Sunday, May 29, 2011

Angry Birds

When I was asked to make an Angry Birds themed birthday cake I wanted to say yes, but in my head all I was thinking is "what the hell is Angry Birds?" I'm usually pretty knowledgeable about what's "cool" but all I knew about Angry Birds was that Mike Tyson made a video about how to overcome your Angry Birds addiction. It's hilarious. You're welcome.

I asked some friends and learned that Angry Birds is a video game. At least I think it is. All I know is that you can play it on your cell phone, and I think on your computer through Facebook. In the game angry birds are trying to protect their eggs from green pigs that are trying to steal their them... I think. You can see that my research was very extensive. All I really needed to know for cake purposes was what the game and its characters looked like. Thanks Google images!

I was given about a week's notice for the cake, normally I prefer more notice, but I took it on anyway because my schedule would allow. There was a certain cake that I would have loved to try to do, but I just didn't have enough time. I looked through the images Google provided for me and came up with one that I thought was simple enough that I could get done in the amount of time I had, but it would also look cool to a 6-year-old. Kids are the toughest critics.

Making this cake was my first experience of having to really shape a cake because I wanted to make one layer of the cake look like the main character in the game. If you haven't already figured it out, I'm now an Angry Birds expert (not true). The base of the cake was going to be made up of 2 10-inch square cakes and I thought if I also made the top layer of cake there would just be way too much cake. Since I thought it would be easier to carve and shape, I made the top "bird" layer using 9 x 13 pan of rice krispy treats that I cut out into the shape of the bird. Then I just covered it with fondant and decorated to make it look like the main character. It worked out perfectly.

This was also the first time I used all my own fondant, meaning I made it and I colored it. In the past I've only done cakes where I've needed white fondant so I don't end up needing to color it. If I do need any specific colors I just buy the Wilton packages that have 4 colors in them and use those. They have a pretty good variety. However, the Wilton packages didn't provide enough quantity of the colors I needed in one package. Since it was cheaper (all about saving a buck!) to color it myself than buy multiple $10 packages of pre-colored fondant, I ventured out on my own and gave coloring fondant a try. I made the fondant one day, and used the Wilton jars of food coloring gel (they're awesome) to color it the following day when I was going to decorate the cake. While it's hard work, coloring the fondant worked out really well, it also worked out my forearms. Hooray for multi-tasking.

Putting the cake together was fairly simple. The hardest part was just working out all the decorating details on the bird. I used Wilton tube icing (have I mentioned that I like their products?) for all the black detailing, which was the most nerve-racking part. I was in the home stretch at that point and didn't want to mess up. I did a couple of practice runs on a paper towel until I felt comfortable (piping icing always makes me nervous) and went for it. I loved it, and Colby did too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chocolate Chip

I have flipped through this cookbook many times, contemplating which cupcakes I might like to try. I love chocolate, and chocolate in cute little chip form. But, for some reason I thought Chocolate Chip Cupcakes wouldn't do it for me. Especially a recipe that calls for regular-sized chocolate chips, not mini ones. Using regular-sized chocolate chips in cupcakes just can't be right, can it? I even hesitated in the grocery store when buying the chocolate chips. I was so close to throwing the mini ones in the cart, but told myself that wasn't the point of this project. It's to do things Martha's way and see how I like them the first time around. If I don't like the results then I can make changes next time. So, the mini morsels stayed on the shelf gazing longingly at me as I walked away. They're just so cute!

Chocolate chips in hand and with the rest of my ingredients ready I got to work. Back when I first started my baking hobby I didn't have many "tools of the trade" if you will. I had a hand mixer that quite possibly was older than me. If it wasn't from the 70s it certainly looked like it was. Think that brownish-orange reminiscent of the interior of an old Winnebago, or that brown carpet that everyone seemed to have in their bedroom as a kid. I had my 1970s mixer until a couple of years ago when my mom bought me a new Cuisinart one for Christmas. That bad boy can mix! I'm afraid of what might happen if I ever actually mix anything using the highest setting. All I picture is dough everywhere. I also have a 15-quart stand mixer and it might be the most amazing kitchen appliance I own, and I own a lot of appliances. My parents got it for me for my 24th birthday and I scream-squealed (that's the perfect union of a scream and squeal) when I opened the box. First out of surprise because I never thought I would own such an amazing piece of kitchen equipment, and second because I was so excited to have one.

I took you on that little journey through my kitchen equipment to bring you here. Normally when I bake I use my stand mixer for things like cakes and cupcakes. I prefer the hand mixer for cookies. Don't ask me why, I don't have a good answer, just a preference of mine. However, for this batch of cupcakes I used the hand mixer because Martha said so, and we've already been over my wanting to follow Martha's directions to a T.

The recipe itself is easy to follow, the hardest part was beating the egg whites to get those pesky peaks to form. It's truly exhausting, even when using a mixer. People who try to do it by hand are just overachieving (showoffs!). And, I never quite understand what constitutes a "soft" peak, so I just beat the eggs until my arm starts to hurt from holding up the mixer, and I can see some semblance of a peak. Then into the batter they go! Probably not how Martha would do it, but I'm trying. So, egg whites into batter, chocolate chips into batter, batter into paper-lined tins, tins into oven and we're on our way.

I always start with a little less baking time than a recipe calls for because all ovens are different and you can't reverse what's already been baked. I can always add more time. So, I started with 20 minutes, but I found that just as the recipe states (that Martha knows her stuff) 22 minutes was perfect. The cupcakes will stay a pale color, don't be alarmed if they're not golden, just make sure that toothpick comes out clean! I let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack and then put the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight and worried about icing them the next day. When I have the luxury of time, I like to spread out my baking. Less dishes to do in one day. I like to make a big mess, but I don't enjoy cleaning one up. Some day when I'm rich and famous (ha!) I'll have someone to clean the kitchen for me.

Making icing is one of my least favorite things to do because I find it to be so touchy (there's a better word for this, but my brain just can't find it. It's tired from work). If you do one thing wrong, the whole batch is no good. When I find a recipe for icing that's good and simple I usually stick with it and don't venture to try something new. But, in the spirit of Martha I embraced her Dark Chocolate Frosting that accompanied the Chocolate Chip Cupcake recipe. I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out, though it was a little thin for my liking so I added a little extra confectioner's sugar... don't tell Martha!

Before the frosting of the cupcakes began I wanted to perform a taste test of the cupcakes sans icing. My goal was to see how much the frosting helped or hurt the cupcake (like it could really hurt). I wanted to know if the cupcake could stand on it's own without icing. Without icing, the cupcake was good. I thought it was a little dense (not a thick dense, more like a jam packed dense, if that makes any sense). Maybe I didn't beat those egg whites enough. Who knows. However, I was pleased that all the chocolate chips didn't sink to the bottom. Baking tip, if you toss the chocolate chips in a little flour before you put them in the batter, it helps them stay afloat. Most importantly, I didn't mind the regular-sized chips.

Normally, I like to use my frosting gun, yes, you read me correctly, frosting gun, to decorate cupcakes. If you don't have one, get one, it's almost as amazing as my stand mixer. But, in the picture from the book, it appeared that Martha just lathered it on. Since my new motto is do as Martha does, I grabbed my knife and spread away! Time for taste test No. 2! Cupcakes with frosting... better than cupcakes without frosting. I can't quite put my tongue on it, but the frosting just completed the cupcake. I suppose that's the point of it. What's your favorite kind of frosting?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Project Cupcake

Confession, I love to bake. If you're at all like me, you have more than one cookbook in your kitchen and you hate to even think about downsizing your collection. You never know when you might need that one recipe that you didn't even know you had. Part of my inspiration for this project was to actually make the recipes in those cookbooks that I always say I'm going to do. Not all of my cookbooks are baking related, but I would say roughly 90% of them are. It's no secret I like sweets and my "baking cabinet" as I affectionately call it, is proof of that fact. For whatever reason whenever I need a recipe I immediately turn to the Internet to find something new. When in reality I have books of new recipes sitting in my kitchen cabinet just waiting for me to find them.

Now, the big question... which cookbook do I start with? After some contemplation I decided to go with my favorite. Cupcakes. Is there anything better than a personal serving of cake, dressed in a cute little wrapper with cute little decorations? If there is, I haven't found it. Except maybe if that cute little cupcake is paired with a personal serving of ice cream. Yes, I have a sweet tooth, I'd go so far as to say I have a sweet mouth (that's what she said). Okay, so back to choosing the perfect cookbook. For Christmas one year I asked for and received Martha Stewart's Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone's Favorite Treat. I have owned this book for at least a year, and I think I may have made one cupcake out of the entire book. This is no slam to Martha because I think she's great and wish everyday that I could some day have an empire like hers. Yes, I'll keep dreaming.

The book has been chosen, next, my method for choosing recipes. Do I go with the logical starting from the front and working my way through the book? Maybe start in the back and work my way forward. Maybe just close my eyes, open the book and that's the recipe I use. Decisions, decisions. I opted to start at the beginning and work my way through it. That way it's easy to keep track of what I've already done and if anyone should feel so inclined, they can follow along and know what's coming next. I think it'd be great if someone decided to do that.

If I had it my way, I would bake cupcakes everyday. But, Bobby (my boyfriend) would surely yell at me and claim I'm single-handedly trying to make him fat. He has made this claim more than once, this morning in fact, to which I just shake my head and maintain that I do not force him to eat anything that I make. That said, I decided baking a recipe once a week would be sufficient and I'm going to do my best to keep with that plan. Sometimes I get requests to bake other things for friends, and sometimes I'm just exhausted from work and don't have the energy to do anything. But, I'm going to try to stick to one cupcake recipe a week. Your job is to hold me to it.

Lastly, how should I document this little project of mine. Step-by-step pictures and instructions, including the recipe, showing step-by-step instructions with pictures, or maybe just pictures of the completed project? Should I review the recipe and what I think of the finished product? Should I give tips, what I found to be difficult, what I liked and didn't like? In the end I decided to do almost all of that. Because I'm by no means a professional photographer, but would like to be some day, step-by-step pictures will not be provided. I've also found it's hard to take pictures while baking. It almost never ends well for the camera. I will however include the recipe in some fashion, pictures of the finished products as well as tips, anecdotes, and little nuggets of fun from the baking process. Most importantly, my thoughts on the finished product. If a cupcake isn't tasty, I'm not wasting the calories to eat it and neither should you. I may love sweets, but I'm also conscious of how much of them I eat and how that directly correlates to how I look in a bathing suit and the tightness of my jeans. Summer is just around the corner! Any questions? I hope not. Wondering what's up first? Humor me and tell me you are.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

And We're Off...

I've toyed back and forth with the idea of doing this for awhile not knowing what I should or shouldn't blog about. Yes, I almost always have an opinion on something and I almost always love to share it, but who would honestly care to hear it?

I'm starting this with no plan of where it could go or what it's really going to contain. My initial thought is a little bit of everything that makes up the days of my life (yes, that's my first Days of our Lives reference). I like to do a lot of different things, like bake, cook, garden, paint, sew, it's a long list and I'm constantly adding to it because I find it hard to sit and do nothing when I have free time. I always like having something to do, even though I don't always feel like doing it. This is going to be my forum for those things. A documentation of my "projects" if for nothing more than my own personal reference to have a running scroll of the things I accomplish, or don't, in my free time. My living to-do list. There's a likelihood that things from my real life may pop up as well because frankly when you live with your boyfriend and your dog, have the crazy parents that I do, combined with a good mix of friends... things happen that warrant a story to be told. While the story may be entertaining to no one other than myself, this is for me, and it's okay if I'm the only one who's laughing.

I have zero expectations for this, and don't anticipate that anyone will actually read it. Truthfully my goal is to simply keep it up and continue with it for longer than a week. It's another project added to my list because it's something that I've always wanted to try.