Thursday, April 25, 2013

German Chocolate Cupcakes

This is Augie.
Please disregard the case of Miller Lite in the background. It was left over from a family visit and we've just now taken back the empties. I didn't want to lose the opportunity for this picture by removing it beforehand. It's very hard to get a puppy to hold a pose. So, like I said, this is Augie. He's the newest member of our family. He's a 9-week-old black lab (he was just about 8 weeks old when this picture was taken) and he's been with us just about 2 weeks. Needless to say we've been pretty busy trying to teach this little guy the ropes and make sure Rollins (our almost 3-year-old yellow lab) still knows we love him. Thankfully the boys actually get along really well, which was my biggest worry. Now if I could only get Augie housebroken... all in good time.

So anyway, that handsome little face is the reason it took me so long to make these German Chocolate Cupcakes.
It's difficult to bake while a puppy is running around under your feet. It's even harder to keep track of him to make sure he's not running around in another room doing something he shouldn't be. For those reasons I waited to bake until my hubby and I would both be home so he could keep an eye on the boys while I worked.

This recipe didn't involve much prep beforehand. I left both the butter and the eggs out overnight to get to room temperature. I had also chopped all the chocolate the day before and just put it in a tupperware until I needed it. I was making chocolate frozen yogurt that also required chopped semisweet chocolate so I figured doing all the chopping at once would save me some time in the long run. I love being efficient. On to the cupcakes... I started with melting the chocolate and after the chocolate was melted I let it cool while I buttered and floured the cupcake pans. One of my least favorite things as I've mentioned many times before.

Making the batter wasn't difficult and it didn't take very long to do. The only hiccup I came across when making the cupcakes was what they looked like when they were done, and getting them out of the cupcake pans. I filled the cupcake pans three-quarters full (or what I think is three-quarters full) and baked them for 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. When the cupcakes were done they were very flat and wide. They didn't bake up, they baked across, and in my opinion were quite ugly. But then again, I'm a sucker for a nice round cupcake. I can only conclude that I filled the cupcake pans too full, and since I only got 21 cupcakes instead of the 24 I was supposed to get that's probably the case. So, if I were to make them again I wouldn't fill them quite as full.

The other problem I came across was getting the cupcakes out of the pan. For whatever reason, buttering and flouring the cupcake pans didn't work like it normally does. Out of 21 cupcakes, I think only 2 or 3 of them came out cleanly. For the majority of the cupcakes there was at the very least a small portion that stuck to the bottom of the pan making the cupcakes look very ugly and making me very frustrated. The only thing I can think of is that cake flour doesn't work as well as all-purpose flour, or maybe I didn't butter them enough. I used a paper towel to apply the butter instead of just buttering the pans with the stick of butter itself. The butter was too soft and would have made a mess. I always apply Crisco with a paper towel so I figured using the same technique with butter would work just as well. So it was either the butter or the cake flour, something didn't work right.

After the cupcakes had cooled I set them aside in a tupperware until I could get to making the  Coconut-Pecan Frosting. Time and energy have been lacking for me lately so it took me a day or two to get to it. This frosting was a little more involved than a typical frosting but it wasn't that difficult. First order of business was chopping the pecans so they could be roasted. While the pecans roasted and cooled I worked on putting together the rest of the frosting. The recipe said to heat the frosting over medium heat until it thickened to the consistency of sour cream, roughly 10 minutes. I stirred constantly just like it said and at roughly 10 minutes the mixture wasn't that thick, nor was it the consistency of sour cream. So, I let it go another 10 minutes hoping the consistency would change and that I wouldn't ruin the frosting in the process.

The additional 10 minutes didn't make much of a difference. I suppose it was a little thicker, but it still wasn't sour cream consistency. But, at this point the mixture was boiling and I was worried about burning it, so I stopped when I got to 20 minutes of constant stirring and no success. I was hoping that taking it off the heat would also help it to thicken up a little bit... it did. Once I was done cooking the frosting I strained it through a fine sieve into a medium-sized bowl. I have a small sieve so this took a little while since I had to strain it in batches. Eventually I will invest in a larger sieve. When I was done straining the frosting I stirred in the remaining ingredients and let everything cool before I frosted the cupcakes.

While the frosting was cooling I sliced all the cupcakes in half and entertained the pups for a little while. When the frosting had cooled completely I put one tablespoon on the bottom half of the cupcake, placed the top half of the cupcake on that, and then spread some frosting on the top of each cupcake. This was a bit of a messy process as the frosting was quite sticky, but I thought the cupcakes actually turned out looking quite nice. Especially considering what they had looked like when I took them out of the pan. Don't get me wrong, some still looked a little rough, but they were much improved.

As for the taste of the cupcakes once they were frosted, I didn't love them, but I didn't hate them. I'm not a big fan of coconut or pecans, I know I've mentioned that before, so I didn't expect to like the frosting very much. The frosting itself wasn't terrible, and eating it with the cupcakes definitely helped. The cupcakes themselves, without the frosting were very good and I did actually eat more than one with no frosting at all... less calories! But, when completely finished and frosted I didn't get through half a cupcake. They weren't bad, they just didn't suit my fancy.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lemon-Yogurt Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam

Originally I had intended to make these cupcakes for Easter Sunday and give them to my neighbors for an Easter treat. I had already made Easter cookies for my immediate family (they’re the same cookies I made for Valentine’s Day only a different shape, different color frosting and Easter-appropriate sprinkles) so I was off the hook there. But, I didn’t have enough cookies for the neighbors and I always think it’s a nice gesture for a holiday. I didn’t end up making these cupcakes for Easter either, sorry neighbors. It’s the same story as always, I was tired after work, and the recipe looked like it required more work and focus than I was willing to give. So, I held off for another week and took a nap.

I woke up “early” (8 am) Thursday morning and while my hubby was still fast asleep I was a busy little worker bee around the house. Since I figured he wouldn’t be up for a little while (he works later than I do, so he sleeps later too) I thought I would do a little baking to keep myself entertained before we ran around and took care of some errands.

As previously mentioned I had been putting this recipe off because it was going to involve a little work, starting with buttering and flouring the cupcake pans. It’s one of my least favorite things when it comes to baking. I don’t have any real reason other than using cupcake liners is so much easier and doesn’t require washing the cupcake pans after the baking is complete. Since this recipe said I would yield 24 cupcakes, I had to butter and flour (and wash) 2 cupcakes pans, not 1. No thanks.

My second reason for putting this off was I noticed I was going to have to use multiple bowls which again means multiple steps and more dishes to wash afterward. Something I wasn’t in the mood for on Easter Sunday. So, now that I had finally mustered up the energy to tackle these cupcakes I started by whisking together the dry ingredients and setting them aside.

Next up, whisking the egg whites into soft peaks. When I have to whisk egg whites, 99% of the time I use my stand mixer. It’s just so much easier. I can turn it on and let it do its thing while I work on something else. This case was no different, except that the recipe said to whisk the egg whites at medium speed. Of all the times that I can remember I’ve always whisked them at a higher speed, so I was a little concerned that medium speed wouldn’t get the job done. While the egg whites were whisking in a different bowl I worked on beating the butter with my hand mixer. I checked on the egg whites every minute or so to see if they were making any progress, and they weren’t. After letting them whisk about another minute on medium without any progress I decided it was time to increase the speed. My stand mixer goes from 0-12. I had started with 6, what I would consider medium, and ultimately increased the speed to 9, what I would consider medium-high. After a couple minutes I started to see some progress and was well on my way to properly whisked egg whites. Once the egg whites were at the right consistency I added in the sugar and continued whisking them on medium-high until stiff peaks formed. The recipe said to put the egg whites into another bowl, but rather than dirty another bowl, I just left them in the stand mixer until I was ready to use them.

I was hoping that after I was done with the egg whites the worst would be over, that was not the case. The most work came when it was time to combine the egg whites with the rest of the batter. The rest of the batter was pretty thick and stiff, and the recipe said to whisk in the egg whites by hand. This didn’t seem like the right approach based on the consistency of the batter, but in Martha I trust, so I went for it. It was tough and it took a while. When it was finally time to fold in the rest of the egg whites instead of whisk them, things were much easier and went much faster, but it still took a little work.

Now that the batter was done I filled each cupcake cup three-quarters full, or my best estimation of three-quarters full. They were probably a little fuller than they needed to be, but I always prefer a rounded cupcake to a flatter one. I just think they look nicer. I ended up with enough batter for 20 cupcakes, so I was 4 short of what the recipe said I would get, which meant I would have 4 cupcake cups lined with butter and flour that was now going to be baked into the pan and harder to clean. Hooray.

I baked each batch of cupcakes for 20 total minutes with a turn halfway through the baking time. They came out perfectly. They were more rounded than the cupcakes in the picture in Martha’s cookbook, but my guess is that’s because I used more batter. As soon as the cupcakes came out of the oven I ran a butter knife along the edges of each cupcake so they would be easier to remove once they were cooled. Then, I let them cool completely in the pan.

I decided to wait until the following day to put the cupcakes together. So on Friday while my hubby was playing FIFA I sliced and layered the cupcakes with raspberry jam. I used a teaspoon of jam per layer and ended up not having enough jam for all of the cupcakes (I bought a 12 oz. jar of Smuckers seedless raspberry jam). I think I had 2 cupcakes that went without jam, but honestly the cupcakes were really good on their own so I wasn’t upset about it. They were very light and fluffy, the flavor was vanilla with a hint of lemon. Yum! After the cupcakes were layered with jam I garnished the one I liked the best with confectioner’s sugar so I could photograph it. The rest I waited to garnish until later that night so they would be ready to take to work in the morning. Sometimes if you dust cupcakes with confectioner’s sugar ahead of time the sugar soaks into the cupcake and is no longer visible when it’s time to serve them. Now that I know that I try to wait to garnish with confectioner’s sugar until the last minute.

Finally, taste test time! I did actually try a cupcake right after it came out of the oven before it was raspberry jammed (technical term). I was curious as to what the cupcakes would taste like before the jam and they were delicious. I would have happily eaten all of them without the jam, but that’s not the point. They were even better with the jam and so much prettier. I love how they turned out, especially when you can see the inside and the layers of jam. I think they’d be even prettier with a whipped cream garnish instead of just confectioner’s sugar, or maybe a little drizzle of glaze. I might try that next time if I decide to make them again. I also made my hubby try them because I like to get his opinion and I figured he wouldn’t be scared to try these (some flavors he just doesn’t dig) and he really liked them. One of his favorite treats is Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist and he said these cupcakes tasted like that. Needless to say he’s eaten more than the one I made him try. So far I’ve managed to restrain myself and have only eaten 1, however there’s a good chance that stat doesn’t make it through the day. I can’t let them go to waste, can I?