Archive for ‘cupcakes’

July 14, 2011

Kosher Kupcakes

         

As if publishing Pumpercake’s Seven-Layer Cake this week wasn’t exciting enough, I’m absolutely thrilled to be a guest blogger at  Joy of Kosher today!

A Joy of Kosher representative contacted me asking for a guest post and a couple summery cupcake recipes that could be made pareve (without dairy).  My guest post features Pumpercake’s cocktail-inspired “Margarita Cupcakes,” and “Black & White Cupcakes,” inspired by the well known Jewish cookie.

Make sure you stop by Joy of Kosher today to take a look at Pumpercake’s cupcake article, recipes, and pictures, as well as the many other great articles and wonderful everyday recipes throughout the site!

May 27, 2011

Tangy Drink Turned Tasty Dessert

Summer heat may bring about many cravings for those finding themselves with a sweet tooth… ice cream, popsicles, and maybe a tall, cool glass of tart lemonade.  Or, better yet, strawberry lemonade.  The average high in DC this week has been about 93 degrees with humidity that could cause even the most poker-straight hair to go completely Hugo Reyes.  Needless to say, refreshing treats have been on my mind.  With a craving for something tangy and little inspirational help from those tantalizing McDonald’s commercials, these strawberry-lemonade cupcakes were born.

These muffin-like cakes were sweetened up with a tart, bright burst of strawberry-lemon curd filling.  The citrus-y sweet cupcakes turned out great and were shared with many.  My favorite reaction of any of the tasters was my friend Claire’s, who after biting into the cake exclaimed, “That filling tastes just like strawberry lemonade!”  Sounds like a successful recipe if I’ve ever heard one.

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Inspired by: Strawberry Lemonade

Strawberry-Lemon Cakes

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

1 cup chopped strawberries                2 eggs

1 tablespoon honey                            ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons lemon juice                  2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

zest from 1 lemon                                ¾ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter             2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk                                             1 teaspoon baking soda

recipe yield: about 18 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cupcake pans with paper liners.  Place finely chopped strawberries in a small bowl with honey, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and lemon zest.  Set aside to macerate.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a small glass bowl containing the butter.  Gently melt the butter over low heat, remove from stove top, and allow to cool slightly.  In a medium bowl, combine the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice and the milk.  Add the eggs, breaking apart the yolks slightly, as well as the vanilla extract.  Mix in cooled, melted butter.  Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda.  Form a small “well” in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the butter-egg mixture into the well.  Mix ingredients together until just combined.  Gently stir in the macerated strawberry mixture until strawberries are dispersed throughout the batter.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers until each is about ¾ full.  Place pans into the oven and bake cupcakes for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool on racks in pans for about 10 minutes before removing from pans and allowing to cool completely on racks.

Strawberry-Lemon Curd

Adapted from pumpercake‘sPineapple-Lemon Curd

6 egg yolks

zest of ½ lemon

1 cup seedless strawberry pulp*

¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)

½ cup sugar

2 ¼ tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted cold butter

-recipe yield: about 2 ½ cups

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, lightly break apart egg yolks with a small whisk.  While whisking, add in the zest, fruit juices, sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Place saucepan over medium heat and, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, constantly stir mixture for 4-6 minutes, or until it thickens up to the point where it coats the spoon and holds its shape when you run your finger across the spoon.

At this point, immediately remove the saucepan from heat.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of butter, allowing each piece to dissolve into the curd before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth, transfer the curd to a small bowl and continue to stir until it has cooled.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that the curd doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered pineapple-lemon curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

*To make strawberry pulp, place clean, fresh strawberries into a food processor and pulse until fully broken down.  Transfer ground strawberries into a mesh strainer and allow pulp to strain through into a clean bowl.  To help pulp fall through strainer, use a small whisk.  Discard any seeds or rough pieces remaining in the strainer and use only the smooth, seedless pulp.

Strawberry-Lemonade Buttercream

Adapted from “Lemon Kissed Buttercream Frosting,”
The Cupcakery Blog

This is a very versatile buttercream recipe that can be prepared and presented in a couple different ways.  Depending on your preferences of sweet vs. tangy, the amount of curd added can be adjusted or even omitted all together.  The curd can be swirled, marbleized, or fully combined into the buttercream.

½ cup unsalted butter                 3 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice           1 tablespoon whole milk

1 teaspoon lemon zest                1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½-¾ cup reserved strawberry-lemon curd (recipe above)

In large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Drizzle in lemon juice and zest and beat well. Gradually add sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating on medium speed and scraping sides of bowl often.  After sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the mixture while drizzling in vanilla and milk. Beat at medium speed until homogeneous.

At this point, the buttercream can either be piped onto the cupcakes or combined in the curd in some way.  For a homogeneous strawberry lemonade frosting, beat curd into the buttercream until combined.  The curd can also be gently swirled into the buttercream with a spatula before being piped onto cakes.  To create a marbleized effect, fill the pastry bag on one side with buttercream and on the other side with curd so that they’re somewhat separated in the bag.  Pipe the frostings out as normal and the two together in the bag will create pretty ribbons of color.  Swirled or marbleized cupcakes should be served immediately, or the milk may start to lump and look curdled due to the acid in the juice.

April 27, 2011

Pineapple Sunshine On Easter Sunday

Even as a little girl, I was always “in charge” of providing the dessert at family gatherings for every birthday or holiday.  And even though the desserts have gotten more and more complex and dramatic over the years, my family was just as proud of and impressed with my box-mix concoctions back then as they are of the more labor-intensive treats I serve now.  One cake I can specifically remember making numerous times, as it was a family favorite and repeatedly requested, was the “Pineapple Sunshine Cake.”  It was a simple recipe involving a box of yellow cake mix and a can of crushed pineapple, and it was my sugary-sweet masterpiece.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was unable to make it out to spend this Easter with my family this past weekend.  However, I was able to spend Easter Sunday with my little local church family.  Every Sunday morning I help run a nursery at a church in Alexandria, Virginia.  The congregation is super warm and friendly, and those with children are a tiny but tight-knit and family-oriented group that I’ve truly grown to love.  I look forward to seeing them and their beautiful children every week and wanted to share with them a little treat that reminds me of holidays with my family.

I decided to revamp the overly-sweet recipe from my childhood and make something a little more special and gourmet.  I  incorporated some vanilla bean and citrus into the sweet pineapple to make a refreshing and tropical-tasting treat.  I started with a pineapple chiffon cake recipe as a base, made it a little less stiff and a lot more moist, filled it with my very own pineapple-lemon curd, and topped it off with a sweet citrus buttercream.  As it was Easter, I decorated some of the cakes with lemon jellybeans and some with buttercream roses for spring.  I was very pleased with how the cakes turned out and was even more pleased to be able to provide an Easter treat to the families that I spend my Sunday mornings with.

Pineapple-Citrus Curd Cupcakes

Inspired by: Pineapple Sunshine Cake

Pineapple & Vanilla Bean Cakes

Adapted from Diana Rattray’s “Pineapple Chiffon Cake,” Southern Food

8 egg whites, room temperature             1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

2 cups all purpose flour                           5 egg yolks

1 tablespoon baking powder                   2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

½ teaspoon salt                                      1 teaspoon orange zest

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened             ½ cup pineapple juice*

¼ cup vegetable oil                                 ¼ cup crushed pineapple*

-recipe yield: about 24 cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with paper liners.    In a very large bowl, whip all egg whites to stiff peaks, starting on a lower speed at first and increasing mixer speed as the whites start to stiffen.  Set bowl aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In another large bowl, cream together the butter, oil, and sugar until the sugar has dissolved into the mixture and is no longer grainy, about 5 minutes.  Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  While continuing to beat, add in vanilla bean seeds or paste until the vanilla flecks have distributed throughout the mixture.  Mix in the pineapple juice until incorporated.  When mixture is homogeneous, stir in the crushed pineapple and the orange zest.

In small, alternating batches, sift in about 1/3 of the dry ingredients, fold, and then fold in about 1/3 of the stiffened egg whites.  Continue folding in the sifted dry ingredients alternating with the egg whites until all have been gently incorporated.  Distribute the batter into the pans, filling each of the cupcake papers almost completely full (about 5/6 full).  Rotating the pans halfway through the cooking time, bake the cakes for a total of about 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean.  Allow cakes to cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

*To ensure even measuring of crushed pineapple and pineapple juice, I like to first empty the contents of a can of crushed pineapple into a strainer over a small bowl to collect as much juice as possible.  Then, I place only the crushed pineapple into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse the fruit a few times to break it down further.  The finer-ground pineapple helps to infuse the flavor throughout the entire cake and adds a lot of texture, but without weighing down the entire cake.  Next, I put the ground, crushed pineapple through the strainer one more time, extracting even more juice, leaving only the fluffy pulp of the pineapple.

Pineapple-Lemon Curd

Adapted from Marlene Sorosky’s “Lemon Curd,” Easy Entertaining

6 egg yolks

zest of ½ lemon

1 cup pineapple juice

¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons)

½ cup sugar

2 ¼ tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces

-recipe yield: about 2 ½ cups

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, lightly break apart egg yolks with a small whisk.  While whisking, add in the zest, fruit juices, sugar, salt, and cornstarch.  Place saucepan over medium heat and, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, constantly stir mixture for 4-6 minutes, or until it thickens up to the point where it coats the spoon and holds its shape when you run your finger across the spoon.

At this point, immediately remove the saucepan from heat.  Constantly stirring, gradually mix in small pieces of butter, allowing each piece to dissolve into the curd before adding the next piece.  Once all the butter has been added and the mixture is smooth, transfer the curd to a small bowl and continue to stir until it has cooled.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to sag into the bowl and cover the entire surface of the curd so that the curd doesn’t develop a skin.  Store cooled, covered pineapple-lemon curd in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Sweet Citrus Buttercream

Adapted from Wilton’s “Lemon Buttercream Frosting”

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature           1 teaspoon lemon zest

½ cup vegetable shortening                                 ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice                                4 cups (about 1 pound) confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon pineapple juice                                1 tablespoon heavy cream

In large bowl, cream together butter and shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Drizzle in fruit juices and zest and beat well. Gradually add sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating on medium speed and scraping sides of bowl often. After sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the mixture while drizzling in heavy cream. Beat at medium speed until homogeneous and fluffy. Keep icing covered with a damp cloth until ready to use and, if needed, re-whip before using.

Optional Ingredients for decorating:

Yellow food coloring, sprinkles, jelly beans, etc.

Assembly:

Once cupcakes are completely cooled, I use an apple corer to remove the inside of each of the cakes and a pastry bag to fill the cakes with the pineapple-lemon curd.  Fill the cakes with as much of the curd as desired, rip off the bottom half of the removed piece of cupcake, and replace the top over the curd.

The sweet citrus buttercream can be gently spread on the cakes with a small spatula or piped on with a pastry or plastic bag.  Decorate as desired.

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!

April 18, 2011

Red Velvet, Fit For A “Wing”

One of the best things about growing up in Michigan, for me, was being brought up as a passionate fan of the Detroit sports teams.  Similar to the economy in Detroit, it seems that lately the Pistons and the Lions have seen better days.  And don’t even get me started on the tragedy that was the dismissal of the 3-time WNBA championship winning team, the Detroit Shock, now the “Tulsa Shock.”  But, there is one sports organization that we can always count on for consistently impressive wins, guaranteed trips to the playoffs year after year, and more Stanley Cups than you can count on two hands, the Detroit Red Wings.

The start of the NHL Playoffs has brought about mixed emotions for me.  Excitement, of course.  A little nervousness at times.  But most of all, a longing to be near the excitement in Detroit and the team that I love.  A small group of us hockey fans from Michigan get together to watch Red Wings’ games from time to time here in DC, and it seemed only appropriate that we be together to watch the Wings tear Phoenix apart in Game 1 last Wednesday night and celebrate what is sure to be a great playoff season for our team.  I wanted to bring something that was somewhat Red Wing-themed for my friends to munch on while we watched the game, but couldn’t decide which direction I wanted to take.  While considering a few options, another friend of mine came to me in search of a good red velvet cake recipe.  Red velvet! While I was without a ‘go-to’ recipe of the red velvet persuasion, I jumped on the opportunity to do a little recipe testing.  And red velvet cake seemed like a very appropriate treat to serve to those fans of the best team in the whole wide world.

Although I’ve made a few red velvet cakes in my day, I was having a hard time recalling any really great red velvet recipes that I’d tried.  And as I didn’t want to pass along a mediocre recipe to my good friend, I decided to try three different cake recipes (baked into cupcakes) paired with three different frostings and have everyone vote on their favorite of each.  In the red velvet playoffs, the frostings included a traditional cream cheese buttercream, a non-traditional, white chocolate-cream cheese ganache and my favorite marshmallow frosting.  I chose three very different cake recipes that called for three different types of vinegar, amounts of cocoa, amounts of sugar, and different food color mixing/pasting techniques.  The tested recipes were the Magnolia Bakery’s recipe, an adapted version of Martha Stewart’s recipe and, as a wild card, Bobby Flay’s red velvet recipe.  For those of you who don’t tune into the Food Network and don’t know who Bobby is or why his recipe is a wild card, I’ll explain.  Bobby Flay, although a world renowned chef, specializes in Southwest flavors and cooks most famously with different varieties of spicy peppers.  He is, in no way, famous for his pastry skills.  A while back, however, he challenged a New York City pastry chef and baker of an award-winning red velvet cake to a “Red Velvet Throwdown,” during which, a panel of judges deemed Bobby Flay’s red velvet cake the winner.  I was curious as to how his simple recipe beat out that of the famous “Cake Man Raven,” and decided to try it out for myself.  And, to my surprise, Bobby’s Throwdown-winning cake was also winner of my little red velvet recipe battle, overwhelmingly receiving the most votes by far!  I will include two frosting recipes, as votes for the best were split between the buttercream and the ganache, with my yummy marshmallow frosting receiving only one vote… mine.  I think the hockey fans must have just been reluctant to vote for anything resembling “icing.”  (Sorry, I had to.)

The delicious, luxurious texture and flavor of Bobby’s cake is outstanding.  Red velvet, indeed.  And, while the other two recipes had me sifting cake flour, splitting vanilla beans and concocting red-coloring pastes to be mixed into intricate batters, Bobby’s recipe was refreshingly straightforward and simple.  I think you’ll be surprised as to how easy it is.  Almost as easy as sweeping the Coyotes in Round 1 will be for the Red Wings.

The Ultimate Red Velvet Cake

Inspired by: Red Velvet Cake & the Detroit Red Wings

Adapted, just barely, from Bobby Flay’s “Red Velvet Cake,” Throwdown With Bobby Flay

3 ¾ cups all purpose flour

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 ¼ cups granulated sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons red food coloring

1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

recipe yield: 1 three-layer 9-inch cake, or 36 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with papers or prepare three 9-inch cake pans by lining them with parchment paper and buttering and flouring the bottom and sides of each pan.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamed, about three minutes.  Add in the oil and continue to cream for another couple minutes until the sugar has dissolved into the mixture.   Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and the food coloring and continue to beat until the mixture is homogeneous and the color is evenly incorporated.

Slowly add in 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, mix well, and then add half of the buttermilk, again, mixing well afterward.  Continue to add the other two batches of the flour mixture alternating with the remaining buttermilk, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition.  In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and the red wine vinegar, and add the mixture to the batter.  Mix well until the vinegar mixture has been incorporated and the batter is smooth.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers or divide it evenly between the three prepared pans.  Bake cupcakes for about 18-20 minutes or until the cakes are just set and are slightly springy to the touch.  Bake 9-inch round cakes for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.  Cool cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pans and allowing to cool completely.

White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Ganache

This rich, smooth, slightly whipped ganache is absolutely delicious and was actually slightly favored over the buttercream during the taste tests.  As a ganache, its’ thinner texture is probably better suited for covering cupcakes than for spreading in between layers of a full 9-inch cake.

12 ounces white chocolate chips

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate chips.  As the chocolate is melting, in a seperate,  small, heavy-bottomed saucepan place the softened cream cheese (broken up with a wooden spoon) and the ¼ cup heavy cream.  Put 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, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out and soften at room temperature.  Once it has become manageable, start to whip the mixture  until desired consistency is achieved,  adding extra heavy cream if necessary.  Slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined.  Depending on the consistency the ganache is whipped to, it can either be piped, spread, or poured onto the cakes or cupcakes, or, the top of the cupcakes can be dunked directly into the bowl of ganache.

Cream Cheese Buttercream

The stiffer texture of this frosting makes it an ideal choice for spreading in between layers of 9-inch layer cakes, or for piping decorative patterns using a pastry bag and tip.

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature                2 tablespoons heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature                                1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ¼ -4 cups confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy and soft (about 3 minutes).  While mixing on a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar ½ 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 vanilla extract and increase the mixer speed to medium-high.  Beat buttercream for another minute or so, or until fluffy.

Transfer to a pastry or plastic zip-lock bag to pipe onto cakes, or, use an angled spatula to spread on cupcakes or on and in between layers of 9-inch cakes.