Saturday, March 10, 2012

Top of the Cupcake to you!

Happy St. Patty's Week! Who is excited to bake up a wee pot of cupcake gold for friends, family, and co-workers?? While I definitely feel your angst in creatively coming up with ideas to bake for a holiday largely centered around clovers, leprechauns, and (for those of age...) drinking, I'm here to share with you a few cool ideas I had for 2012!

I got particularly excited after I came across liquor-infused icing ideas, and it's so easy to do! When making the icing, instead of adding water, milk, or vanilla, use Bailey's or whiskey. YUM. Nothing says Irish like integrating drinking into cupcake eating.

Moreover, I know that green cake is often a popular idea, but how about jumping on the red velvet band-wagon and calling it Green Velvet Cupcakes. You can even put some creamy cheese frosting on top to enhance the red-velvet-y flavor. Adorable and classy, right?!

On the more fun, mythical side of the spectrum, you can make any kind of festive cupcake and top it with Lucky Charms. This will undoubtedly be a hit with the kids. Sugar and more sugar?? I'm on board!

Another way to play up the whimsical is to utilize those colored marshmallows (that are on the shelves thanks to Easter just around the corner) to make tiny green top hats (like the below). Or you could always take a page out of my Mad Hatter Tea Party post and turn the cupcake upside down to make it one giant green hat!

Whatever you choose, just remember to taste test - because it's the scientific thing to do!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tour de Cupcake

Last summer, I went to Europe under the guise of a honeymoon, when really I was on a covert cupcake recon mission! My accomplice and I visited London, Paris, and Bruges, and in each city, we scoured the streets for some tasty cupcake goodness. This is my report -

London - home of the infamous and decadent Harrod’s! This was literally a baker’s heaven. They had an ENTIRE room devoted to desserts and one wall exclusively to cake. My partner in crime insisted that – in the name of science – I try one of these gorgeous looking cupcakes. But which to choose? I wanted a fair comparison... so I went for the white icing with milk chocolate shavings on top of chocolate cake (to the bottom right). It was… kind of bland and a little dry. Maybe in the US we are used to super rich and sweet stuff, so my taste buds are on classic American over drive. But I confess myself disappointed. To be fair, this is my all time favorite flavor pairing, so I set the bar pretty high. Though it still was a blast! I took as many pictures of cupcakes as of the London architecture!

On a day trip to double date with our buddies Will and Kate, we meandered through the town of Windsor. It was adorable with its quaint cobbled streets and small kitschy shops. One of these was a bakery and fudge shop. I sampled the fudge, and it was excellent. So good that I bought some to bring home to my mother… however, it sadly melted long before we ever landed in LA. Nonetheless, it was fun to look at all the cupcake flavors that were alongside the fudge. There were so artfully decorated! Fit for a… queen?! (t-hehe)

And so we ate our way through Belgium
to the small town called Bruges- sanctuary to the chocolate! There, we found chocolate nirvana. Chocolate shops lined the streets, and as if to affirm the reason I married this man, my husband suggested we sample from each! Surprisingly, I did not see too many bakeries with cupcakes. But honestly, my purse (and tummy) were so brimming with chocolate by the time we left, that I’m certain my jeans could not take one more bite!

By the time we rolled ourselves in Paris, we on quite the sugar high. On our first night there, I had the creme brulee, which was, and I'm not exaggerating... divine. Easily the best dessert I had on our honeymoon. Thus, I proceeded to eat that instead of any other dessert with dinner. Best meals. Ever.

To satisfy any further curiosity about European baked goods, check out the other wonders I found (in England):

SO freakin cute! (Harrod's)

My future birthday cake!!

I love this! I'm totally making it!

More from Harrod's - SIGH

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Happy Hearts!

It's that time again - time for pink, purple, red, and a celebration of all that is sweet! To jump start the week of love, I decided to spend Saturday afternoon catching up on girlie shows and baking a Valentine's Day treat to surprise my favorite med student after his weekend hospital shift.

I saw this recipe for Chai Tea cupcakes on a while back, but it seemed like a lot work; however, since my Dr. Adorable loves Chai so much, I thought Valentine's Day would be the perfect excuse to truck through it.

One thing I always do when consulting All Recipes is read the reviews to see how people have improved the recipe. In this case, I was very glad I did, as I found the advice to be... well... delicious! See the appended recipe below:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 black tea bags
  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (REMOVED)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (used 1 cup instead)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil (vegetable oil because I didn't have canola)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (added 1 extra tsp!)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (extra 1/2 tsp, per the reviews)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (added more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (used extra cinnamon/nutmeg because I didn't have cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs (ADDED)
The review said to keep added flour until the mix became less watery. Well, I didn't have any regular white flour, so I was forced to use buckwheat flour. I thought this could have been a potential taste-disaster, but the result was just that the cupcakes turned out more muffin-y in texture. I tasted the batter and decided to add in dashes of more of the above spices listed above.

But what really made them was the ICING! Also an All Recipe's pick, I took the liberty of modifying this recipe too. Whenever possible, I change out water for milk because I think it makes everything more fluffy and flavorful. It also seemed to call for a lot of liquid, so I took out the extra milk it suggests. Thank goodness I did because it would be been wayyy too watery and not dense enough to work with. Recipe below:
  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 1/4 cup boiling water (MILK instead)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold milk (REMOVED)
Overall, I think this was a success, and I would definitely do it again but likely with normal flour... because who wants healthy when cupcakes and Valentine's Day are involved?!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Icing Syringe, My Heart

You may have noticed that my cupcakes have had "some work done" as of late... Yes, they have gone quite Hollywood! It is all thanks to my new friend the Kuhn Rikon Mechanical Pastry Bag, which I fondly call my Icing Syringe (blame the nickname on my med-student taste-tester!).

I was inspired to upgrade from the old sanitized pinky-finger and butter knife when Bead Up! came to town to help me with my blueberry baby shower cupcakes. She had a fancy-smancy icing bag (like what the pros use!), and I confess myself intimidated at first. Why buy a tool when you have a knife and a ZipLoc bag?! Bead Up soon showed me just how magical the right tools can be in making your creations look like they came out of Martha Stewart magazine. So I resigned myself to buy one of my own.

It was a Sunday afternoon when the plan turned to reality - an afternoon made for baking and Disney movies, and I needed my new toy NOW. So I popped over to Sur la Table to see what they had in store. There, practically glowing on the shelf was the Kuhn Rikon tool of glory that would forever transform my cupcake creations!

For $28, I purchased this completely disassemble-able tool (that is handy for easy washing) has seven different icing toppers of two varying sizes. It is perfect for any skill level - you simply smoosh the icing into the syringe and squeeze it onto your cupcakes to make tons of fun shapes!

I highly recommend making your icing a little more thickly than normal cake icing. If you plan on doing a more intricate design than just using one of the cool toppers (see left picture), a drier icing can act as a fondant like texture. That blue dragon (see right picture) was made entirely out of very stiff icing!

Other of my recent favorites shown below and made entirely with my fancy Icing Syringe.


Whimsical swirls!

Rim for a hat!
(more details on this one in the previous post)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Down a cupcake-shaped Rabbit Hole!

Kristie was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the river bank... when suddenly the White Rabbit appeared, muttering, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be very late!"

He soon popped down a rabbit-hole under the hedge. Kristie followed, never considering where
she might wind up...

Here she appeared! - at her very own baby shower for her baby boy, Jacob, which was set to the appropriate theme of (you guessed it!) a Mad Hatter Tea Party! You see, Alice in Wonderland is my sister's favorite book. So her book club pals and I entered the creative wonderland of planning her baby shower down to the very last tea cup! I, of course, assumed the great responsibility of supplying the cupcakes!

I know my sister's favorite cake flavors are red velvet with cream cheese frosting and chocolate with chocolate frosting, so I planned everything around that. I'm a big believer in pleasing the mama's taste buds above all else. It just so happened that they came out adorable in the process!

My sister in infamous for her amazing milk chocolate icing. Her little secret (that I will share with you now!) is that she softens the butter to room temperature and then blends it with the milk, adding in the sugar and cocoa afterwards. Something about the warmth of the butter makes the icing extra fluffy. Especially when you are trying to make the icing look appealing, fluffiness is key. No crisco needed!

Curiouser and curiouser...

I hopped to baking two dozen mini cupcakes of each flavor (4 batches total) and one dozen normal sized cupcakes of each flavor. This came to... well, quite a few cupcakes! Luckily though, I had many eager taste-testers and guests who were most excited to take them home for midnight snacks.

When I bake rather epic amounts of cupcakes, I like to do it over a two day period - ideally baking on one day and decorating on another day. This gives me a rest and helps my creativity to flourish. May I also suggest having an adorable helper to keep you company and wash the occasional dish (despite how many times you tell her to sit down!!)?! This was some of the most fun I have ever had baking cupcakes - with my sister in her amazingly huge kitchen!

This culinary wonderland produced a rather white rabbit idea of its own! I noticed how, whenever I bake cupcakes anyway, there is always a rim around the side (because I fill the muffin cups almost to the top)... hmmmm doesn't that rim remind me of... of.... A HAT?! Why yes! And is this not a Mad HATTER tea party?! I decided to go with it because I justified that if it came out weird, I would simply call it MAD (not so much hat!). Luckily for me, they did come out pretty darn cute! I covered the chocolate cupcakes with white, colored icing. I separated the icing into bowls to produce multiple colors and multiple hat designs.

One key note that I discovered through trial and error was that once a cupcake is turned upside-down, it really cannot be moved without destroying the rather sticky top. Hence the tiny plates with the doillies as their final resting place. I laid the cupcake down on the doilly and iced it using this fancy icing syringe that I will write about in my next post. But suffice to say, it comes with many different icing tips that I used to create ridges and flowers on the hands to make each one unique!

While you really had to LOVE icing to want to eat them, they made such cute additions to our table decorations. Believe it or not, a couple did get eaten! It was quite fun to create.

I do love being an Auntie, and I have no doubt that there are many ways in which to spoil my nephews and nieces in the years to come!
"Wake up, Kristie, dear!" her sister said. "Why what a long [sugar-induced coma] you have had!"

"Oh I've had such a curious dream!" said Kristie, and she told her sister of all these strange adventures she'd had [decorating onesies and staring at diaper cakes].... So Kristie got up and [waddled] off, thinking while she went, what a wonderful dream it had been!