Secret revealed! My winter adventure at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite

So I’ve been keeping a secret……well kinda….. some of my people are cracking up right now as they read this. These people know that is has been next to impossible for me to keep a secret …. period. I’ve definitely gotten better as I get older. Moving on……..big news…….. drum roll…….Ben help me out here.
I am going on an adventure starting early November. I will be doing a pastry internship at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park this winter for 4 months. I am so honored and thrilled to have this opportunity. Especially honored to have been chosen to learn and work at this amazing historic hotel with an extremely talented crew, let alone work in Yosemite Valley. This is once in a lifetime stuff for sure. Here are some details to my immediate future as I know them now. I will be living in the mountains where it snows. I will be living in either a dorm room , cabin or heated tent cabin – size 11 x 12 with a roommate.  I will leave my Husband, Home and Lily to fend for themselves…..sniff.It’s only four months….they won’t even miss me…well Jim might…..not sure about Lily. I am so incredibly fortunate to have a husband that is so supportive and encouraging. He totally believes I can do this “live-in-the-snow” thing…..hahahaha. He is also a very good cook, so he and Lily will survive just fine. I do hope all my local peeps will invite him out, stop by and visit, drop off food- he’s a good cook but a busy working man, say hi to Lily too! I will miss the tamale party 😦 and what about the cookie party?? Who’s going to pick up my reins and carry on the tradition? SOMEONE has to!

I do hope all of you can come visit. If you’ve never been to Yosemite, what have you been doing all your life, get your *ss going!! If you’ve been…. you know. It’s hard to put into words, you must see, feel, walk, listen and enjoy it at least once in your life….seriously. I will blog this adventure as best I can, we’ll see how the wifi is in the valley. I’m still thinking this is happening to someone else….

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Brown Butter Pumpkin Cupcakes

Look at these lovely little morsels of YUM! I discovered this recipe last year in the magazine Fine Cooking, it was a fall issue and I love pumpkin, I mean really LOVE pumpkin, so I made it.

First try…. totally blew my mind they were so good.

Made it for a few gatherings last holiday season and all in attendance were equally blown away.

I’ve tweaked a few things here and there, so this is my version. I used less sugar and kefir to replace buttermilk, I think kefir gives them better tanginess. Click here for a printable recipe from the Fine Cooking website, since I don’t have that figured out yet for my site. Last year I made a layer cake, this year I did cupcakes and a layer cake. There are several steps that can be done ahead which I  seriously advise you do, this recipe takes some time but it’s oh so worth it.

First off let’s talk pumpkin…. most people go and get the canned stuff, this time of year it’s being shoved down our throats at every grocery store we enter. But so are fresh pumpkins, most will get carved up to look spooky then sit on our porches and rot. Don’t get me wrong spooky scary pumpkins are cool but why not get an extra one – bake it, peel it, puree it and enjoy the difference in using fresh pumpkin you baked, peeled and pureed……it really makes a difference in taste.

Now let’s talk about brown butter……. butter is awesome – we all know that – but brown butter is OMG…..rich, nutty and amazing! This is the kicker to this recipe.

K ready?, let’s do this!

recipe yields one 2 layer cake or 24 cupcakes

For the pumpkin purée

1 medium-large pumpkin, cut in half or in quarters, clean and remove seeds, reserve the seeds to roast up with some spices for a yummy snack. My pumpkin weighed about 6 pounds,  yield was  7 cups of puree, woo hoo!!

Make the pumpkin purée

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper. Put the pumpkin halves/quarters on the baking sheet cut side down and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, about 45-60 minutes. Let cool. Peel the pumpkin and purée the flesh in a food processor (or a bad a** blender like my new one) until very smooth. You’ll need 1-1/2 cups of the purée for this recipe. Refrigerate or portion and freeze any remaining purée for future use, like pies, soups, cookies…..so excited I love hoarding yummy food. 

For the cake or cupcakes

6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans

9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

3/4 tsp. table salt

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1-1/4 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cup fresh pumpkin puree or canned

1/3 cup kefir or buttermilk

Make the cake or cupcakes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

 Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).

Or line a muffin pan with cupcake papers or make your own with a 5″ square of parchment paper. Use a glass to help mold the paper into each section of the muffin pan.Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Watch this closely, butter will burn really fast. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and kefir or buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. You could do all this in a stand mixer on low speeds so to not over mix.

Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between 2 prepared round cake pans or a prepared muffin pan.

 Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes, cupcakes bake for 15-18 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

For the topping

1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter

2/3 cup pecans

1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas

2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 tsp. table salt

1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

Make the topping

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. The ginger is so good, do the leg work to find it and use it. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet. Don’t let this sit in your skillet for too long, it will never come out. Do ahead one day, keep in super airtight container.

For the frosting

4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

5 oz. (1-1/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar

Make the frosting

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.

 I used some of the solids at the bottom, they add that yummy flavor and cool little specs of browned butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a pastry bag or not, since the nuts go on top, no need to get too fancy with the frosting. This frosting is out of this world, it should be banned forever…..kidding. For the cake, sprinkle some of the nuts over the first layer so you get that crunch on the inside layer. If you like nuts double the topping recipe. 

Make these, share with family, friends, office peeps……you will be a star…..probably get a huge raise….  If you make this please comment and let me know your thoughts. I need to know that I’m not the only one freaking out about how good these are. K?