Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a week in cupcakes: july 14

sitting at breakfast
sunday morning,
with larry,
colleen, christian
and her sister, emily,
following a night out
at the brewery, a bar
and a run through the
pouring rain,
it hit me:
blair's birthday was
two days away.
yes, of course i knew that
her birthday was right around
the corner (in my family,
we pretty much start our
birthday countdown at the
six month mark).

but in light of the fact that we
didn't have a gift for her
(for a very good reason)
and in light of the fact
that i had recently
rediscovered cupcakes
and how much fun it is
to make them, i
sensed where this was

after driving home,
i dropped to the floor
surrounded by a pile of
cookbooks, determined to find
a recipe before i left for work
the next morning.
but everything suddenly turned
to chocolate. blair (like me)
is not huge on chocolate and
if given the choice
would choose
so, i felt like
walking in with cocoa-laced items
was certainly not the way to go.
but really - everywhere:
chocolate peanut butter
chocolate caramel
chocolate buttercreams
black forest
and the list went on.

by the time i closed the
last cookbook and clicked
off the last internet page,
i had decided on one thing:
caramel frosting.
but, before i fell asleep
one hour later,
i had switched to blueberry.

blair's been on a bit of a blueberry
kick these days - out of hand,
in her cereal and recently, we all
made smoothies from them
for father's day.
i thought, what better
theme than that?

but, there were only a handful
of recipes - what i really wanted
was a blueberry buttercream -
and i was really nervous about
and the cupcake worries!
don't get me started.
but finally, after a day
of deliberating,
i realized how foolish i could
be. why freak out about finding
a cupcake recipe when there
is an entire blog dedicated
to cupcakes?
i had been sad last year when
cupcake blog closed down,
but who would have
guessed that she'd come
back a couple months
ago, to post just one recipe
for a vanilla bean cupcake
with grape cream cheese frosting?
with blueberries, of course.

as a family we've always been fans
of cream cheese frosting,
and usually the carrot cake that
comes under it (more on that later),
so this seemed perfect,
and at the very least,

of course until 5:30.
i had sworn up and down
that i was leaving work at 5:30
on the dot, shopping for ingredients
and running home to make them -
i was also planning to make dinner.
but as always happens when there is
a concrete plan, an unexpected meeting
popped up at about 5:25
and before i knew it i was running
to my car with a heavy bag
of groceries and then staring,
shocked at the clock in my car
reading: 7:09. i was still in the
parking lot.
i think the clock
was mocking me.

i ran in the house
yelling frantic orders at larry,
muffin pans!
cupcake liners!
he stood there watching
the flurry unfold around him,
no doubt wishing he were
somewhere else.

i simmered the blueberries,
transfered them to a strainer
set over a bowl and yelled -
i'd like to say i didn't yell, but...
anyway, i yelled,
here's a fork, press out all
the juices, all of them,
every last drop.
baking is my favorite thing
to do, but often it ends up
turning me into a bit
of a crazy person and larry,
into an exhausted sous chef.

meanwhile, i sliced open
one of my precious vanilla beans,
coincidentally a gift from
colleen - one that i had been
too scared to waste on
something not worth it,
and scraped out the fragrant

with larry's help,
the thick batter was made in no
time and quickly scooped
into the lined wells.
they were in the oven fast -
so fast that maybe i forgot
to take a picture -
and i set to work making the frosting.

after whisking together
the cream cheese and butter,
i started adding in the sugar,
but stopped when it was sweet
and thick enough for me. as i
drizzled in
the blueberry syrup,
i debated whether or not to watch,
but i needn't have worried,
the frosting turned a vibrant
purple, not a weird grey
like i had feared.
i tossed it in the fridge
to firm up, pulled
the cupcakes out of the
oven and looked at the clock.
i don't know.
it had felt like we were moving
at crazy fast speeds.
but maybe if we rolled the tape
back we would watch all the
movements we remembered,
in slow motion.

i apologized to larry for the lack
of dinner before thinking, um,
cupcakes are not an excuse.
so while they cooled,
i finally found the chance and reason
to make this
10 minute recipe (including slicing)
that i've been
meaning to try. topped with
an egg it was a welcome,
if not harried dinner.

after, i quickly piped the frosting
onto the cakes,
having just enough to cover
them all,
set them into the carrier
and gladly,
put them in the fridge.

we showed up at the restaurant
the next night with cupcakes,
which had
survived their trip down
and suffered only in a small
softening of frosting.
i had a cake plate in my hands,
that i kept with me the
whole meal, but it turns out,
i should not have bothered.
the waitress brought out
the carrier,
with all 18 cupcakes aglow.
it was quite a site.

once all the candles were blown out
and the cakes distributed,
i held my breath, aware,
ready and waiting for
whatever possible reactions
came my way.
but they were good.
the cake, very moist and dense,
boasted a healthy vanilla flavor
and the specks of vanilla beans
to go with it. i like a cake
that doesn't crumble with the
first bite, and this one
fit the bill. the frosting
was pretty traditional,
with just a hint of blueberry
running through the
sweet cream cheese base.

when we were done,
i sent blair home with
the cupcake carrier and we
promised each other that
we would do it again,
same time, same place,
same people,
in exactly one week
for my mom's birthday.
only difference?
the cupcakes.

vanilla bean cupcakes with blueberry cream cheese frosting
adapted from
here's how i tackled this recipe: i made the blueberry syrup first and then while it was cooling, i prepped the batter and baked the cupcakes. that way, by the time i was ready to whip together the frosting, the syrup was cool and ready for me. to frost, i used a large plain tip.

vanilla bean cupcakes
it didn't occur to me until after the cupcakes were in the oven, but i totally changed around the recipe to the way i feel most comfortable baking. all ingredients and proportions stayed the same, but i had mixed up the order. for instance, the original recipe asks you to combine the milk and vanillas, and to whisk together the dry ingredients, once the butter, sugar and eggs have already been beaten. i need to have my mise en place together, so that by the time the eggs have been mixed in, everything else is ready to go.

don't throw out the vanilla bean: bury it in your sugar for a few days, steep it in vodka for a couple months or simmer it with milk for rice pudding.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 cup milk
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature

heat oven to 350˚f. fill 24 muffin wells with cupcake liners. set aside.

stir vanilla extract and seeds from the vanilla bean into milk; mix to combine. set aside.

in bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

in bowl of electric mixer, beat butter 1 minute. with mixer running on medium speed, add sugar and beat 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. add eggs one at a time, beating between each until well combined. (i used this method.)

add one-third dry ingredients to butter mixture; using spatula, fold in slightly. beat with mixer 20 seconds, or until just combined. add half milk mixture, stir slightly and beat 10 seconds, or until just combined. repeat twice, finishing with the dry ingredients.

fill wells 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full, smoothing up the tops. bake 22 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcakes comes out clean, rotating racks after about 12-14 minutes.

let cool in pan on rack 10 minutes; transfer cupcakes to rack. let cool completely.

frost cool cupcakes using a spatula or a piping bag.

blueberry cream cheese frosting
after looking for a recipe for blueberry buttercream to no satisfaction, i realized that the frosting recipe accompanying cupcake blog's vanilla bean cupcakes would be perfect to play with. hers was a grape cream cheese frosting, but i had had my heart set on blueberry for too long (a whole day!) to deviate. plus - it's blueberry season (which makes it all the weirder that i used frozen blueberries. but for some reason, it just made sense). and now that i've tasted the fresh ones that i bought, i'm glad i went with frozen this time around. the frosting is bright purple, with just a hint of berry flavor.

8 ounces frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup butter), at room temperature
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

in small saucepot combine blueberries, sugar and a splash of water. bring blueberries to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, mashing ocassionally with the back of a fork, until the mixture is very juicy and slightly syrupy. immediately transfer blueberry mixture to small strainer set over a bowl. press with with back of fork or potato masher to release all liquid possible (make sure to scrape the outside bottom of the strainer, too). let cool. (note: i had just about 3 tablespoons, which is exactly what i wanted so i just added it all in. if this gives you more than 3 tablespoons, use your judgement. or add a little more sugar, below, to accomodate.)

in bowl of electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy and completely combined (make sure to scrape bottom of bowl with spatula to ensure that all the butter and cream cheese have been incorporated with each other). sift confectioners' sugar in, folding to combine, then beating after each cup until the mixture reaches a good spreading consistency. add blueberry syrup; beat on medium speed until completely incorporated. adjust sugar if necessary. chill 30 minutes before using to frost cupcakes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

a week in cupcakes: july 11

growing up,
july was always a big birthday
month for our family.
from the 14th to the 21st,
we had three birthdays:
first blair's,
with my dad's in the middle
and my mom's finishing
up the week.
our house was birthday central:
weathered deflated balloons
mixed with cheery new ones,
cards on every counter
the fridge crammed with
three types of cake.
it hasn't changed -
we're still celebrating
birthday upon
regardless of the fact
that we're all adults
and now, the cakes
and cards are spread out
amongst several houses.

and, we've all added more people
with july birthdays into the mix.
my friend, colleen
(birthday: july 2nd)
had a big
birthday earlier in the month
and celebrated a week later
with a party at a local brewery
(party: july 11).
colleen and her husband, christian,
live in pennsylvania,
and we're in new jersey -
they were nice enough to let
us stay with them.
that, combined with the
fact that it was a birthday
(and i love any reason for
confirmed that i had to
bake for the ocassion.

my fallback,
always seems to be cookies -
and i was heading there,
until i saw a recipe in
for cupcakes,
clearly reminiscent of college:
chocolate whisky
and beer cupcakes.

i don't know why i wanted to
make them.
yes, colleen and i met in college.
but, i was never a big drinker. never.
i nursed a beer or two all night
long, often staring at the clock
(i later learned that i was the only
one in my group of friends who actually
knew there was a clock in the bar)
until it was time to go home.
the two times in my life
that i actually drank an irish carbomb,
the drink that these cupcakes were based on,
i will blame on complete coercion.
after four years of saying no
to most shots,
to schlitz and slide,
to waking up to boone's and bagels,
i think i was tired of watching everyone else
have fun and also,
slightly sentimental enough about
the impending ending of college
to think that this would give me
an added memory.

and so, at senior week in dewey beach, delaware,
after months of prodding,
i agreed to drink:
1/2 pint of guinness with
a shot glass of
bailey's and jameson dropped in.
everyone swore to me
that it tasted like a milkshake,
and gave the very clear warning:
you actually have to shoot this.
if you drink it slow, it will curdle.
so i did. it wasn't terrible.
my next and last one,
was one week
later, the night before
graduation, at the tally ho,
the bar we spent a minimum
of two nights in each week.
that was enough for me.

yet, these cupcakes seemed perfect
for a birthday.
the grown-up version of
a drink we all spent a lot of time
talking about, if not actually
drinking. and - we were headed
for a brewery that night.
it was perfect.

when i e-mailed larry asking
him if we had:
at home, i thought for sure
he would know what i was making.
but, he didn't. i was very excited.
i felt like it was the ultimate suprise dessert.
yes. i need to get out more.

the cupcake recipe was
very different than most cake
recipes i make: the butter
is melted and mixed with
cocoa powder, the eggs are blended
with sour cream and the sugar
is actually combined with
the flour.
but, it was a very easy (if not
admittedly, messy - you have to
dirty a bunch of bowls and
saucepans) and before i knew it,
the cupcakes were baking.

there was only one mistake
while baking, and it was totally
my fault. in spite of knowing better,
i opted to trust the muffin liner
package. it said that i could place
the liners on a baking pan,
fill them and bake them.
except for one really oozy
cupcake, it wasn't so terrible,
but it did make it hard to fit
them into the cupcake carrier
the next day.

the ganache.
i had spent a full day deciding
whether or not i should fill
them with ganache
as indicated in the recipe,
or use the ganache as a glaze.
i loved the idea of filling them,
but i just had a weird feeling
that for me, it wouldn't go well.
when the cupcakes were cool,
i made the executive decision
to add a little more heavy cream
to the chocolate and to dunk
the cupcakes in the mixture to coat.
the frosting, would be
for decoration.

you know how sometimes, right
before you start to do something
you know it will not go well?
well, i was sure that the glazing
would be a bust and i would
ruin the whole lot of them.
luckily, save for one unlucky
cupcake that slipped out of
my hands and fell in foil-first,
i was wrong.
the glazing was a great idea,
so easy and so pretty.

the frosting.
it came together,
well too, but i again suffered
from the fact that i am not
especially good at cake decorating.
i spent 6 weeks of culinary school
listening to a pastry chef tell me to:
put my pastry bag tip at
a different angle,
stop pulling away and creating points,
start leveling off the spatula to avoid swoops.
yet, i still thought that i could make
them pretty. unfortunately, i think
i succeeded in making a pretty sophisticated
confection (cake plus ganache glaze),
look like a fourth grader's art project.
i tried several designs, kicking myself
every time it didn't look so great,
before finally deciding upon
a frantic back and forth frosting
square in the middle of the cupcake.
i thought they looked ridiculous.
but, in the 24 hours between
making them and giving them,
i grew rather fond of the frenetic design.

bottom line:
these were cupcakes modeled after
a bar favorite and truth be told,
it probably didn't matter what they
looked like. plus, i think they
were rather delicious. while
i'm not a huge fan of chocolate -
i'd always choose vanilla if given
the choice -
i think these were one of the best
cakes i've tasted in a long time.
rich and so moist, with just
a slight, is-there-beer-in-here?
the glaze was thick
and a great addition
to the yummy cake.
and the frosting was, i thought,
very sweet. but in small doses,
it brought everything together.

i was worried that they wouldn't
come together well,
that it was risky to bake something
new not only because it was
for something special,
but because it was for someone
who has quite a lot of baking
expertise under her belt.
i worried that they would melt
and wilt on the long car ride
into philadelphia and that
they would be even gloopier
by the time they got into
colleen's kitchen.
but i needn't have worried.
they survived the ride.
colleen and christian each
had one unwrapped before
we even had our overnight
bags upstairs. and my favorite
part? colleen's mom ate one, too.
it was the perfect start to what i didn't
know was to become,
a cupcake marathon.
stout cupcakes with whisky glaze and irish buttercream
adapted from

chocolate stout cupcakes
larry and i split the last cupcake three days after i had made them and the cake was still very moist - i was impressed. i actually think - that as long as i'm not making them for someone who cannot have alcohol - these could turn into my chocolate cupcake standby.

1 cup stout, like guinness
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cups sour cream

arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven. heat oven to 350˚f. line cupcake wells with cupcake liners (i was able to make 21 cupcakes from the batter, but you could have up to 24, i think).

in small heavy saucepot over medium heat, bring stout and butter to a simmer. remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder until mixture is smooth; set aside.

in mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.

in bowl of electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream on medium speed 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until completely blended. carefully (mixture is still hot and dark and chocolatey), add stout mixture to eggs; use spatula to gently combine (this keeps the mixture from splattering). on low speed, beat just until combined. add flour mixture; use spatula to fold the two mixtures together; on low speed beat until just combined.

at this point, i think it's easiest if you can transfer the batter to a large measuring cup, or something with a spout for pouring. fill cupcake liners 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full. bake 16-18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. (it's best to rotate the pans midway through baking - top to bottom and front to back.)

let cakes cool 10 minutes in pan; transfer cupcakes to rack to cool completely.

when ready to glaze: dip cupcakes, cake side-down, into glaze, rotating to cover completely. gently turn upright, letting excess drip off. place on cooling rack. if the cupcake is not completely covered, use a spoon to carefully drip over uncovered areas of the cake. let sit 20 minutes, or until glaze has firmed up.

when ready to frost: place frosting in large resealable bag. snip small edge from corner (about 1/4-1/3-inch). pipe designs on cupcakes.

chocolate whisky ganache glaze
i debated whether or not to halve the recipe below. i didn't, but i had figured that using it as a glaze, i would need much less. i was right - i had so much ganache left over, that i ended up chilling it to make truffles. so, it's halved below. if you're worried that it won't be enough, or if you're ok with leftovers, double it. also, if you don't want to use whisky, you can leave it out or replace it with a splash of vanilla extract.

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (chips or bar, chopped)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons whisky

place chocolate in bowl. in small saucepot, bring heavy cream to a simmer; pour over chocolate. let sit 2 minutes; whisk together until smooth. stir in butter and whisky.

irish cream buttercream
again, i halved the original recipe because, when used as a decoration or garnish, you don't need nearly as much frosting. i had a ton left over when i used the full recipe. if however, you'd rather use this mixture to frost the entire cupcake, double all ingredients below. oh, and if you don't like irish cream or would rather not use alcohol, smitten kitchen recommends milk or heavy cream.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (or more)
2 tablespoons irish cream (or more to taste)

in bowl of electric mixer, beat butter until completely softened. slowly add confectioners' sugar a few tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is thick (if it seems a little too thick, remember that the liquid is coming to smooth the mixture out). add irish cream; beat to combine.