Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pumpkin-Brown Butter Cupcakes

I suppose it's not really the season for pumpkin, but I personally don't believe that pumpkin-flavored foods should only be consumed in October and November. Pumpkin is delicious (when combined with butter and sugar) and should be enjoyed the whole year through. So, Martha... bring on the pumpkin-brown butter cupcakes (this is not the exact recipe from the cookbook, but it's the closest thing Martha has on her website)!

What is pumpkin puree? Great question. I don't know either. I hit my first road block before I even really got started. While looking over the ingredients I saw pumpkin puree (not pie filling) listed. My first thought was crap... is pumpkin puree different from what I buy when I'm going to make a pumpkin pie? Where am I ever going to find that? I actually had a can of Libby's pumpkin on hand that was leftover from a pie I didn't make for Thanksgiving (oops) so I was excited that I wasn't going to have to buy it. But first I wanted to make sure it was what I needed. I did a little Google searching to ensure that what I had was not pie filling and in fact pumpkin puree. After some research I decided that what I had was what I needed and if it wasn't, oh well. The only ingredient I opted out of was fresh sage leaves, cut into chiffonade. I had no idea what that meant and Martha said it was optional (hooray!) so I opted out.

First thing to tackle was the brown butter that was going into the cupcake batter. I also made brown butter icing for the cupcakes, but we'll get to that later. I remember the last time I had to brown butter when I made icing for these cupcakes and I wasn't sure of what I was doing that time around. But now, after having made it once I was feeling confident that I would know what I was doing. I was wrong. I was still unsure of what I was doing and worried I was going to burn the butter. So I stared and swirled, and stared and swirled some more until I felt confident that the butter was sufficiently browned. While I was staring and swirling the browning butter I put together the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. After the browned butter had cooled I mixed it in with the wet ingredients and then mixed the wet and dry ingredients together.

The batter was tasty! For the first time during this little project of mine I haven't used cupcake liners. I instead buttered and floured the tins. I don't really like this method because it's much messier than using a paper liner, but I wanted the full pumpkin-brown butter cupcake experience. At first I thought I was going to be able to use my Pyrex measuring cup to fill the tins, but as I continued to mix in the dry ingredients I realized that dream wasn't going to come true. I broke out my trusty tablespoon and as always used about 1 1/2 scoops to fill the liners.

I baked these cupcakes a little longer than 20 minutes. I think I made them a little larger than I was supposed to so it took a couple extra minutes for them to be done. I would say each batch got about 22 minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. Before I tried to remove the cupcakes from the pans I let them cool completely. In my experience if things are still warm, it's harder to remove them from the tins and they can often stick in the bottom. Since I only yielded 15 cupcakes from the whole batch, I didn't want to lose any in the process. Once they were cooled some cupcakes popped out right away, others were a little more difficult to remove. I used a knife to help get some out, for others I flipped the tins over and knocked on the bottom to pop them out. Worked like a charm.

I put the cupcakes in a tupperware overnight (not the Cadillac) and made the brown butter icing the following day. One reason was because I didn't have enough confectioner's sugar on hand (I know, major dropping of the ball by me), and I just didn't want to make any more of a mess since I had already finished washing one set of dishes. Sometimes I just don't have the energy to clean up all my messes and I didn't want to leave a mess overnight. I felt a little better about browning the butter this time since I had just done it for the cupcake batter. I would dare to say I am becoming a pro but we all know that's not true. This icing typically sets pretty fast so as soon as everything was combined I started dipping the tops of the cupcakes in it. It's a pretty easy method and I like how the finished product looks. I had a little icing left over, but not too much. I managed to hold myself back from scraping the bowl clean, but it was hard. It's really good. As were the finished cupcakes. I just had to keep reminding myself about the wedding dress I'll be wearing in about 6 months, and all the work I've put into shedding for the wedding up until this point. It's amazing what one single article of clothing can keep you from doing.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Iced Pistachio Cupcakes

I'm not very familiar with pistachio nuts. I know I've tried them before and I know Khloe and Lamar have a commercial about them, but all I really remember is being a little kid and sucking on the nuts when they were still in the shells to get the salt, and then spitting the entire thing out. Yes, it was a total waste of perfectly good pistachios. I did try them this time around and they're not too bad. I definitely prefer them salted and roasted, and they're definitely not my favorite, but I can eat them without wanting to spit them out. I've grown up a lot. Despite the fact that I can now consume more than just the salt on pistachio nuts, I wasn't super excited to give iced pistachio cupcakes (no link again, sorry, I don't know what's gotten into Martha, but I did find this, which I believe is the same recipe, just for a whole cake as opposed to cupcakes) a try.

I wasn't able to find all the pistachios necessary, but the only ones that I missed were meant for the garnish, so I wasn't too concerned. Also, let me suggest that if you make these cupcakes there is no need to buy any pistachios that are still in their shell. Just buy a bag of shelled, salted pistachios, and a bag of shelled, unsalted pistachios. If you can find slivered pistachios more power to you. I give you this suggestion because I would have saved myself a lot of time had I bought salted pistachios that were already shelled. It's hard to coax some of those nuts out of their shells. They must be shy.

This recipe also required the use of my food processor, one of the best appliances known to man. Martha tells me that I was supposed to grind the unsalted pistachios into a paste. I was skeptical that this was actually going to work. I'm not sure if I ever got them to a paste consistency, but I did get them to a point where they were ground up so small they sort of stuck together in clumps. And clumps were good enough for me. The salted pistachios were meant to be chopped by hand, meaning there would be small chunks of nuts in the cupcakes. Not my favorite thing. I thought this might be a little difficult due to the size of pistachio nuts, but it was pretty painless, and I chopped them extra small so they wouldn't be as noticeable in the batter. I don't like chunky peanut butter and I don't like chunky cupcakes.

Before I could proceed with the rest of the batter I had to microwave the cream cheese (yes, I forgot to leave it out to get to room temperature, but I did remember the butter and eggs!) so it would soften. It was pretty much straight out of the fridge so it took more than a couple seconds. Once that was accomplished it was smooth sailing. Of course I tested the batter. It wasn't bad.

Once again the batter wasn't at a pourable consistency so I used about 1 1/2 tablespoons of batter to fill each cupcake liner. By a stroke of luck all the cupcakes turned out to be pretty much the same size, but flat, just like the rest of the cupcakes in this "chapter" so far. The cupcakes were baked for 30 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time, and I got just as many cupcakes as the recipe said I would. Hip, hip, hooray... or in this case maybe not. After all, I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about these cupcakes. Maybe having 34 of them wouldn't turn out to be a good thing at all.

I let the cupcakes sit overnight in my Cadillac of cupcake carriers so I could ice them the next morning before I took them to work. Martha said it was best to eat the cupcakes the day they were iced. And most of the time I listen to what Martha says... most of the time. The drippy icing was easy and took about 2 minutes to make. I didn't use a lot of it on each cupcake because I didn't want too much icing overflow and cause a mess in my Cadillac (not my car, the cupcake carrier). I had some icing left over, but that's probably because I didn't use as much per cupcake as Martha would have liked.

I went back and forth about whether or not I would garnish the cupcakes at all. Since I was unable to find the specified slivered pistachios, I tried to sliver my own. I was unsuccessful. The pistachios just kept crumbling each time I tried to slice them and I gave up after I was about 2 pistachios in. It just wasn't going to be worth my time. I decided against a garnish for all of the cupcakes other than the one that I photographed for all of you. I didn't want people to be scared away by pistachios on top of the cupcake anyway. I know when I see nuts on a cupcake I go running in the other direction.

I tried the cupcakes twice, like I normally do. Once when they were fresh out of the oven and again when they were completely finished. I liked them better fresh out of the oven. They were still warm and more savory than they were once they had been cooled and iced. They were still okay in their completely finished state, but I didn't love them. I apprehensively took them to work to share (I do not need to eat 34 cupcakes by myself) because I was interested to get feedback since I wasn't particularly fond of them. I was surprisingly pleased that for the most part everyone really enjoyed them. Will I ever make them again? Probably not, unless someone specifically requests them (highly doubtful), but at least now I know what they're like... and I like knowing things.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can You Feel The Love?

Since Valentine's Day is just around the corner I thought it was only appropriate to send out a little love... cake ball style. Originally I had all the intentions of making cake pops, but when it came down to it, I just didn't have the energy. It's much easier to just coat cake balls in chocolate as opposed to putting them on a stick and then coating them with chocolate. Sometimes the chocolate drips, sometimes a ball or 2 can fall off the stick, it's just more of a hassle.

I also had the intentions to send my little Valentine's treasure to a few friends and family. I like to do that for holidays, but it didn't work out either. I'm batting 1,000. Everything started out great, I started working on my treats with plenty of time to complete, package and send them out to get to my recipients by Tuesday. But, then I had to work, and go to the gym (Week 15 of shedding for the wedding complete!), and Rollins had to make an unexpected trip to the vet (don't worry everything is fine) and I didn't have the energy to finish them. You may see lack of energy is a recurring theme. I need more sleep, I know. It's something I'm working on. I ended up finishing my cake balls on Saturday. I set a few aside to take to my future in-laws since we'll be visiting them in a few days, and the remaining balls made an appearance at work this morning. People love treats bright and early on a Sunday morning.

Now, are you wondering how to make these little morsels? I'm sure everyone at this point is familiar with the phenomena that is cake pops (or balls in this case), but in case you aren't I will give you a brief cake ball breakdown.

You will need:

1 box of cake mix
1 can of frosting
2 lbs of meltable chocolate coating (I like Make N' Mold from A.C. Moore)
sticks (if you're making pops)
sprinkles (if you want to get a little fancy and decorate)
wrappers and ties (if you want to package them up)

1. Bake the cake according to the directions on the package and let it cool completely.

2. After the cake has cooled, crumble it into a large mixing bowl. Then mix in frosting (you won't use the entire can, a little more than half will be fine).

3. When the cake and frosting are combined begin rolling into balls, about 1 inch in size. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Then put them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes (it's easier to coat them in chocolate if you do this).

4. While the balls are freezing melt the chocolate according to directions on the package.

5. If you are making balls you can just roll the balls in the chocolate and set them back on the wax paper on the cookie sheet to set. If you're making pops, dip the end of the stick in melted chocolate and then push it into the cake ball. Do this with all the cake balls and return them to the freezer to set. Once they are set, dip them in melted chocolate, tap off excess and stick them in a piece of foam to set. If you want to add sprinkles do it before the chocolate sets.

That's all you need to know... have fun spreading the love!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Coconut-Pecan Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

You may or may not remember a post from the past about these coconut cupcakes. In that post I expressed my dislike of coconut and even went so far as to complain about all the ingredients I had to buy to make them. One of those ingredients being coconut extract. If I remember correctly (and I know I do because I checked my post) I even asked in regards to the coconut extract, when am I ever going to use this again? Well my friends, today is the day! To both my surprise and displeasure, coconut extract is one of the components in coconut-pecan cupcakes (no link from Martha, sorry, blame her, not me).

To date, this recipe has been the most difficult in terms of being able to find all the ingredients that I needed. Luckily, the recipe listed some options for substitutions so I didn't have to leave anything out. Things I was unable to find included creamed coconut and unsweetened coconut flakes. I was able to find sweetened flaked coconut, which I used for both the batter and the garnish because that's the best I could do. I'm not sure what the difference is between flaked and shredded coconut, but the store only had flaked so that's what I used. According to the recipe it was permissible to substitute 4 tablespoons of butter for the creamed coconut. I always have plenty of butter so this was a great option for me.

As you know I'm coming off a brief cupcake hiatus so I'm still a little rusty. I didn't read the recipe all the way through, nor did I leave out all the ingredients to get to room temperature. There were only 2 (butter and eggs) and I remembered to leave out 1 (butter). Oh well. I at least took out the eggs while I was working with the coconut and pecans so they could get as warm as possible before I put them in the batter. Better than nothing.

The most time consuming portion of making these cupcakes was using the food processor to grind the coconut, and the toasting and food processing the pecans. After this process was complete the rest of the recipe was easy. I was skeptical of what the batter would taste like since it was riddled with coconutty items. However, if there was any potential saving grace it was that both the coconut and the pecans were ground up so you mostly got flavor and not the texture of the coconut and pecans. I enjoyed the batter, which gave me hope for the finished product.

In an exciting turn of events I now own 2 cupcake pans! My wonderful former college roommate and current bridesmaid got me a cupcake carrier and it comes complete with a cupcake pan as well. I don't think it gets any better than that. So now, I can fill 2 pans at once and if I need to do more than one batch of cupcakes, which I always do, I don't have to wait for the first pan to cool before I can bake another batch. It'll save me baking time as well as energy/power used to keep the oven at the appropriate temperature while I waited to put in the second batch. Everybody wins! Now, on to filling my 2 cupcake pans.

The batter wasn't quite at a pourable consistency so I had to use a spoon to fill the liners rather than my Pyrex measuring cup that I like to use when I can. I filled each liner to about three-quarters full. They weren't perfect but they were all pretty close in fill level. I definitely got less cupcakes than the recipe said I would, 6 less as a matter of fact. I'm not sure if I made the cupcakes too big, but they all came out to be a pretty good size, so I was pleased. Each batch baked 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. I did contemplate baking 2 batches at once since I'm now the proud new owner of 2 cupcake pans. But I was concerned the cupcakes wouldn't bake evenly and didn't want to risk it.

Per my norm, I tried a cupcake before I ganached (technical term) and garnished them because I like to sample every phase of a cupcake. They were good. I was surprised. The texture of the coconut flakes was there just a little bit, but not enough to turn me off. I even had Bobby taste one, but I didn't tell him what kind they were because I knew he wouldn't try them if I did. He's not a fan of coconut either, but he agreed the cupcakes were good.

Next step, ganache and garnish. First, I toasted the coconut. Martha says that you should toast 2 cups of unsweetened shredded coconut. Because I didn't have that, I toasted 2 cups of sweetened coconut flakes. I don't know if the difference between the two is all that much, but I had to work with what I had. I also don't know if the fact that the coconut I used was sweetened mattered either. But again, it's what I had. I don't think Martha would be too upset, do you? I toasted the coconut for 10 minutes and had I toasted it any longer I think I would have had some seriously burnt coconut. For the most part the coconut was toasted to perfection, but there was some that was a little crisp, so I tried to set that aside so it didn't get mixed with the good coconut.

While the coconut cooled I worked on the ganache. The ganache-making process is painless. A little chopping, measuring, simmering and stirring is all that's required. Once I had my ganache I dipped each cupcake in it and then garnished each cupcake with the toasted coconut. I tried out 2 different garnishing methods. For the first method I sprinkled coconut across the top of the cupcake, so the majority of the surface was covered. For the second method, I sprinkled the coconut in more of a little heap in the center of the cupcake, which looked much better.

Moment of truth... taste test. I won't say I loved them, but I will say they were quite good. Even the toasted coconut garnish didn't really bother me. Would I prefer the cupcakes didn't have it? Of course. But, is the garnish the deal breaker? No. I never thought such a thing would be possible. Martha does it again.