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!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lavender-Iced Brownie Cupcakes

I like everything about lavender. The color, the smell... that's all there is to it, right? Wrong. Apparently lavender also has a taste and can be incorporated into recipes. Learn something new everyday, and this little tidbit rocked my world. Of course, when I saw I would be making lavender-iced brownie cupcakes my first thought was, where in the world am I going to find dried lavender?

Martha was smart enough to realize that certain ingredients required in her recipes probably wouldn't be the easiest things to find, so she kindly included a Sources section in the back of her cookbook with links to sites where certain items could potentially be found. When I began my search for dried lavender I started with Martha's suggestions. I was successful in finding it, but purchasing it was another story. Most of the websites only sold dried lavender in quantities that were much larger than what I was going to need (1/2 teaspoon) and one site that did sell it in a smaller quantity required at least a $30 purchase. Sorry. That does not work for me. So I turned to my favorite resource when I'm in search of something... Google. Google never lets me down, not ever. I searched dried lavender and found several websites that had it, and I would have gone with one of those until I came upon another trusted old friend. If you aren't yet familiar with do yourself a favor and get familiarized. Other than Google and Pinterest (and this blog) it's the best website there is.

When my lavender search took me to Etsy I found multiple vendors that sold it in amounts that wouldn't last me the rest of my life. I found a particular vendor that would sell me about 3 ounces for $3.50. Sold! And they shipped it the next day so it only took a couple days to get to me. Since I only needed 1/2 teaspoon for the recipe, the Ziploc sandwich bag I received is obviously way more than I need. At some point I'm going to have to search Pinterest for some project I can do that involves lavender. But that's for another day.

With my lavender in hand I was ready to proceed. The cupcakes, make that brownies, were easy to make. The most time consuming part was melting the butter and chocolate, other than that everything went quickly. I only began questioning what to do when it came time to fill the liners with batter. That's right, I said liners. Thankfully to close out the dipped and glazed portion of the cookbook (yes, we've come to the last recipe in the second section!) I got to bring back my old friends. I've missed them so much.

The recipe said to fill the liners 2/3 full and that I should yield 24 cupcakes. From the picture Martha provided in the cookbook I knew these weren't supposed to be filled to the top and I knew they would be flat, but I didn't think they were only supposed to be filled halfway. Plus, I don't like when the top of the cupcake doesn't come to the top of the liner. My filling the liners 2/3 full resulted in 12 cupcakes, and I thought that was about right. They took about 5 minutes longer to bake (the recipe said 17 minutes) but that wasn't a big deal to me. Plus, I need 24 cupcakes like I need a hole in the head. Only having 12 was just fine with me.

Once the cupcakes were done I let them cool and began working on the lavender icing. The process was reminiscent of the tea-infused milk I made for these chai-tea mini cupcakes. Instead of using black tea with the milk, this time I used the lavender. I will say the smell was lovely. While the milk steeped I decided to prepare the sugared flowers. I debated not making them at all, but decided I wanted at least one cupcake to have flowers on it if for nothing more than just to take a pretty picture. I have no idea if the flowers I chose were edible, but it didn't matter because I wasn't eating them and neither was anyone else. This was simply for visual effect. I also wasn't going to go out and buy flowers just to pluck them, coat them in egg white wash and sprinkle them with sugar. Luckily spring has sprung and so have some of the flowering plants that make up our landscaping, in particular, Myrtle. Myrtle is a lovely little ground covering plant that grows nicely in the shade and in the spring time it has lovely little purple flowers on it. Perfect! I went out in the rain and picked a couple blossoms that would become my garnish. I brushed them in the egg white-water mixture, sprinkled them with sugar and let them set. One of them came out good enough to use.

While the flowers were setting I went back to the lavender icing. I strained it through a fine sieve, whisked in the confectioner's sugar and then added the violet food coloring. I wasn't sure how much food coloring I should use and the color came out a little darker than lavender, I would call it more of a lilac. They're both light purple when you get down to it. With the icing complete I spooned it over each of the cupcakes and let them set for an hour.

The moment of truth... the taste test. I knew I would like the actual cupcake portion because it was a brownie. I've never met a brownie I didn't like. Even one that had nuts in it and I'm not a big fan of nuts in my brownies, or my cookies for that matter, but, this isn't new information. I tasted the icing by itself and it wasn't terrible, it just tasted like confectioner's sugar with a hint of lavender. I don't really know how to explain it but lavender tastes like it smells. Sounds crazy I'm sure, but it makes sense in my brain. Paired with the cupcake I just couldn't get past the lavender and the taste of soap. I think because my mind associates lavender with soap, lotion or some sort of cleaning product that's automatically what I taste even when eating a brownie with lavender icing. I think if I could train my brain to think of it differently I would have enjoyed them more. But, no matter how many bites I took, I just kept coming back to soap. And if I decide to eat any more of these cupcakes myself I will be scraping as much of the icing off that I possibly can. No point in wasting perfectly good brownies.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Coconut Rum-Raisin Cupcakes

If the sight of coconut rum-raisin cupcakes doesn't get your blood flowing and your juices pumping then frankly, I don't know what will. But please, try to hold yourself together. In Martha's cookbook each cupcake comes with a description. Perhaps to prepare you for what's coming or to tell you what the cupcakes are supposed to taste like in case you can't figure it out by the name of the recipe or the ingredients in it. Either way, the lovely description that comes with these cupcakes is as follows, "Drizzled with liquor-spiked caramel glaze and filled with rum-soaked raisins, these cupcakes are reminiscent of a popular ice cream flavor." Your mouth is now watering isn't it? Mine too.

I will be honest, the only thing I've ever heard involving rum raisin anything has to do with ice cream. I know 2 things about this particular flavor of ice cream. One involves a rather entertaining story about my dad that I don't quite remember all the details to, my mom could tell you. The other involves Bobby accidentally trying the ice cream on our vacation to the Dominican Republic last year when he thought what he was eating was vanilla ice cream. Honest mistake. It should be taken into consideration that the ice cream at our resort certainly couldn't hold a candle to my beloved Perry's Ice Cream (it's made outside my hometown and I miss it so much) but even so, it was not very tasty. Combine that knowledge with my dislike of coconut and I was not feeling particularly good about how these cupcakes would taste.

As you all are aware from reading about these stout cupcakes and these sticky toffee pudding cupcakes, I'm not very familiar with alcohol. And, if you haven't already figured it out from the name of these cupcakes, they required rum. Dark rum if we're being specific. Is Captain Morgan considered dark rum? I don't know, but today it was. We have nearly half a handle of Captain Morgan on top of our fridge that my dad left at our house that we never drink. Instead of buying more rum that we wouldn't drink I used the rum we already had on hand that we don't drink. Now that there's less in the bottle it at least looks like we're trying.

Nothing about this recipe was difficult, and in fact the batter pre rum, raisins and coconut was really good. Like, really, really good. As soon as I tasted it I suddenly had high hopes for the cupcakes. I thought even rum, raisins and coconut couldn't destroy this tasty concoction that I had created. I was right. Even once I had mixed in the above-mentioned ingredients the batter was still quite delicious. Things were looking good.

I filled my buttered and floured pans (someday cupcake liners will come back into my life) three-quarters full and baked the first batch for 30 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. After the first batch I decided I could knock down the baking time a little bit. The cupcakes didn't turn out burnt or anything, but they were a little more golden than I thought they should be. For the remaining 2 batches I baked them for 26 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time, they were perfect. I tried a cupcake without the glaze and it was good. The only thing I didn't love were the raisins. I like raisins and they were fine in the cupcake, but the cake itself was so good it was almost like the raisins got in the way. In a surprising turn of events I didn't mind the coconut at all.

The rum-caramel glaze was nerve racking to make and I'm still not quite sure if it turned out exactly how it was supposed to, but it tasted good. And really, that's all the matters. I've made a glaze that required a similar process before, though I can't remember which cupcake it was for, and I always hate having to wait for the sugar-water mixture to turn color. I feel like I never know when it's reached the right hue and I should remove it from the burner. I waited until the mixture turned to what I thought was medium amber and then removed the pan from the stove. I added the rum and heavy cream. Martha was right when she warned me that this would cause the glaze to splatter. It sure did! It was like watching an experiment or something, it was actually pretty cool. But, I think I waited too long to start stirring since I ended up having some chunks of hardened glaze. However, I wasn't too worried because there was plenty of liquid glaze to use and it tasted just fine. The alcohol wasn't even noticeable in the glaze, or in the cupcakes for that matter. If I didn't now it was there, I wouldn't have known it was there.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chocolate-Spice Cupcakes

Hoppy Easter! Get it? Hoppy... like a bunny? My brother texted me that this morning and I thought it was clever. In honor of the holiday I suppose I should have made something better suited for the occasion, but I didn't. Well, that's not entirely true. I made "bunny bait" for my future in-laws a couple days ago (my parents get flowers, Dad really loves them) and shipped it to them so they'd have it in time for the holiday, but I didn't document it. Forgive me. Hope you enjoy the holiday in whatever way you choose to celebrate it, along with these chocolate-spice cupcakes (no link on Martha's site... I'm sensing a theme).

I was looking forward to these cupcakes because I haven't made anything chocolate in awhile and people like chocolate. So, when I took these to work I knew people would eat them. People are skeptical when you say you have chai-tea mini cupcakes. People are less skeptical when you say you have chocolate cupcakes. Human nature I suppose. But, the more cupcakes I can get rid of, the less I eat. Everyone wins. The only thing I wasn't really excited about when it came to these cupcakes was having to butter and flour the pan. Only this time instead of using flour I had to use cocoa powder. Wanna know what really makes a mess? Lining a cupcake pan with butter and then dusting it with cocoa powder.

Making the batter was easy, however messy, or perhaps splattery would be a better term. I didn't enjoy that part very much. Because I have a high-powered hand mixer (even when it's on the lowest setting) I know that certain things are going to make a mess. For instance, for the last couple recipes I've made, small pieces of butter and brown sugar have flown about when I mix them. But, they're for the most part solid substances so it's not so much of a mess. However, once I had mixed the butter, brown sugar and egg I added the molasses and water combined with baking soda to the bowl and as soon as I realized the consistency of what I had, I knew I was in trouble and there wasn't any way to avoid it. So, I did my best to put my arm around the bowl to try to hold in as much liquid as possible. Thankfully my t-shirt took the brunt of the mess and the walls, countertop and items sitting on the counter were left fairly unscathed. I don't enjoy cleaning up messes so I try to keep them as contained as possible.

Since the recipe told me I would only get 12 cupcakes from the batch I only buttered and cocoa powdered one cupcake pan. If I had a significant amount of batter left over I was just going to use liners for the rest. I really don't like making cupcakes without liners, it makes such a mess. The recipe said to fill the pans halfway. Confession. I filled them more than halfway. Again, since I was only supposed to get 12 cupcakes I figured using all of the batter on one batch would be okay. It was okay, but most of the cupcakes ended up being bigger than I wanted them to be, and some were a pain to get out of the pan after they were baked. Next time around I would probably not force all the batter into one batch. Had I not this time, I probably would have gotten around 14 cupcakes. The cupcakes were baked for 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. I let them cool for 15 minutes in the pans and then removed them and let them cool on the wire racks while I made the ganache.

I have made this chocolate ganache glaze many times, but this time I was extra careful to very finely chop the semisweet chocolate because I didn't want any lumps in my glaze. Last time I made it I had some small lumps. While it was fine, I didn't like the look of the lumps. I wanted it to be silky smooth this time, and it was. Success! I spooned the glaze over the top of each cupcake and let it set.

The only thing left to do was add the candied ginger garnish. Does anyone need any candied ginger? If you do, I'm your girl. I have a ton of it. I knew candied ginger would be the hardest thing to find at the grocery store, but I was able to find it. Of course it was in a decent sized tupperware (like the size of a tub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter), cost $4.79 and was labeled as crystalized ginger so I may have bought the wrong thing. I don't really know. But it looked right. The worst part is I only used the garnish for one cupcake, the one in the photo above. I didn't want to garnish all the cupcakes because I didn't want anyone at work to be scared away by the ginger garnish. My mission is to always get rid of the treats so I don't eat them. And in my rule book, as long as I make at least 1 cupcake from the batch exactly how the recipe says I have successfully completed said cupcake. I did that in this instance therefore, in my eyes, I successfully conquered these cupcakes.

I was also told by a coworker or 2 that these were the best cupcakes they've ever had. Now, that is a very lovely compliment, but I'm not quite sure if I believe that it's true. As a lover of cupcakes, this was not the best cupcake I've ever had. Even though I made it I can still be objective. Though I suppose everyone has different preferences when it comes to cupcakes. It was quite yummy, but not the best. I'd say that maybe the cupcake I'll be making next week has the potential to be the best. But, between you and me, I looked ahead to see what it is, and there's pretty much no way that's going to happen. And just to keep you in suspense and to keep you coming back for more... I'm not going to tell you what it is!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chai-Tea Mini Cupcakes

I like tea. I might like chai tea if I actually knew what it is. I've seen it on the Starbucks menu on the rare occasion that I'm in a Starbucks. I'm not a coffee drinker and don't frequent places like Starbucks because I find them intimidating, there isn't anything on their menu that interests me (unless we're talking about desserts which I don't need) and I don't see the point in spending $4 or more on something I can get at home or at work for free. Call me crazy. After making chai-tea mini cupcakes (no recipe on Martha's website) I'm still not sure that I know what chai tea is, but my guess is something like black tea infused with milk, or maybe just black tea. Or maybe none of the above. Who knows.

Because I didn't (and still don't) know what chai tea is before I made these cupcakes I wasn't confident that I would like them and therefore I wasn't really looking forward to making them. But, the nice thing about this recipe was that I had pretty much everything I needed on hand other than black tea bags and sweetened condensed milk. Martha suggested the type of tea to get, Ceylon, but I just looked for the cheapest black tea I could find. We have a Keurig so we don't really use tea bags much anymore and Bobby is more of the tea drinker in the house, and he doesn't like black tea. So, I found a box of black tea bags for $1.25, used the 2 I needed and took the rest to work and left them in the mini cafe. Someone is bound to use them.

First order of business was steeping the tea. While the milk simmered and then steeped with the tea bags in it I combined all the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, and lined my mini cupcake pans with mini cupcake liners. Another recipe that didn't require me to butter and flour pans, I'm on board. Once the tea had steeped and cooled I combined everything together. The batter wasn't a pourable consistency so I used a tablespoon to fill each of the liners. The recipe said I would get 46 cupcakes but I would say I got around 36 or so. I may have filled the liners fuller than I needed to (Martha said three-quarters full) but the cupcakes all came out a good size, not too big, nice and rounded just like I like them. So, I was fine with it.

The recipe said to bake the cupcakes for 10-12 minutes and turning the pan once halfway through the baking time. Because you can't unbake something I started with 10 total minutes of baking time for the first batch. This ended up not being enough time so I added 2 minutes to the first batch and baked the second for 12 total minutes from the start. Perfection. The cupcakes cooled in the pans on a wire rack and then on a wire rack by themselves while I debated in my head about whether or not I wanted to ice them that day, or wait until the next day.

Eventually I decided to just make all my mess at once and get everything done. After all, the condensed-milk icing wasn't very difficult to make. It also yielded way more icing than I needed for the amount of cupcakes I had. Even if I had gotten 46 cupcakes from the recipe I still would have had more than I needed. It may have been that I didn't use enough icing on them, but I certainly wasn't stingy. I dipped the top of each cupcake into the icing and then placed them back on the wire racks so the icing could set. Of course I taste tested throughout the process and at no point did the cupcakes taste like tea. They just tasted like another variation of a spice cake which I very much enjoyed. Probably a little too much since I ended up eating way more than I wanted to. They're just such a perfect size for snacking, you forget how many you're eating. Good thing I had run 5 miles earlier in the day to balance it all out. Shedding for the wedding is going strong! Minus my mini cupcake episode of course. Shh... don't tell.