Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flan, Chocolate Tiramisu, Strawberry Shortcake & Almond Cupcakes

For a combination of reasons, a friend came over to have a bake date last Saturday and we made 4 varieties of cupcakes. It was amazing how much quicker it went with the extra help! And the input and feedback was great. We had a couple genius breakthroughs that wouldn't have happened if I were working through it on my own.

I think the highlight of the day was the Flan cupcake. I had been experimenting with custard frosting before, with less than enthusiastic success, so was determined to get it really good this time. I had a recipe I swiped off the interwebs that went something like:

• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 heaping tbs of flour
• 1 egg
• 1 cup milk
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1/2 cup butter
• 2 tbs p. sugar

It sounded believable. The first time I ever made it, I was trying for a mocha frosting and thought that custard would be a really nice way to richen it up. I should have taken better notes on how thin and runny the result was the first time, but I hadn't figured out the science of why, so blazed on.

The instructions for this custard frosting:
mix sugar and flour, then add egg and milk and mix together with vanilla. Heat until thickened, then cool completely. Then, whip together the butter and powdered sugar, gradually adding this custard to the butter.


Don't do it. I don't know why. I almost don't care how. Just DON'T do it.

Separation. If you want your custard look like grits, yes, use butter. If you want your custard to be a runny mess, then yes, powdered sugar is the answer.

Is it because the milk in the custard is JUST too liquidy? Too much for the powdered sugar to compete with that it turns your delightfully firm and gelatinous custard and whips it down into a confectioner's icing instead? Does the liquidy milk fight with the fatty butter?

So after 2 batches of custard were basically wasted, we figured out that just piping cooled custard straight on to our caramel cupcakes was good enough, that's just what we did. And quite a delightful texture it was. In our excitement, we piped up a bunch of cupcakes, mini and regular alike, and set little pools of highly viscous caramel into the custard cup. Merrily we worked until I realized: wait. The custard is breaking! Literally cracking apart under the weight of the caramel. Slowly, all our efforts began to look like remnants of some ancient cupcake culture as they crumbled to their decripit fate.

So now what? Is this project supposed to fail miserably? I want so badly for it to work because the potential is so high. One batch of custard more and we realized that patience was the only ingredient we were missing. Custard, like most milk-based products, once heated develops a sort of protective skin. We simply hadn't waited long enough for that skin to form in order to load the heavy caramel onto it. Once the custard had set, this experiment finally received the seal of deliciousness.

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