Sunday, August 28, 2011

Banana Pe(Can You Dig It?) Cupcakes

What's the difference between a banana cupcake and a banana muffin? I've always wondered, when does a muffin become a cupcake? For the most part they have the same ingredients, so what's the distinguishing difference? The frosting? It must be the frosting. In the case of these banana pecan cupcakes, it's the caramel buttercream frosting.

You would think at some point I would learn to read through an entire recipe before I start making it. You would think. But, you would be wrong. I have started reading through the first few steps so I know what size bowls to use for what things, but once I get through that I stop reading. For this recipe I had the batter done and ready, except for the pecans, when I realized I was supposed to have toasted and coarsely chopped the pecans. In reality, this wasn't a big deal, but in my crazy world, once the batter is done I don't like to waste any time before getting the cupcakes into the oven. For some reason I think that it's bad for the batter to sit out any longer than absolutely necessary. Whether or not this is true, I have no idea. It could just be that I'm crazy.

Crazy or not, when I got to the part where I was supposed to fold in the pecans and be about my merry way filling the cupcakes, I realized I was supposed to already have the pecans toasted and chopped. I also realized there was a process to toasting the pecans that I had not intended, which included baking them in the oven for 8-10 minutes. This meant that my batter had to sit out for the time it took for the oven to preheat, the pecans to toast, the pecans to cool and then for the pecans to be chopped. Roughly 20 minutes or so. As already explained, this isn't my ideal, but my mantra throughout this entire process has been to follow all the steps as Martha would do them and to stay true to the original recipe. Yes, I've "bent" the rules a little bit before, but I'm doing my best to stay on the straight and narrow. So, toast those pecans I did. Once they were sufficiently toasted and chopped I folded them into the batter, filled the cupcake liners three-quarters of the way full and baked them for 20 minutes (turning halfway through of course). The 20-minute baking time was perfect, and after it was all said and done I had 30 banana pecan cupcakes on my hands.

Next up, the caramel buttercream frosting. Throughout this project I've started to get a pretty good education on making different frostings (started being the key word), but this particular frosting has been the most work up to this point. I was worried the entire time that this frosting wasn't going to come together and become my first failed cupcake. I didn't want that to happen. My track record has been so good! First step, make the caramel. For the most part this step consisted of me hovering over a pot of boiling sugar and water, swirling it every once in awhile and waiting for it to turn a "dark amber color". Finally it did so I could add the cream and watch it all bubble and burble (very technical term), and then proceed to let it cool while I worked on the other components.

Beating the butter was easy and self explanatory. Whisking the egg whites and sugar mixture was where I started to get nervous. It was supposed to turn to the consistency of stiff, but not dry (very important) peaks. It took awhile for this to happen. I was starting to worry that it wasn't going to happen at all, and I was going to be in caramel buttercream trouble. The recipe said I would have stiff peaks in 10 minutes... the recipe lied. It took longer than 10 minutes. I know this because I set the timer on my stand mixer for 10 minutes and at the end of 10 minutes I did not have stiff peaks (that's what she said). So, I turned my mixer back on medium-high and nervously watched for any indication that I was making some progress. I stopped timing the whisking after the first 10 minutes so I can't be absolutely positive about how long it took, but I'd be willing to guess that around the 20-minute mark, I had my peaks! Hooray!

Now that I had my peaks and could stop worrying about all my work being a waste (yes, I realize how that sounds), I finished up with the frosting. It was all down hill from there. It did take a good bit of mixing, roughly 5-10 minutes (thank you timer) with the paddle attachment, to incorporate all of the caramel into the egg white-butter mixture. At the end the frosting was a little thinner than I normally like, but it spread just fine and was quite delicious. The most important part!

I'm not normally nuts about nuts in my cupcakes, but in this case, and probably because I so finely chopped the pecans, I didn't mind them. The true test was having Bobby give them a try to see what he thought. Truthfully I didn't even want to tell him there were pecans in them because I was afraid he wouldn't eat them. But, he loves bananas and he loves caramel, they may just be his two favorite things... the odds were in my favor. Just as I suspected, he approved. He even said they just might be his favorite yet. Do I know my man or what?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tiramisu Cupcakes

I'm not a big coffee fan, in fact, I'm not a fan at all. I don't drink it. Ever. If I feel the need for a warm beverage in the morning I go with tea, or hot cocoa. But usually tea because it has less calories. The ladies understand. In my younger days I never wanted to try tiramisu because of my dislike for coffee and anything that tasted like it. As I grew older (and perhaps a little wiser) I decided to give it a go. I mean, it is dessert, and I LOVE dessert. I think the first time I ever tried tiramisu was at Olive Garden and it was almost as delicious as their endless salad and breadsticks... almost.

Needless to say, a younger me wouldn't have been as excited to make tiramisu cupcakes as the current older, wiser version. However, had I read the recipe beforehand my excitement level probably would have decreased. I hadn't anticipated this recipe being so much work. It wasn't that it was hard, there were just a lot of steps, that involved a lot of dishes, that I would have to later wash. And, to be honest, it was hot, I was tired and not in the mood for something too complicated that I could potentially ruin if I wasn't focused. I mustered up all my strength and energy and got to work.

The most time and energy-consuming process was whisking the egg and egg yolks to be fluffy and a little stiff. I knew this was important to not mess up because the cake was supposed to be a sponge cake, light and airy. I whisked the eggs until I thought they were about the right consistency and folded in the rest of the ingredients. The batter was pretty stiff/thick, but fluid enough to pour into the muffin tins (it was also tasty). I filled the tins a little fuller than necessary, not on purpose, but because I couldn't contain the batter flow and some of them turned out a little bigger than I wanted. However, they didn't puff up too much. They turned out to be a pretty flat cupcake.

While the cupcakes cooled I worked on the coffee-marsala syrup. Despite my dislike of coffee I do own a coffee maker and there is a canister of Folgers in the fridge. You never know when company might want coffee. Truthfully, my parents bought the coffee maker as a housewarming gift for themselves, so that when they come to visit they can have coffee in the morning. Aren't they sweet? I digress. The syrup was very easy. I was only concerned that the Marsala cooking wine I bought at the store wouldn't be sweet enough. I did a little research about what kind to buy, and everything I read said to be wary of Marsala cooking wine sold in grocery stores as it tends to not be the best quality. But, I didn't want to spend a fortune on a good wine when I only needed an ounce of it for the recipe. In fact, I still have a giant bottle left which means I will probably be making Chicken Marsala in the not too distant future.

After the syrup had cooled I brushed it on the cupcakes repeatedly until I was out of syrup. I'm not sure how many coats each cupcakes got, in hindsight I probably should have kept count. I'm thinking it was at least 5, but not as many as 10. Once the cupcakes were syruped (that's a very technical term) they had to absorb the syrup for 30 minutes before they could be frosted with the mascarpone frosting.

First of all, it took me forever to find mascarpone cheese in the grocery store. I was starting to get concerned that it wasn't going to be in my local store and I'd have to go on a mission to find it. Of course, it was in the last place I looked. But, conveniently for me it was in a lovely 8-ounce container, which was just the amount I needed. Winning! While the heavy cream was becoming whipped cream I mixed the mascarpone cheese and confectioner's sugar. As previously mentioned here, it has been extremely hot lately. For that reason it took the heavy cream a little longer than I expected for it to become whipped cream. Once it became whipped cream it didn't hold up very well when folded into the mascarpone cheese mixture that was room temperature. I thought I was going to get a nice smooth, whipped frosting, but I didn't. It wasn't actually lumpy in texture, it just looked that way. The whipped cream started to melt back into it's original heavy-cream consistency. I tried putting it in the fridge and freezer in the hopes that it would solidify and not be so watery. No luck. So before it completely melted I globbed it onto the cupcakes and quickly popped them into the fridge so they wouldn't become a soggy mess. It worked, the cupcakes held themselves together. Granted they aren't the most beautiful things I've ever made, but they sure do taste good. It's what's on the inside that counts anyway... right?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chocolate Malted In Your Mouth Cupcakes

When I hear, or rather see in this case, the word malted I think of malted milk balls, known to most in the general population as Whoppers. I don't love malted milk balls, but I also don't hate them. They are made of chocolate after all. Therefore when I saw that the next recipe up for baking was chocolate malted cupcakes (Martha has not provided this particular recipe on her website, but if you'd like it let me know) I immediately thought of the previously mentioned candy. That candy is not in these cupcakes. They're almost your standard chocolate cupcake with just a subtle difference. The untrained palette not knowing any better (mine) would think it to be a regular chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing. Not knowing anything about the secret ingredient (shout out to Iron Chef America!)... malted milk powder!

I bet you're asking yourself the same questions I did. What is malted milk powder and where can I find it? I did do some Google research about malted milk powder, but I didn't retain any of the knowledge I gained to share with you. To be truthful, I didn't and still don't care what's in it, I just wanted to know where I could find it. On my weekly trip to the grocery store I carefully scanned the baking aisle to see if I could find it there. No luck. I didn't give up hope, thinking maybe I would find it in the aisle where the sweetened condensed milk and other powdery drink substances live. No luck there either. I probably could have widened my search to other grocery stores, but I wasn't in the mood to go on a malted milk powder mission. As a result of my Googling I knew there was a website where I could order the powder if I couldn't find it at the store. Personally, I find sitting in front of my computer in my sweats a lot more appealing than driving around to a bunch of different stores looking for something I probably won't find anyway.

I ordered the powder from I had heard of this company before. I've actually used their cake flour in other recipes and some of their products, such as cake flour, are sold in Stop N Shop (my supermarket of choice because it's less than 5 minutes from my house). I knew I liked the products and the company is also based in Vermont (close to where I live in Connecticut) so I knew standard shipping time should only be a couple days and I wouldn't have to wait impatiently for a week or more for it to arrive. The malted milk powder was $7.95 plus shipping for a 16 ounce package, and the total came to $13.95. Being the frugal person that I am I Googled a coupon code for King Arthur Flour and found one that would save me a whopping 10 percent! Score! Kid all you want, 80 cents saved is 80 cents in my pocket that I can spend on something else. The grand total came to $13.15 and my malted milk powder showed up about 2 days later.

The malted milk powder wasn't quite what I expected it to be. I thought it would be more like a flour or confectioner's sugar but it was closer to a cornmeal in consistency and had an interesting odor. It also didn't look great when I mixed it in with the milk and waited for it to dissolve. When I combined the milk-malted milk powder mixture with the dry ingredients that batter was very think, almost sticky, but the addition of the eggs and sour cream thinned it out to more of a consistency that I was expecting and am used to for a cupcake batter.

Martha said to fill the cupcake liners halfway and turn once halfway through the 20-minute baking process. In all the previous recipes that I can remember the cupcake liners were supposed to be filled two-thirds or three-quarters of the way full, so I was assuming the malted milk powder was going to make these cupcakes puff up more than normal therefore I followed the halfway-filling instructions for the first go-round. The baking time was perfect, but the size of the cupcakes was not, at least not by my preferences. I like a rounded cupcake that peaks out above the liner a little, not one that just skims across the top. So, for the remaining two rounds of baking I filled them a little fuller to get the result I wanted. I ended up with 28 cupcakes, just like Martha said I would. But, had I filled the liners a little fuller for the first batch, I probably would have come up with an even 2 dozen.

The fluffy vanilla frosting that I used for the yellow buttermilk cupcakes was as easy to make the second time as it was the first... and just as delicious. I used my mini Pyrex rubber spatula to frost the cupcakes and added some chocolate sprinkles (or jimmies if you prefer) for fun, and because Martha did, and had myself 28 good looking (and tasty) cupcakes. During the entire baking process I was wondering what the cupcakes would taste like. Since I had just made a chocolate cupcake, I was hoping they would be a little different, and not just another chocolate cupcake. In addition to the difference in color, these were a lighter brown, there was a slight difference in taste, which I'm assuming can be attributed to the malted milk powder. These cupcakes were almost creamy, not really in the texture of the cake, but in taste if that makes any sense. Kind of like the after taste (yes, I know that sounds disgusting) of a cream soda. It wasn't bold, but just a subtle little zing. Just enough so that I didn't feel like I made the same cupcakes 2 weeks in a row.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Better Than a Cupcake

What could possibly be better than a cupcake? How about this!

Yes, that's my hand, and yes, that's an engagement ring! I'm not normally one to brag, or really announce things like an engagement to complete strangers, or really anyone for that matter. I like to keep personal stuff personal, but this is a story I'm happy to share. It's also my excuse for my lack of baking posts in the last couple weeks. Also, my boyfriend, make that fiance (I'm still not used to calling him that) is pretty proud of his proposal (as he should be) and doesn't mind me telling people about it because it usually results in him getting some serious props for his creativity. It rivals the stuff that romantic comedies are made of. Are you ready?

Roughly 2 weeks ago (July 26) I started a 13-day vacation. On that vacation I went to Florida without Bobby because he still had to work, to visit my parents and see their newly purchased home in St. Augustine. My plan was to stay with them until July 29 when I would then fly to Philadelphia to meet up with Bobby, and from there we would drive to Myrtle Beach, SC to spend a week there with most of his family. Yes, I realize flying from Jacksonville to Philadelphia, only to drive back to Myrtle Beach doesn't make a lot of sense, but flights to Myrtle Beach from Jacksonville are very expensive and I wanted to spend the drive with Bobby. You know, quality time.

On Thursday, July 28 my mom, brother (Cody) and myself were out shopping and my brother asked my mom if she was going to make us take a Christmas card picture while my brother and I were both in the same place at the same time. Despite that fact that my brother and I are both in our twenties, my mom still insists on using a picture of us for her Christmas cards, she takes one every year without fail. I was expecting that she would take one on this trip since Cody and I aren't often in the same place at the same time much anymore. So, when the subject was brought up, it seemed completely normal to me. In response to Cody's question my mom came up with the brilliant idea to take the picture at the lighthouse in St. Augustine. It's a landmark and tourist attraction for the area and she's never been and has wanted to see it. Cody and I did the appropriate amount of grumbling and agreed we'd do that and then go out to dinner.

We got back to the house and informed my dad of the events that would be taking place that evening, needless to say he was less than excited. A completely appropriate reaction for him. But, to please my mom, we all got ourselves dressed in clothes presentable enough for a Christmas card and made our way to the lighthouse.

It was a particularly hot and humid Florida day, I was in wedge sandals and pretty clothes and not particularly excited about climbing 219 steps to get to the top of this bad boy. I didn't want to be sweaty and gross by the time I got up there. These pictures were for Christmas cards that my mom would send to our family and friends. I wanted to look my best!

My dad, Cody and I climbed our way to the top... with a pit stop or 2 along the way.

Clearly my dad is loving it (this was before he started seriously sweating).

219 steps later we all finally made it to the top.

To be honest though, I wasn't all that interested in the view when I emerged on to the observation deck, I was interested in finding some shade because I myself was starting to sweat, and again, I wanted to look pretty for the Christmas card picture. Sweating isn't pretty. I proceeded to walk around the top of the observation deck to find some shade. Success! When I got to the other side I looked over to my right and saw a person. I did a quick double take and realized that person was Bobby.

Wasn't Bobby supposed to be in Philadelphia on his way to a Phillies game like he told me he was when he called me a little over an hour ago in what sounded like him driving in his car on the way to the game, when in reality he was driving to St. Augustine from the Jacksonville airport? Why yes, yes he was. It took me about 10 seconds to process what he was doing there and when I realized it I immediately started to cry (crying doesn't look good in Christmas card pictures either). I won't share the details of what he said, I'd like to keep that just for us, but I will divulge that he got down on one knee, asked me to marry him and gave me a beautiful engagement ring that he picked out all by himself. He gets props for that too.

Since the proposal many people have asked me if I had any idea it was going to happen. I can say that I had absolutely no clue, I was shocked. Meanwhile everyone else in my life pretty much knew it was going to happen. My mom, dad and brother were in on the whole thing. Bobby had been carefully planning it for weeks and his hard work paid off. He blew me away.

In a sign that we must truly be destined to be together, we even managed to wear matching outfits... aren't we precious? (I was also happy that I had decided to paint my nails before leaving for vacation). Yep, I'm a girl.

And, just in case you were worried. After the proposal my mom got a few good shots of me and my brother that just might be worthy of making this year's Christmas card.