Monday, November 26, 2012

Guten Tag!

That's hello or good day in German for those who aren't as well versed as I. Why am I writing German greetings you might ask? Well, there's one probably not-so-obvious-to-you answer. Because I recently took a little trip over the great big Atlantic Ocean to the country where some of my ancestors are from. You guessed it, Germany. Don't worry, I'm still baking, in fact I've been baking quite frequently as of late, I baked 2 pies for Thanksgiving (apple and coconut creme) and Christmas baking is in full swing. Therefore, cupcake baking is currently on hold. I just haven't taken any pictures of anything (except for my Germany birthday treat you'll be seeing soon) and haven't had much time for posting. It's been a busy couple weeks.

So Germany you say? It was a work trip, and that's just about all I did. Work and try to sleep. The time difference was not my friend (Germany is 6 hours ahead of east coast time). For those who are unaware, I work in production at ESPN and for Veteran's Day this year we broadcast portions of SportsCenter from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Maybe you watched? My mom and dad did, they're so proud. We were there to support our troops and also cover the college basketball game that was going to be played in one of the hangers on base, Michigan State and Connecticut.

What's Germany like? Well, I really couldn't tell you because I didn't see much of it. There were 2 shuttle rides to and from the airport in Frankfurt, but I slept during those. Once I realized the German countryside looks a lot like the Connecticut countryside I decided sleep was more important. As I mentioned we worked from Ramstein Air Base which is also where we stayed. There's a hotel on the base for civilians, military and military families which was my home for about 5 days. The base was very much like America, and had I not known I was in Germany, I wouldn't have known I was in Germany, other than the surplus of BMWs and Mercedes that drove around the base. If you go to Germany and rent a car, it will be a Mercedes. Promise.

The food was very American as well. There was a mall attached to the hotel (that I couldn't shop in, it was only for military and their families) that had a food court (where I was allowed to purchase things, things being food items only) that included fine dining establishments like Subway, Taco Bell and Baskin Robbins to name a few. There was also a Macaroni Grill, Chili's and Burger King on base. If I had to compare it to something, I would liken it to a college campus with it's own mini airport and giant airplanes. From what I remember of what I learned while there, Ramstein mostly has C-130s which are enormous airplanes, like a cargo plane. They're the types of planes you can drive vehicles into, massive and really cool to see. I didn't get to ride in one, but it was just cool to walk to the production truck in the morning and see them all sitting on the tarmac.

As I mentioned we were there to honor our troops for Veteran's Day, we were also there to cover a basketball game. One of the first places I went when I got on base was to the hanger where the court was being built. It wasn't to see the court, it was to try to get my base pass so no one tried to throw me out, but it was cool to see part of the process of building a basketball court in a hanger. The first time I saw it there was just one set of bleachers put up. The morning of the game I stopped in the hanger again to check out the finished product, it was pretty amazing.

I had a little time so I wandered around a bit to check everything out since I knew it was unlikely I'd get back into the hanger once the game started since I'd be working. I like to have swag to remember the remotes I've done, and the military was nice enough to give us all very nice jackets to keep from our visit, but what I really wanted was one of the chairs the players would later be sitting in during the game.

I thought these were pretty awesome, and if I could have figured out how to get one on the airplane home without getting caught or fired I would have done it. But, since I couldn't, I settled for a nice fleece jacket. It was really nice, the best swag I've gotten out of all the remotes I've done (10 if we're counting).

My view during the week wasn't quite as exciting as being in a hanger. The set for SportsCenter was inside a different hanger than the game (sorry, I didn't take any pictures of it), but since I'm not nearly important enough to put on TV, I get to sit in a chilly production truck, packed like a sardine.
A mini control room on wheels and pretty close quarters as you can see (I was the middle seat with the 2 computers). But, it's all part of the traveling experience, and though it's exhausting, stressful and a lot of work, it is a great experience. One I usually only appreciate after I'm home. This trip was no different, except that I appreciated it more than I normally would because of who we were there for. You stop complaining when you're in the company of the military because you realize that you're lucky just to be in Germany to make television. It's a tiny matter compared to the bigger picture of what they're doing and the sacrifices they're making everyday. I can suck up 5 days with minimal sleep because at the end of those 5 days, I get to go home to my house and my husband.

When the week was over I had a couple reasons to celebrate. It was a successful trip, I was getting to go home, and it was my birthday. On my birthday I woke up in Germany and went to bed in Connecticut, it was a very long day of travel, but I started it off like any good birthday should begin. With a German treat, and the only German cuisine I actually ate while in Germany.
It was delicious, and capped off a truly amazing experience and opportunity. Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! That's right, ice cream! Doesn't it make for a lovely garnish? I think so too. I like to copy the garnishes that Martha uses in the pictures in the cookbook and for these flourless chocolate cupcakes, ice cream was that garnish. I can get on board with that.

I won't say there were a lot of different steps to these cupcakes, there were only about 3, but each one was a different process that required dirtying another dish, which made for a lot of cleanup that I didn't so much enjoy. But, some good things require more work. While there were several steps, none of them were difficult. Melting the butter and chocolate was easy. That's never where I worry or get hung up that I might be messing something up. It's whipping the egg whites that concerns me and this time around was no different.

I used my stand mixer to handle the egg whites because it's much more efficient and I can do other things while they're whipping, like tend to the melting butter and chocolate for instance. I let the egg whites whip until I thought they were the right consistency, truthfully, I never know. I just do what I think is right and hope for the best. This time around I don't think I did it right because of how the cupcakes turned out. I'm not sure if I over-whipped the egg whites, or didn't whip them enough, but when the cupcakes were done the centers never really collapsed like they looked in Martha's pictures, they just kind of caved in. I suppose it could have also been the baking time (25 total minutes with a turn halfway through), maybe they needed to bake longer, or maybe I didn't bake them long enough. I don't plan on making them again anytime soon (it's almost time to start Christmas baking), but if I do I'll try to do some investigative work and see if they turn out any differently the second time around.

Although they didn't look like Martha's pictures, they did taste delicious! Especially with the ice cream. She knows a good garnish. The texture was very light and smooth. It kind of reminded me of a mousse. The texture was less cakey than a souffle and the center was set so it wasn't like a lava cake. In short they were tasty, and I ate more of them than I originally intended. It's a good thing I ran out of ice cream (my hubby helped with that) or I would have eaten even more. When I'm not pressuring myself by shedding for a wedding I let myself get away with a lot more bad eating. It's time to right this ship, though I'm not sure doing it before the holidays is a good idea.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pistachio-Raspberry Tea Cakes

We are rapidly approaching the end of the simple and sweet section of the cookbook. I couldn't believe it myself until I looked ahead a few pages and saw that I only have 2 to go after these pistachio-raspberry tea cakes. It's exciting to finish a section, I feel like I'm really making progress and accomplishing something. No, it's certainly nothing as noble as curing a disease or saving the environment, but a goal is a goal... at least I have one.

I will confess that I wasn't excited about making these cupcakes. As mentioned several times before I'm not a big fan of pistachios and I don't hate raspberries, but I don't love them either. I prefer them in a pureed or syrup form. Like a garnish on a dessert, or perhaps in yogurt. I also figured that not many people would be interested in eating them, including myself, so they would be hard to get rid of.

The first thing I did to start making these cupcakes was to shell (I couldn't find pistachios that had already been shelled) and chop the pistachios. I had bought a small container of pistachios that I thought would be enough for the recipe, which was a little over a cup. I got about 3/4 cup of shelled pistachios. Not enough. I thought I might have an already opened bag of pistachios in the cupboard from a recent attempt at healthy snacking (I just can't do pistachios, I really tried, I swear) but I searched through the cupboard and couldn't find it. However a day later when I was back in that same cupboard looking for something else I found them... on the bottom shelf, right in front of my face. Clearly a future as a detective is not in the cards for me. Since I couldn't find anymore pistachios in the cupboard when I looked for them the first time I decided that I would just cut the recipe in half. Something I've thought of doing before when I had a recipe I wasn't excited about, but this was the first time I actually did it. I had enough pistachios to give me a 1/2 cup for the recipe and enough left over to use for the garnish. It would also be less work and I would have less to eat/get rid of. Everybody wins.

Happy with my decision to cut the recipe in half I proceeded. This recipe was the first I've used that calls for everything to be put together in a food processor. I almost didn't use it since I was afraid that it wouldn't work and blend everything well enough. But, part of this process is trying something new so I forged ahead. I ground the pistachios with the sugar and salt. I did a couple doses since after the first one there were still a couple of larger pieces of pistachio left. I wanted everything to be as fine as possible. I followed the same process for the remaining ingredients and turned out getting a normal looking batter. Though once everything was combined I did use a spoon to make sure everything was really combined since some of the liquid was at the bottom of the food processor and not completely mixed. Truthfully I think cutting the recipe in half was a stroke of luck (and maybe brilliance) since I'm not sure making a full batch would have fit in my food processor.

I filled the liners (which had to be sprayed with cooking spray first, something I've never had to do before) 3/4 full. This gave me 6 cupcakes... perfect! I was so excited to only have 6 cupcakes. I baked the cupcakes for 28 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. They may have turned out a little browner than I normally like. But they were by no means too done or burnt. They also looked quite beautiful. The colors were really nice. I can't say the same for the taste.

The batter was pretty good, but I really didn't enjoy the end product. I'm not sure if it was the combination of the pistachios and the raspberries, perhaps it was the consistency. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something wasn't quite right. I only ended up eating the portion of the cupcake that I took apart to take the photos. I even tried to go back a few days later when I was craving something sweet to give them another try and I only took a bite. They just weren't for me. I ended up throwing them away. I knew there was no way Bobby was going to eat them, fruit and nuts together, the cupcakes didn't stand a chance with him. I didn't think anyone at work would be interested in them either, especially since they were a couple days old at that point. I only like to provide baked goods when they're as fresh as possible. If I don't want to eat them, I can't expect other people to be interested.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Skunked (Pupper le Pew)

This is Rollins. Our 2-year-old Yellow Lab. He is very handsome, and he knows it.
This is a skunk. Not mine and certainly not handsome.
A couple weeks ago on a mild September evening after the sun had set, these 2 met. And because of that chance meeting we have the story of the night Rollins was sprayed by a skunk.

It was roughly 9pm, give or take a few minutes. I was in the kitchen and my husband (Bobby) was in the bedroom. Rollins was also in the bedroom and started growling and barking out the window. He does this on occasion and whenever we look out the window we never see anything, and never quite know what he's barking at.

(Please note the image below is not even remotely to scale or at all accurate in terms of what our house actually looks like, but it gives you an idea of where things are.)
We decided to let him out, so Bobby put his collar on him and Rollins sprinted out the back door clearly keen on getting whatever creature was lurking in the darkness. I had tried to ask Bobby to check around the side of the house (where the skunk is on the drawing above) to make sure there wasn't anything there before Rollins went out. It's hard to see around the side of the house, especially at night and I was worried about him chasing whatever creature was there into the street. But Rollins was not to be stopped, he was on a mission.

Since Rollins literally took off off the deck I ran outside as well to make sure he wasn't going to run into the street. When he's chasing something, he has no concept of where he is. He is a retriever after all. Because it was dark I couldn't see what was on the side of the house. But by all the barking and growling Rollins was doing it was clear that he had found something. Bobby was in the yard going after Rollins to get him to come back onto the deck. Rollins is actually a pretty well behaved dog and listens most of the time, so back to the deck he came and stood with me while Bobby assessed the situation.

I asked him if he could see anything and he said, "I think it was a skunk." And instantly I'm thinking, "Oh, (expletive), I hope he didn't get sprayed." He was standing right next to me and I didn't smell a thing, I thought we were in the clear. Then I bent down and took a whiff. Yep, it was a skunk, and Rollins got sprayed. Skunk 1, Rollins 0. It was late, it was dark, everything was closed, what do we do? Google of course. Google always has the answer.

I stood on the deck with Rollins to keep the smell out of the house while Bobby Googled on his phone and ran down the options. I remember tomato juice being a remedy when I was a kid. I knew we didn't have any tomato juice so I was hoping there were other options. There were. We decided based on what we had on hand that giving him a bath with his own shampoo was the best option.

Before bathing him we checked his eyes and ears and they appeared to be fine. Apparently skunk spray is actually an oil, and it can burn the eyes and cause blindness. Rollins was good. Google also said to wipe down the sprayed animal, Rollins in this case, with paper towels to try to get some of the oil off before it soaked into his skin. We did that and then into the tub he went.

Rollins loves the water. He's a big fan of the pool and loves the hose, but he hates being in the bathtub. I wish I had taken a picture of how pitiful he looked while standing in the tub soaking wet. He was not a happy camper. We (Bobby) ended up giving him 2 consecutive baths with his regular dog shampoo and it did the trick. However, there was no remedy for the skunk smell that permeated the house. The smell was everywhere. Because the bedroom windows were open, and the incident occurred outside the bedroom windows, the smell had worked its way into the house. It was awful. We turned on all the fans, lit all the candles we had and opened all the windows. In the morning it was much better.

As for Rollins, he didn't smell the next day, but if he gets wet, even now that it's a couple weeks later, you can still smell a little bit of the skunk on him. But only if you're close to him. We read on Google that the smell can stay on animals that have been sprayed up to 2 years, so the sooner the situation is address the better. Since he was wearing his collar when he was sprayed that also stunk of skunk. We left it outside on the deck for a few days and airing it out completely got rid of the skunk smell. The towels we used to dry him off, and the clothes we were wearing while we bathed him were all also rid of the skunk smell after they had been washed.

We haven't seen the skunk since, but then again, I never saw it to begin with. I will say, I now do a quick check of the yard before I let him out at night, just to make sure I can't see, or smell anything. And now, when Rollins barks out into the darkness at what I think is nothing, I do a quick scan to see if there's anything there. Just in case.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes

Cheesecake is back! Did you miss it? I like when a cheesecake recipe comes up because it's usually pretty easy, it tastes good and the cheesecakes usually make for pretty pictures. Which, I would have to say is the case with these cookies and cream cheesecakes (no recipe on Martha's site, sorry). Aren't they pretty?

I usually bake at least once a week for two reasons. One, to make sure I stay on track with this blog (except when I'm getting married and honeymooning of course), and two, because I like to bring in baked treats to work on Sunday morning, whether it's what I'm making from Martha's cookbook or something else just for fun. It's like therapy for me and I honestly look forward to it. Unless I'm tired and don't feel like dealing with the mess. Some day I will have a person to wash all my dirty dishes.

This week, I was excited to make these cheesecakes because I knew they would be pretty when they were done, and I also knew that people at work would like them (who doesn't like Oreos and cheesecake?) so I wouldn't have a bunch left over. I don't like to let things go to waste when I've paid for the ingredients, but I also don't want to eat 10 cheesecakes by myself. Just because I already fit in my wedding dress doesn't mean I can just let it all go.

Let's get down to business. This recipe was very straight forward. I didn't even need to mixing bowls! I had to buy a few things that I didn't have on hand. Oreo cookies being one of them. But, in a nice turn of events they were on sale and I also had a coupon. I'm also aspiring to be a couponer. I've got a long way to go. The morning of the day I was planning to bake I set the cream cheese and eggs out before I headed to work so they would be room temperature and ready when I got home. The only real "prep" work I had left was chopping up the Oreo cookies that were going into the batter, and that didn't take long. Neither did making the batter.

The recipe said to fill the liners almost to the top and that I would get 30 cheesecakes when all was said and done. I only have 2 cupcake pans and normally I would stop after filling up 2 pans because usually there isn't much batter left. After I had filled 24 liners I still had quite a bit of batter left, too much that I wasn't willing to throw it away. The only problem was after the cheesecakes were baked (22 total minutes with a turn halfway through) they were supposed to cool completely and then remain in the cupcake pans and cool in the fridge at least 4 hours. With only 2 cupcake pans that meant that a batch was going to be without a pan to cool in (I ended up with 36 total cheesecakes). Thinking on my feet I grabbed the top rack of my cupcake carrier and put the first batch of cheesecakes in that and put them in the fridge. Not as good as a cupcake pan, but better than nothing. When all of the cheesecakes were done they went in the fridge overnight, and I took them to work the next morning.

I didn't try a cheesecake until after I had taken them to work and gotten home that afternoon. Cheesecake for breakfast is a little much, even for me. I thought they were delicious. So smooth, light and creamy. Since they were so easy to make and delicious, I would definitely make them again. But, I have a lot of cupcakes left to make before I repeat any recipes. It could take years... seriously.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blackberry-Cornmeal Cupcakes

Your computer isn't playing tricks on you... I'm back! October is knocking on the door and I couldn't let the entire month of September go by without posting something. I could endlessly apologize for my not-so-brief absence, but truthfully, I'm not sorry (but I do feel a little guilty). After all, I was getting married and honeymooning in Maui. There wasn't a lot of time for baking. But, we've been back for almost 2 weeks now and I can happily proclaim that baking has resumed. I picked up right where I left off in the cookbook. Blackberry-cornmeal cupcakes... you're up.

Since I'm just getting my baking groove back I was happy that this recipe was easy and straightforward.   Not including baking time, I think all the work was done in less than 20 minutes. There was also very little mess to clean up which is always nice, and just 2 ingredients I had to buy that I didn't already have on hand. I normally bake the cupcakes on the weekends after I've worked in the morning. When the recipes and ingredients needed for them are low maintenance it helps motivate me to want to make them. Although this week I did watch the early football games (go Bills) and take a little nap before I started baking. Getting up at 3am and working a full day is tiring.

The first thing I did to prepare the ingredients was rinse the blackberries. They tell me all fresh fruit should be washed before used/eaten. I also cut some in half to make them smaller since some of them were quite large. The recipe also says you need 12 oz. of blackberries, but I probably could have gotten away with just 6. I had about half leftover. But, I suppose that could have been because some of the blackberries were extra large.

Once I was done prepping the blackberries I started to combine the dry ingredients before I realized that I should have started to melt the butter so it could cool. I stopped with the dry ingredients and melted the butter. While the butter was melting and then cooling I combined the rest of the ingredients. I completed a couple of kitchen tasks, like washing my dishes from lunch, while I waited for the melted butter to cool. When I started to become impatient, and couldn't wait any longer, I whisked together the wet ingredients, and then combined both the wet and dry ingredients together.

I used my quarter-cup measuring cup to pour the batter into the cupcake liners because that's what Martha told me to do. The liners ended up being filled about three-quarters full. I filled 12 cupcake liners and had a very small amount of batter left over. Such a small amount that I didn't deem it enough to save and make a second batch. I baked the cupcakes for 25 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. In my opinion they turned out perfectly, just the right size and they tasted good as well. I loved how the berries looked in the cupcakes. The pop of color was really pretty. All in all, the first recipe back was a complete success. I was even able to take them to work and get rid of them so I wouldn't eat them. I'm not shedding for the wedding anymore, but that doesn't mean I should be packing on the pounds to get ready for winter either.

Now that I'm back from my honeymoon and just another married lady with no more weddings to plan, I promise to do my best to keep up with my pre-wedding normal weekly posting pace. I may even throw one or two real-life posts in the mix. Don't you want to know how the wedding went, and whether or not my dog still stinks after getting sprayed by a skunk this weekend? I thought so.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blondie Cupcakes

As I was preparing to write this entry about blondie cupcakes (this recipe is a little different than the one in the book), I was flipping through the pages of my cookbook and one of them fell out. In any other circumstance, and if this book was any kind other than a cookbook, I would be extremely annoyed. I like all my things to be in as pristine condition as possible. However, in this case, I smiled. I liked that it's kind of like a battle scar, a sign of use and accomplishment. I'm using this book so much that the binding is starting to go and things are coming undone. After all, when this project is all said and done I won't have any actual cupcakes to show for it, but I will have the pictures I've taken, the batter splotches and loose pages of the the cookbook. I hope I won't have any added inches to my waistline.

This recipe was very straightforward and if you take out the hour of baking time (about 30 minutes per batch) I would have been done in less than 20 minutes. The most work involved chopping the cashews for the batter. I think this is the first recipe I've ever used cashews in. My mom is a big fan of them. Cashews were just one of the three little bits of extras in these blondies. I have made blondies before, though not in the style of a cupcake, but they've only even included chocolate and/or white chocolate chips. These particular blondies included butterscotch chips and toffee bits in addition to the above-mentioned cashews.

I was surprised by the small amount of batter I got for these cupcakes. I feel like this recipe could have easily been doubled and still given me a normal amount of cupcakes. The recipe said I would yield 12 cupcakes. Which is fine by me, less that I have to eat. But, I'm used to getting at least 24 from a batch. All that said I ended up getting 14 cupcakes. I filled the liners about three-quarters full. The batter was pretty thick so it was hard to judge just how full the liners were. I baked each batch for 28 minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. In the end the cupcakes were done perfectly at 28 minutes. I probably could have even cut off a minute or two from the baking time. But as far as size goes, they were perfect by my standards.

I of course tasted the batter throughout the baking process and it was good. The finished cupcakes were also quite delicious. I always find blondies to be delicious. I think the butter and brown sugar are strong contributing factors. Toffee bits and butterscotch chips don't hurt either. If I made them again I might leave out the cashews just because I don't personally enjoy them that much. I like them perfectly fine when they're not chopped up in my cupcakes, but in my cupcake is an entirely different story. Bottom line, blondie cupcakes get two thumbs up and I've now successfully made it through two weeks without messing anything up. Keep the streak alive!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Raspberry Marble Cheesecakes

Can I interest you in a cheesecake? Good, because that's what I made this week. I'm fairly certain that this recipe for raspberry marble cheesecakes is the first cheesecake I've made up until this point. Wait, I retract that statement because it's incorrect. These apricot-glazed black and white cheesecakes were the first. How could I forget? They were so pretty.

I will give myself some credit. I think I rebounded quite nicely from last week's oatmeal-raisin episode, which can be found here. Not only did I not mess these up, I also performed a little experiment and taught myself something. Granted I did accidentally stumble upon this little experiment, which I will elaborate on later, but that's neither here nor there.

So cheesecakes, I've made my fair share in life. Cheesecake is one of my dad's favorite desserts, but since my parents have relocated to Florida and my fiance doesn't like cheesecake, I don't make it very often. I was excited for this recipe because it's something much different than a normal cupcake. Unfortunately cheesecake does often require much more work than normal cupcakes. That fact has not changed during my brief cheesecake-making hiatus.

Before I started anything I read through all the steps to make sure I didn't give an encore performance of last week. The recipe said I should get 32 cheesecakes, but since I only have 2 cupcake pans, and due to the long cooling process that comes along with making cheesecake, I was only going to make 24 no matter how much batter I had left. After establishing that I got to work.

First order of business was making the graham cracker crust. I put the graham crackers in my food processor until they were fine crumbs. This did not take long. Once the crumbs were mixed with the butter and sugar I pressed a tablespoon of the crumbs into each cupcake liner. I had a small amount of crumbs left over that may or may not have gotten me to 32 cupcakes had I needed them to. They did however get in my belly. My favorite part of cheesecake is the graham cracker crust. No question. With both cupcake pans prepared each one was baked for 5 minutes and then set aside to cool.

Next, the raspberry syrup. I've never made this from scratch and I was excited to try something new. I pureed the berries in my food processor (I washed it by hand after I made the graham cracker crumbs) and then worked on passing the puree through a fine sieve with my new pink rubber spatula. Apparently people aren't interested in having raspberry seeds in their cupcakes. This process worked, but it took awhile. I also probably could have gotten more syrup but frankly I was sick of straining the puree. I knew I didn't need that much to get through the recipe anyway. In the end I had way more than I needed.

Making the rest of the cheesecake batter was easy, I've done it plenty of times. When the batter was completed I spooned about 3 tablespoons of batter for each cupcake and added 3 drops of the raspberry syrup to the top of each. Then I used a toothpick to swirl together the cheesecake batter and raspberry syrup to get a marble effect. I thought they all looked great. I love making the marble effect. It looks so cool and it's actually really easy to achieve.

When I was younger my dad always told me that to make a cheesecake the right way you had to put it in a hot water bath when you baked it. That way the cheesecake wouldn't crack. Like the perfect daughter that I am I always answered with, "OK dad" and continued about my cheesecake making sans the water bath. Well, this time Martha also told me to bake the cupcakes in a hot water bath and Martha is one I will not ignore... at least in this case. To help matters, I also have a large roasting pan that was perfect for this. Had I not had the appropriate pan I would have ignored Martha, and dad, again.

I placed the first cupcake pan in the roasting pan and then filled it with hot water so it was about halfway up the pan. While transporting the pan to the oven there was little flood over one of the cupcakes, but I just mentally noted which one it was so I would know not to serve the water logged cheesecake to anyone. I baked this batch for 28 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. I probably could have given them a few more minutes, about 30 total, but they looked set enough to me so I took them out and let them cool on a wire rack.

Time for the second batch... with one problem. I have 2 different cupcake pans and my second cupcake pan is part of a Betty Crocker cupcake caddy and has handles that stick out on each side. My other pan does not. Can you see where I'm going with this? I thought so. The handles make the pan about a quarter of an inch too long on each side to fit in the roasting pan. Major bummer, what do I do now? Taking the freshly baked cupcakes out of the pan is not an option, they still have to cool for awhile and then go into the fridge to cool some more. I don't want to trash perfectly good batter either. I know... I'll perform an experiment. I'll bake these cheesecakes without the water bath and see what the difference is in the final product. Brilliant! Let me tell you, there was a difference, and I think my dad may have been right all these years. I can't believe it either. How do parents always know?
The cheesecake on the left is from the water-bath batch and the cheesecake on the right is not. I don't think I need to explain the difference to you. It's pretty obvious from the picture. However, the cheesecake on the right didn't cave in until after it cooled. When it came out of the oven it was nice and rounded (mind you it was cracked) like a normal cupcake. I actually thought it looked quite pretty and was hoping it would stay that way. Then I remembered it was made of cream cheese, not flour, and that outcome was highly unlikely.

Not only was there a difference in appearance, there was also a difference in taste. The water-bath batch had the perfect texture while the non-water-bath batch was a little tough. Now, they weren't tough like inedible or disgusting, they just weren't as smooth as the water-bath batch. For example, had you not seen or tasted the water-bath batch first it's quite possible the non-water-bath batch would have seemed perfectly normal. Tongue tied yet?

So this week I learned 2 lessons...

1. As painful as it is to admit, dad was right about the water bath. It really does make a better cheesecake.

2. If you're going to bake cupcakes in a water bath, make sure the pans you're using fit inside the roasting pan you're going to use.

I'm getting smarter every week.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oatmeal-Raisin Cupcakes

I messed up. I knew it was going to happen, but frankly I thought it would happen with a seemingly more difficult cupcake. Apparently I've met my match with oatmeal raisin. I don't think my final product was that far off. As you can see they do still look like cupcakes.

Basically what happened was I skipped over a line in the recipe. Before you ask, yes, I did read it through once beforehand. But, once I got into the recipe I became sidetracked and missed a step. I do have an excuse, it's not great, but it's an excuse nonetheless. Long story short, in the middle of my baking a thunderstorm rolled in and I kept getting distracted having to run around the house closing windows and making sure we weren't taking on water. Oh, and the power went out once. I know it's not the best excuse but in the words of my dad... excuses are like a certain part of the body, (I'll let you guess which one) everyone has one. So what I missed is crystal clear, please note the highlighted portion from the recipe below.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and both sugars until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Beat in sour cream. Stir in raisins by hand. Transfer 2 3/4 cups batter to another bowl, and stir in remaining 1 3/4 cups oats and the coconut; reserve for topping.


In other words I went right from beating in the vanilla to beating in the sour cream. Then I stirred in the raisins, transferred the batter and stirred in the remaining oats and coconut. While clearly I can't read it was almost like I was trying to tell myself something when it came time to transfer the batter. I was looking at the counter and contemplating what bowl to put the batter in. The Pyrex bowls I hadn't used yet weren't going to be big enough to hold the batter with the oats and coconut. I even remember thinking to myself, "Man, if only I was done with the flour mixture I could use that bowl." Hello! See, I knew something was off, my brain just didn't get me there in time.

When I got to the part of the recipe where I was supposed to fill the cupcake liners, but still had my flour mixture to put into the batter my brain finally caught up. I realized that somewhere along the line I had missed a step. I backtracked and realized what I had done. After cursing myself (I have seriously never done this before) I started thinking if there was any way to fix the problem without completely trashing the batter and starting from scratch. There wasn't. I didn't have enough ingredients on hand to make a whole new batch, and I wasn't interested in taking another trip to the store (it was still storming outside). So I carried on. I had the "topping" done minus the portion of the flour mixture that was supposed to be in it. And, I had the regular batter without any flour mixture at all. I left the topping as it was and combined the flour mixture with the rest of the regular batter knowing that it would probably be really stiff, and end up being more dry than it was supposed to be. But at this point everything had become an experiment to see if I could come up with an edible finished product.

With my 2 different types of batter I followed the recipe like I was supposed to the rest of the way. I probably used more batter than I was supposed to to fill the liners, but again, I was pretty much off the script at this point. I baked the cupcakes according to the recipe, 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. The tops of the cupcakes were starting to get a little brown at that point, and the toothpick tester came out clean so I figured that was enough baking time. I let the cupcakes cool completely in the tins to give them as much baking time as possible.

They looked nice and full so at the very least I gave myself some style points, but the truth would be in the taste test. Truthfully, they weren't terrible and had I followed the recipe correctly they probably would have turned out pretty close to awesome. The flavor was good, the bottom portion was just a little dense and dry. Like I figured it would be since there was too much flour in that portion of the batter. The tops were pretty crumbly and probably would have held together better had they had more flour than they did. Again, something that would have happened if I knew how to read and follow directions.

I was happy that this wasn't a total loss, but to be honest when I first realized the mistake I had made I was pretty mad. Because it was such a waste of money, time and energy. Because I had done so well up to this point and because part of me thought I would get through this whole project and each cupcake would come out exactly as it was intended. Yes, I know that last part is ridiculous, but I have great expectations. I'm hoping these cupcakes will just be a minor blip on the radar and that I won't inadvertently deviate from any future recipes. At some point I may try to make them again the right way, but for now, it's full steam ahead for project cupcake.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Forgive me cupcakes for I have sinned. It's been several weeks since I last baked one of you...

Who knew getting married would monopolize so much of my time? And I fear it's only going to get worse from here since we're now 41 days away. Holy crap. I find that when you say it out loud (or read/write it) it really hits home how close it is. I'm not even panicking, at least not yet. We're pretty well organized, unless there's something major that I forgot. We'll see.

While I have been busy with wedding events and preparations and real-life things the past couple weeks this week I'm back! Did you miss me? My goal is to not take another cupcake hiatus until the wedding. I can't promise I won't, but I'm going to try not to.

When I left you last I had made a couple cakes for some birthdays, but my last cupcake adventure from Martha's book were these chocolate chunk cupcakes. The first of three in the cookie cupcake series in the third section of the book. I had high hopes for them, but they were disappointing, mostly because the chunks were so chunky they sunk and didn't make for very good looking cupcakes. I was hoping the second installment in this section, peanut butter cupcakes, would yield better results.

From the onset I wasn't very excited about these cupcakes because in my previous experience with peanut butter cupcakes I didn't enjoy them. The cupcakes were a bit too heavy, dense and peanut buttery for my taste. I feared that I would get the same result from this recipe. I didn't. Phew.

Let's break down the recipe, shall we? It was easy, plain and simple. I did get a bit thrown when it came time to fill the liners. The recipe said to fill the liners with 3 scant tablespoons of batter. I still don't know what that means, but because I was able to successfully make the cupcakes without that knowledge I didn't bother to look it up afterward. I used a tablespoon to fill the liners and filled them roughly three-quarters full. I just eyeballed it. The recipe said I should yield 20 cupcakes. I ran out of batter at 20 cupcakes so I figured my measurements were pretty close to on point.

However, when baking time came and they took longer than the recipe said they should have, I thought I might have made them a little too big. Martha said to bake the cupcakes about 13 minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. I ended up baking them for 19 minutes. They were good size, but they certainly weren't too big. In fact they were the perfect size for my taste.

I let the cupcakes cool completely and then began work on the frosting (recipe can also be found with the link above). I let the cream cheese and butter get to room temperature while I was baking the cupcakes so it wasn't too difficult to work with. The frosting was also easy to make and didn't take long. Once I was done with that I used my new, small offset spatula that I got at my recent bridal shower (thanks Laney!) to frost the cupcakes. I had quite a bit of frosting left over. Enough that I probably could have frosted 20 more cupcakes. I threw the excess away. Wasteful yes, but also good for my waistline. We're 41 days out people, it's all about the waistline right now.

After all the cupcakes were frosted I put them in the fridge for 10 minutes to set so I could finish them off with my favorite detail of the cupcakes, the criss-cross fork pattern! I just think it looks really cool, like they're peanut butter cookies, but they're actually cupcakes... boo-yah! Even though I put confectioner's sugar on the fork it still stuck a little when I pressed it into the frosting. Most of the cupcakes came out ok, but some lost a little frosting to the fork tines. Perfection is boring. Imperfection is what builds character, and I thought the cupcakes turned out looking really nice.

They also turned out tasting really nice. Relax, stay calm, I ate less than half of a cupcake. Truthfully I almost always only eat half a cupcake when I bake and that's usually the one that I take the pictures of. I am dedicated to shedding for the wedding... most of the time. I was expecting the cupcake to be very heavy, dense and peanut buttery like the peanut butter cupcakes of the past. While these cupcakes were heavy in weight, the texture of the cake was actually quite light and fluffy. I really enjoyed them. The frosting wasn't even too much. I was so pleasantly surprised and it took some willpower to only eat half.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Round 2

If you all remember last week, (if you don't you can read about it here) I made a birthday cake and cupcakes for the son of one of my coworkers. This week it was time to make a cake and cupcakes for their daughter's birthday festivities. Instead of Legos, the request was Minnie Mouse. They sent me some ideas of what they would like, all of which included pink and polka dots. Obviously I was in.

Originally the order was for 40 cupcakes and a 6-inch cake, just like what I had made for them last week. But, if I've learned anything in my 26 years it's that sometimes things change and it's good to be flexible (I've learned other things too, but they don't all apply to baking). Instead of making a 6-inch cake, I was asked to make an 8-inch cake. And, instead of 40 cupcakes I was asked to knock the tally down to 1 dozen. Since I hadn't started baking anything at the time the favor was asked, making the adjustment wasn't a problem. I also offered to make 2 dozen cupcakes (or as close to 2 dozen cupcakes that I could get with the batter I would have) because I wanted to make sure they would have enough for all their guests. To get an 8-inch cake and 1 dozen cupcakes I was going to have to make 2 batches of batter anyway, so I might as well give them everything I got. I don't need any extra cupcakes sitting around.

As you all know, when I have an order like this, or really any cake or cupcake order I always bake and decorate on separate days. I like to spread out the work, it's a system that works for me. Of course the day I baked had to be the hottest day we've had in Connecticut all year. There were heat advisories across the state, temperature were in the 90s if not the 100s, but I think my kitchen was the hottest place of all. I tried to start baking as early in the day as possible so I wouldn't be sweating profusely into the cupcake batter. Sweat is not an ingredient for this recipe.

Just like last week I made 2 batches of batter, only this time, that was all I needed. It's amazing how much the workload is cut down when you only have to double a recipe as opposed to triple it. It was nice. I decided to make the cakes first because I had to have enough batter for those. Any extra cupcakes I got was going to be a bonus. I made 2 8-inch cakes (it was going to be a 2-layer cake). I used 4 cups of batter to fill each pan, which worked perfectly. I favor Wilton's baking pans because the cakes always come out level, and if you prepare the pans correctly (Crisco and flour), the cakes are easy to get out. I can never remember how long to bake the cakes in these pans. I threw out those instructions long ago... oops. I suppose it's something I could Google, but I never do. I started with 20 minutes just to be safe. It was not enough time. I added 10 minutes each time until the cakes were baked for a total of 40 minutes and they were done. I'll try to remember that for next time... or try to remember to Google it.

After the cakes were done I baked the cupcakes. I filled each three-quarters full and baked them for a total of 20 minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. Exactly the same way as I did it last week. I ended up getting 18 cupcakes when all was said and done. Not as many as I thought, but I was confident that would be enough cupcakes for the guests at the party.

While the cupcakes were baking, I started making the fondant (I'm a big fan of multitasking). Unlike last week I needed more than one color. I needed both pink and white. I knew it would probably take one batch of fondant to cover the entire 8-inch cake. Since it's so much easier to color fondant while you're making it as opposed to after it's already done, I decided it would be easiest to make an entire batch of pink and then a separate batch of white, knowing that I would have a ton of extra white fondant. While I was smart enough to figure that out, I wasn't smart enough to realize that when making a batch of white fondant and a batch of another color, you should make the white batch first. That way, you don't have to wash the bowl after you make the first batch (if you don't wash the bowl in between you run the risk of having your white fondant with a tint of whatever your previous color was). You can just keep on going, optimizing efficiency. Unfortunately this brilliant idea didn't hit me until I put the food coloring in for the pink fondant, and at that point, there was no turning back.

With the fondants both done, I wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge overnight so they wouldn't get too hot and sticky in the midst of our heat wave. I thought about making the frosting on the same day, but since it was so hot and I wanted the frosting to be as fresh as possible I decided to wait until decorating day for that.

Decorating day was also a regular work day for me. In other words I had to put in overtime to finish everything up. Fortunately the weather was much cooler, we had a storm roll in that sent the heat and humidity packing. I made a double batch of Martha's fluffy vanilla frosting, the same one that I used last time. I like to stick with what works. I was hoping a double batch would be enough frosting and it was. I even had a little extra that I didn't end up needing. I iced the cupcakes first because I wanted to make sure all the cupcakes got the frosting they needed. I knew I could frost the cake thinly enough to make whatever frosting I had leftover last. Turns out I was able to put three coats of frosting on the cake and still have extra. But, I thought more than three applications of frosting would be too much. The cake was heavy enough as it was.

Time to decorate! I was able to find adorable pink and white polka dot cupcake liners, so I used those for the cupcakes. In addition to those the cupcakes were decorated with small pink sprinkles that looked like mini pearls. I actually had them on hand from a previous baking project and thought they would be perfect for Minnie Mouse. I also made little Minnie Mouse toppers for each cupcake. I remembered to put one on a cupcake to take a picture of it, but forgot to put them on the cupcakes for the party. You forget things when you don't get enough sleep. So, if you want 18 little Minnie Mouse heads I have some for you! I did however remember to put the bigger one I made on top of the cake, so I have that going for me. In addition to the topper for the cake I also lined the bottom with a white fondant ribbon and added white fondant polka dots over the rest of the cake.

I knew everything tasted good because I'd made the same thing last week. But, as always I get a little nervous about how everything is going to turn out appearance wise, especially the cake. It turned out to be exactly what I wanted, and I loved it. It might be my favorite of all the cakes I've made so far. But, I do have a soft spot for pink and polka dots. Ready for the finished products?!

Here's Minnie Mouse...

And the mini Minnies.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Best Homemade Chocolate Cake

Don't let what you read deceive you... this post is about cupcakes. It's also about cake. The good news keeps on coming. I was recently asked by a coworker to make cupcakes and a cake for each of their kids upcoming birthdays. One birthday was this weekend, the next is this coming weekend, so I'll be busy baking again in the next few days. I have baked birthday goodies for this family before. In fact this is the 3rd year in a row they've requested my services. Other than my family members, they are without a doubt my best customers, and I'm always flattered when they ask me.

This weekend I was baking for a 7-year-old boy and the request was 40 chocolate cupcakes for his party with his friends, and a small cake 6-inch cake so they would have something with candles for him to blow out when they celebrated his birthday as a family. The theme... LEGOs. I was sent some examples of what they were looking for to help me along in my planning. Once I had everything worked out, I made a list of everything I needed to buy and gathered up all the necessary supplies.

By my calculations I figured out that I would need to make 3 batches of the chocolate cake recipe that I use (I will include it at the end of this post) and 3 batches of the fluffy vanilla frosting that I got from Martha Stewart courtesy of my current cupcake project. I like to separate the work when I'm asked to make a cake or cupcakes for someone, especially one of this size. In this case everything needed to be done by Saturday morning so I started baking on Thursday. On Friday I did all the decorating.

First I started with the batter. Using my large Cuisinart mixer I doubled the recipe of my chocolate cake and got to work. I briefly toyed with the idea of tripling it so I would have all the batter done at once, but I wasn't sure if my mixer could handle that much. In the end, 3 batches of the cake batter probably would have fit in my mixer, but breaking it up worked out fine as well. I did a batch of cupcakes first. I wasn't sure how long to bake them since the recipe only gave a baking time for a 9x13 cake. I made my best guess and thought 20 minutes total baking time would be about right. It was. I rotated the pan halfway through like Martha has taught me, and the cupcakes came out perfectly. 

I baked a second batch of cupcakes and while they cooled in the pan I baked the cake. I do have 2 cupcake pans, but I like one better than the other because I think the cupcakes baked in this particular pan (it's a Betty Crocker pan in case you were wondering) always look better when they're done. So since I was only using 1 pan I had to factor in some cooling time before the cupcakes could be removed. Me being me, I didn't want to waste any time. While the second batch of cupcakes cooled I figured it would be a good time to bake the cake. Since the cake would take longer to bake I could make the last batch of batter while I waited and make the most of my time.

I wasn't sure how long to bake the cake either. I don't use my cake pans too often because I don't usually bake a cake unless I'm asked, and I never remember how long a 6-inch cake is supposed to be baked. This one took around 50 minutes to an hour. Mostly because I filled it up way to full and a portion of it overflowed while baking. Thankfully I have a pizza stone in the oven and all the dripping batter fell on that and not on the bottom of the oven. It was a very easy cleanup and I made a mental note to not fill the pan so full the next time around.

I ended up finishing the batter before the cake was finished so me being the multi tasker that I am, I set on to make the fondant for the small cake. I knew I was going to make a little LEGO man head for the 6-inch cake which meant I would only need one color fondant, yellow. It's so much easier to color the fondant while you're making it as opposed to once you're done. I made and colored the fondant, wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and threw it in the fridge.

Once the cake was finished baking I finished up the rest of the cupcakes. I ended up getting 60 cupcakes and a 6-inch cake out of 3 batches of my cake recipe. Obviously this was more than I needed, but I had some coworkers who were more than happy to help me out and ate the leftover cupcakes when I took them into work on Saturday morning. When all the cupcakes and cake were cool I put them in tupperware for safe keeping overnight. Now normally on the day I bake I also make the frosting and the fondant. Due to the time of night I finished baking and also that Bobby wanted to go out for pizza with friends, I only baked and made the fondant on Thursday, the frosting would wait until Friday.

As soon as I woke up and ate breakfast I started working on the frosting. I do have a vanilla buttercream recipe that I normally use, but as I mentioned previously I used a recipe from Martha's cookbook that I used when I made these yellow buttermilk cupcakes. I'm not sure what prompted me to deviate from my normal plan, but I knew Martha's recipe was good and I wanted to give it a try. Just like when I made the cupcake batter I made a double batch of the frosting. My mixer was able to handle that much frosting, but had I attempted to triple the batch I think it was have been too much. 

Once the frosting was done, I loaded up my frosting gun (you heard me) and got to frosting the cupcakes. First I tested out 2 different tips to see which I liked best. I ended up going with the star tip. It's my usual go-to and it didn't fail me this time either. Once the cupcakes were frosted I started decorating. The sprinkles I had wanted to use I couldn't find at the grocery store or at AC Moore, but they're reminiscent of the sprinkles used for funfetti frosting. I wanted them because they're bold primary colors and they remind me of the colors of LEGOs, but I didn't have any luck finding them. I ended up just using various sprinkles that I had on hand. I thought it would be fun to mix it up a little and I wanted to give the kids a couple options since some kids might not like chocolate sprinkles and others might not like rainbow sprinkles. I didn't know the preference of my cupcakes eaters so I figured multiple options was the best plan of action. When I was finished frosting and decorating the cupcakes I packed them, 8 at a time, into the pastry boxes that I took from the grocery store. A little tip... if you don't want to pay for boxes check with the grocery store to see if they'll give you them for free. Sometimes they do. Of course sometimes they don't, but it never hurts to ask.

With the cupcakes done I was ready to start and finish decorating the cake. First I had to make another batch of frosting, a single one this time. Then I had to "shape" the cake. It didn't involve too much work, but I had to make the little bump on the top of the LEGO man head. To do this I just cut the tops off 2 of the extra cupcakes and stuck them together with a little frosting in the middle. I placed that on top of the cake and then applied the first layer of frosting to secure everything together. The crumb layer as I like to call it. After each layer of frosting I put the cake in the fridge so it can set a little to help ensure that the following layer of frosting will go on smooth. I applied a second layer of frosting on the cake and while it set in the fridge I rolled out the fondant.

I knew I would have way more fondant than I needed and I did. I carefully rolled out the fondant and then placed it over the cake and began the smoothing out process. This is always the trickiest part for me because I want to get the fondant to lay just so without tearing it or having it stick together. The toughest part about this particular cake was working with the little bump on top, but I managed pretty well. There weren't too many finishing touches for the cake. All I had to do was pipe on the eyes and mouth of the LEGO man. I used black Wilton tube icing for this and a frosting tip that I already had.

Overall I was pretty happy with how everything turned out. The cake was a little plain for my liking but then again, it was a LEGO man head. They are plain. In an attempt to try to jazz it up a little I grabbed one of the ice cream helmet bowls we have (I like to refer to them as my portion control bowls) and placed it on top of the cake. It's been awhile since I've played with LEGOs but I remember that the LEGO man had a hat the snapped in. It was just a little something extra to add and if they didn't like it they could easily take it off.

Alright, enough of this talking... are you ready to see some pictures of the finished product? Here is the LEGO man with his hat on.
And here is the LEGO man with his hat off.
Last but not least, the cupcakes. This is just one of the decorating motifs I decided on. Who doesn't love chocolate sprinkles?
Are you wondering how everything tasted? It was delicious. Really. I don't like to pat myself on the back too much. I'm pretty humble most of the time, but this cake was very good. I was told I got rave reviews from both the adults and the kids who attended the party. Some even requested my number. Yeah me. Even if no one calls it's still nice to here. Would you like the recipe so you can make your own delicious chocolate cake? I don't remember where this recipe is from originally, all I remember is that I got it from my mom. Where she got it, I couldn't say.

Best Homemade Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 c. oil
1 c. black coffee
1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients. Grease pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes). A little side note... don't panic, the batter will be thin.

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes

As you know I've been plugging along in the simple and sweet section of the cookbook and I've come upon a sub section if you will... cookie cupcakes. There are 3 separate recipes in this mini section and chocolate chunk cupcakes is the first.

The first thing I noticed about this recipe is that it's very similar to the recipe I use to make chocolate chip cookies. Therefore it's probably pretty similar to the recipe you use to make chocolate chip cookies since it's the same recipe that's on the back of every package of chocolate chips I've ever seen (at least the semisweet and milk chocolate variety). The second thing was that I thought it was a bit odd that Martha had 2 very similar cupcakes in her cookbook. The first cupcakes I made when I began this little experiment over a year ago were these chocolate chip cupcakes. Other than the lack of icing on the chocolate chunk cupcakes I figured they would both be pretty much the same, so I didn't see the point in putting both of them in the book. Yes, of course some of the ingredients were different, but minor differences at that. I started thinking that maybe these cupcakes would turn out to be more like a cookie than a cupcake. Let's see, shall we?

What was nice about making these cupcakes was that the only thing I had to buy was the chocolate. Martha did say that chocolate chips were an option, but since I had already made the above-mentioned cupcakes and they contained chocolate chips I wanted to make sure I used chunks. That way if they turned out to be exactly the same they would at least have chunks instead of chips. As I mentioned before, the recipe was very similar to chocolate chip cookies so making the batter was easy. Other than adding milk, it's the same thing I've done a thousand times. I stirred in the chocolate chunks and was ready to fill the cupcake tins with batter.

I filled each cupcake liner (yes, I got to use liners, not butter and flour, hooray!) with 1/4 cup of batter, using my measuring cup. Some were filled a little fuller than others, but in the end all the cupcakes turned out to be pretty close to the same size. The cupcakes were baked for 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. They came out flat, but I expected them to. Because the pictures looked that way and because cookies are generally flat, so I figured cookie cupcakes would be flat as well. Such a smart woman.

The only thing that really bothered me about the cupcakes was that the chocolate chunks sank. As you can obviously see in the pictures above. At first I thought that maybe the chunks I had used were too big and heavy. But, in the recipe Martha said I could use chips or chocolate chopped into 1/2-inch pieces. The chunks were certainly no bigger than that so I decided that couldn't have been the problem. Then I thought maybe the batter was too thin, light and airy because it was all of those things. But, I followed Martha's instructions to a T (like always) so I didn't think that was it. Then I remembered back  again to those above-mentioned chocolate chip cupcakes and that before I put the chocolate chips in the batter I had tossed them in flour. Doing that was to help ensure that all the chips didn't sink to the bottom, and in that case they didn't. I read this recipe over to make sure I hadn't missed that important instruction. I hadn't, it wasn't there. I can only conclude that I must have messed something up in the batter, or that Martha forgot to mention tossing the chunks in flour. Which do you think is more likely?

Other than the disappointment over the sunken chunks the cupcakes were very good. Very moist and light. I liked them better than the chocolate chip cupcakes I had made before. Those were more dense. I would definitely make these cupcakes again. But, the second time around I would toss the chocolate chunks in flour to hopefully prevent them from sinking. It's no fun when all the chocolate sinks to the bottom and gets stuck to the cupcake liner. No one should miss out on chocolate chunks!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tiny Cherry and Almond Tea Cakes

I'm a little late on the post, I know. And my excuse is the same one I always use... I've been busy, and to be honest, quite tired as well. Some days I just don't have the energy it takes to work on a post. I'm fading fast today as well, but I'm going to power through because the hardest work is already over, and these tiny cherry and almond tea cakes are just too adorable to keep from you any longer. You have to admit they look pretty cute!

As you know I was MIA for a little while when I was on vacation and while I've done plenty of baking since I've been back, I haven't done much cupcake baking due to the previously mentioned lack of time and energy. I'd also been putting these off because they required a bit of shopping, expensive shopping no less. First thing I went out in search of was cherry brandy. Yep, the booze is back, but in a very small portion. I went to the liquor store hoping I would be able to find a nip of cherry brandy because I only needed less than 1/4 cup of it. There was cherry vodka, I think there may have been cherry rum (not positive), but there wasn't any cherry brandy. I know, I was upset too. So, my search extended to the large bottle of liquor where I of course found cherry brandy, wild cherry if we're being specific. The bottle was around $11 I think, but with no other choice I went for it. If you or anyone you know is interested in an opened, but almost 100% full bottle of wild cherry brandy let me know. I'm your girl.

The next 2 items that I had to purchase that aren't normally on my grocery list were unblanched almonds and cherries. I actually made 2 attempts to get these items. Truthfully I went grocery shopping without knowing what unblanched almonds were, but hoping that the package would be labeled as such. I was wrong, nothing was labeled as such. On that same shopping trip the store was also sans cherries. So I went home without almonds or cherries, but with all the other items on my list. In the meantime I did a little research to find out what unblanched almonds are (almonds that still have the skins on them) and kept my fingers crossed that next time cherries would be in stock. Lucky me, second time was the charm.

The worst part about making these cupcakes was the sound the almonds made when I ground them up in the food processor. It was awful. Instant headache. I plugged my ears. Seriously. I ground the almonds until they were as powdery as I thought they would become in the food processor. The most time consuming part of this recipe was browning the butter. You know me, I always get nervous when I have to do this. That I'm either going to burn the butter or not brown it enough. But, each time I do it, I surprise myself by not messing it up. This time was no different. Once the batter was put together it had to rest for 20 minutes. I'm not sure why, Martha didn't elaborate, but then again, she usually doesn't.

After the 20 minutes had passed I proceeded to fill the mini cupcake pans with batter. Now, you know I struggle sometimes with whether or not I want to listen to all of Martha's instructions. This time I didn't listen. Martha wanted me to butter and flour the pans. You all know how much I detest that process so I obviously didn't want to do it, and I didn't. I remembered that I have some cooking spray with flour that I bought by mistake awhile ago and thought, why not give that a try? And I did. Without giving too much away about the end result, the spray worked perfectly. I may consider using it in the future.

On with the cupcakes! I used a tablespoon of batter for each cupcake, which I think was a little too much since they overflowed a little once I put the cherries in. Plus, once they were baked some of them turned out to be larger than I would have liked. I baked each batch for 14 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. The first batch came out perfectly, but the second batch came out a little more done than I would have liked. Luckily there were only 4 cupcakes in the second batch so I cared less about the final product.

I was a little disappointed by how little the cherries showed through the cake once they were done. I attribute that to using too much batter, and also to covering the cherries with the batter before I baked them. Martha told me to do it, but if I were to make these again I might skip that step. As for the taste, I enjoyed them very much. I found it a little difficult to eat them since the cherries still had the pits in them. Martha didn't mandate that they be removed, but next time around I think I would get rid of them. While that would most likely be a pretty tedious process I think it would make for a better final product. The pits didn't take away from the taste, just the overall eating experience itself.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marble Cupcakes

After a brief hiatus, the cupcakes are back. And, we're on to a new section as well. To make it official... welcome to the third section of Martha's cookbook, simple and sweet. Before each section in the cookbook there is a brief description of what the section will be like. Before starting to bake the cupcakes in this section I actually stopped to read what I would encounter. Something I didn't do in the 2 previous sections. One interesting detail about most of the cupcakes in this section is that they won't have any glaze, filling, icing or any topping at all. Aside from the occasional dusting of confectioner's sugar the cupcakes in this section will be naked. Yowza!

Marble cupcakes (this isn't the exact recipe, but it's close) have the honor of leading off the section. No pressure. I have made marble cake before, though more often than not it's with cheesecake. I love the unique design that you get with each cupcake and that no two cupcakes turn out to be the same. I also suspected that the pictures I took would be interesting since the insides of the cupcakes would have the marble pattern as well. When there isn't any icing I need something to jazz up the picture.

These cupcakes were pretty standard and easy to make. No funny business. Taking out the icing element also makes things much easier and much less time consuming. It also results in less dishes to wash which is always okay by me. But, because this cupcake required both vanilla and chocolate batter it did require more dishes than a normal cupcake batter might. Someday I will have a person to clean up after me.

My first order of business was making the vanilla batter which took no time at all. After the vanilla batter was made I set aside one cup of batter that would become my chocolate portion after I combined the cocoa powder and water, and then mixed them into the batter. Once I had my vanilla and my chocolate I was ready to pour them into the cupcake liners. Martha said to fill the liners with alternate spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate batter. Of course I listened to Martha. The only problem with alternating the spoonfuls is that the batter doesn't really get evenly dispersed. Swirling the batter with a toothpick to get the marbled effect did definitely help to level everything out, as well as tapping the cupcake pan on the counter, but they still weren't completely level. I hoped that baking them would even everything out.

I baked the cupcakes for 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through. They came out perfect at 20 minutes and were nicely rounded as well. However, some did have little bubbles or protrusions (I think that's actually a word) which I attributed to the state of the batter when the cupcakes went into the oven and that they were a little uneven. I also assume (this may or may not actually be true) that because the cupcakes are 2 different flavors and don't contain the same ingredients that they bake a little differently. Or the third option (probably the right one) is that I messed something up, since Martha's look perfectly round in the picture in the cookbook. Oh well. They still tasted good and I really loved the marble aspect.

I did dust the cupcakes with confectioner's sugar (hard to tell from the picture) before serving them, and to be honest, the sugar didn't do much for them in terms of look or taste. Personally I would have liked icing on them better, especially since the cupcakes were quite dense, I think icing would have really added to them. But, they were very good on their own, particularly with a tall glass of milk.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who Takes A Vacation?

I do! And that's where I've been for the past couple weeks. Well, actually, we got back from vacation last Sunday at about this time. After vacations you're supposed to feel rested, right? Not the case for me. After driving in the car for about 17 hours back from Florida and then driving to Philadelphia and back just the other day, I've been a little tuckered out. But, I'm back now and ready to rock and roll.
Who's always ready to rock and roll? Rollins is! We got him groomed right before we left for vacation so he would be clean and handsome when he visited his grandparents. He got a bandana from the groomers as well. He looked so cute I couldn't help myself.

Our first stop on this vacation was Philadelphia. As part of my shedding for the wedding plan I've also been training for the Broad Street Run which is a 10-mile run in Philadelphia the first weekend in May. Bobby has done the run for the past few years, but this was the first year that I signed up to do it. I'm not a big runner. I don't particularly enjoy it (until very recently I lived by the rule to only run when being chased and I'm not often chased) and the most I'd run before starting my training was 4 miles, not even half of what I would have to run in the race.

I managed to get injured about 2 weeks before the run. Yes, my timing is impeccable. But, I got treatment and some pain meds (doctor prescribed of course) and made it through the 10 miles in 1:37:53! I don't get excited about much when it comes to running, but I was very excited about this. My goal was a 10-minute mile (1:40 total running time) since that had been about the pace I trained at. Since I didn't run for a week and a half before the race due to my injury (knee if you're wondering) I was thrilled with my time. Not only had I finished, but I had beaten my goal. Best of all I beat Bobby by 1 second (he'll say he let me win, and he did) and I got a shiny medal for my accomplishment. I also finished better than more than half of the women who ran the race. I was really proud. I was also really sore the next day.

After my big 10-mile extravaganza I ate whatever I wanted that day and Bobby and I treated ourselves to spending the rest of the week in Florida with my parents. We drove down (so we could bring Rollins with us, he loves to swin in my parent's pool) in our pretty new Jeep...
Bobby's dream car. Isn't she pretty? The fun part, other than riding in a Jeep of course, was that we didn't tell my parents we had gotten a new car so when we pulled up in the driveway they had no idea. It also resulted in my dad deciding that perhaps it was time for he and my mom to become owners of a new Jeep. They haven't purchased one yet, but it may not be too far off... sorry mom.

Once we were safely in St. Augustine a week of relaxation and fun in the sun ensued! Rather than recap all the details for you, because that's boring, here are some pictures (mostly of Rollins) that chronicle our trip. First up... the pool!

If you can't tell from the video, Rollins loves the pool. He swam just about nonstop the entire time we were there. My parents pool now has less water and a lot more dog hair than it did before we got there.
Rollins didn't just enjoy the pool, he enjoyed the beach as well. He frolicked in the waves and ran around with some puppy friends he made on our daily walks. This dog lives the life. He even managed to squeeze in a couple afternoon naps with his daddy.
Laying around by the pool, walking the beach and taking naps weren't the only things we did. We also frolicked around on the golf course during a practice round at TPC Sawgrass for The PLAYERS Championship.
For those that know anything about TPC Sawgrass this is the famous 17th hole. A lot of the golf balls hit don't make it to the green on the first shot.

As part of my Christmas gift from Bobby this year he bought me tickets to see Lady Antebellum in Jacksonville. They're my favorite country band and to top it off Darius Rucker was going to open for them. For those who don't know, that's Hootie... as in Hootie and the Blowfish. Needless to say I was very excited for the show.

Mr. Rucker was great, sang some Hootie classics which I appreciated.
Lady A didn't disappoint either.

On our last night, we dressed ourselves up in more than the bathing suits we had been wearing most of the week and had a nice dinner out with my parents before we embarked on our monster drive back to Connecticut.
We clean up pretty well.




Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dipped and Glazed

You may not believe it, but it's true. Yet another section (dipped and glazed) of the cookbook is complete. 14 more cupcakes have been baked, for a grand total of 32 completed cupcakes. We are moving right along. Similar to when I completed the first section of the cookbook, I thought it would be fun to take a stroll down the dipped and glazed memory lane to revisit some of the triumphs, and some of the tribulations of my most recent cupcake baking adventures.

I'm nothing if not consistent so I deem it appropriate to once again start with the worst so we can leave it behind us and have only good things ahead. First up, the ugliest honors go to triple citrus cupcakes.
Maybe you're wondering, what is she thinking? I know this picture isn't the worst, good lighting can work wonders, but in person they didn't shine nearly as brightly. The cupcakes didn't taste terrible, although there was a small issue with pulp that I didn't enjoy. But what I really didn't like about these cupcakes was how flat they were and that the lime zest garnish looked gross and heavy. Kind of like seaweed. Yum. The glaze also became less white and thinner the longer it was on the cupcakes and that didn't help.

In the taste department, my least favorite was iced pistachio cupcakes.
While I didn't love them, I'm not sure I could pin down exactly what it was about them that turned me off. It's been awhile since I had one, and I'm not about to make another whole batch to figure out what it was that I didn't like. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my co-workers did enjoy them. In fact, just the other day someone asked me about them. Just goes to show you, no two taste buds are the same.

To lighten the mood a little I'll move along to the prettiest gal in the bunch, streusel cupcakes.
There are so many details to like with these cupcakes... the crumble, the glaze, the deliciousness. These cupcakes also hold a special place in my heart because they reminded me of the coffee cake my mom used to make when I was little. I'm all for cupcakes churning up good memories.

I was most surprised by two cupcakes in this section, but you'll notice that they each have a similar ingredient, coconut-pecan cupcakes with chocolate ganache...
We've established that I don't like coconut and I don't like nuts, but Martha just continues to be full of surprises. She concocted a recipe that incorporated coconut and pecans, and another with coconut, raisins and rum that I enjoyed. In fact I enjoyed each of them so much I would make them again. Madness, sheer madness.

With happy discoveries, such as cupcakes containing coconut being delicious, there are always unpleasant ones that you never want to relive again. In this section that would be lavender-iced brownie cupcakes.
While the brownies tasted just fine, and these weren't too bad to look at, I couldn't get past how much the lavender icing reminded me of soap. If I wanted my mouth washed out with soap I'd hop in my time machine, go back 20 years and say something inappropriate to my mom or dad. No thanks.

Last, but not least, the favorite. This was a tough choice because there were several cupcakes in this section that I really liked. But, there can only be one winner. Actually, since I make the rules there can be as many winners as I see fit, but I'm only going to let myself choose one. The lucky winner is brown sugar pound cakes.
These were the first cupcakes I made in the section and they started everything off on the right foot. It was my first introduction to brown butter icing and after I stopped worrying about whether or not I was making it right, it was love at first taste. Seriously, you should try it if you haven't already.

Thank you for taking this little walk down memory lane with me. I hope you enjoyed it. Simple and sweet are on deck and from glancing through the section I have to say that things look promising. Maybe there won't be a "never make again" in the bunch. Fingers crossed!