Boozy Baileys Cupcakes

I’ve never needed an excuse to make cupcakes.

If I get a craving for a cupcake, or brownie, or cookie, or any other delicious baked good for that matter, I don’t exactly deprive myself of the treat. Luckily my busy schedule doesn’t often provide the time to frequently whip up a batch on a whim to satisfy any craving like an obese Keebler Elf.

But this weekend was a particularly special birthday for a particular someone with a particular fondness for Baileys Irish Cream. Besides a gourmet dinner, which I’ll tell you about later, I decided to whip up some boozy Baileys Cupcakes as a birthday treat.

Oh! and it’s National Cupcake Week, and whoever invented NCW is definitely in my good books.

For the Cupcakes (yields 24, or 14 and a little birthday cake like I made)
Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup coffee
1/2 cup Baileys Irish Cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cups vegetable oil
1tsp vanilla

Frosting
Ingredients:
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tblsp cocoa
4 tblsp Baileys Irish Cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
(if this tastes a little sweet to you, add 1/2 cup sour cream. strange, but it worked!)

Ganache
Ingredients:
230g bittersweet/dark chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tsp butter, room temperature
2 tsp Baileys

Cupcakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C or Gas Mark 3 for you Brits)
2. Line your cupcake tin with pretty little liners, or whatever you have in cupboard.
3. In a large bowl, sift all dry ingredients and mix well. (flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt)
4. Add in your wet ingredients, and give your arms a good workout. Beat until completely combined. You should have quite a liquidy batter. (eggs, coffee, milk,  Baileys, vegetable oil, and vanilla)
5. Fill cupcake liners half way, as these tend to explode like little lava cakes.
6. Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 15-17 minutes.
7. Remove and let cool. Resist the delicious temptation!

Frosting:
1. Beat butter with mixer until light and fluffy. (or get toned arms in 5 minutes)
2. Slowly fold in powdered sugar and cocoa powder. (slowly being key if you’d prefer not to be engulfed by a sugar storm)
3. Once combined, add Baileys and vanilla and beat until the icing has thinned.
– if the frosting is too sweet for you, mix in 1/2 cup of sour cream

Ganache Filling:
1. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.
2. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the heavy cream to a simmer.
3. Pour the warmed cream into your bowl of chocolate, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Then whisk until smooth.
4. Once smooth, whisk in the room temperature butter and Baileys Irish Cream.
5. Cover and place in fridge until it takes on a creamy ganache texture. (at least 30 minutes)

Assembly:
Cut little cones in the middle of your of your cupcakes and set aside. Fill each hole with the ganache and replace your cupcake cones. Frost your cupcakes and get yourself a napkin to prepare yourself for battle as you reap the benefits of your cupcake war.

(I couldn’t find my piping bags from the move, and just cut a hole in the corner of a zip-loc baggy instead, hence the sloppy swirl on top. Still tasted great!)

For the birthday cake, I cut it in half, spread a layer of ganache, and replaced the top half. Then frosted the outside with the not too sweet frosting and added some candles.

These were some of the most moist cupcakes I’ve ever had, and the Baileys ganache seriously packs a punch if you’re heavy handed with the bottle!
Happy Cupcake Week and Happy Birthday darling!

Happy Birthday Nonna!

Today is my lovely Nonna’s Birthday.
(Nonna is Italian for grandmother)

I may be a bit biased, but she really is the best grandmother ever!
She may be tiny, but she will boss you around like she’s 7ft. tall and becomes increasingly violent and Hulk-strong if you try to pay at the till. She enjoys bouncing bouncy balls across posh hotel lobbies and often talks to her Smart car, Smarty. If a pigeon comes anywhere near her she literally squawks in fear to the amusement of surrounding passersby. She has more energy than a puppy and could out-walk you any day. She absolutely cannot hold still and will often abandon her bus ride if the red light takes too long and will instead walk to her destination. She loves outrageous Mac makeup and wears Chanel No. 5. She loves poppies and desperately wants a butterfly tattoo. In her lifetime, she has dyed her hair every color of the rainbow and even had it shaved with leopard spots once. She’s incredibly rebellious and feisty and never fails to make me laugh.

She’s a mother, a wife, and a best friend, but most importantly, she’s my Grandmother, my Nonna.

Here are a few of my favourite photos of my Nonna.

This is my Nonna and I on her birthday when I was younger. I believe we celebrated this one as her 28th birthday because she refuses to tell anyone her age as it’s “just a number.” Her passport, driving license, doctor records, dental records, library card, etc. all have a different age. 

My Nonna does not like England. Although she was born and raised here, after travelling the world she has decided she is American and Italian. This is her, happy as can be, on a trip to my Nonno’s hometown Treviso in the North of Italy. 

My Nonna loves dance music. After receiving her iPod shuffle for Christmas, she now dances down the street, in waiting rooms, and on the bus. She doesn’t seem to realise we can all hear her singing.

My Nonna loves riding bicycles, but finds they often quite easily take control. She somehow always ends up on the ground, wheels frantically spinning, laughing hysterically pinned underneath. We haven’t yet attempted the Barclays bikes due to the height issue, but when we do, i’m sure you’ll hear her screaming before you see the wheels in the air.

My Nonna and Nonno are truly soul mates that have completed each other for almost 50 years. I’m so glad you have Nonno to help celebrate your special day, and everyday for that matter!

She really deserves the best birthday filled with wonderful birthday wishes.
Even if you don’t usually leave comments, maybe you could make an exception and just write a quick comment wishing her a Happy Birthday. Make sure you say where in the world you’re from and go ahead and have a cupcake to celebrate with us!

NYC

This weekend, my mother and I decided to take a quick trip to NYC.
We drove up from Washington DC Saturday afternoon, and arrived in the city late that evening.

I haven’t been for years, and forgot the enormity of it all. Don’t get me wrong, London is massive, but this is a different kind of big. Every block is packed with vertical buildings reaching towards the sky. I have this feeling of insignificance in New York, of anonymity, that differs from that felt in London.

Anyways, we arrived at the Marriott Time Square to find a miniature city inside. Stationed in the centre of the hotel is a giant pillar surrounded by 4 tube-like elevators on each side. When the button is pressed, the elevator shoots towards the ceiling, like the tubes used for check deposits at drive through banks. It’s very futuristic-movie looking.

As we were checking in, we asked the darling concierge if the room had a good view. It somehow slipped out that it was my birthday and wheels were set in motion. A call was made to her manager for authorisation on our upgrade to the 40th floor. Whatever guilt left hanging over the birthday fib instantly disappeared as we arrived at our room. Out of the window, 40 storeys below, was Time Square.

The next morning began with Operation Bagel.
You can’t come to New York without having a bagel. We left the hotel early Sunday morning into an eerily silent city. Most stores don’t open until around 11am-noon on a Sunday, and it was a strangely peaceful walk to breakfast. Ess-a-bagel is a local favourite in East Midtown. We arrived to a line packed to the door, but as most people are returning customers with a favourite order, the line moved quickly. We were lucky to get a table and sat down to enjoy our bagels and cawfeyAfter breakfast, we walked over to the Museum of Modern Art. The city was slowly beginning to wake up, and the streets began to bustle. On the way to the museum, we discovered this most amazing waterfall. It was incredible to see that tucked between buildings, lies this pristine sanctuary.

I absolutely love MoMA. The exhibitions are very unique, and although the museum is huge, you can choose the floors that interest you most before lounging in the sculpture garden. 
The architecture in New York is fascinating. Isn’t this building amazing with tress built into platforms at the base? 
My beloved Milk Bar.
After the museum, we walked several blocks to Momofuku Milk Bar. I’ve been waiting desperately to try this place since it opened and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. The Birthday Truffles are little balls of magic in the form of a dense, moist, birthday cake bite. If you follow me on instagram @alessandra_ldn you’ll have seen an up close and personal shot of this magical bite. Crack Pie is just that. A chewy, buttery centre with a candy bar-like crust that is completely addictive. I am a sucker for a good chocolate chip cookie, but the Compost Cookie takes this love to an entirely different level. A mad scientist combination of potato chips, pretzels, coffee, oats, chocolate, and butterscotch all mixed to form the perfect cookie with a decadent, chewy texture. Most amazing of them all, the Cereal Milk Soft Serve. This ice cream tastes exactly like the milk left over in your cereal bowl after crunch through a mountain of Frosted Flakes. It’s the most bizarre thing to taste notes of cornflake, sugar, salt, and milk all in one bite of ice cream, sparking memories of your childhood breakfast.
If you’re ever in New York, promise me you’ll hunt down one of the Momofuku Milk Bars and indulge in these amazing treats. If you check out their menu, they have an extensive list of goodies that I would happily sit and sample all day long. They sell a Frankenpie made up of their different pie slices pieced together – isn’t that cool? We also sampled the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, equally fascinating and delicious. Before leaving, we loaded up on goodies to take back with us. 

We then wandered around the city, as I attempted to capture it all through my lens. It was really difficult narrowing down the pictures from the 300+ that I took, but I thought any more than this may be a little overkill. There was the most magnificent church in the middle of all these modern, glass skyscrapers. And how beautiful is that Sephora store front?Over on Fifth in the Flatiron District is Eataly New York. As we pushed through the doors into the market, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Rows of Italian treats, glass cases filled with fresh pasta, wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, a long line at the Gelateria counter, and a cart of fresh vegetables instantly greeted us as we entered the building.  We took a seat at the counter and ordered what I can only describe as the perfect snack. A plank of meats and cheese served with fresh bread and three beautiful spreads.
Here’s what we had:
Salumi: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto San Daniele, Mortadella Prosciutto Cotto, Speck, Salami
Formaggi: Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Marzolino, Taleggio, Gorgonzola
Spreads: Fig Mostrada with white wine, mustard seeds, chili flakes, and dried figs
Apricot Mostrada with white wine, chili flakes, and dried apricot
Almond Honey with amaretto and chopped almondAfter our beautiful, Italian snack, we headed to our next Museum. On the way, we stumbled upon this strange hotel. Isn’t that exterior interesting?

The Museum of Sex. Three levels of fun facts, pictures, statues, artefacts, graffiti, art, toys, and videos all about sex. At points it was interesting, comical, educational, but not once did I find it erotic. I’d suggest taking a look if you have time, but it’s a tad overpriced. 

We went back to the hotel to relax, shower, and get ready for the “birthday” dinner. My mother decided to go along with this little fib, as it proved to be quite rewarding throughout the trip. It was all a very pre-birthday celebration.
Dinner was at Colicchio & Sons, one of the Craft Restaurants founded by Tom Colicchio. As it was my “birthday,” we decided to do their tasting menu. The hours that followed were filled with incredible, innovative dishes and I can honestly say there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t enjoy. Before the bread even arrived, we had already had three pre-starters. That’s definitely my kind of tasting menu.

Are you ready for some food porn?

White Asaragus Gazpacho with Lavender Oil and Pickled Japanese Root Liverwurst Puff Pastry 

Zucchini Salad with Arugula Sorbet and Tomato Salad with a Purple Peruvian Potato Chip   

Fresh, hot rolls with sea salt and butter
This was utterly irresponsible. I’m three pre-starters deep and i’m served half a dozen warm, luscious rolls? What a terrible, delicious idea…
Potato Bavarois, Hackleback Caviar, and Vodka Cream with Homemade Potato ChipsWhite Asparagus Salad with Wild Greens and Ramp Vinaigrette Black Bass, Byaldi, Heirloom Grains, and Red Wine JusShaved Fois Grad with Rhubarb Sauce Crispy Orange

Sweetbreads, Baby Bok Choy, and Fresno Chili

30 Day Dry-aged Sirloin, Fiddlehead Ferns, Trumpet Royale, and Asparagus

Do you need a breather? Here comes dessert…

Chilled Tangerine Soup, Candied Fennel, and Sweet Milk Sorbet

Happy Not-Birthday to me!
Birthday Red Velvet cupcake
Little Shortbreads and a White Chocolate and Cherry Truffle
Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta, Rhubarb & Ginger Napoleon, and Pistachio Ice Cream

I was given a Birthday card and a complimentary Coffee Cake to take home for breakfast.

In the morning, we took a taxi down to Brooklyn for…pause for dramatic affect… the best pancakes ever.
Clinton St. Baking Company have been voted Best Breakfast, Best Brunch, and most importantly, Best Pancakes. When we arrived, there was about a 2 and a half hour wait. As we had to make our time slot at Ground Zero, we decided to take our pancakes to go.

We were dropped off a couple blocks away from the site, and walked over to the Hudson river. We sat on a bench, with The Statue of Liberty to our left, the Hudson in front of us, and a stack each of warm pancakes. As if the pancakes weren’t decadent enough, a serving of sweet buttery syrup accompanies the fluffy stack. Like I said, best pancakes ever.

To visit Ground Zero, you must make a reservation. Entry is free, but for security reasons you must fill out your information online in advance, and pick the tickets up at an office nearby. With our tickets in hand, we joined the long, but fast moving queue outside the gates. The line snakes through fences and through a room identical to that of airport security, trays and x-ray machines included. After leaving the security room, and having our tickets checked for the fifth time, we were let into Ground Zero.

Trees and new grass surround the massive pools. It’s incredibly sad but moving to see the names etched into the railing that guards the magnificent waterfalls. Behind the pools, the Freedom Tower stands with the American Flag draped along its base. The day we were there happened to be the last day of the Empire State building being the tallest in New York as the Freedom Tower had officially passed it.

We headed to the world’s largest department store, Macy’s, to check out the sale. Then went to The Setai Fifth Avenue to meet up with Erica.  

As an only child, I have designated brothers and sisters throughout my life, and Erica is one of them. She showed us around the hotel, then took us up to the residential part of the building. The apartment she showed us is on the market for $16m and has the most incredible view of New York City, including the Empire State building right outside the window.

Overall, we had the perfect 2-day trip to New York City.
Thanks for the not-birthday celebration NYC xx

Chino Latino

Yesterday was the lovely Michelle’s birthday. To celebrate we went to Chino Latino, a Modern Pan-Asian Restaurant and Bar with Nobu-trained chefs. The London location is located on the Thames inside the Park Plaza hotel on Albert Embankment.
The staff was very accommodating and the food was incredible. The presentation and vibrant colours of each dish blew me away.

Here’s what we had:
Sesame Prawn Spring Rolls with Chilli Sauce
Edamame with Rock Salt
Grilled Scallops with Yuzu Aioli and Wasabi Peas
Grilled Tiger Prawns with Fresh Wasabi and Lime
Thin Slices of Yellowtail with Coriander, Chilli, and Yuzu Soy
Spicy Tuna Roll & Tanuki Roll of Tuna, Salmon, Sea Bass, and Avocado
Sirloin Steak on Hot Rocks with Soya, Mirin, and Garlic

Dessert:
Chef’s Platter – Dark Chocolate Fondant, Vanilla Ice Cream, Pistachio Creme Brûlée, Selection of Ice Creams & Sorbets, and an Exotic Fruit Platter

Happy Birthday Michelle xx

Kensington Place

Yesterday was my Nonno’s birthday. My very Italian grandfather doesn’t often stray far from his own kitchen anymore. “Why would I pay for someone to cook for me when I could cook the same thing, but better?” he exclaims while making a particularly Italian hand gesture. Seeing as they’ve been to and tried most of the restaurants worth trying in London, only a few have been allowed to remain an option when said straying from the kitchen occurs.

Kensington Place in Notting Hill has been a birthday tradition for many years. I remember going countless times when I was visiting London as a child for birthdays or celebrations. As the owner is a family friend, the staff always ensure we have an excellent dining experience, and this birthday was no different.

The staff were warm and welcoming, and we were seated in the middle of the dining room with the restaurant’s beautiful mural in sight. Kensington Place is always buzzing and I would definitely recommend making reservations in advance. The food was exquisite as always, and service was impeccable.

After our meal, I gave Nonno my gift. I found I had exhausted all the golf and cooking related gifts and had to come up with something more inventive. I popped into Lina Delicatessen the day before with an Italian gift basket in mind. The staff were incredibly helpful, and after mentioning my Italian roots, went above and beyond to help with ideas for my gift basket. Before leaving, the owner insisted I took some baci (little Italian chocolates filled with hazelnuts) on the house. Lina Delicatessen is located in Soho and I think you should go check it out.

Pan Seared Scallops with Broad Beans, Pomelo, Mint, and Chardonnay Vinegar

Carpaccio of Mackerel Daikon, Lime, and Watermelon

Ballotine of Loch Duart Salmon with Oyster Vinaigrette and Pickled Vanilla Cucumber

Pea Soup with a Crouton and Chives

Jerusalem Artichoke Risotto with Spring Onions and Pecorino

Roasted Pollock with Ricotta Gnocchi, Homemade Raisins, Cauliflower, and Parsley

Fish & Chips

Vanilla Bavarois Poached Pear, with Honeycomb and Amaretto

Poached Strawberries with Strawberry Parfait, Vanilla Mousse, and Caramelised Pastry

Happy Birthday Nonno xx