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.