Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Strawberry-Jam Tea Cakes

Here's what I've learned about the filled and layered section of Martha's cookbook. The cupcakes in it take some work. Granted, I'm only on the second cupcake of the section, but these first two have not been walks in the park. That said, I find them to be more fun because they are a bit of a challenge. I like these strawberry-jam tea cakes in particular because of the little surprise they have inside.

The actual cake part of these cupcakes was very similar to the cake in the boston cream pie cupcakes that I made last week. It may have been identical, but I didn't compare the recipes word for word, so I'm not sure. But, the batter was just as thick and difficult to work with as the last time, and folding in the egg whites made it much easier to work with. Again, just like last time. The only difference was this time, I layered the cupcake batter and filling before the cupcakes went into the oven instead of putting everything together afterward.

When the cupcake batter was done, I put 2 tablespoons of batter into each cupcake pan, then layered 1 tablespoon of strawberry preserves on top of that. The recipe said I could use jam or preserves, I chose preserves just as a personal preference. On top of the layer of preserves, I put 2 more tablespoons of batter. After all the layering was done my only concern was that the cupcakes were too full. They were filled right to the top. I followed the directions as they were written, but I think I could have used a little less batter. Or maybe, my tablespoons were just a little too big. The cupcakes turned out fine in the end, they were just a little larger than they probably should have been, and I only got 14 cupcakes instead of 16.

The other issue I came across was being able to create an indent in the first 2 tablespoons of batter to create a little spot for the preserves to go. The batter was so sticky that I had trouble getting the indentation to stay once I lifted the spoon out of it. The batter just stuck to the spoon. So, when I put the preserves into the layers of batter I pushed it down with the spoon to make the indentation as best as I could.

I baked the cupcakes for 30 total minutes, turning them halfway through the baking time. 30 minutes was enough, but some of the preserves oozed out of the cupcakes and was visible through the sides of some of the cupcakes when I removed them from the pan. The cupcakes came out easily (I had floured and buttered the pans beforehand). I removed them as soon as they came out of the oven and let them cool completely on a wire rack. When the cupcakes were completely cooled I stored them overnight in a plastic container and made the citrus glaze the following day.

The citrus glaze is very easy to make. I've done it before, but last time I made it I used lime, this time the recipe called for oranges. I didn't have to add any extra confectioner's sugar or orange juice for consistency purposes. The amount the recipe called for was perfect. I spooned about a tablespoon of glaze over each of the cupcakes and then let the glaze set for 30 minutes.

I enjoyed the cupcakes, though they were a little thick, as in, it was a lot of cupcake. I think that's partly because I made them too big. Next time I would use less batter, maybe 1 1/2 tablespoons for each layer of batter instead of 2. I also think these cupcakes would be quite good warmed up in the microwave for a couple seconds. I may just have to try that for a not-so-healthy breakfast one day this week.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

When I think of Boston I think of the Red Sox, the Patriots & Tom Brady (gross), the cold, the city's ridiculously confusing layout (what's wrong with a simple grid?), Kenny Chesney's song "Please Come to Boston" or "Boston" if that's more your style. Any Kenny Chesney suits my fancy just fine. Yum. I also think of Boston Cream Pie, which isn't technically pie. It's more like a cake. Either way, I've never had it. It's always looked quite appealing and delicious, but for whatever reason, I've never actually tried it. Until now, and these boston cream pie cupcakes.

I've been working up the post-holiday energy to make these because they looked like, and turned out to be a lot of work. There were a lot of steps that involved dirtying and then washing a lot of dishes. I hate washing dishes. If I had someone to clean up the mess I make while baking I would bake all the time. But I don't, and therefore I don't always have the energy or desire to clean up my mess.

To make these cupcakes I had roughly a whole day to dedicate to the process and the energy to do it. I worked early in the morning and set to baking just about as soon as I got home. Actually, I started during the 1st intermission of the Flyers-Sabres game, go Sabres! First step was to make the cupcakes, which wasn't difficult, it just involved a lot of steps, and as previously mentioned, a lot of dishes. Luckily it wasn't too much grunt work, I let my stand mixer take care of that for me. Love that thing.

When the batter was done I filled the cupcake tins about halfway and baked them for 15 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. In this case the first half of the baking time was 8 minutes, the second was 7. After the cupcakes were done baking I set them on a wire rack to cool and proceeded to watch the rest of the 2nd period of the Sabres game. Hockey is back people.

In the 2nd intermission I started working on the pastry cream (or vanilla cream as Martha calls it, this is a little different than the recipe in her cookbook). This wasn't really difficult either, but again, more dishes. I've never made pastry cream before, but it was quite easy, you just have to babysit it. A lot of stirring, watching, waiting and wondering if you're messing it up. When I thought I had achieved the thickness I was supposed to I strained the cream through a sieve and covered the it with plastic wrap and popped it in the fridge for 2 hours to set. While it set, I watched the Sabres win, watched the beginning of the 49ers-Falcons game and fell asleep for a little while. It happens when you've been up since 3am and worked an 8-hour day. I can't help it.

When I woke up from my little afternoon siesta my husband came home and naturally asked what was for dinner. I told him I would start making dinner after I finished the cupcakes. Domestic goddess, that's me! The last step to the cupcakes was to make the chocolate-ganache glaze, something I have done several times before with other cupcakes in this book. It's not difficult to make, it's just more dishes to dirty and then wash. Before I started chopping the chocolate for the ganache I cut each cupcake in half so it would be ready to be filled and ganached (technical term) once all the components were done.

While I waited for the heavy cream and corn syrup to come to a simmer I started spreading the pastry cream onto the halved cupcakes. I put roughly a tablespoon of cream on each one (I had 16 total cupcakes) and had way more pastry cream than I needed. The recipe said I would get 20 cupcakes, but I think I still would have had extra pastry cream even if I had gotten that many cupcakes. When the ganache was done I spooned about a tablespoon on top of each cupcake and tried to spread it so it would drip down the sides. I also had way more ganache than I needed as well. I suppose I could have added more to the top of each cupcake, but I didn't want the ganache to overpower the rest of the cupcake so I cautioned toward the lighter side.

In hindsight I probably could have added both a little more pastry cream and ganache to each of the cupcakes, but part of me likes to believe that less is more. I didn't want them to be little messes of cupcake, pastry cream and ganache. I thought they turned out to be quite tasty and other than all the work and dishes, I enjoyed my first boston cream pie experience. That said, if I ever want it again, there's a good chance I'll forgo the work and let someone else make it for me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What's Up, Dr. Seuss?

The holidays are over and I'm still exhausted, you? No matter how much time I have off, this year I was fortunate enough to have 4 days (win!), I'm always tired afterward. I don't know if it's the travel, all the holiday preparations (baking, shopping, etc.) or just that I'm getting older (ah!), but, I'm pooped. I need a vacation. As always this holiday season I was busy baking, but had all of my Christmas baking done about a week before C-Day so I could get all my cookie gifts put together and distributed before the holiday. Normally once I'm done with Christmas baking I'm done for the year. I like to give myself a little baking vacation since getting ready for Christmas is so much work. However, this year, I got a very special baking request that was due two days before Christmas. Although I knew it would be a busy time, I'm not one to turn down a friend, or the opportunity to make a little extra cash. I did do a lot of Christmas shopping this year!

A co-worker of mine asked me to make birthday cakes and cupcakes for his 3 children. They all have birthdays within a week of each other. The kicker is they're all the same week as Christmas give or take a day or two. Pretty amazing planning if you ask me. They were planning a party for December 23 and asked me for three 6-inch cakes and 40 cupcakes with a Dr. Seuss theme. They sent me all the specifics, chocolate cakes with vanilla buttercream, 20 chocolate and 20 red velvet cupcakes, as well as some details of what they were thinking for each cake. Cat in the Hat, Lorax and One Fish, Two Fish. With their suggestions and the help of Google, I mapped out my ideas and was ready to get to work.

I used the same trusty chocolate cake recipe I use every time someone asks for chocolate cake. It's my favorite and so far it's been a success. I made the cupcakes first, starting with the red velvet. Since everything else was going to be chocolate, I wanted to get the odd flavor out, out of the way. For the red velvet, I used this recipe from the lovely Paula Deen. I've used this recipe several times before and have always had great results with it. Plus, I love Paula. Who doesn't? I'm talking to you Anthony Bourdain. Once the red velvet batter was ready I baked 12 cupcakes at a time, thankfully I have 2 cupcake pans which made this process go much faster.

While the red velvet cupcakes were baking I started on the chocolate cake batter. I made a double batch of the chocolate cake thinking that at the very least it would get me 20 cupcakes and maybe one 6-inch cake, and it did. If memory serves me correctly, I even had a little batter left over. Once the red velvet cupcakes were done the chocolate cupcakes went into the oven. I did the cupcakes first because they have a shorter baking time than the cakes and this way the batter would sit out for the shortest amount of time possible.

Once the chocolate cupcakes were set I made a single batch of the chocolate cake batter for the remaining two 6-inch cakes. I had more than enough batter overall and ended up getting a couple extra cupcakes that I took into work the next day to get rid of. Each cake took about 50 minutes to bake, so it was a lot of waiting, but it didn't matter. While everything was baking I worked on making the fondant. I made 4 colors (white, yellow, red and orange) and ended up having way more than I needed. But, I'd rather have too much, than not enough. After Day 1 of cake making, I had 3 cakes, 40+ cupcakes, and 4 colors of fondant ready to go for Day 2.

On Day 2 I started working as soon as I got up because I wanted to be done as soon as possible. Day 2 took much longer than I thought it would. I knew it would take awhile, but I didn't think it would take as long as it did. I think I worked from 10a-4p give or take a half an hour. When you add that to the 5 hours of baking and fondant making the day before, it's a lot. Maybe I'm still tired from all of that?

So, Day 2, or decorating day started with making all the frosting. First, I made the cream cheese frosting for the red velvet cupcakes. I only needed one batch of that, and again, it was the odd man out so I wanted to get it out of the way. Everything else was going to be vanilla buttercream. To frost the cupcakes I used my icing gun with a star tip to make them look nice, and I bought a rainbow assortment of sprinkles. I thought bold colors were the most appropriate for Dr. Seuss. I also bought bold colored Wilton wrappers for the cupcakes. I was going for fun and kid friendly.

After the red velvet cupcakes were set I started on the vanilla buttercream frosting. I ended up making 2 double batches (I should mention, I used my stand mixer for everything, other than the fondant, for this entire project) just to make sure I would have enough. I had more than enough. I probably could have gotten away with 1 1/2 batches. Live and learn.

I frosted the cupcakes first employing the same method I did for the red velvet cupcakes. I wanted everything to be consistent. Once the cupcakes were all set and tucked into their respective boxes I went to work on frosting the cakes. I like to put the cakes in the fridge before I frost them because it makes it easier and helps to minimize the crumbs. The crumb layer is already a pain, but I like to make it as painless as possible. After each crumb layer I returned the cakes to the fridge so the icing could firm up a little and make the second layer easier to apply so everything would be smooth. After the icing of the first cake had set, I started working on the fondant for it. Cake number 1 was Cat in the Hat.

This was the hardest design for me to come up with because to me Cat in the Hat is so simple. There's not really much to do with it other than the obvious. I new I wanted to portray the hat somehow, but I also knew I didn't have the skill to make anything look like the cat. Working with only one layer also limited what I could do. They had suggested kites and perhaps adding some blue polka dots so I tried to work in all three of those elements.

Here's what I came up with. While it is plain, I was ultimately pretty happy with it. It wasn't my favorite of the bunch, but I thought it was cute and fit the criteria.

Cake number 2 was The Lorax. They sent me suggestions for colors, green, orange and truffula (I think I spelled that right) trees. I confess, I knew what the Lorax was, but I had to Google truffula trees, I had no idea what they were. It's been more than a couple years since my Dr. Seuss days, and since I don't have any kids yet, I don't feel that I should know what they are. After my Google searching I knew what I wanted to do. This design was actually the easiest for me to come up with, so it would obviously be the one that took the most time to execute. I knew I wanted to do the face of the Lorax on the top and on the sides I would do truffula trees going around.

It took forever, but this was the cake I was the most proud of and was the most work. I think if I were to do this one again I would add some outlines, but truth be told, I was already tired and I still had one cake left to go.

Cake number 3 was One Fish, Two Fish. One Fish, Two Fish I am familiar with and didn't need to do any Google search to know what I was dealing with, but I did just for research purposes. I also came up with the design I wanted for this one pretty quickly as well. I also took the time to print out shapes of the fish so I could cut them out of fondant and put then on the cake. That little dream didn't come true. After several failed attempts to "trace" and cut the fish out of fondant, I gave up. I either don't have the right tools, or this is just something that can't be done. For a few minutes I panicked because I didn't know what I was going to do. I couldn't have a One Fish, Two Fish cake with no fish. That wasn't going to work. I also knew that I wasn't going to be successful at cutting out the fish and if they didn't look like the actual fish the cake was going to look stupid. Then a little light bulb went off and I thought, why not just "glue" the fish I cut out onto the cake? Sure, it's not cake, but, it will look much better than anything I'm going to be able to figure out. And, just to clear things up, my glue, was frosting.

Honestly, I loved it. I felt a little bit like a cheated because it wasn't all edible, but at the same time, I couldn't argue with how great it looked and I knew that no matter what I tried to do, it wasn't going to look nearly as good as anything else I was going to come up with. And, overall, the client and the kids were happy, which is all that really matters.

As always, there is a lesson I take away from each of my experiences in baking for a "client" and in this case it was that no matter how much I plan out my designs and what I want to do, there is always going to be something that isn't going to work as I envisioned it would. But, don't panic, just take a breath, use your brain and try to come up with a solution. I was truly in a panic about One Fish, Two Fish. On the brink of considering a small cry in frustration fest, but I got it together and figured out something that would work. Go me, and may your 2013 bring you moments of enlightenment as well.