Tuesday, March 31, 2009

300 Desserts

I had my biggest order yet. 300 desserts for my company's party. 8 dozen cookies, 4 dozen brownies, 2 dozen regular cupcakes, 8 dozen mini-cupcakes and 4 dozen truffles. It was a long wednesday evening. With the help of Barb and the generous offer to use her dad's dual oven kitchen, we made it through. I felt the need to document the copius amounts of butter needed to accomplish such a task. They're like my little minions, eager to do my bidding!

The event was definitely a success, but there were some lumps in the batter, if you get what I mean. I have never made mini cupcakes, mostly due to the fact I have a friend who has a monopoly on the mini-cupcake market and I didn't feel like I should compete. But the interest and demand for them was too great for me to ignore it any longer. So, first off, I could not find the proper mini-cupcake baking pans that I was vying for. I searched in many stores, but only was able to find the crazy-weird, floppy, silicon type pans that I find very unappealing. But due to a time crunch, I was forced to purchase them. Granted, once using them to bake, I suppose there wasn't anything "wrong" with them - I just don't like 'em. Anyhow, the other issue worth mentioning is that I like my cupcakes the same way I like my meat: medium-rare. Loosely translated into bake-speak I mean: I like them moist. This means keeping a close eye on the goodies in the oven, and sometimes pulling them out before they're "technically" ready. Works wonders for chewy cookies and ooey-gooey brownies, but as it happens with confections like cupcakes, there is a delicate balance between "al dente" and flop. I found flop. When I first removed the batch from the oven, they looked alright, but it was not to be. Luckily, it was fun to watch them slowly deflate. Alas, they did not make it to the party.

One more technical note: Oven temperature matters. My buddy and I did a couple dozen mini-snickerdoodles at too low a temperature, and they tasted fine, but were pale and flat in comparison to their properly-baked brethren.

The night wore on. Barb and I had resorted to mostly grunting and nodding our heads to show signs of direction. We were conserving energy since we had no real idea as to how long we would need to persist (I'm learning how to gauge the timing as I go). I made a fine batch of brownies at 2 am, followed immediately by a batch of indiscernible what-the-hell-happened-to-these brownies that I am still not certain what went wrong.

I was too busy to take any good photos - we worked from 8pm - 3am and had to wake up straight away at 7 am in order to get back to real work on time. This is the price I (we) pa(id) to see so many people enjoying our creations. I would do it again, but I'll have to find a way to not drag my friends down with me into the wee hours of the morning.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Frangelico Truffles

Dipped in chopped hazelnuts, these surprisingly easy to make semi-sweeet chocolate truffles came out looking marvelous! I also made some "plain" chocolate ones with a powdered sugar/cocoa dusting, but they weren't nearly as photo worthy.

My recipe:
1 12 oz bag chocolate chips
3/4 c heavy cream
2 tbs butter
2 tbs Frangelico (or any flavor liqueur)

Bring cream just to a boil then pour over chocolate chips. Let it sit a couple minutes, then stir to combine. If that doesn't work for you for some reason, say there are still obvious chip size pieces in your mix, just put it over a pot of boiling water and stirr it constantly until all the chocolate has melted. I prefer not to do it that way, only because it's an extra step that is easily avoided. Ideally you let the chocolate sit out at room temperature until it's firm enough to mold by hand (a messy job!), but in the interest of time, you can pop it in the fridge and mix it every 10-20 minutes until it has firmed up. You aren't technically supposed to refrigerate those kinds of things because of issues with condensation and certainly many other factors I don't even know, but com'mon - you have to be realistic sometimes. One other thing to mention is that you really should use good chocolate. I personally can't afford to make my truffles out of 100% Scharffen Berger Bittersweet (though it would be dreamy to do so), but unlike cakes and brownies where there are many ingredients interferring with the flavor and quality of your chocolate, truffles are pretty straight-forward with their chocolatiness. I recommend a mix of chocolate that is economical, but also flavorful (I'll let you be the judge as to what those two variations are).

Moving on, once the chocolate has firmed up, use a small melon baller or ice cream scoop to spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of chocolate into little balls. You can mold them in the palm of your hands (the chocolate WILL melt a little in your hands) or use two spoons to shape the little mix into little balls. Perfection should not be an issue when shaping either, since the truffle concept is supposedly inspired by the little fancy mushrooms found in the depths of forests and are intended to be naturally shaped like their name-sakes.

Then roll the little ball around in the topping. It can be useful to press the topping a little bit into the truffle to make sure it sticks well.

Once you find the right method, the assembly line of preparing truffles can be quite efficient and painless. Oh, and delicious!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

Knowing that it is about time to put the peanut butter and chocolate combination to work for me, I created these Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Buttercream frosting.

Without causing a small riot, I will admit that my love for peanut butter is not on the charts like it is with most people. I am picky. I do enjoy a good peanut butter cup, and am dedicated to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like any American raised kid should be, but for whatever reason I don't favor the ingredient in most other forms. This is not to be confused with disliking peanut butter, but simply not being drawn to it. But I do know that the general public fancies it, so am compelled to appease them. And the reviews on this cupcake came back very positive: good balance between chocolate and peanut butter.

The frosting was simply:
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1 cup peanut butter
• 3 tbs milk
• 2 cups powdered sugar

Do the blending of the first two until they're nice and creamy then add the sugar in batches until it gets too thick, so you pour a little milk in to loosen it up, then more sugar, then more milk, etc, until you have a super fluffy and creamy frosting. I noticed when piping it on that there were a lot of little air bubbles that sort of disrupted the otherwise pristine smooth texture a more denser frosting would have.

I feel the need to explain one more thing about this cupcake and my process making it. I am generally very interested in using and eating ingredients that are minimally processed and not full of weird additives. For example, I try not to consume things with high fructose syrup (though sometimes too cumbersome to avoid), and only use real butter, etc. But I have a small list of exceptions that I can't seem to give up: Dreyer's ice cream (mainly Spumoni), the occasional soda, and peanut butter. I can't stand "real" peanut butter. I don't know what it is about hydrogenated vegetable oil that not only gives peanut butter the shelf-life of a twinkie, but also a distinctive flavor. The real stuff has this natural, earthy tastes way too much like ground-up peanuts. And kudos to those who enjoy spreading hard, refridgerated peanut butter on their soon to be mutilated piece of defenseless bread - because I can't. Anyway, that's my admission for the day. I'm not proud of it, but please don't make me use real peanut butter.

I also changed one constant in my "make chocolate cake taste good but also rise to a nice rounded top" experiment, but it didn't work. The recipe I had been using called for you to mix hot water to your batter (effecting the cocoa powder to get max flavor points). I thought that maybe the adding of the hot water was causing the butter to turn into more of a liquidous oil instead of the solid it started as, and thought it might contribute to the flat-top of my cupcakes. But it didn't seem to have an effect when I let the cocoa and hot water mixture cool before adding to the rest of the batter. All it really did was make my batter look strangely bespeckled (should have taken a photo!).

And just for fun, here's a little bit of info I discovered while perusing the web earlier: "... the name 'cup cake' was first used, not to describe its size, but to how the cake's ingredients were measured. ... Before the 1880's, ingredients for baking cakes were 'weighed' so when recipes started to be written with 'cup' measurements, they were named 'cup' cakes to reflect this difference."

St Patty's Day Irish Cream Cupcakes

Happy St. Patty's!!

I made up a batch of chocolate cupcakes with true Irish Buttercream frosting. Yes, I mean that it was made with Bailey's. Though I doubt it would be enough to cause problems, I am legally obliged to disclaim that you should be over 21 to consume these treats.

I used the devil's food cake recipe I stole from the Food Network to make the cupcake. Honest truth: It is delectably chocolatey, moist, and very light, but they don't rise to a picturesque rounded top, which is bothersome. Would it be worth sacrificing flavor or texture simply to rectify the flat-tops? I actually would prefer my cupcake to be a little more substantial (they are just TOO lightweight), so I will continue to experiment anyway. I think it's kind of funny that I'm running a business, yet I still haven't committed to base recipes. hehe. I just love trying new things too much!

Anyway, I do enjoy the taste of Irish Cream, so was greatly anticipating the excuse to finally make these cupcakes. I made a standard buttercream base (proportions: 1/2 cup soft butter: 2 cups powdered sugar) and added about 3 tablespoons of Irish Cream instead of milk. And it had just the right amount of kick and is perfectly creamy. Single complaint: Too sweet. I guess I'm getting used to my cream cheese frostings which have about half as much sugar as the regular buttercream (at least when I do it). So this frosting kind of hurts the teeth. Regardless, all who have tried them think they're quite tasty.

My other little experiment was piping a little shamrock on the top of each of them. eh. I guess I'm not so good with the decorating. It took about a dozen cupcakes to even decide what the right technique could be. It was only after experimenting on about 2 dozen (out of about 30 cupcakes altogether) that I found my shamrock groove. I probably just needed to use a less wieldy tool than my massive frosting gun (that I LOVE).

To those of you who don't have smell-o-vision installed, my apologies. For anyone else who got to share in the sweet treat for this fun holiday: cheers! *cupcake toast*

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Before it's not appropriate, I must proclaim: Happy π day!!!

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes, for the occassion. This will be the quickest post so that I don't miss the date (3.14) for the posting.

I will simply say, they are quite good, but the homemade lemon curd was quite runny. I will keep working on it!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tiramisu Cupcakes

This last weekend I spent some time welcoming my friend Heather back to the state of California after a long couple of years living in Ohio. In the shuffle of trying to avoid helping her unpack and organize her stuff, I made a quick dinner and some fun Tiramisu cupcakes as my offer to "help" around the house.

They were well received by all who partook in their consumption, but for opposite reasons. Heather was a little sad that they didn't have a stronger coffee flavor, while my brother thought they were great as is. Keep in mind, he hates coffee, so his review is telling of how un-coffee like these were. I am somewhere on the fence about coffee flavoring myself, so have to admit I was ok with it being not too strong. Now what I think it needed was a little more Amaretto!

So my biggest concern with these cupcakes was the "soaking." I like to make my cupcakes pretty moist, so felt like getting them too wet with a coffee mix would make them too fragile and soggy. One recipe I saw recommended dabbing the outside of the entire cupcake and it's layers with the coffee. Mind you, the recipe also called for each cupcake to be sliced into about 4 or 5 layers. I didn't feel like doing that, and covered up my laziness with the excuse of it being a utensil dependent dessert at that point, rather than an easy-going cupcake. So I only cut the cupcakes in half and dabbed the cut side of each half with the coffee/amaretto mix. I then spread the layer with a marscapone and whipped cream mix. It was a very delicious flavor, but I think it was too fragile. I'm generally opposed to refrigerating cupcakes because it dries them out, but the frosting was too soft and perishable to manage being at room temperature indefinitely. As well, because it was so soft, it had the effect of a slip and slide with the top halves that were supposed to be resting gently on top.

In any case, they did taste pretty good for an experiment. I think they are a great concept for a cupcake, they just need some refining. Ideas for the next round include making a coffee flavored custard as a filling and doing a purer marscapone buttercream frosting (without whip cream).

As always, sprinkle with cocoa powder for a proper finish.