Monday, November 28, 2011

Make It a Double

I interrupt this regular scheduled post about cupcakes to bring you 2 things...

First, I'm putting Project Cupcake on a brief hiatus for December. After some contemplation I have decided that keeping up with cupcakes and my holiday baking while working full time, plus my normal everyday life responsibilities is just too much at once. And, since I can't quit my job, and the house still has to be cleaned one of my baking items had to go. Since I give Christmas cookies as gifts to friends and family not baking for the holidays just wasn't an option, so I decided to take a little break from cupcakes. But don't worry, come 2012 we'll be back on track.

Second, since I've been sick the past couple days (I have a head cold that is getting the best of me) I haven't baked anything. I don't want to potentially infect anyone with my germs. Therefore, I'm bringing you a blast from the fairly-recent past. If you can't have cupcakes... why not have cake?

As I've mentioned before (I think) co-workers occasionally ask me to make cakes for birthdays, bridal showers, etc. This request was for 2 birthday cakes, one for a 6-year-old (I think) boy, and a 2-year-old (I'm positive) girl, brother and sister. Their birthdays are about a week apart and I made their cakes last year as well... repeat customers! Trevor wanted a Lightning McQueen cake (a character from the movie Cars for those who don't know), and Kate doesn't care because she's 2, but her mom asked for something pretty and girly and sent a picture of a cake she liked to serve as inspiration for me.

Before starting each cake I did some Google image searching to learn everything there is to learn about what Lightning McQueen looks like. I had a base knowledge of what he looks like, but I needed specific details. I found some good images and saved a few on my computer of Lightning McQueen from several different angles (yowza!). I continued my Google searching to see what other people had done to make Lightning McQueen cakes because this would be my first attempt at truly sculpting a cake and making it 3D. I didn't want it to be a complete failure and ruin Trevor's birthday party. No cake equals no fun, at least it does at my birthday parties.

After completing my research I decided to make 2 9x13 cakes and layer them. Then I would sculpt from there. Plus with using 2 9x13 pans I knew exactly how many batches of batter I would need. The cakes were both chocolate, so I used the same recipe for both cakes and just tripled it to have enough batter for both. It worked out perfectly.

I wasn't sure how to start sculpting, but I know from my sculpture classes in college that once you take something away, you can't really put it back (Mom and Dad would be so proud that I'm using those tuition dollars!). There's a little more wiggle room with cakes, since frosting is a baker's form of glue, but still, I'd rather not have to go that route. In my Google research someone suggested drawing out the form of the car on a piece of paper and then putting it against the side of the cake and carving along the edges of that to get the shape. This seemed like a great idea, so that's what I did. It worked out great and I got the basic shape of the cake. I did a little more carving around the edges and "touching up" to get as close to the shape of the car as possible. To be honest, it looked a little wider than I liked, but overall I was pretty pleased with my first attempt at sculpting a cake. Once the sculpting was complete I threw on 2 layers of vanilla buttercream frosting and popped that baby in the fridge.

The next day (after 8 hours of my day job) I came home to do the remainder of the decorating. Two days prior I made the frosting and fondant and left them waiting patiently in the fridge until I was ready for them. I made 1 batch of red marshmallow fondant for Lightning McQueen and 2 batches of white, one for Kate's cake, and then another to have for the details of both cakes. I ended up having more fondant than I needed, but I'd rather have too much than not enough.

First, I covered the cake with the red fondant and watched it start to sweat. That's what happens when you take a buttercream-frosted cake out of the fridge and cover it with with fondant in a non-air conditioned, humid house. But, I wasn't too concerned because I knew at some point it would stop sweating once the temperature evened out, and the fact that it was wet made it easier to stick on all the details (the next morning when the cakes were picked up they were both sweat free thanks to sitting in their respective cake boxes in a dehumidified basement overnight). I made several different color fondants from one of the white batches for the windows, wheels, lightning bolts, numbers, headlights, taillights and any other detail I can't remember. For the wheels I had previously made rice krispy treats and cut them into circles using a cookie cutter. I covered those with fondant and stuck them to the cake using toothpicks so they wouldn't flop over. Lightning McQueen won't be lightning fast if he's missing a wheel. I finished up some of the small details, such as outlining everything and the wording by piping on some of my leftover buttercream icing. Finally, Lightning McQueen was finished. I'm very proud of my work, and Trevor loved it, which is the most important thing. Being the perfectionist that I am, I think it could be better, and I'm sure the next one will be.

On to cake No. 2 for little Kate. Hers was much easier which is why I saved it for last. I knew Trevor's cake would be a lot of work and I wanted to have as much energy as possible to tackle it. Kate's cake was a 6-inch round, 3-inch deep cake. I cut it in half so it would have layers and frosted it with 2 applications of buttercream before I started decorating. I covered it twice with white fondant because the first pass was a little thin in some places and I didn't want to risk it ripping. Especially with the moisture issue I was facing and the fact that I had more than enough fondant. I made several colors of fondant for the flowers on the cake; yellow, orange, blue, pink and purple. I bought Wilton flower cookie cutters from Michaels and used those to make the flowers. They worked great. I cut out about 6 flowers in each color, more then enough since I was working with a small cake, but I didn't want to have to go back and make more flowers later if I needed them.

Before I put any of the flowers on the cake I wanted to get the number 2 on it. This was the only specific request that was made fore the cake, everything else was up to me. I used some pink fondant and rolled it into a rope, made it into the shape of a 2 and put it on the top of the cake. Next, I put on the flowers in a not so organized or patterned fashion. I didn't want to use too many, because I wanted the cake to look pretty and dainty, but I didn't want it to be to sparse because I didn't want the cake to look naked. For the finishing touches I attached white pearl sprinkles to the center of the flowers with some of the leftover buttercream frosting. It was a really nice touch and made a difference, it made everything look complete and finished. I don't know if this is my favorite cake that I've ever made, but it's definitely high on my list. It's so dainty and pretty and lovely... just like the birthday girl.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Streusel Cupcakes

Who loves coffee cake but not coffee? Me. While I was very excited to make streusel cupcakes (this recipe has a different name, but I'm almost 100% certain it's the same one) I was also a little scared because there were a lot of steps for these cupcakes and a lot of steps makes me a little nervous that I'm going to mess something up. I had to make the cupcakes, the streusel topping and the glaze. That's 3 whole steps. Yikes.

First, I prepared the cupcake batter which was easy. Nothing had to be prepped other than leaving out the butter and eggs to get to room temperature. Second, I made the streusel topping. Now, had I read ahead like I'm supposed to I would have seen that the streusel topping was supposed to be refrigerated for 30 minutes before it gets put on top of the cupcake batter. But, I didn't read ahead because I can't even follow my own rules. Shame. Once I completed the streusel topping I put it in the fridge for 30 minutes and cursed myself. On the bright side while waiting the allotted 30 minutes I played outside with Rollins, so really, everyone wins. Except maybe the cupcake batter that sat out for 30 minutes. Ugh, drives me crazy when I do that.

When it came time to fill the cupcake liners Martha let me down. For real this time. She didn't tell me how full to fill the liners, so I did what I have done for roughly the 10 previous cupcakes and filled the liners 3/4 full, then added the streusel topping. Small mistake. The cupcake liners probably could have been filled about 1/2 full and still produced lovely large, rounded cupcakes like I like. Filling them 3/4 full gave me a pretty decent-sized cupcake and also yielded me about 5 less than I should have gotten. Oops. Bigger is better, right? And, it's not my fault, Martha didn't tell me what I was supposed to do. In the future, if I were to make them again, which I probably will because they were so delicious, I would only fill them halfway. In addition, since they turned out to be so large, I also had to add about 3 minutes of baking time. So instead of 20 minutes, each batch got 23 minutes. No one wants an undercooked cupcake.

Onto the milk glaze! Super easy. It required milk and confectioner's sugar. My only problem with the glaze was that once it was drizzled onto the cupcake it didn't really harden and stay white like the pictures led me to believe it would. In most cases it absorbed into the cupcake so you couldn't really see it. There were a few instances when you could see it on the edges of the cupcakes, but that's about it. It didn't ruin the cupcakes or anything, I just thought they looked a little prettier when you could see the glaze.

Taste test time! I really enjoyed these cupcakes. They reminded me of a coffee cake my mom used to make when I was younger. She usually made it for Christmas morning or Easter brunch and I loved it. Even while these were baking they smelled like the coffee cake she made. So these cupcakes get extra points for taking me back to the simpler times of my youth and making me think of my mom. Aw.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cakes

We are now officially into the world of dipped and glazed cupcakes, the second section in Martha's cookbook. Progress people! I will say, we eased into this section because the first recipe, brown sugar pound cakes, was pretty easy. So easy that I only needed 7 ingredients (if you don't count the icing).

Even though this recipe only required 7 ingredients I still read through the whole thing beforehand so I wouldn't encounter any surprises. I hate when that happens! It's extremely frustrating to think that you're almost done and then BAM! You find out that there was something you should have had prepared and didn't. Total killjoy. So, I try to avoid that at all costs. Although, had I not read ahead in this case, I wouldn't have come across and surprises.

Once completed the batter was pretty thick so I couldn't pour-by-Pyrex (tear) but I scooped about 1 1/2 tablespoons into each cupcake liner. I think I came out with about 2 less than the recipe said I would yield so I did pretty well. The recipe said to bake the cupcakes for 25 minutes with a turn halfway through the total baking time, but as we've been over before, my timer doesn't work in 1/2-minute increments so I baked the cupcakes for 12 minutes, rotated them, and baked them for 12 minutes more. It worked just fine. The cupcakes came out pretty flat, but I imagined they would since that's what they looked like in Martha's picture. Plus, when I think of pound cake I don't really think of puffy rounded cake. I think of flat, dense and delicious cake.

Making the cupcakes was very easy, and overall the brown-butter glaze was too, I just had a couple moments of uncertainty while making it. Like the cupcakes, and really all types of icing there wasn't much needed as far as ingredients go. My biggest question right from the beginning was what were the little brown flecks in the picture of the icing? I figured they were vanilla bean, but the recipe called for vanilla extract. I was confused and thought Martha had messed up (like that could ever really happen). I should have known better.

The first step of the process gave me the most concern because I was worried I would burn the butter, or take it off the heat too soon, before it was the proper nut-brown color. I stared at the pan like a crazy person, swirled it and debated back and forth about when it was the right color. When I felt confident that the color was satisfactory I poured the melted butter into a bowl and stirred in the rest of the ingredients. Turns out those little brown dots came from the brown butter. Crazy!

The icing was delicious. Seriously delicious, but I didn't let myself eat a lot of it because all I could think about was that the main ingredient was butter, and it can't be good to consume a lot of butter. Especially when you're shedding for a wedding like me. I wasn't sure how to ice the cupcakes. I didn't want to use so much of the icing that it would run off the sides of the cupcakes too much. Luckily this icing set after it had been on the cupcakes a few minutes so I didn't really have to worry about that. I just used a spoon to spoon some of the icing onto the cupcake and then spread it a little bit with the back of the spoon. Worked like a charm.

After I had finished icing the cupcakes I performed a taste test and they were scrumptious. I've never made a pound cake of any variety before and these were very good. I ate more than I normally do when I make cupcakes. I had to give them away so I would stop. I'm serious. I took a half dozen to our neighbors. They plowed our driveway after the giant and ridiculous snowstorm that we had. It was the least I could do.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Day Late, But Not a Cupcake Short

Yes, I normally post on Sundays, but this Sunday someone threw a monkey wrench in my plan. I worked until 8pm last night and was going to get to blogging when I got home from work, but while still at work I got a text message from Bobby and the conversation went like this...

Bobby: "How much do u love me?"
Me: "I'm marrying you, so I guess that means I love you a whole lot."
Bobby: "Ok well I locked my keys in my car at Fishers."
Me: "So I'm marrying an idiot."
Bobby: "Yes lol... buuut if you drive over my spare set you will get a home-cooked meal by chef Pedrozov."

So clearly you can see what happened. I left work, stopped at home, fed Rollins, got Bobby's keys and drove over to our friend John's house. I did get dinner, but they had all already eaten without me, and I had to reheat my food. It was good, don't get me wrong, and it was nice to not have to cook for myself, but at the very least my beloved fiance could have waited for me. I ate, the Sunday Night Football game was on, so we watched that and I indulged in some leftover Halloween candy the boys still had. Mini Twix are delicious and my downfall. But, today is a new day, and as far as I know Bobby hasn't locked his keys in his car.

Now, to the important part... the cupcakes. Ladies and gentlemen, it's official. The first phase of project cupcake has concluded. The baking of the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes has resulted in the completion of the swirled and sprinkled portion of Martha's cupcake cookbook. 18 cupcakes are in the books (no pun intended), I can't quite believe it either. In honor of this momentous occasion I thought it would be fun to take a walk down memory lane to relive some of the highlights, the low lights, and everything in between.

To get it out of the way... let's start with the "bad" news, and my least favorite (and also ugliest, two for one!), tres leches cupcakes.
The horrible picture speaks for itself. Next time around these bad boys will get less tres leches (and much better lighting) and maybe I'll like them more.

Of course, there always has to be a beauty queen on the bunch, these blueberries-and-cream cupcakes were the best looking in my opinion. But then again, it may just be that I'm partial to purple. My bridesmaids will be wearing that color after all.
Most surprising cupcakes goes to...
... rhubarb cupcakes! I had no idea what to expect with these cupcakes, and I thought for sure I wouldn't like them. I had never worked with or even eaten rhubarb so my expectations were low. Turned out I really liked the taste and thought they were quite pretty as well. Too bad I couldn't convince anyone else that they were delicious. As soon as anyone heard rhubarb they ran. They didn't know what they were missing.

Most likely to never make again goes to...
... date-nut mini cupcakes! It's not that these cupcake weren't good, because they weren't horrible, it's just that if I had to pick one of these to never have again, I wouldn't be sad to miss out on these. We already know I'm not a big fan of nuts in my cupcakes and after making these we also learned that I'm terrified of dates because they look like giant slugs. That's an image I'm not going to be able to get out of my head, and to be honest, when I think of these cupcakes I just see a giant slug in my mind. Not the mental image you want when you're eating something.

Last, but not least, the favorite. This shouldn't be a shocker. The winner is...
... carrot cake cupcakes! Carrot cake is my favorite cake, hands down. I love it. It's my dessert of choice if and when I get dessert at a restaurant. While this recipe is different from the recipe that I use when I make carrot cake it's still just as tasty. And, out of the 18 cupcakes I've made so far, I would pick carrot cake first every time I had to choose.

Hope you enjoyed this little walk down memory lane. It made me want a carrot cake cupcake. What's coming up next? You'll just have to wait and see.