Pumpkin Cupcakes

Pumpkin season is in full swing. Yes, I know I’m a little late, but I finally made it. I made something with pumpkin in it, and it’s really, really good.

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I’ve been super busy lately, but I decided that I needed to give y’all something special because I turned 18 last week. And just like becoming an adult is special, these cupcakes are special. What other time of year is it socially acceptable to eat pumpkin cupcakes topped with a huge dollop of cream cheese frosting? Never. Now is the time.

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This recipe for pumpkin cupcakes is the best I’ve ever tasted–it’s moist, pumpkin-y and has the perfect amount of spice. There’s nothing as good as a well balanced cupcake, especially if you add tangy frosting to it.

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If you ever need an easy dessert for Thanksgiving–or any autumn party for that matter–give this a try and tell me how it turns out. Enjoy!

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Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup plain greek yogurt
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin purée

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in another large bowl, combine your oil and sugar. Beat with a hand mixer or the paddle attachment for 2 minutes.

Add in the eggs one at a time, letting each incorporate before adding the next. Add in your water, then scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the greek yogurt, then the pumpkin and let them incorporate.

Start adding in the dry ingredients ½ cup at a time until the batter comes together, pausing halfway to scrape down the sides.

Line a cupcake tray and fill each liner ¾ of the way full and bake for 20 minutes.

Let cool completely before frosting or serving.

Eat plain or frost with my favorite cream cheese frosting.

Apple Pie

I was at a local grocery store lately and I saw something I’ve never seen before: $1.88 per pound honey crisp apples. Needless to say, I bought way more than I could’ve eaten.

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Some sort of apple dessert was in order, so I decided to truly embrace the fall tradition and make an apple pie. It was the perfect Sunday night dessert after a long weekend of journalism and editing video for the school paper, and it tasted even better than I imagined it would.

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But back to apples: honey crisps are my favorite both to eat and to cook with. They have a really good balance of sweet and tart, and are perfect as hand fruit and in desserts. Their unique flavor also allows for food that really showcases apple; I’ve had apple pies and turnovers that are sugary or heavily spiced, but I kept it light with just brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, hoping to let that apple flavor shine through.

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The dough recipe I already use was also perfect for this, and made just about the right amount for my 9-inch tart pan. I even had a tiny bit extra, that I used to make a flower detail on the top, just to make things fancy. After all, it is almost November and soon all the apples will be out of season.

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If you’re ever in need of something easy and comforting, try out this pie recipe and tell me what you think of it. Enjoy!

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Ingredients

for the crust

  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup cold butter, cubed
  • ½ cup ice cold water

for the filling

  • 5 mid-size apples, peeled and diced
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons butter (for sautéeing)

Instructions

In a large bowl, whisk together your flour and salt.

Then, with your hands or a pastry blender, work the butter cubes into the flour, making sure not to let your body heat melt the butter. Do this until you reach a crumbly, sand-like texture.

Add in the cold water two tablespoons at a time, until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

In the meantime, prep your apples. In a large bowl, mix together your diced apples, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium-low heat, and let the butter melt in it before adding your apples.

Cook the apples for 5-8 minutes, or until they’re soft and fragrant.

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

Take your dough out of the fridge, and roll out into two large sheets, ¼” to ⅛” thick.

Lay one of the sheets at the bottom of a lightly greased pie or tart pan (I used a tart pan because I like how the finished product looks, but a pie pan is easier to use) and cut off the excess. If using a tart pan, be careful to get the crust into all the little nooks.

Fill the pie bottom with your sautéed apples, then lay the second piece of dough on top and use your fingers to meld the two dough sheets together. Then, vent your pie. I had excess dough, so I added a little flower design on top to make it that much more special.

Brush the crust with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon cream or milk) and bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the kitchen smells like baked apples.

Let the pie cool completely before serving

Note: if using a tart pan, make sure to use one with a removable bottom, so that the pie can be released from the pan and served.

 

Baked Maple Bacon Donuts

Maple and bacon seem like they were meant to be together sometimes, especially when you’re in need of an artery-clogging fall treat. This recipe is coming to you at the end of a long, long weekend, and it seemed wrong to throw something easy together when I had time to do something complicated. That was the plan, at least, until I somehow found other things to take up my time (yes, one of those things was a nap).

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So instead of doing something complicated, I made these donuts. There are lots of ingredients and steps, but there’s really nothing hard about a no-mixer cake donut batter, a maple glaze and cooking bacon in the oven.

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A huge advantage to cake donuts–other than saving lots of oil–is that because the finished product isn’t greasy like a fried donut is. That allows you to add greasy things to it; after all, donuts are supposed to be greasy. What better way to do that than with bacon?

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Maple infused donuts, maple glaze and maple brushed bacon not only make a perfect fall treat, but look like so much more work than they are. If you ever want to look impressive, try out this recipe.

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Ingredients

for the bacon

  • 3 slices thick cut bacon
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

for the donuts

  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

for the glaze

  • 1 ⅓ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon maple extract

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and place the bacon strips on it, making sure they aren’t touching each other. Brush each bacon strip with maple syrup, then bake for 20-30 minutes until the bacon is cooked and crispy. Then, lower the oven temperature to 350º F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, egg and maple syrup. The mixture might be slightly split, but it’s not that big of a deal.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, then pour in the wet and fold the mixture together. Be careful not to over mix, because it could make the donut kind of chewy.

Pour the batter into a piping bag with a round tip or a ziploc bag with a hole cut in one corner and pipe it into a greased donut pan; I have a pan that makes six donuts, and this recipe makes a dozen, so I just did two batches.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, let cool in the pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. The donuts should cool completely before you start coating them in glaze.

In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, maple syrup, maple extract and milk. Dip each donut into the glaze and set it on a cooling rack so the excess can drip off.

Before it sets, chop your bacon into small pieces and stick them to the glaze or poke them into the donut. I did both to add to the artsy-ness, but feel free to do what you want.

Let the glaze set before serving.

 

Sweet Potato Fries

I. Love. Fries.

I don’t know how else to describe it, other than I could eat french fries for hours upon hours until I got sick or someone stopped me. But to put a seasonal spin on it–and make it a little bit less indulgent–I made sweet potato fries!

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Not only did I actually fry these (I usually use the oven) but I used a method called twice frying, where you fry the potatoes once to cook them and then a second time to make them all crispy on the outside.

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I like thick cut fries, so it took me a while to do this, but if you like thinner fries this is also a super quick and delicious side or snack food for these fall days!

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Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 – 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • sea salt

Instructions

Cut your sweet potato into thin strips. Depending on what kind of fries you like, you might want to cut them thicker or thinner; I like mine thick so I cut them to about ¼ – ½ inch thick.

Pour the vegetable oil into a small pot and heat it up on medium high until you’re ready to fry. A good way to test if the oil is ready is to touch a chopstick to the bottom of the pot. If small bubbles start coming up, you can start frying.

Put in half your fries and cook them for around 5 minutes or until they’re cooked through, then repeat for the other half. Place your fries on a plate lined with a paper towel and let them sit for a few minutes.

Then put them all back in the oil and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until the fries are as crispy as you desire.

Place the fries in a bowl and toss them with some sea salt, then serve. I dipped mine in sriracha mayo, which is just some mayonnaise and a little sriracha mixed together; it’s an awesome combination.

Caramel Pear Tarts

Pears, a sweet, soft fruit, are often overlooked during fall in favor of more “typical” fall foods such as apples and pumpkins. I know I’ve definitely done that in the past, but this year I decided to use them to my advantage and make these super flavorful pear tarts that just scream fall.

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The base is my favorite pie crust recipe, but it easily doubles as a tart dough thanks to its flakiness and versatility. Plus, it goes really well with these fall-spiced pears.

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The house smelled so good while I was sautéeing the pears, too, because I added a whole host of fall spices and some brown sugar. Oh, and the best part? The finished product gets drizzled with my favorite salted caramel sauce to add some more fall flavor.

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Pear tarts look super classy but they’re one of the easiest desserts you can make. If you need to impress someone anytime soon, I highly recommend arranging some pears nicely onto one of these tarts and serving it with caramel.

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Ingredients

  • 1 ⅛ cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • ¼ cup ice cold water
  • 3 mid sized pears (any variety)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • extra butter for sautéeing
  • salted caramel sauce

Instructions

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Work the cold butter into the mixture with either two knives, a pastry blender or your hands; I usually do it by hand, just because it’s faster, but the other two methods lend themselves better to clean hands.

Then, add your water in bit by bit, until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in two, wrap each half in plastic and chill for at least half an hour.

While your dough is chilling, prepare the pears.

Peel and cut each pear into small wedges, 1 to 2 inches in length and ⅛ of an inch in width. They don’t have to be exactly the same size, because that means you can do a variety of designs later on.

Add the pear wedges to a bowl and toss them with the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and brown sugar.

Heat a pan greased with butter on medium low heat, and add your pears. They can be close together but they shouldn’t overlap, because you want them to cook evenly.

Sautée each round of pears for around a minute, then let them cool on parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Spray your tart pans with cooking spray. I use mini removable bottom tart pans, because it makes it way easier to get the tarts out.

Pull your chilled dough out of the fridge and roll it into 6 even circles ⅛ of an inch thick. Lay each circle into one of your pans, making sure the dough gets into all of the creases and cut off any excess.

Preheat your oven to 400º F.

Chill the dough in the pans for 10 more minutes, then use a fork to poke holes all around the dough. This will stop it from puffing up too much.

Bake the tarts for 15 minutes, and let cool for 30 minutes before filling.

Once the tarts are cool, arrange your pear slices inside them. I did leafy, flowery designs because it finally feels like fall, but this is the creative part, so go wild.

For a finishing touch, drizzle on some of my salted caramel sauce before serving.

 

Salted Caramel Sauce

One of the best ways to elevate a dessert is to add some salted caramel sauce, especially in the fall. I’ve shown you a recipe for a salted caramel cake, but this is just a recipe for the sauce, this time with more detail on how to make sure you don’t burn your sugar.

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Caramel sauce often seems complicated–before I’d made it, I thought so as well. But it’s actually really easy to make, and as long as you pay attention, everything should turn out absolutely fine.

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This is a perfect way to top cakes, fill cookies or even decorate tarts (coming soon)!

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Instructions

In a good stainless steel pot, heat up your sugar and water on medium-high heat. Cover the pot for around 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts bubbling (you should be able to hear it).

Take the lid off, and monitor the pot while you heat the heavy cream in the microwave; I did it for about a minute and a half to get it hot enough.

Once the sugar starts to amber, stir it gently to make sure it’s caramelizing evenly. Once all the sugar is an even, golden brown, pull it off heat.

Add in your hot cream and stand back just in case it bubbles up. I often have to add mine in two batches to make sure that I don’t make a mess.

Once the bubbling has gone down, stir in your butter and salt and let cool completely before doing anything with it. Note: fully cooled, it can be too thick to drizzle. In that case, heat it in the microwave for 10 seconds to get it more runny.

This can be kept for up to 3 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Butternut Squash Pasta

There is almost nothing as satisfying as a warm, creamy pasta dish on a cold, dark night in autumn. It’s still hovering in the 70-90 degree range here in Iowa, but I’m already starting to crave more fall-like flavors. Yesterday was the first day of fall, after all.

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Because I got fall on the mind–and on a list of recipes I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks–I decided to show you guys this awesome way to turn butternut squash into a thick pasta sauce. If you follow me on Instagram (@sugarandsitups) you saw the butternut squash soup I made a couple weeks ago. This is just a play on that, and it’s super easy!

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Squash aside, who’s going to say no to a heaping pile of pasta garnished with bacon? This is a perfect way to kick off fall, and regardless of whether it actually feels like fall outside, you can make it feel like fall in your kitchen. Happy Equinox, and enjoy!

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Ingredients

  • 5 strips bacon
  • 3 cups chopped butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 8 ounces chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon sage (I used fresh sage leaves)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box pasta

Instructions

Fry your bacon in a cast iron pan until fully cooked, then let drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Let them cool, then chop into little bacon bits.

In a large sautée pan, heat up the butter with the olive oil until it melts. Then, add in your garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant.

Add your chicken stock, milk herbs and butternut squash. Make sure the squash pieces are covered with the stock, then cover the pot and cook for around 10 minutes, until the squash is fork tender.

Let the mixture cool for 2-3 minutes off heat, then transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You may need a little bit of extra milk at this step, so just add it into the blender.

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, then drain and put back into the pot with the squash sauce. Add salt and pepper, then serve.

Almond Apple Crisp

Apples are the hallmark of fall. I always get irrationally excited when they’re in season, and daydream about sitting outside in a sweater with a honeycrisp apple in hand. It may be a little early for sweaters and honeycrisps, but apples are officially in season, so I’m going to kick it off with a super easy fall dessert: apple crisp!

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But this isn’t your ordinary apple crisp. While the dessert is tried and true, it can oftentimes get boring. So to add a little bit of a kick to my version, I added almond extract and sliced almonds on top. Apples and almonds and vanilla ice cream on top….mmm…

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There’s just something special about the crunch of the topping, the soft apples and the flavor of all the fall spices, especially for the first time in the season. If you’re like me and love fall, make this crisp. You won’t regret it.

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Ingredients

for the apple filling

  • 2 red apples, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter

for the oat topping

  • 1 cup whole oats
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons almonds, sliced or slivered

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

In a small bowl, mix the apples, brown sugar and cinnamon until each piece of apple is coated in sugar and cinnamon.

Heat the butter in a pan until it fully melts, then dump the apples in the pan and let them cook and caramelize until they are soft and fragrant. Take the pan off heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour and spices and give them a whisk. Then, add the brown sugar and the butter and mix again, until the mixture is wet and crumbly.

Finally, stir in the almond extract; you’re more than welcome to leave it out, but even if you love almonds, I wouldn’t recommend using any more than the ½ teaspoon. That stuff is strong.

Grease two or three ramekins–I say two or three because size varies–then fill halfway up with the apple mixture. Fill the remainder of the ramekin with the topping, then sprinkle with the sliced almonds.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 16-18 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

 

Salted Caramel Layer Cake

I know it’s still technically summer, but I had to throw another seasonal recipe out there. Caramel is a sticky autumn classic, usually in the form of a hard or chewy individually wrapped candy. But I have good news: caramel is just as good–if not better–merged with cake. Plus, it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth.

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I started out with three layers’ worth of vanilla cake batter, then folded in around 10 ounces of dulce de leche, which is basically a cooked sweetened condensed milk. It’s sweet and thick and delicious, and perfect folded into this vanilla cake. Something to remember, though, is that caramel makes things sticky, so you’ll want to line your baking pans with parchment paper.

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The next component is the caramel buttercream, which is just my classic American buttercream recipe plus some more dulce de leche whipped in. Something I learned while making this cake is that you really can’t have too much caramel, because it’s pretty much the best in the world.

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And lastly, my favorite part: the salted caramel sauce. I’d never made a caramel sauce before making this cake, and I was terrified I would somehow mess up. But even though there was lots of bubbling, it turned out perfectly. They say you’re not supposed to let a sugar syrup alone, so I stared intently at it for around 10 minutes. Safe to say that I have the image of bubbling sugar imprinted on the inside of my eyelids now. Seriously though, take the time to blink, at least for the first few minutes.

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At the last moment, I sprinkled some extra sea salt on the edges along with the caramel sauce, because I felt like there wasn’t enough salt to balance out the caramel. The intersection of sweet and saltiness is just perfect.

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This cake was a huge project for me. I planned it out about a month ago, and it took me two days to complete: one night I baked the cake layers and the next I frosted and decorated. I wouldn’t have made it during the week, but the occasion was my mother’s birthday, and that fell in the middle of the week.

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She loved the cake, but really, who couldn’t? Caramel ftw.

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Ingredients

for the cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the caramel buttercream

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 7 ounces (½ can) dulce de leche

for the salted caramel sauce

  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In yet another bowl, whisk together the milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract.

Alternate mixing the milk mixture and the flour mixture into the first bowl, in three or four installments, being sure not to overmix the batter. Then gently fold in the dulce de leche.

Divide the batter into three 8 or 9 inch pans lined with parchment paper and bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter for about 5 minutes until it’s light and fluffy. Then, add the powdered sugar in, ½ cup at a time, until it’s all incorporated. Add the salt and vanilla and beat until it’s grown in size and is your desired consistency.

In a small saucepan, add the water and the sugar and set on low heat. Let it simmer for around 10 minutes, or until you start to see an amber color.

Heat your cream for around 30 seconds in the microwave, and when the sugar mixture goes solidly amber, take it off heat and pour in the cream.

Stir the mixture for a few seconds before adding in the butter and sea salt, then stir until the butter is melted.

Pour the mixture into a glass or ceramic container. It can be stored up to a week at room temperature, which is great because you only need about ⅓ of it.

When your cakes are completely cool, start to assemble.

I made the cakes in 9 inch pans, so they weren’t tall enough to level. To fix that, I just stacked them strategically.

Flip one layer top down on a cake stand and spread a layer of buttercream on top. Repeat the process until all three layers are stacked, then apply the crumb coat, which is just a thin layer of buttercream used to lock in any crumbs. I like to think of it as a “scraping” of frosting.

Chill the cake in the fridge for 20-30 minutes before applying the rest of the buttercream.

Then, drizzle the caramel sauce around the edge of the cake–I also sprinkled some extra sea salt on top–and serve.

 

The Apple Orchard

This past weekend I went to the local apple orchard with my family to get apples, desserts and a little outdoor time.

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This time of year, there are tons of apple varieties in season. The orchard conveniently stocks apples up in a building so walking around isn’t necessary. We bought Galas, Heralds, Cortlands and a variety I’d never tried called Song of September. Naturally, I’m planning on finding ways to cook with these apples. I already have an apple crisp coming up soon, but I’ll definitely have more.

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At the orchard, they also have a handful of desserts to buy. We always get half a dozen apple cider donuts, most of which my brother eats. I always have a bite or so, but fried donuts don’t always sit well with me, so I’m planning on trying a baked version. And this time I got a warm, sugar-coated apple turnover. The flaky dough was packed with apple compote and I couldn’t resist eating it quickly and burning my tongue.

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But the absolute best part of the visit was this kitten I made friends with. I have two cats and, despite being allergic, love all cats more than most people. This little guy was hanging around the picnic tables and letting kids pet him, and occasionally attacking various bits of grass.

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I hope you guys are having a fun start to fall–though it’s not really fall yet–and enjoy the cute pictures of this photogenic cat.

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