Archive for April 20th, 2011

April 20, 2011

Thank Heaven for Little Girls (& Unruly Frosting)

Two days a week I am lucky enough to be a nanny for the prettiest baby girl in the whole world, Talia.  Yes, that is a pretty strong statement and I may be a little biased, but in all honesty, the kid is beyond adorable.  As you happen to be reading the blog and are probably a friend or family member of mine, chances are I’ve probably already shown you at least 5 pictures and/or videos of Talia or gushed to you about her latest “trick” of the day.  At which point you, more than likely, have gently reminded me that I am not, in fact, her mother, contrary to how I proudly speak of and brag about her.

Whitney (Tali’s actual mother, as well as my mentor and cherished friend) has always been a huge supporter of my baking and of the blog.  So, when I prepared some fancy pink champagne-inspired cupcakes for my great friend Claire’s 23rd birthday, I sent a quick picture of the sparkly, girlish cakes to Whitney for her approval.  Whitney fell in love with the idea and the look of the pink champagne cupcakes and thought they’d be the perfect treat to serve at the luncheon following Talia’s upcoming Christening.  I offered to make the cupcakes (along with a few other treats) as a gift to Talia, Whitney and Kevin… the wonderful family who have come to mean so much to me.

I chose to top the pink champagne cakes with my favorite marshmallow frosting, which might seem like a ridiculous choice for such a fancy-flavored cake, but I thought the marshmallow gave the cakes a fun, whimsical feel that seemed perfect to serve at a party for a little girl.  The marshmallow frosting can be a bit sweet, and with the added pink sanding sugars I used to decorate, it was important that I find a mellowing balance with the other flavors.  I cut back the amount of sugar in the pink champagne cakes a touch, and also chose a delicate and slightly tangy mascarpone filling that helped balance the sweetness of the dessert.

Alongside the pink champagne cupcakes, I decided to also serve a spread of special chocolate cupcakes (which are described in more detail in the post below, or here).  And as Kevin is a big fan of my gluten-free chocolate truffles, I decided to make a big batch of those especially for him.  I threw in a couple other surprise batches of some new truffle recipes I’ve formulated and have been working on, including some of my key lime pie truffles for him to try.

This is the point in which I wish I could include a comment about how well everything fell into place the morning of Tal’s Christening.  I wish so badly that I could say something to the effect of, “Yes, I had taken on quite a large project, but being as confident in the kitchen as I am, I knew I could complete each and every one of my desserts flawlessly and in no way was I being overly-ambitious.”  But, in all actuality, the morning of the Christening turned out to be a bit of a crisis, complete with several batches of inedible frosting and a small meltdown on my part.  Long story short, due to the humidity that day, my marshmallow frosting refused to set up correctly and upon making and remaking the icing, I ended up missing Tali’s Christening ceremony.  I was pretty upset about missing it, but the extra time did allow me to figure out the problem and adjust my recipe accordingly, and of course, share my experience here so that others can learn from it!

After correcting the frosting and finishing up, I was able to make it to Whitney and Kevin’s home before everyone else, giving me lots of quiet time to set up  the dessert table.   The table looked lovely, but the best part of my early arrival had nothing to do with how much I’d fussed over the desserts.  The thing that made my missing the ceremony 100% okay was the extra, quiet time it allowed me to spend with the lady-of-the-hour herself, my Tali.  I was able to lend a hand to the busy hosts, Whitney and Kevin, and get sleepy Tal off to rest before greeting her many guests.  And as much as I loved watching everyone enjoy the desserts, nothing beats some cuddle-time with Talia.

Pink Champagne Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mascarpone Filling & Marshmallow Frosting

Inspired by: Pink Champagne

Pink Champagne Cakes

Adapted from Gail Wagman’s “Champagne Cupcakes,” Cupcakes Galore

3 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

6 egg whites, room temperature

1/3 pound unsalted butter, room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups pink champagne, separated

-optional: 3-4 drops red food coloring

–recipe yield: about 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake tins with cupcakes liners and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.  In a separate, medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the whisks of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add in the vanilla extract, and, if desired, add 3-4 drops of red food coloring.  Keep in mind that the color will be a little lighter after the dry ingredients are added.  Beat well until the color is distributed evenly throughout the butter mixture.

Slowly mix about 1/3 of the sifted flour mixture into the butter mixture until it has combined.  Then, add in about half of the 3/4 cup of champagne and mix until combined.  Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix, and then the remaining half of the 3/4 cup of champagne and mix again until combined.  Add in the last 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until the mixture is completely combined, being careful not to over-mix.  Over-mixing the batter once the flour has been added can result in dry, dense little cakes.

Gently and in small batches, fold about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter at a time.  Continue to fold until all of the egg whites have been added and are fully incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cupcake tins, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 16-18 minutes, or until the center of the cupcakes are  springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then remove them and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

Once the cakes have cooled, use a toothpick to poke a few tiny holes in each cupcake.  If you’re planning on filling the cupcakes, avoid poking the holes near the very center of the cakes, as you’ll be hollowing out the centers anyway.  Soak a pastry brush or a small, clean paintbrush in the remaining 1/2 cup of pink champagne, and use it to lightly brush the top of each cupcake, coating it with the champagne.

White Chocolate Mascarpone Filling

This recipe can be used as a filling or a frosting.  Preparation should start to the day before assembly.  I love the creaminess and delicate flavor of the mascarpone, but the cheese’s softness makes it difficult to use in frostings.  The white chocolate used here helps to keep the mascarpone thick and also adds delicious sweetness,  which the tangy cream cheese helps to balance out.

12 ounces white chocolate chips

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate chips.  As the chocolate is melting, pour into a separate,  small, heavy-bottomed saucepan the heavy cream and the 1/2 cup of cream cheese.  Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and, constantly whisking, allow the cream cheese to break apart and melt into the heavy cream, being careful to keep it moving and not allow the milk or cheese to curdle.

Once the cream is smooth and hot, add a small amount into the melted chocolate and stir.  If the chocolate beings to seize, the cream is not hot enough.  Return the cream back to the hot stove top, turn the burner on low and don’t panic!  Use an electric mixer to try and smooth out the seized chocolate mixture.  Once the chocolate is as smooth as you can get it and the temperature of the cream mixture is brought up, slowly add small amounts of cream to the chocolate and continue to beat until it has all been added and is beaten into a homogeneous mixture.  Allow the smooth mixture to cool slightly before covering it and refrigerating it overnight.

Once the chocolate-cream cheese mixture has chilled and hardened somewhat, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out and come to room temperature.  Once it has softened slightly, add in the mascarpone and beat the mixture until combined, homogeneous and fluffy.  When ready to be piped, transfer the filling to a pastry or plastic zip-lock bag.

Marshmallow Frosting

This recipe is comparable to an Italian Meringue or a ‘Seven Minute Icing’ and is whipped up over the stove.  Sugary delicious and beautifully whimsical, it’s my all-time favorite kind of frosting.  It should be prepared and served in the same day, as over time it’s texture can become granular and unpleasant.

2 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons water*

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

–recipe yield: about 3 cups

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream of tartar in the large bowl.  Beat the mixture on high speed over the simmering water until the mixture is thick, fluffy and marshmallow-y, about 7 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla extract, and transfer to a pastry bag to be piped.

* This frosting is temperamental in humidity and won’t stiffen up if there is a lot of moisture in the air.  As mentioned earlier, I had to make numerous batches before I found out that that’s what the problem was.  In this event, just reduce the amount of water in the sugar syrup.  In my hysterics, I even added a pinch of cornstarch as a precaution.

Optional Ingredients for Decorating:  colored sugars, jimmies, sprinkles, candy pearls, etc.

Assembly:

Using a round apple corer or a small paring knife, hollow out the centers of each cupcake.  Snip off the tip or a corner of the pastry or zip lock bag filled with the mascarpone filling and prepare to fill the cakes.  To do this, insert the tip of the bag into the hollowed cake and squeeze a small amount of the filling into the cake, just until it plumps and the filling barely reaches the top of the cake.  Continue to fill each cake, and when all cakes have been filled, replace the very tops of the inside “guts” that have been taken out of the cakes.  I prefer to tear off the bottom half of the “guts” before plugging each of the cupcake holes with only the top piece.

To frost and decorate the cakes, I used a few different techniques so that they all looked a little different.  I used a spatula to spread a small amount of the marshmallow frosting into a thin, even layer on a few of the cakes, and then dipped the cakes in colored sugar or sprinkles.  I then used a large star tip in a pastry bag filled with the marshmallow frosting to pipe a small rosette into the center of those cakes.  Large rosettes can be used to cover entire cupcakes, and round tips can be used to pipe little ‘blobs’ atop the cakes.  Decorate however you please with sprinkles, pearls, and sugars.

April 20, 2011

Thank Heaven (continued)

I knew that there was going to be a decent amount of children at the luncheon of Talia’s Christening and even though I find the pink champagne cupcakes to be super yummy, they do have a pretty prominent champagne taste… maybe not the most appealing flavor for those under the age of 6.  I decided it would be a good idea to do something a little more kid-friendly, but equally as dressed up and delicious.

In keeping with the cherry blossom theme of the week, and in my excitement and longing to use the delectable Michigan black cherry preserves I’d been so overjoyed to find, I decided on a rich, chocolate cupcake wrapped around a black cherry buttercream… a semi-spin on a chocolate covered cherry.  I hoped that this classic combination of flavors could be appreciated by party attendees of any age, but in order to further entice the younger crowd just a touch, I completed the cakes with colored sprinkles and chocolate candies atop the whipped white chocolate ganache.

The festive chocolate cakes were a huge hit at the luncheon, maybe even more so than the pink champagne cakes!  I especially loved the overall texture and chocolate flavor of the slightly-sweet cakes…  this just may be my new go-to chocolate cake recipe.  And the subtle hint of cherry in the girly-pink buttercream filling was the perfect choice to honor the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the arrival of spring, and to celebrate the beautiful little girl who brought us all together that afternoon.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Black Cherry Filling & Whipped White Chocolate Ganache

Inspired by: Chocolate Covered Cherries

Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from Magnolia Bakery’s “Chocolate Cupcakes,”  The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

–recipe yield: about 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tines with cupcake papers.  Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl filled with the unsweetened chocolate.  Melt the chocolate over the double boiler and remove from heat.  Stir in the instant coffee granules and set aside to cool to lukewarm.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars, beating until fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.   Slowly drizzle in a small amount of the cooled chocolate, as to bring the mixture up to temperature without cooking and scrambling any of the egg.  Continue to then add in the remaining chocolate, mixing until well-incorporated.

Slowly and in three equal batches, add the dry ingredients into the chocolate-butter mixture, alternating with two equal additions of the buttermilk and vanilla.  With each addition, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over-beat.  When the batter is smooth and homogeneous, carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake-tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before removing them from the tins and transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Black Cherry Cream Cheese Buttercream Filling

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

3-4 tablespoons Michigan black cherry preserves

about 1 ½ – 2 ½ cups powdered sugar

3/4  tablespoon heavy cream

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy and soft (about 3 minutes).  Add in the preserves and continue to beat until well-incorporated. While mixing on a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and continuing to add in the sugar until desired consistency and flavor is achieved.  Drizzle in the heavy cream and increase the mixer speed to medium-high.  Beat buttercream for another minute or so, or until fluffy. Transfer buttercream filling into a pastry or zip-lock bags to prepare to fill cupcakes.

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache

This is a basic whipped ganache recipe that compliments the chocolate cakes very well.  Preparation should begin the day before serving.

24 ounces white chocolate chips

1  1/4 cups heavy cream

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Combine and melt together the white chocolate and 1 cup of the cream in the large bowl.  Once fully melted and smooth, remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool.  Once the mixture has cooled, cover the bowl and transfer to the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Just before ready to frost cupcakes, remove the slightly hardened ganache from the fridge and allow to sit out and come to room temperature.  Then, beat the softened mixture on medium-high speed, adding about 1/4 cup heavy cream to moisten the mixture, if necessary.  Continue to whip the gananche until desired fluffy or stiffened texture is achieved.  Remember to be careful not to over-whip the mixture, as over-whipping heavy cream can create butter.

When ready to frost cupcakes, transfer ganache into  a pastry or zip-lock bag.

Optional Ingredients for Decorating:

M&M’s, candy coated chocolate covered almonds, jelly beans, colored candies, colored sprinkles, jimmies, etc.

Assembly:

Using a round apple corer or a small paring knife, hollow out the centers of each cupcake.  Snip off the tip or a corner of the pastry or zip lock bag filled with the cherry-cream cheese buttercream and prepare to fill the cakes.  To do this, insert the tip of the bag into the hollowed cake and squeeze a small amount of the filling into the cake, just until it plumps and the filling barely reaches the top of the cake.  Continue to fill each cake, and when all cakes have been filled, replace the very tops of the inside “guts” that have been taken out of the cakes.  I prefer to tear off the bottom half of the “guts” before plugging each of the cupcake holes with only the top piece.

To frost the cakes, I used pastry bags with a round tip and also one with a large star tip to pipe different swirls on the cakes.  I used the M&M’s, almonds, jelly beans and other chocolate candies to create flower patterns, butterflies and dragonflies on the cakes, as well as some more simple decorations with a dusting of jimmies or sprinkles.  Get creative!