Sunday, June 26, 2011

Red(ish) Velvet

I like red velvet cupcakes, but I don't love them. However, I've learned that many people LOVE them, like really love them. Love affair kind of love. I think they're pretty, and they do taste good, but they're not my favorite. We've already established that carrot cake is my favorite. Even though I don't have a deep, unbreakable love for red velvet cupcakes, I do have a recipe that I always use when I make them because everyone loves it so much. Once again I put Martha to the test to see how her red velvet cupcakes recipe stacks up to the one I often use.

The only real noticeable difference between Martha's recipe and mine was that the one I usually use calls for liquid food coloring and Martha's calls for the gel kind. But, from my Angry Birds cake-making experience I was already stocked with Wilton's red food coloring gel. Other than that the ingredients, and amounts of them, were pretty much exactly the same, with only a minor difference here and there.

My favorite part about red velvet is the color of the cupcake. I think that's what makes it so fun, the bright red. But, I could just be partial to red, it is the color of my car, and I have an awesome pair of red peep-toe pumps. I was a little disappointed to see that with this recipe the cupcakes are closer to a brown or rather a muddy red... maybe even a brick red. That description makes them sound inedible and dirty, which isn't the case. Just that, they didn't turn out as pretty and vibrant as I'm used to when I make red velvet cupcakes. In reality, the most important thing is the taste... and these tasted good. If you don't believe me, you can ask the 12+ co-workers of mine who ate them when I took them to work. I'm usually complemented on whatever baked goody I bring to work, but I was complimented even more so when I brought in the red velvet cupcakes. Like I said... people LOVE them.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of... Coconut Cupcakes

You can imagine my displeasure when I turned the page to find that my next cupcake was coconut. Less that thrilled would be accurate. I thought about skipping the recipe entirely. I knew I wasn't going to eat them because I detest coconut and I don't know many people who are a fan of it, so pawning cupcakes off on someone else wouldn't be an option. Just reading through the recipe and seeing coconut milk, coconut extract (when am I ever going to use that again?) and flaked coconut (gross!) was almost too much to handle. And when I saw that I had to chop the coconut flakes into fine pieces, the amount of work combined with knowing I wouldn't like the result just didn't make this idea any more appealing. But, in the spirit of the project, I powered through.

To finely chop the coconut flakes I used a blender instead of a food processor because my food processor is on the larger side and I didn't picture the finely chopping of the coconut going so well using that particular kitchen appliance. Bring in the blender! I dumped in the coconut and shook the blender a bit in between pulsing to shake down the pieces that hadn't been chopped yet. It took a few minutes, but it did the trick. The rest of the batter preparation was easy. Of course I performed a taste test before baking and surprisingly, I didn't hate it. Could I like coconut after all?

I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes, rotating halfway through and letting them cool for a few minutes afterwards before taking them out of the pan and putting them on the cooling racks. I'm very diligent with Martha's instructions (sometimes).

If there was any saving grace for the fact that I had to make coconut cupcakes it was that I finally got to use my stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Life does not get any better. Not only did I get to use my stand mixer, but also my candy thermometer, which I've never used before because it intimidates me, as does the whole candy-making process. I've never made a frosting that didn't incorporate butter so the Seven-Minute Frosting was going to be a first and I had my doubts. In fact, I actually thought there was no way it was going to be a success.

The most annoying/frustrating part of making the frosting was the egg whites. I even took the time to let the eggs get to room temperature, something I never do, because I wanted everything to be perfect for my attempt at a non-butter frosting. Separating those egg whites was a giant pain in the arse. There has to be a better way than the method I employ, which is simply cracking the egg and sloshing the yolk back and forth from one half of the shell to the other, getting out as much egg white as possible without getting any yolk in the bowl. Of course there were at least 2 occasions when I dropped an egg yolk into the whites and had to fish it out with a spoon. Thankfully the egg yolks stayed whole and I was able to fish them out. Bring on the stand mixer! I have whisked egg whites by hands until soft peaks form and let me tell you, I will not be doing that by hand any longer. I dropped those egg whites into the mixer, turned the speed to medium high and let that whisk do its thing. In 2 minutes my egg whites turned into soft peaks. Pure magic.

While my mixer was doing all the work I stared at the candy thermometer waiting for it to get to exactly 230 degrees. I didn't want to let it get a degree hotter because the recipe said as soon as the mixture reaches 230 degrees remove from heat and pour into egg whites. I'd come this far, I didn't want to mess up now. When the sugar mixture was ready I poured it into the mixer, turned it on and hovered over it for 7 minutes until I thought it was at a satisfactory consistency. It took a little longer than 7 minutes, but I just wanted to be sure the frosting was firm enough.

Now the taste test... it was disgusting, at least by my standards. Way too cocnutty for me, there was no way I was eating any of these cupcakes once they were frosted. I have never wanted to spit out frosting in my life. I wanted to spit out this frosting. I didn't think that was possible. Despite hating the frosting I did try a completed cupcake, minus the flaked coconut garnish because Martha said it was optional (God bless her), and I still couldn't get past the frosting, but the actual cake I enjoyed. Had there been vanilla buttercream frosting on top, I would have devoured the whole cupcake. Luckily I have a friend who loves coconut as much as I hate it, and she now has several coconut cupcakes in her freezer. That's what friends are for!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

They Call Me Mellow Yellow... Buttermilk Cupcakes

I'm always searching for the perfect yellow cupcake/cake recipe because I feel like it's something a good baker should have in their arsenal. I have a go-to that I use for cake requests because it's pretty close to my ideal of a yellow cake and easy to make. Needless to say Yellow Buttermilk Cupcakes are not that exciting for me. When I saw that was the recipe that was up next in the book, I wasn't thrilled. But then I thought, maybe this will be my new go-to yellow cupcake/cake recipe! It's not. But, it's a close second, if not tied with my current favorite. Kudos to Martha.

I think my hand mixer is getting tired. It sounds that way when I turn it off after a round of mixing. This recipe certainly didn't give it a break. I probably could have busted out my stand mixer for this one, but I was already mid-mix when the thought crossed my mind. This recipe required a lot of mixing, after the addition of each egg in fact. Not only did my mixer get a work out, my right arm did as well. My large-sized Pyrex bowl was filled to the top with batter, and even though I filled the muffin cups 3/4 of the way full I still got 31 cupcakes... the recipe said I would get 36. Had I been a little less generous in filling the muffin tins and done a little less batter taste testing (it's my favorite part) prior to baking, I probably would have ended up with 36 cupcakes.

The cupcakes came out perfect with the suggested baking time of 20 minutes, and a rotation of the pan halfway through. Toothpick inserted came out clean! I did let the cupcakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing them to finish cooling on a wire rack. Normally I disregard those instructions and take them out right away, but as we all know, I'm trying to follow the rules.

Martha's icing option for these cupcakes was Fluffy Vanilla Frosting and boy was it fluffy. I was concerned the recipe wouldn't yield enough frosting for all the cupcakes I had because it didn't look like much when I was done making it, but it was plenty. I even had some left over so if I had come out with 36 cupcakes, I definitely would have had enough frosting. Instead I just had a little extra so I could perform a thorough taste test. I actually controlled myself and didn't eat too much of it (surprising, I know). Bathing suit season is upon us! The frosting was very good and very fluffy... just like the recipe said it would be. It even has the potential to take the place of my current go-to vanilla frosting recipe. But, that's a big decision to make and I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to do so.

This was the first recipe where the cupcakes were decorated with sprinkles in the picture in the book. Martha chose pink and white sprinkles, my guess is for Valentine's Day. But, Valentine's Day has come and gone at this point and spring has sprung! For Christmas my mom got me a bunch of different sprinkles with different themes; candy canes, hearts, pumpkins for Halloween and there was a spring mix complete with chicks and bunnies! Although Easter has passed, I think baby chicks can still qualify as a spring-time sprinkle. Does anyone have a favorite kind of sprinkle? Or jimmies as my boyfriend calls them (I had never heard of jimmies until I met him, but apparently it's not just a boy's name... who knew?!?!?!).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Carrots Aren't Just for Bunnies

Since I bake so much, everyone always asks me what my favorite dessert is. Without hesitating, my answer is always carrot cake. I love it. No, I adore it. It's delicious... and, it's good for you! It has carrots in it after all. Those are vegetables. I suppose carrots lose some of their nutritional integrity when you throw some oil, sugar and cream cheese icing into the mix. But, it does make them much more delicious.

Confession, I really didn't want to make this recipe because I have a go-to recipe for carrot cake. I've been using it for years, since I was a kid, and I haven't found anything that I like better. While Martha is wonderful, I didn't think I'd like her version better than my own. I was right. However, these cupcakes were still quite tasty, and my co-workers gobbled them up.

Another confession, I didn't follow this recipe exactly as Martha intended. I know, I know, already breaking my own rules and we're only on cupcake number 2. But, this Carrot Cake Cupcakes recipe called for some toasted coconut to garnish the cupcakes after they were iced. As much as I love carrot cake, I detest flaked coconut. I just don't like it. If it's on top of something and I can't pick it off, I won't eat it. I don't mind the flavor of coconut, I just don't like the flakes. So, I decided to take some artistic license with the recipe and eliminate the coconut garnish. I think Martha would understand... I hope.

I've learned that some people stray away from making carrot cake because it seems daunting due to the amounts of grated carrots necessary for the recipe. One pound of carrots is a lot. Especially if you're grating them by hand. Please don't exert that much energy. Get yourself a food processor and you'll have a pound of grated carrots in no time and the hardest part will be over. You don't even need to use a hand mixer for this recipe. All you need is a whisk and a spoon!

I followed the instructions and filled my paper-lined muffin tins 3/4 full and also rotated them halfway through the baking process. The recipe said to bake for 23-28 minutes. You know my rule, I never go to the baking max on my first run, because to my knowledge, you can't un-bake a cupcake. So for the first run I started with 12 minutes, rotated and baked 12 more minutes. For the second run I went the full 14 minutes, rotated and baked 14 more minutes. It was perfect. Toothpick inserted came out clean.

Finally, the best part of any carrot cake, other than those nutritional veggies, is the cream cheese frosting. I also have my own cream cheese frosting recipe that I like to pair with my carrot cake. But, this project isn't about me, it's about Martha. So, I went with her and did as she would do. In not so shocking fashion her Cream Cheese Frosting turned out just as good as mine did. That Martha really knows what she's doing. As per Martha's photographic example I kept my icing gun in the cupboard (much to my disappointment) and just used a knife to ice the cupcakes. Unlike Martha's photographic example and as previously discussed I did not include the coconut garnish. You already know carrot cake is my favorite and I wanted to eat a cupcake, and I wanted to eat one sans coconut. It was y-u-m-m-y in my t-u-m-m-y.