Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to celebrate the people in my life, thus my obsession with birthdays. My awesome boss and friend, Kristi, is the cupcake queen – they’re her favorite. Since her birthday kicks off pumpkin spice latte season (I think you call it fall?), I thought these were a perfect fit.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
The pecans were a nice garnish, and you could totally add them (crushed) to the batter.

I used the Starbucks VIA packets instead of espresso powder (because that’s what I had), and the coffee flavor DEFINITELY came through. Feel free to back down for a more mild flavor. I also love a ton of spice in my pumpkin stuff, so again, use what suits your taste. These are a little on the dense side for cupcakes, but still had a really nice crumb, and were fairly easy to throw together. (Minus spraying powdered sugar all over my kitchen. Tips on how NOT to do that below.) The cupcake itself wasn’t overly sweet (the coffee helped) and my frosting wasn’t either. I prefer that, so I was really happy with how these turned out.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
Aren’t they pretty? Not professional grade, but salted caramel drizzle makes everything better.


The cupcake recipe is very lightly adapted from Annie’s Eats and the frosting is my own madwoman mishmash.

You’ll need


  • 2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 T espresso powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T vanilla


  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 c cream
  • 1/3 c salted caramel sauce + extra for drizzling (this is my favorite recipe)
  • 1/4 c softened butter

Get cooking


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with liners. (These are moist. Not the time to scrimp on liners.)
  2. Whisk dry ingredients (minus sugars) in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat pumpkin, sugars, vanilla and oil on medium speed, then add the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until it comes together. (Try not to overmix.)
  5. Use a standard scoop or measuring cup to fill liners 3/4 full and bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean, or with a few small crumbs.
  6. Cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.


  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
  2. Add all ingredients except powdered sugar – start whipping on medium speed.
  3. After 1-2 minutes, add the powdered sugar, slowly, continuing to whip. (Seriously, you will be like me and want to dump it all in at once. This is a bad idea. Powdered sugar is HARD to clean when it goes everywhere. Ahem. I’ve heard, anyway.)
  4. Chill 20-30 minutes.
  5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes, and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.

Makes 2 dozen

Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes: gluten-free, lactose-free

There are a few inalienable rights in my world: the right to chasing your own happy. The right to surround yourself with only those who help you chase that happy. And the right to cupcakes, always. I’m especially delighted my friends Merrill and Mike found each other to chase their happy together. But, the fact that they’re gluten and lactose-free sometimes interferes with the cupcakes part. Well, no more. Special people deserve special treats, and these cupcakes are treat to see and eat.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcake
Who knew gluten-free and lactose-free could look this good?

This cupcake has three layers – the crust, the cupcake and the top. Don’t let that scare you, it’s not super involved as desserts go. The layering makes it look WAY fancier relative to the amount of time/effort it actually takes to make. The cupcake layer is naturally gluten-free, and the secret ingredient is quinoa. For the dairy, I used a form of lactose-free milk that’s relatively new to the market called Fairlife. It tastes like normal milk, but is filtered to have more protein, more calcium, less sugar…and no lactose. Because … science.

For the crust, you could use half the amount written and still have a good layer – but everyone loved the thick crust. You could also omit altogether and double the cake recipe (you’d get more than 12 cupcakes, I think.) The topping helps, because the cupcakes will cave in – and obviously, you should fill them with something tasty. For true dairy-free cupcakes, you can sub the chocolate chips with a vegan variety.

Chocolate covered strawberry cupcakes
Yes, I ate this one as a taste test, and no, I’m not ashamed about it.

One more note – normally, you only fill cupcakes 2/3 – 3/4 full. And normally, I ignore this. In this case, I should not have – because the tops dome and collapse, they can be a little hard to get out of the pan (even with the liners.)

You’ll need:

Cupcake layer (from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe):

  • 1 c cooked and cooled quinoa (cook in water)
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 T butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t baking soda
  • Dash of salt
Crust layer:
  • 2 c chocolate sandwich cookies (Gluten free, if desired), crushed
  • 5 T butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 c chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c milk (Lactose free, if desired)
  • 12 strawberries
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

Get cooking:

Crust layer:

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.
  2. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners, spray with coking spray.
  3. Combine cookies and butter, press firmly into each cupcake liner.

Cupcake layer:

  1. Blend milk, eggs and vailla in food prosessr. Add quinoa and butter, blend until smooth.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add wet and mix until combined. Pour on top of crust layer.
  3. Bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick comes out of cupcakes clean (it will still be wet – this is ok, it just shouldn’t have brown batter on it.)
  4. Let cool completely and dust with powdered sugar.

Topping layer:

  1. Melt choclate chips in microwave, using 30-secnd blasts and stirring after each.
  2. Add milk and whisk vigourously until combined and gliossy.
  3. Pour/scrape mixture into small plastic sandwich bag, cut ff small corner.
  4. Hull strawberries, cut them into slices or leave whole (your call). Place in the middle of cooled cupcakes.
  5. Drizzle chocolate mix over cupcakes. Let it cool and harden compleelty.

Spice cake trifle

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve baked, or how much you’ve baked – everyone has their disasters. Some are recipe failures, some are cook failures, most are some combination of both. I was attempting to make a snickerdoodle bundt cake (I know, right?!) and I pulled it out of the oven – beautifully browned, clean toothpick – only to invert it and have it completely fall apart. Apparently the only part of the cake that was actually done was the part I stuck my toothpick in. But I had pitted 2 cups of dates for that bad boy (note to self: pitted dates are worth the extra cash) AND added some salted caramel sauce (or, you know, insult to injury.) I was not about to let my work go to waste. So, I spread the cake (about 1/4 of it done, the rest goo) onto a cookie sheet and baked it flat. And baked and baked and finally (about 40 minutes later) I had an incredibly moist but ugly sheet cake. Which I then crumbled up with salted caramel honey Greek yogurt and candied pecans. Turns out, this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was delicious, relatively light and just this side of absolutely addicting.

Spice cake trifle
Layer of cake, layer of creamy, layer of crunchy/sweet – dessert is done!

This is less about a recipe and more about a method. I’ll tell you what I did here, but honestly, you could take any cake (or muffin – breakfast trifle anyone?), any kind of filling (Greek yogurt was actually really good, pudding would be delightful) and some kind of fruit or nut (those pecans will change your life), layer it up in a clear bowl and shazam! You have dessert.

You’ll need:

  • 1 recipe of your favorite cake
  • 1-2 containers Greek yogurt (large), whipped topping or pudding (you can make instant for this, I’d use 2 boxes)
  • 1 pound of your favorite nuts, or 3-4 cups of your favorite fruit (I’d use fresh here)

Get cooking:

Layer 1/3 cake, cream and fruit/nut combo in a clear bowl. Repeat two more times. Serve with a long spoon (so people can get at all the layers.)

Combo ideas:


  • Your favorite muffin (cranberry, blueberry, apple, even chocolate)
  • Greek yogurt (fruit flavored or vanilla)
  • Fruit and/or granola

Chocolate lovers

  • Chocolate cake (seriously, it can be a box, or brownies even!)
  • Whipped topping mixed with chocolate pudding
  • Dark chocolate almonds


  • Spice cake
  • Salted caramel yogurt or cheesecake pudding
  • Cinnamon sugar pecans

Fruit frenzy

  • Angel food cake
  • Whipped topping and vanilla pudding (or yogurt)
  • Berry blend (Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)


Pumpkin Breakfast Bake

I’m a big brunch fan. It’s all the best parts of breakfast – eggs, bread, something sweet – except you also get sleeping in, boozy coffee and mimosas. Also, friends. Often, I’m cooking for a crowd the morning after a party and want something to feed everyone that doesn’t use every pan in the kitchen. This is it – you mix it up the night before (even before the party), let it sit and just pop it in the oven the next day. Which is a perfect amount of time to get a half an hour more sleep and still pour mimosas.

Pumpkin breakfast bake
Pumpkin breakfast bake, topped with candied pecans.

Pumpkin breakfast bake may be hearty and filling, but it’s also cheap and pretty healthy. It tastes like pumpkin pie, but with whole wheat bread, skim milk and little added fat or sugar, it’s a lot better for everyone. Which is good, because then we can feel less bad about last night’s pizza binge.

Pumpkin breakfast bake 2
Pumpkin breakfast bake – the perfect brunch for any table.

You’ll need:


  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1 loaf crusty multigrain bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 6 eggs
  • 2-3 cups milk
  • 2 t pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t cinnamon


  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 T honey
  • 1 t pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 T apple butter

Get cooking:

  1. Whisk eggs, milk, spices and pumpkin in a large bowl until smooth.
  2. Add bread and stir to coat.
  3. Place in greased 9 x 13 pan and cover. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. In the morning, uncover pan and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the middle is heated through.
  5. For the topping, just mix all four ingredients with an electric mixer until smooth.


Mini pumpkin pies with salted caramel cheesecake frosting

I adore pumpkin pie, and though we’ve been blessed with unseasonably warm Fall (thanks Mother Nature, but holy migraines), I’ve still managed to crave a slice. These? These are like, way cooler. Everything you love about a pumpkin pie, but better. Not the cloyingly sweet, overdone pie you might be used to, these guys are a great balance of sweet, spiced and savory. The frosting adds a great sweet/salt/tart balance, and the roasted pecan leaves everyone’s mouth happy.

So, so many great recipes were technically ‘ahead’ of these guys in the pack – but you guys, I just can’t help it. The sooner I tell you about these adorable little confections, the sooner you can make them. And eat them. And impress your spouse, neighbors or, in my case, vice president, with them. Because you will. You will have people clamoring for the recipe and praising you to high heaven and with two months before Thanksgiving, you’ll have so many chances to make them. I urge you to start now.

Mini pumpkin pie
Mini pumpkin pie – so cute and not too sweet!


You’ll need:

Mini pumpkin pies

  •         1 container refrigerated biscuits (could also use pie crust or crescent rolls)
  •         2 cans pumpkin
  •         2 cans evaporated milk
  •         4 eggs
  •         ½ cup sugar
  •         1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
  •         2 teaspoons cardamom
  •         1 teaspoon ginger
  •         1 teaspoon nutmeg
  •         ½ teaspoon cloves

Salted caramel cheesecake frosting

  •         2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
  •         1 recipe salted caramel sauce (this is my favorite)
  •         ¼ cup brown or powdered sugar
  •         1 teaspoon cinnamon
  •         ½ teaspoon cardamom
  •         1 teaspoon vanilla
  •         36 roasted pecans (3-4 ish handfuls)

Get cooking:

Mini pumpkin pies

  1. Grease a cupcake pan (really, really well) and preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Cut each biscuit into quarters, then flatten the quarters (either with your hands or a rolling pin) and place them in the bottom of the cupcake pan, pressing up the sides as much as you can. (Refrigerated biscuits will rise quite a bit, so the flatter you can get them, the better.)
  3. Mix together everything else until smooth.
  4. Using a ¼ cup measure, fill each well and bake for 20-25 minutes, until set. Cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then cool on counter and refrigerate.

Note: Unless you have more than one cupcake pan, you’ll do this three times. The last time, four wells will be without a crust. If that bothers you, you can open another can, but they’re good crustless, too.

Salted caramel cheesecake frosting

  1. Beat ingredients together with a mixer until smooth.
  2. Pipe or spread onto cool pies, and top each pie with a roasted pecan.

Note: This ‘frosting’ is incredibly thick. You could add powdered sugar or even softened butter if you want a thinner consistency, but I like it super thick and a little tart.


On the seventh day…we baked bread.

I have a variety of “culinary goals” for the new year, and one of them involved my favorite food group – bread. I. LOVE. BREAD. All of it. Without exception.

I bought a bread machine a couple of years ago and it does certain things really well – pizza dough, a good Italian loaf, and it’s great if I don’t have time to wait around. Just pop stuff in, hit go, and I come home to fresh bread.

But a lot of the bread recipes I was finding online didn’t take a bread machine into account – and I still wanted to try them. So I picked a Sunday and declared it “bread Sunday.” I knew I needed a partner in carbs (if nothing else, to send the leftovers home with) and my friend Danny said she’d never tried yeast before – in fact, she was a little scared of it. Perfect. Nothing like jumping in with both feet.

And she did – well, with both hands, anyway. Because I left my kitchen aid mixing bowl at a friend’s, so we had to knead by hand, which she took on with gumption and determination. She was the kneading queen! She also took all the photos, which are amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better…well sous chef isn’t the right term. Sous baker?

To line up the recipes, I waded through my Google reader and found … 15. Which is…insanity. For anyone. So I decided I had to cut by half. (Because seven – seven is TOTALLY manageable and not at all crazy. Nope. Sanity all up in here.) The assortment was picked for a balance of: ease, inexpensive ingredients, sheer deliciousness, and store cost (as in, I can make it FAR cheaper than I can buy it.) Seven breads (well, six and a scone) made the list.

“Bread” one – Blackberry scone

The fact that we got a picture of this before we ate it is a miracle.

Recipe link: http://savorysweetlife.com/2011/05/blackberry-honey-wheat-cream-scones/
Modifications: I didn’t have whole wheat flour, so I used half bread flour. Also, I used a whole bag of blackberries (I didn’t really measure so much as cut and dump.)
Results: HOLY DELICIOUS BATMAN! This was the last thing we mixed but the first out of the oven (no rise time) and we ate them with black cherry berry tea. Seriously, drop everything you are doing and make these RIGHT NOW, they will change your life. I am glad I “over-blackberried,” though the recipe isn’t kidding about handling the dough as fast as you can – the berries squish fast, even frozen. (And I would not use fresh for this – too messy). The dough was wet, almost too wet – but not quite, because they turned out moist and amazing. I almost didn’t make these because I thought scones were dry. Not so friends, not so. I feel like you could do an egg wash with a bit of raw sugar on the top to “fancy” them up, but they were a great balance of fresh tasting and not overly sweet – just enough to be good without being “dessert-like.” The whole wheat would be a nice addition to this (had I actually bought some) and I wonder about replacing the cream with skim milk (just to see how much of a taste difference there would be.) Basically, I want to know how to make these healthier so I can eat them EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, AMEN. Ahem. Did I mention they’re delicious?

Again, the fact the we didn't consume the entire plate in one sitting is nothing short of miraculous.

Bread two: Garlic Parmesan Pull-apart Bread

Even though I couldn't find a bundt pan, this blew our faces off. NOM.

Recipe from:
Modifications: Double the garlic (because, hi, have you met me?)
Result: This was actually the first recipe I saw from this blog (which I now LOVE) and I’ve been eagerly waiting to try it. I was not disappointed. It’s like monkey bread, but savory, and it was AMAZING dipped in our tomato soup. I misplaced my bundt pan, so we did these in a loaf pan instead. I think next time I would try to get the balls smaller, just so that they were more coated, but overall the flavor was out of this world. It was a recipe that took some time (rolling and dipping the balls), but was worth the end result.

Bread 3: Ciabatta

The amount of garlic used would ward off an entire coven of vampires. Even the sparkly ones.

Modifications: Added two bulbs roasted garlic and about a cup of caramelized onions
Results: This was the bread I was most looking forward to eating, because ciabatta is my favorite bread. (An important distinction, given my love for the species as a whole.)  And it’s always insanely expensive in the store, so I thought learning to make it at home would be fantastic. It required a starter, so I mixed that up the night before. (Danny’s reaction to the starter – “That looks disgusting.” She’s not wrong. It looks like you’re throwing some kind of bubbly beige swamp mass into your bread.) Overall it was…good. But not earth-shattering. I think I probably rushed the rising process (not letting it rise for the full length of time). I probably should have waited to mix in the add-ins until the second rise (I did it all in one fell swoop, in the beginning). Next time, I might double the yeast (my solution to all rising problems. Patience is not one of my virtues.) The flavor was there, but the texture did not come out all “bubbly” and airy like a good ciabatta.

Bread 4: Soft pretzels

The pretzels before they went into the oven. Danny has some mad crazy braiding skills.

Recipe from: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2010/02/chewy-soft-pretzels.html
Modifications: None
Result: It worked! No seriously, I did not think I could actually make a soft pretzel. I mean, who does that? But these were super easy to mix up, only took a half an hour to rise (with the right amount of yeast, even!) and the only time consuming part was twisting them. Which Danny did. Because she’s the artist. (Also see the beautifully braided challah bread below. Seriously, the woman has mad bread-shaping skills.) They did cook a little longer than seven minutes, but I think that’s because we thought they were supposed to brown in the oven. Note: they don’t. Pull them out at seven minutes and brush with the butter – that’s where the color comes from. They will look underdone. They are not, promise! Also note: These are best the day of – they go stale really fast.

So pretty when they're done! And so tasty too!

Bread 5: French bread

The bread was lonely, and I had to break up the party.

Recipe from: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2008/07/french-bread.html
Modifications: Double the yeast
Results: I actually made this bread for Christmas and stuffed it (recipe for that coming), and I doubled the yeast because I needed it to rise super fast like. Technical term. And it was so soft, fluffy, and delicious, I kept the idea for this! The dough does require a bit more hands-on work (kneading every 10 minutes for an hour) but overall, this is my favorite basic bread recipe of the bunch. It was moist, soft and just generally amazing bread. The kind that is perfect with a titch of butter and nothing else. I would almost try it with half whole wheat flour next time, just to see if I could healthy it up without sacrificing anything in texture.

That would be my "this is the first bread out of the oven, please let the rest of them look this pretty" face.

Bread 6: Challah

Just to cast aside doubt, it WAS as good as it looked. And again, Danny shows her artist skills through dough.

Recipe from: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/09/best-challah-egg-bread/
Modifications: None
Results: Mmmmmmm. This was the one Danny was most excited to try, and it did not disappoint. She did forgo the six-strand braiding method and just did three-strand for the second loaf, which was far easier and still looked stunning. We weren’t sure this was going to rise fully, but it did in the end, and got even bigger on the second rise and in the oven. I put it on the back burner, which gets heat off the oven, so the bottom of the dough actually cooked a little – oops! Danny just pulled that part off and kept going. This is the prettiest bread we made, and it was tasty too! Challah is a sweet bread using eggs and more sugar than normal, so it’s good in desserts and breakfast especially. I plan on using it to make french toast this weekend.

The FINALE: Sourdough
Recipe from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/basic-sourdough-bread-recipe/index.html

Modifications: I only made half the starter (because I didn’t need seven loaves of just sourdough, are you kidding?) and used it all.
Results: Mercy alive, it worked! This was another starter bread, which I made the night before, and therefore made me nervous. As it turns out, no need! The crust was SUPER thick (on purpose) and once it rose, I just kind of plopped it in ball form on the stone and just let it go. As it turns out, that’s all you need to do. Another expensive bread made easy. The only issue I had was the sour level – I could have used more, as I like a really sour sourdough. I don’t know if that means letting the starter sit longer or if I need more of something, so I’ll have to look into that. Overall, minus the starter fear and make ahead, this was definitely one of the easier breads to make.

Can you believe we were going to eat grilled cheese AND soup AND bread? Yeah. The best intentions....

Scorecard: All of these breads were great and I would make them again – in fact, I really want to try the ciabatta and sourdough again to see if I can get the starters right. The ballpark hit was obviously the scones, and of the ‘actual’ bread, I would say the pull-apart won. Time wise? We got started around 2 pm and had the last bread in the oven by 5:30 pm – I was shocked. Having two people helped a lot, as Danny would knead or braid while I mixed. But then, how many people actually make seven kinds of bread in one day?  I did freeze the loaves that I couldn’t eat right away (and sent Danny home with a bread store). This was a super smashing success in my book, and we’re already plotting which food group we’re tackling next.

This is me, before I realized how much Zumba I would need to burn off all the carbs.