Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes

For the first few years I had this blog, I resisted writing cupcake recipes. It wasn’t for any particularly good reason—just that I think making layer cakes is easier. Also, I really hate washing cupcake pans.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes​

But then the pandemic came, and suddenly nobody needed a layer cake recipe (unless it was tiny), so I got over myself and started making cupcakes. And you know what? I love it. Cupcakes are so much fun to bake (and eat), and they’re pretty dang convenient in situations where you don’t have a knife on hand, which is (ideally) most situations.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes​

Today’s cupcake recipe isn’t new—it’s been on here plenty of times. Usually it’s all jazzed up with creatively administered food coloring or surprises hidden inside, both of which are fine and good…but sometimes you just need some no-frills vanilla cupcakes. Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes to be exact.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes​

I mean, what’s better than vanilla cupcakes? Made with sour cream, the cakes themselves are soft and buttery, and just dense enough not to disintegrate when their papers are pulled away. The frosting has sour cream in it too, which gives just the slightest tangy finish. It’s super rich and delicious—perfect for spreading into thick blankets over the cupcakes. Oh, and the double dose of vanilla flavor? Out of this world.

The sprinkles? Well, they’re technically optional. We’re going for a plain vanilla cupcake recipe, after all. But as with nearly all “plain vanilla” things around here, there’s no reason simple has to mean boring.

Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes
makes 14-16 cupcakes

1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Frosting & Garnish:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons full-fat sour cream (or heavy cream)
sprinkles, for garnish (optional)

Make the cupcakes. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Combine milk and sour cream a liquid measuring cup, then use a fork to whisk them together. Set aside.

In a small-medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, combining completely after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Mix in half the dry ingredients, followed by half the milk/sour cream. Add the remaining dry ingredients followed by the remaining milk/sour cream.

Fill liners 2/3-3/4 full. Tap full pan on the counter five times before baking for 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Make the frosting. If you are piping, you may need to double the recipe. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter until light and fluffy. Add confectioner’s sugar and salt in two installments, combining completely after each addition. Beat in vanilla & sour cream until combined.

Frost and decorate cupcakes. Use an offset icing spatula (or piping bag) to frost filled cupcakes. Scatter sprinkles over the tops, if using. Serve.

Cupcakes will keep covered at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to five.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}

Gone are the days of cinnamon rolls being a prep-ahead/only for a holiday/enough to feed a crowd/“what am I going to to with all these leftovers?” treat. Or they are in my house anyway, now that I can make just two cinnamon rolls at the drop of a hat.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}​

To that end, if I can whip up two muffin-sized cinnamon rolls in forty minutes, what’s stopping me from taking over the world?! Well, aside from a general distaste for telling people what to do, lack of ambition to do so, and keeping up with Oscar season…not a whole lot. It’s a feeling of power that is unmatched.

Truly, the fact that I can slap together a dough from the most basic kitchen ingredients in tiny amounts, roll it up with sweet cinnamon filling and have two fully-formed rolls to show for it in less than an hour is…well, it should be a special skill on my résumé. And maybe soon, yours.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}​

Now, with a forty minute turn-around time, you’ve probably guessed that these breakfast buns don’t have yeast in them, but that doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing flavor or texture. Ohhh no, we will not be doing that. This dough is leavened with a combination of baking powder and baking soda, and made tender and flavorful thanks to a little DIY buttermilk and a pat of butter. Oh, and it’s egg-free, which seems like a perk at the moment.

Everything is mixed up in just a couple of minutes before getting rolled out, filled with a paste of cinnamon-sugar and butter, sliced lengthwise, and rolled back up into two portions. Since these cinnamon rolls don’t have a rise time or other rolls in the pan to help them maintain their shape, I like to bake them in a buttered muffin tin. This works for shaping and aesthetics, and frankly, muffin-shaped foods are just cuter than other foods. Period, end of story.

Add the cut rolls to the muffin tin cut-side-up for the best swirl, and give them a gentle smush to adhere to the bottom—this will encourage them to rise up instead of trying to tip over. I always have one that is a little wonky, but a tilted cinnamon roll is still a cinnamon roll.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}​

These buns bake up in about 16 minutes, which is just enough time to wash the dishes and the counter top and stir together a cream cheese icing. It takes me all weekend to convince myself to pick up a pile of clothes off my floor, but when there are cinnamon rolls at stake, it’s all “executive dysfunction who?” As with all cinnamon rolls, you may eat these at whatever temperature you like, but I think they’re always best warm with two layers of icing—one to melt into the swirl, one to sit on top. Rarely have my weekend mornings known such luxury.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}​

This recipe makes enough to share if you’d like, but I personally like to have one roll now and another later. Somewhere in between, I might figure out what’s stopping me from taking over the world. It’s probably all the time I spend thinking about, making, and eating cinnamon rolls. That’s fine by me.

Just Two Cinnamon Rolls {No Yeast!}​
Just Two Cinnamon Rolls
makes just 2 cinnamon rolls

Dough:
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons milk of choice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into cubes
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Filling:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
small pinch of Kosher or sea salt

Icing:
2 ounces (1/4 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon milk of choice
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional, but recommended)

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 2 cups in a standard muffin tin well with butter. Fill the remaining unused cups halfway with water to keep the pan from warping.

Make the dough. Combine vinegar, milk and butter a small microwave-safe bowl or liquid measuring cup. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until butter has melted. Stir and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, use a fork to whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add milk mixture and stir until a dough forms. Let rest 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small bowl, use a fork to mix together melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Turn dough onto the surface and roll into an 8x4-inch rectangle. Use the back of a spoon to spread filling over the top.

Use a bench scraper or large, sharp chef’s knife to slice rectangle in half lengthwise so that you have 2 8x2-inch rectangles. Starting at a narrow end, roll each up tightly into a cinnamon roll shape.

Place both rolls cut-sides-up in the prepared muffin cups. Press down on the tops to help the bottoms adhere to the pans. Don’t worry if they look a little smushed, as they will rise up while baking. Bake rolls 15-16 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, make the icing. In a small mixing bowl, use a spoon to help loosen up cream cheese. Mix in confectioner’s sugar, followed by milk and vanilla.

Once baked, let rolls cool in the pan for a couple of minutes before removing to a plate. Top each with 1/4 of the frosting. Let sit for 3-5 minutes so that the icing melts into the spiral. Top with remaining frosting as desired.

Serve rolls warm or at room temperature. Leftovers will keep covered for a day or so.

Lasagna a la Betsy

Lasagna a la Betsy​

Listen, I know that the internet is full of lasagna recipes. There’s everything from the jarred sauce and pre-shredded cheese kind to some that take three days and are lovingly layered with from-scratch bolognese, béchamel, and pasta made by hand. If you’re looking for a lasagna to suit your tastes, there’s a decent chance it’s out there…unless, of course, you were hoping to find mine.

I have been making lasagnas for people for years. Truthfully, if you ask nicely and pay for my ingredients, transportation, labor and time, I’ll come right to your house, tie on an apron, and fill your freezer with tightly-wrapped aluminum pans of layered bolognese, cheese, and pasta with an index card with baking instructions scotch taped on top. If, however, I’m out of your budget and you don’t want to have to interpret my handwriting, it’s your lucky day—Lasagna a la Betsy is finally on the blog.

Lasagna a la Betsy​

Now, what makes it “a la Betsy”? Well, half of everyone I know started calling me Betsy seven years ago, and while I introduce myself as “Liz” everywhere but Starbucks, I like that nickname whenever it suits me, which includes but isn’t limited to when I make lasagna. Also, this recipe is authentic to nothing—I am not trying to make this as lovingly as anyone’s Italian grandmother, I’m just trying to get dinner on the table today (and maybe sometime in a few weeks). But mostly, it’s a la Betsy because it’s what I like in my lasagna, and it’s made the way I like to make it. Period, end of story.

The “bones” of Lasagna a la Betsy are similar to many classic recipes. It starts with making my tried and true bolognese sauce from scratch. I usually do this a day ahead to split up the work, but it can be made the same day the lasagnas are assembled. It takes about three hours of browning and simmering beef, sausage, mushrooms and aromatics, but the results are meaty and rich and worth it all, I promise. Frankly, the sauce is the most time consuming part of this whole process; the rest is just layering. And oh, they are good layers.

You know the stuff: shredded mozzarella, spoonfuls of parmesan-spiked ricotta, the bolognese, some no-boil noodles… Yeah, I use the no-boil noodles—they’re one of the only convenience ingredients that I will swear by. I’ve used the boil-yourself kind and they are delicious, but they can be finicky and take a while. I like saving myself a little stress. I mean, I already made the sauce from scratch. That said, use whichever noodles work for you.

Lasagna a la Betsy​

My personal favorite part of my lasagna recipe? It makes two! Unless you have a huge family or are having a party, you probably don’t need a 9×13” pan of lasagna, but two 8” square pans? One for now and one for the freezer? Yeah, that’ll work. Future you is going to be so happy you planned ahead. Current me is already pretty jazzed about it.

To that end, I’ve included instructions for baking lasagnas right away, as well and freezing and baking from frozen. Whichever path you choose, you’re in for a treat. Hot homemade lasagna (a la Betsy or otherwise) is always a treat.

Lasagna a la Betsy
makes two 8-inch square lasagnas (each 4-6 servings)

1 recipe Bolognese Sauce (about 9-10 cups)
16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
pinch of ground nutmeg
a few grinds freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/4 cups grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) shredded mozzarella (fresh, low-moisture whole milk, or a mix)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Make the bolognese sauce. Remove from heat and let cool for at least an hour before assembling lasagnas. Alternatively, make the sauce the day before and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. It can be used cold.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease 2 8-inch square baking dishes. If using aluminum pans or freezing the lasagnas, line them with parchment.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, nutmeg, pepper, and salt. Stir in 1 cup grated parmesan. Set aside.

Assemble lasagnas. Spread 1/2 cup bolognese sauce in the bottom of one of the prepared pans. Top with 2 no-boil lasagna noodles (do not overlap them). Spread 1 cup of sauce over the top, then sprinkle on 1 cup of shredded mozzarella, and drop 1/4 of the ricotta mixture (about a heaping 1/3 cup) in spoonfuls over the top. Top with 2 more lasagna noodles, then another layer with 1 cup bolognese, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 of the ricotta mixture. Top with 2 more noodles, then 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella over the top, followed by 2 tablespoons grated parmesan. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Repeat layering process with remaining ingredients and prepare pan. Freeze any leftover bolognese (I usually have 1 1/2 cups leftover).

To bake lasagna immediately: cover with foil, making sure to tent it at the top so it doesn’t touch the cheese or sauce. Place the pan(s) on a sheet pan (to catch any mess). Bake 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until browning in places and getting a little crispy at the edges. Let cool 15-30 minutes before slicing and serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

To freeze unbaked lasagna: cut a 7-inch square of parchment and lay it on the top of the lasagna. Triple-wrap the pan with plastic wrap. Wrap with foil. Freeze for up to one month.

To bake a lasagna from frozen: Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove frozen lasagna from the freezer. Remove and discard foil, plastic wrap, and parchment. Cover the pan with fresh foil, making sure to tent it at the top so it doesn’t touch the cheese or sauce. Place the pan(s) on a sheet pan (to catch any mess). Bake 75 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes, until browning in places and getting a little crispy at the edges. Let cool 15-30 minutes before slicing and serving. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Leftover lasagna will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Cornbread Crackers

If you’ve been around a while, you know I do a “savory January” full of weeknight meals to counterbalance all the sweets. I’m not sure how tightly I’ll keep that tradition this year, but I’m holding to it for now.

Cornbread Crackers​

You might be saying “But Liz, crackers aren’t a weeknight meal.” To that I say, “Anything can be a weeknight meal, Susan.” I eat crackers for dinner all the time. There is usually cheese and some form of fruit or vegetable involved, but the crackers are unquestionably the thing that holds everything together.

Usually, I’ll go for some sort of cracker from the grocery store, but occasionally I’ll DIY them (see exhibits A & B). Right now it’s these Cornbread Crackers, which were inspired by a bag of Cornbread Crisps I saw at Trader Joe’s. Instead of buying some like a normal person, I thought “I can make those,” and indeed I did. I regret nothing.

Cornbread Crackers​

Cornbread Crackers are just what they sound like: crackers with the flavors of cornbread. Made with equal parts yellow cornmeal and all-purpose flour, hints of sugar and salt, and bound with butter and water, these crunchy snacks are as welcome on a cheese plate as they are with a bowl of soup or chili.

Their texture is crisp and light, with a pleasing bit of grit from the cornmeal. The sugar in the dough is just enough to balance the salt and corn flavor, and the butter rounds them out and gives a little richness. On the grand spectrum of crackers (let’s pretend that’s a thing), they fall somewhere between water crackers and Wheat Thins, which basically means that I can’t keep myself from grabbing a little handful every time I pass by their container…or when I have some Trader Joe’s Mini Brie Bites on hand.

Don’t worry, I’ll leave the cheesemaking to the professionals.

Cornbread Crackers​
Cornbread Crackers
makes lots (150 small crackers)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons warm water

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, and salt. Add melted butter and warm water and whisk just until combined. Dough may seem a little dry, but should hold together very well when pinched.

Gather dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Place oven racks in central positions. Preheat oven to 400F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Roll out the crackers. Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin. Divide dough in half, then move on half to the surface while covering the other back up with plastic wrap. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness.

Cut the crackers. Use a sharp chef’s knife, pizza cutter or bench scraper to cut dough into crackers. Mine are roughly 1-inch squares, but you may cut them as big or small as you like, keeping in mind that baking time may be affected. Use a thin offset icing spatula (or other implement) to remove each cracker from the surface. Place crackers close together (but not touching) on baking sheets. Prick each cracker with a toothpick or fork.

Repeat rolling/cutting/baking process with remaining dough. Re-roll scraps as needed.

Bake crackers for 15-17 minutes, or until just turning golden. Keep an eye on them after 15 minutes, as they can burn quickly.

Let crackers cool completely on their pans. Serve with soup, as part of a cheese plate, or on their own.

Crackers will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.

Peppermint Mocha Brownies

It’s a little late for a Christmas recipe, but frankly I can do whatever I want on this website. And what I want is a pan of Peppermint Mocha Brownies.

Peppermint Mocha Brownies

Made with my tried and true Cocoa Brownie base, these holiday treats come together super easily. Their already-deep chocolate flavor is punched up with semisweet chocolate chips, then accented with just enough peppermint extract and granulated espresso to evoke everyone’s holiday coffee shop fave.

Peppermint Mocha Brownies

But flavor’s only half of the equation here—Peppermint Mocha Brownies have to look the part, too! These are drizzled with a melted mix of chocolate chips and butter, and sprinkled with as much crushed candy cane as your heart desires. (My heart desires a lot.)

Peppermint Mocha Brownies

Peppermint Mocha Brownies are rich and satisfying; a little square goes a long way. I, however, have no self control and cut these on the larger side. I regret nothing.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Whatever and wherever you’re celebrating, I hope you’re safe, warm, and with people you love.

Peppermint Mocha Brownies
Peppermint Mocha Brownies
adapted from Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies
makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (natural or dutch process)
2 large eggs, cold
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (not mint extract)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated espresso or coffee
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For Garnish:
3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
crushed candy canes or starlight peppermints

Preheat oven to 325F. Butter the inside of an 8- or 9-inch square pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter again. Set aside.

In a small pot over medium-low heat, melt butter, granulated and brown sugars, and cocoa powder together, stirring frequently, until a thick, grainy mixture forms. Remove from heat and let mixture cool 5-7 minutes.

Add vanilla, peppermint extract, and eggs to the pot, and stir/whisk to combine. Add flour, granulated espresso, and salt, and stir/whisk to combine. Fold in semisweet chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan and spread to the edges. Tap the full pan on the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles. Top with pecans, if desired.

Bake brownies 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs (not wet batter). Let cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Garnish the brownies. Combine chocolate chips and butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until smooth. Use a fork to drizzle over brownies. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Refrigerate brownies for 15-20 minutes, until chocolate sets.

Slide a knife around the edges of the pan before using parchment overhang to lift brownies onto a cutting board. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice brownies into 16 or 25 pieces. Serve.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or in the refrigerator for up to a week.