Cran-Raspberry Pretzel Salad

Hi Everyone!

I’ve been super busy and on the road the last few weeks, so I didn’t get a chance to post a new recipe. To make up for it, I’ve got both a recipe and a gallery of decorated food for you today! I added a new page at the top of the site with pictures of a lot of the cakes and cookies I have decorated. I plan to keep updating it both with old items I already have pictures of, and with new items as I create them. 

And, as I said, I have a new recipe for you. This is a take on the old Strawberry Pretzel Jello Salad that I’m sure many of you have had. It’s a buttery pretzel crust with a sweet cream cheese filling topped with strawberry studded Jello.
Cream Cheese Filling

Since I’m not a big fan of strawberries, my mom started making this with raspberries and raspberry Jello. I decided to change it up again and make it more Thanksgiving- and Christmas-oriented. I made a basic cranberry sauce, but I amped it up with a little bit of raspberry as well. And I decided to make them individual-sized in cupcake liners.

Cran-Raspberry Pretzel Jello

You can make this in small mason jars, or in an 8″ square pan. Or double it so it’s the size of the original recipe and make it in a 9×13-inch pan. I didn’t add any flavors, like cinnamon or orange zest, to the cranberry sauce, but they would be great additions. And if you prefer to go a little more traditional, or want to make it a different time of year, you can use any combination of frozen fruit and jello. How does cherry sound? Or what about blueberry in the spring? You could add a little lemon zest into the cream cheese layer for any of the berry flavors. Or maybe a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips instead with the cherry (or raspberry or strawberry…) version. (So that’s going on my to-make list. 🙂 )

Cran-Raspberry Pretzel Jello

It’s not overly sweet, so it can be served as a side dish or a dessert. It wouldn’t be out of place on a brunch menu either. Anyway, I hope you guys try this out, whatever version you choose!

Cran-Raspberry Pretzel Jello

 

Individual Cran-Raspberry Pretzel Salads
Yields 12
For the Crust
  1. 2 cups (3 ounces) mini pretzel twists or thin sticks
  2. 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  3. 6 tablespoons butter, melted
For the Cream Cheese Layer
  1. 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  2. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  3. 4 ounces (half of an 8 ounce tub) frozen whipped topping, thawed
For the Cran-Raspberry Layer
  1. 6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
  2. 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) fresh or frozen raspberries
  3. 1/4 cup water
  4. 1/2 cup sugar
  5. 1 tablespoon raspberry jam
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For the Crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with cupcake liners and spray with baking spray. Or, spray an 8-inch square baking pan or 12 small mason jars with baking spray.
  2. Combine the pretzels and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the pretzels are coarse crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a few times until combined.
  3. Divide crumbs between the 12 liners, 12 jars, or dump into square pan. Pack crust down firmly. Bake for 5-10 minutes, depending on container, or until lightly browned. Let cool completely.
For the Cream Cheese Filling
  1. Combine the cream cheese and sugar with a hand or stand mixer until light and fluffy. Fold in the whipped topping. Spoon or pipe onto cooled crust. Refrigerate while you make the final layer.
For the Cran-Raspberry Layer
  1. Combine the cranberries, raspberries, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to simmer. Reduce heat slightly and continue cooking until all of the cranberries have popped and the mixture has thickened, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the raspberry jam. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Once cooled, spoon or pipe onto cream cheese layer. Return to refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours.
  3. Keep leftovers refrigerated.
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Fall Pumpkin Chocolate Bark

Pumpkin Spice Fall Chocolate Bark. Perfect for Thanksgiving and Halloween!

It’s back to the field for me this week, so I’ve got a really quick recipe for you. Actually, it’s not even a recipe. Chocolate bark is so easy, and infinitely customizable.

I had a bag of pumpkin spice chips sitting in my pantry, and I’ve been trying to decide what to make with them. Cookies, bars, cupcakes – they’ve all been done. But pumpkin spice chocolate bark? That sounded perfect for a busy weekend.

Pumpkin Spice Pumpkins for Fall Chocolate Bark

I dug though my collection of chocolate molds, and found that I had a pumpkin version. Mine has 12 cavities that are about 1 inch across. You can find these in some hobby stores, as well as in cake decorating supply stores (there is usually at least one in good-sized cities) and online. I started by melting down a few green candy melts and piped that into the stems. You can also paint it in with a paintbrush (that you use only for food) or even a toothpick. Then I melted about 1 cup of the chips and spooned that into the pumpkins. I melt my chips and candy melts in the microwave in 15 to 30 second bursts. The one cup of chips made 24 pumpkins, or two trays worth in my mold.

Fall Halloween Thanksgiving Pumpkin Chocolate Bark

While the pumpkins were firming up in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, I melted a pound of chocolate almond bark. I spread that out between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick on a parchment (or wax-paper) lined baking sheet. Before it set, I added the pumpkins and threw on some fall leaf sprinkles for a little color and variety. Once it started to set, but before it was completely firm, I scored it into pieces with a sharp knife. I put it in the refrigerator for a few minutes so it could set completely, and then broke it along the scored lines.

Pumpkin Chocolate Bark Fall Halloween Thanksgiving

The best part about this is how easy it is to customize. You could use any flavor almond bark or chocolate for the base – try different baking chip flavors like butterscotch, cinnamon, or white chocolate. The same goes for the pumpkins. And you don’t have to have a chocolate mold – you could pipe simple shapes onto wax paper and let them set before dropping them onto the base chocolate. Or if all you have are some pretty sprinkles, drop the contrasting chocolate by spoonfuls onto the base and swirl with a skewer or knife before adding the sprinkles. This was so much fun and gave me so many other ideas! I’m sure you’ll see the concept again around Christmas!

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Bark for Fall Halloween Thanksgiving

Pull-Apart Crazy Bread

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I’ve had a couple of busy weekends, so I haven’t had a lot of time to get a new recipe to you. Last weekend I was elbows-deep in flour and sugar, making a cake for a co-worker’s granddaughter’s 18th birthday. I really enjoy making and decorating cakes and cookies, and I’ve been thinking about adding a section to this website with some of my work. Look for that soon.

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For now, let’s talk about this bread. Growing up, I loved Little Caesar’s pizza. (Ok,  I still do.) Whenever we got take-out pizza, it was always Little Caesar’s. I had it for my birthday dinner most years. And if you are going to order their pizza, you must get the Crazy Bread. Please tell me you know what Crazy Bread is.  They bake their pizza crust into breadsticks, and slather it with butter, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Seriously. Delicious.

As I’ve been brainstorming ideas (by which I mean spending too many hours on Pinterest) for this blog, I still keep seeing pull-apart breads. They seemed to get pretty popular a few years ago. The first one I saw was a cinnamon version. At the time, I was baking for a few farmer’s markets and decided to try it out. That version is delicious, but I really wanted to have some savory items too. So tried making one with cheddar cheese and chives, and then I made a French Onion one. They were both very good ideas, and I’ve included those options in the recipe below. But, since I keep seeing commercials for Crazy Bread, this is the version that’s been stuck in my head for a few weeks now.

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I start with my mom’s pizza crust recipe.  It’s a nice soft dough that makes a pretty soft crust – perfect for Crazy Bread. It’s also super simple, and doesn’t require a mixer. The dough comes together in about 5 minutes, and then you let it rise. Once it’s risen, roll it out into a rectangle, slather it with garlic butter and cheese, and then cut it into strips. Stack those strips up, and cut into squares. Then  you just put those into the pan, and sprinkle with more cheese. Let it rise briefly, bake, and brush on the rest of that garlic butter. And then devour, with marinara sauce if you’d like.

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Pull-Apart Crazy Bread
Yields 1
Garlic, Butter, Parmesan, Bread. What more could you want?
For the dough
  1. 1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  2. 1 1/2 cups warm water
  3. 2 tablespoons sugar
  4. 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 3 to 4 cups flour
For the filling
  1. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  2. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  3. 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  4. 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
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If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the dough
  1. Combine yeast, water, sugar, and oil in a large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Add salt and 3 cups of flour and stir to combine. Add more flour as necessary to make a soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands. Do not use more than 4 cups flour - the dough should be very soft. Place into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
To assemble
  1. Grease, or spray with non-stick spray, a 9" by 5" loaf pan.
  2. Melt butter with salt and garlic powder, either in the microwave on 50% power or on low on the stovetop.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a 12" by 20" rectangle. It doesn't have to be perfect. Brush on about half of the garlic butter. Sprinkle with all but 1 tablespoon of the cheese.
  4. Cut the rectangle into 6 long strips, about 2" by 20". Stack all of the strips on top of each other and cut into 4 pieces. You will then have 4 stacks of small rectangles.
  5. Place the stacks, on their sides, into the pan. They should be stable enough that you can do this one stack at a time.
  6. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, then cover loosely with a towel and set aside to rise for 20 minutes.
  7. While the dough rises in the pan, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with the remaining garlic butter.
  9. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before turning out of the pan and serving.
Variations
  1. Cheddar-Chive: Use 3 tablespoons butter, melted, to spread on the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle with about 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons chopped chives. Slice, stack, and bake as above, but no need to add extra butter after baking.
  2. Cheddar-Jalapeno: Same as Cheddar-Chive, but substitute chopped jalapenos, fresh or pickled, for the chives.
  3. French Onion: Melt 1/2 cup butter and combine with half an envelope of dry french onion soup mix. Brush this onto the rolled-out dough, and continue as above. Add shredded Swiss cheese on top if desired. No need to add extra butter after baking.
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Caramel Apple Bars

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It’s finally fall!

I haven’t had a lot of field work this summer, which has actually been a little bit of a relief, since it has been SO HOT. I have been ready for fall for about a month now, and next week we are finally supposed to have some fall-like weather. Yay! Just in time too, since I’ll be heading back out to the field for the week.

Anyway, in honor of fall and apple season, I decided to put a spin on a family favorite recipe. Originally, these were called Cherry Bars. It’s a recipe my family has been making for years. It makes an appearance at family picnics and gatherings all through the summer. Moist yellow cake dolloped with cherry pie filling and topped with an almond glaze. What’s not to love?

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Well, if you’re like me, the cherries are what’s not to love. I love cherry flavor, just not the texture of cooked cherries. This was one dessert I usually skipped. The few bites I have eaten, around the pieces of cherries, were delicious. So, I decided to change it up. Any fruit pie fillings would work here, but since it’s fall, I decided it was time for apples.

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You can absolutely use a can of your favorite pie filling. Cherry, blueberry, peach – the sky’s the limit! That’s how we’ve always made the cherry version. But for the apple, I decided to make a homemade filling. The trick is to cook it all the way on the stovetop first, like a canned filling would be. Just peel and chop the apples, then combine them with butter, sugar, flour, and spices. Cook the mixture in a covered pot until the apples are cooked and the juices are thickened. Let it cool completely while you whip up the cake batter.

Cream your butter and sugar, add your vanilla and eggs, and then mix in the dry ingredients. So easy! Spread part of the batter into your pan, and dollop on the pie filling. Drop the rest of the batter by spoonfuls over the filling. Bake it up, let it cool, and drizzle it with a delicious glaze. I sprinkled on a few chopped pecans, but that’s always optional.

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The glaze is minimal, but adds so much flavor. Almond goes so well with cherries, and I highly recommend this glaze if you make the cherry bars. A sprinkle of sliced almonds would add a nice crunch as well. While I love almond flavor, caramel and apples just seem to belong together. And a scattering of pecans or walnuts is perfect with those flavors. I would try a lemon glaze with a blueberry filling (just add some lemon zest and use lemon juice instead of milk – leave out the extract). And you could make a vanilla glaze to go with any of these flavors by using vanilla extract instead of the other flavorings. What flavors would your family like?

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Caramel Apple Bars
Yields 24
Yellow cake, pie filling, and a drizzle of caramel!
For the Filling
  1. 21-ounce can of your favorite fruit pie filling, OR
  2. 4 cups diced apples (about 1/2-inch dice)
  3. 6 tablespoons sugar
  4. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmug
  5. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  6. heavy pinch of salt
  7. 1 tablespoon butter
  8. 2 tablespoons flour
For the cake
  1. 1 cup butter or margarine
  2. 1 3/4 cup sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  6. 3 cups flour
For the glaze
  1. Powdered sugar glaze, OR
  2. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  3. 1/4 cup butter
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 2 tablespoons milk
  6. 1 cup powdered sugar
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the apple pie filling
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter is melted and apples are beginning to soften. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until apples are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
For the cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10x15-inch pan.
  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla extract and eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Spread two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Dollop the pie filling over the batter. Drop the remaining batter by spoonfuls over the pie filling. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool.
For the glaze
  1. Heat brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until both are melted. Bring to a boil and add salt and milk. Return to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Drizzle over cooled cake and immediately sprinkle with chopped pecans if desired.
Notes
  1. This cake is best within a day or two. If you want to keep it longer, store it in the refrigerator.
  2. Use whatever pie filling you like. One 21-ounce can is about 2 1/2 cups of homemade filling.
  3. Adapt the glaze flavor to the pie filling you are using. Vanilla, almond, lemon - the possibilities are endless!
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The Archaeologist Bakes http://www.thearchaeologistbakes.com/
 Caramel glaze adapted from Cooking Club of America.

 

Peanut Butter Potato Chip Bars

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Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of variations on the marshmallow krispie treats that don’t actually involve cereal. Like this potato chip version, or this “junk food” version. With that combination of sweet and salty, I can see why they’re so popular. I love the idea, except…

 
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I don’t like marshmallows. I know, I know. Please don’t leave. I don’t know what it is about them, but I just don’t like the flavor or texture. I’m weird, what can I say. Luckily, there is a marshmallow-free peanut butter version of the krispie treats that we have been making for years. And while I don’t like marshmallows, I do like potato chips and pretzels dipped in peanut butter. So, I did what anyone would do, and swapped out the cereal for some snack food. Any salty treat would work well here. Try adding in popcorn if that’s your thing. Or maybe you prefer corn chips?

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Oh, and did I mention that there is a chocolate frosting poured all over the top?

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You start by combing the sugar and corn syrup. Stir in the peanut butter until it melts, and then add in your crushed up chips and a handful of peanuts. Press it into a pan and get to making that frosting.
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Combine all your ingredients, boil for a few minutes, and pour it on. Then let cool (if you can wait), and find a place to hide them. Because you will not want to share.

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Peanut Butter Potato Chip Bars
Yields 24
For the bars
  1. 1 cup granulated sugar
  2. 1 cup corn syrup
  3. 1 1/2 cups peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
  4. 4 cups potato sticks or crushed potato chips
  5. 2 cups crushed pretzels
  6. 1/2 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts
For the frosting
  1. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  2. 6 tablespoons milk
  3. 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  4. 6 tablespoons butter
  5. pinch salt
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the bars
  1. Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the mixture boils, turn off heat and add peanut butter. Once peanut butter is melted, mix in the chips, pretzels, and peanuts. Stir until everything is coated and press into a greased 9x13 pan.
For the frosting
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Boil for 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Pour over bars and let cool completely before cutting into squares and devouring.
Notes
  1. Add your choice of chips, pretzels, popcorn - whatever sounds good to you! There should be 6 to 6 1/2 cups total.
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Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting

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The first time I made these cupcakes, I was staying in a hotel and working on an archaeological survey in Michigan. Our crew had stopped in to an Amish bakery at lunch one day that week, and since it was fall, the shelves were filled with pumpkin treats. Everyone raved about how good they were. And they were pretty delicious. But, since I am apparently less humble about my baking abilities that I like to admit, I told them I could make even more delicious pumpkin desserts. In my hotel room. With a microwave, a single electric burner that I travel with, and a small toaster oven that has seen better days.

Not my brightest moment. But, with a little help from a box mix since I didn’t travel with a full pantry, I did come up with a pretty tasty cupcake. Even if I did have to bake them six at a time. All three dozen of them.

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I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly since then, creating a from-scratch version of the cupcake. But you can absolutely go the box mix route. The recipe I used can be found here. I just added the pecans into the batter, and baked them as cupcakes. The baking time will be less than for a cake; try checking them after about 18-20 minutes.

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You really don’t want to miss out on this browned butter frosting. But if you don’t like browned butter, almost any frosting will work here. Vanilla buttercream or cream cheese icing would be perfect. Chocolate would be good as well. Maple is always delicious with pumpkin.

And of course, you can leave out the pecans. Or change it to your favorite nut. Go for the unsalted variety, and definitely toast them first. Walnuts – perfect. Hazelnuts – delicious. Almonds are always acceptable in my world. But they’re your cupcakes – make them to suit your tastes!

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Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting
Yields 24
For the cupcakes
  1. 1/4 cup sour milk
  2. 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  3. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  4. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  8. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  12. 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  13. 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
For the Frosting
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter
  2. 1/4 cup shortening
  3. 5 cups powdered sugar
  4. 1/4 cup milk, cream, or half and half
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Glazed Pecans
  1. 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  2. 1 teaspoon butter
  3. 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  4. Pinch salt
  5. 1/2 cup whole pecan halves
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. If you only have one 12-cup tray, you can bake half at a time.
  2. Combine the vinegar and milk to make sour milk. Set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin and mix until combined. Combine dry ingredients, except pecans, in a separate bowl. Add half of dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Add sour milk and mix; add remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in pecans.
  4. Divide batter among the 24 paper-lined cups. Each should be about two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Let rest in tins for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
For the Frosting
  1. While the cupcakes are baking, place the butter in a light-colored pan (NOT non-stick) and heat over medium heat until melted. Continue heating until bubbling is nearly stopped and butter begins to brown and smell nutty. This may take 10-15 minutes depending on your burner. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until beginning to solidify, about 20 minutes. You want it to resemble softened butter.
  2. Once browned butter is ready, combine butter and shortening with electric mixer. You don’t have to use shortening, but I prefer to add a little bit to my buttercream frosting, because it tends to hold up better at room temperature. Add powdered sugar, half of the milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat at medium speed until combined. Add remaining milk and beat at high speed two minutes or until fluffy. Add additional milk 1/2 tablespoon at a time, or powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, if needed, to adjust consistency.
For the Glazed Pecans
  1. Combine sugar, butter, syrup, and salt in a small skillet over medium heat. Once butter is melted and mixture is combined, add pecans. Continue heating for 5-7 minutes until pecans are lightly toasted and well coated with mixture. Tip out of pan onto wax paper and let cool.
Assembly
  1. Frost the cooled cupcakes with the frosting, and top with a glazed pecan, if desired.
Notes
  1. Use whatever nuts you prefer, or leave them out entirely.
  2. Vanilla, cream cheese, chocolate, or maple frosting would all be delicious!
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