Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

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It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

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RumChata Cupcakes!

It’s my friend Brittany’s birthday today, known mostly to you readers as the genius who came up with the RumChata Ice Cream challenge to which I valiantly arose during my graduation party.

That giant bottle of RumChata that I bought to make the ice cream has been hanging out in my refrigerator ever since, just waiting for the opportunity to become some other sort of alcoholic dessert. I’d say that a 30th birthday is a good enough occasion to break it out again, yes? Yes.

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Now, Brittany has a deep appreciation for all things cinnamon, including Fireball and RumChata. Don’t believe me?

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I wasn’t the only one who thought that it would make a good gift.

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Shots of RumChata are a something of a tradition with us.

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She’s also a bit of a cupcake connoisseur, so it seemed like the perfect idea to conjure up some RumChata Cupcakes to bring to the party.

There’s plenty of alcohol in the actual cakes themselves, plus extra brushed on top, and then mixed up into the buttercream frosting, too, as well as a great deal of cinnamon.

RumChata Cupcakes
adapted from Betty Crocker’s Starlight Yellow Cake and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups RumChata liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

RumChata Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tbsp. RumChata liqueur

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In large bowl, beat all cupcake ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds, and then at high speed for about 3 minutes, until smooth and custardy. I like to start with the sugar and butter first, then the eggs, then everything else, but whatever works best for you.

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Whatever you do, don’t trust the lid on the baking powder, no matter how well it seems to be attached.

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Divide the batter evenly into the 24 cupcake liners, being sure to only fill each between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

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Put your face really, really close to the pan and get in a really good sniff of that cinnamon-y goodness before you have to put it in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back when touched lightly in their centers. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

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While the cakes are cooling, it’s frosting time!

In a medium bowl, beat the powdered sugar and softened butter together on low-medium speed until well-incorporated, then add the vanilla and 1 tbsp. of the RumChata.

Then, gradually add in enough RumChata, by drops, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. I lost track of exactly how much I put in there, but I don’t think that I went more than 4 tbsp. You’ll know when you get there.

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Now, take your cooled cupcakes and poke some holes in the tops with a toothpick.

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Be sure to notice that your cats are up to something over in the corner, and have a balanced, logical discussion with them about how they shouldn’t try to eat cobwebs.

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Then, brush on a generous layer of RumChata and allow it to soak in a little bit.

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If you don’t let them dry a little bit, the tops of the cake will rip right off when you try to put the frosting on, so be patient if possible.

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I did end up having a tiny bit of RumChata left over after brushing all the cakes. You can guess what I did with that.

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If you said drink it straight from the measuring cup, you are correct.

Get a nice heaping scoop of frosting on a flat spatula and smear it on top of your cupcakes in a rustic fashion.

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Or, if you want to get fancy and pipe it on, go right ahead. However, this frosting recipe gives you just barely enough to get the tops done this way, so if you want something more elaborate, you should probably double the recipe.

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Then, with all your pretty little cakes in a row, sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top of each one.

Pretty!

Now, what do these taste like? Here we have a stop-motion reaction shot, courtesy of the birthday girl.

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When they’re baking, they smell like butter and cinnamon and rum and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, all of the good things in the world. They taste that way, too, let me assure you.

Later on in the night, Brittany told me that they were the best thing that she had ever put in her mouth, and then she reminded me again later on Facebook. I’m not sure if I would go that far, but yes, they are definitely something special. They might be worth buying another giant bottle of RumChata for.

Little Lebowskis – Dark Chocolate White Russian Cupcakes

I appear to have acquired for myself a reputation for making boozy desserts. I have absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened.

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My friend Samantha recently moved away from New Orleans to Chicago, and for her going-away party, I asked her if she’d like for me to bake anything. She said that she didn’t care what the baked good was, as long as it was filled with alcohol, preferably White Russian-flavored.

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I was prepared with a ridiculous amount of Kahlua, but, as usual, some research was in order. I was going to be bringing this dessert to a bar (appropriately enough, considering the contents), so it couldn’t be some sort of giant cake or frozen thing. Cupcakes seemed portable and appropriate. Clicking around brought me to the Collegiate Baker‘s Chocolate Kahlua Cake, a thing of beauty that absolutely begged to be modified into cupcakes.

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All of the elements were there: chocolate, Kahlua, and even more Kahlua.

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As for the cupcakes part, the only modification that I made was to divide the batter into liners in a cupcake pan (obviously), and baked them for a slightly longer period of time (about 33 minutes, as opposed to the 25 in the original recipe). I’m not sure if the longer time comes from a slightly taller cake or from the fact that my oven is a lying liar all the time, but things worked out nicely.

Just a note, you end up filling the cupcake liners slightly higher than you think you need to because these don’t rise very much at all. Just go a little bit higher than the standard 2/3rds, and you’ll be just fine. You’ll get 18 cupcakes, plus a tiny 1/2-sized 19th cupcake just for you to enjoy.

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This tiny half-cake ended up being super important to the process here. Dan and I split it when the cupcakes had cooled sufficiently, and we discovered that, although the chocolate and coffee liqueur flavor was pleasing (that’s too weak of a word…it was freaking dense and delicious), it was not what you’d call boozy really. It didn’t have that little bump of tang and flavor that I’ve come to associate with those types of desserts.

So, after the cakes were totally cooled, I went ahead and remedied that by poking a bunch of holes in the top of each cupcake…

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…and brushing them with straight Kahlua to soak in. Each one got a good, full brushful, plus some extra drops drizzled into those gorgeous cracks on top. I think I used slightly less than 1/2 cup for all 18 cakes.

Then, I let that soak in while I made the frosting.

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Southern Living’s White Russian Frosting, because you don’t mess with perfection.

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It’s ridiculous how good this stuff is. And a warning, you’ll end up with way too much for just cupcakes, unless you are some kind of champion cupcake decorator who knows how to pile that stuff up way high. I think that I probably only used about half of the recipe, and the other half is currently sitting in my refrigerator, calling to me softly every time I walk by.

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Now, I am intimidated by frosting cupcakes. But if you are a close reader, you are probably not surprised by this information. This time, however, I had the frosting mojo. I was on a roll, making perfect little spirals with perfect tiny curls on top.

Until.

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My frosting bag betrayed me. Split right up the side. And then at the tip while I attempted to salvage the existing frosting and rescue the tip. While I scrambled to rig up a Ziplock bag to save the entire operation and not lose the frosting mojo, Dan took some artistic shots.

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Dang. I’m still proud somehow.

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Back on track.

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I was even smiling, and you know that rarely happens in my kitchen.

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Then, for the finishing touch, everything got sprinkled with some bittersweet chocolate shavings. You could make some chocolate curls for yourself, or you could go with my cheating, hacky version and buy some super fancy hot chocolate from Williams-Sonoma and use that instead. It’s delicious sprinkled on top of ice cream, too.

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Hooray! I sent out the call on social media for friends to help me with the name for these, as I couldn’t think of anything that was remotely clever or didn’t sound exactly like every other cake on the Internet. There was so many funny and interesting suggestions, but what really stuck out was how many people mentioned The Big Lebowski and the Dude.

I kicked myself for not thinking of that first, and then used elements of a bunch of suggestions to come up with Little Lebowskis, after the urban achievers in the film. And proud we are of all of them. (Do it in your best Maude voice.)

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Sam became the keeper of the cupcakes once they appeared at the party, and her smile makes me think that I did a pretty good job.

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I know that the quality of these pictures is bad, but bars are dark and no one else in the world cares if you like to take pictures of your food.

Anyway, the first bite of these is super dark chocolate and sweet buttercream. Then, the Kahlua kicks in and warms everything up, and makes everyone make the same simultaneously surprised and satisfied face. I’m going to have to make them again to use up all that extra frosting.