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.


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.