cookie that you have and place it on a flat surface. Using a pastry chef bag cover the cookie with a layer of sugar icing.

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– Place a second cookie, smaller, on top of the white icing, slightly not overlapped

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– keep going with the white icing and cookie layers in order to obtain a super cute white christmas tree!!

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– final decoration: a small cookie on top

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Let the sugar icing dry for at least half an hour before moving the tree or you might have a not fun sliding effect ;-0

What I really liked about the sugar icing was the very realistic soft snow effect and the shiny color! Also, the sweet taste is a nice match for the cocoa cookies!

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This recipe is part of an Italian Christmas delights collaboration with two foodie friends: Vincenzo from Vincenzo’s Plate and Bobby from FlavorCity. They prepared two delicious Italian desserts: gelato panettone and pumpkin spiced tiramisu’. Check their video recipes to get more inspirations for the Holidays!!

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posted on December 9, 2014

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