Did you ever have a time when you baked something, and it came out tasty but not really visually up to your standards, despite the cute decorations & effort put in? Well, this is one of those times for me. One of my Christmas presents from Jay, as I’ve mentioned before, was a set of cookbooks by Rose Levy Beranbaum; The Cake Bible & Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I was all excited to hunker down and read them, especially since the weather was supposed to be so bad, and it turned out to be worse than expected.
The day after Christmas, we had a blizzard. A blizzard as in from 12 p.m. Sunday until the afternoon on Monday, the snow fell consistently. Over 24″ of snow! (And we had two more doozies since then, but this time it was a mere 9-10″ and 3-5″… pfft that ain’t nuthin!)
These photos were actually taken in last February’s snowstorm, out my window at 5 a.m…. but shit looked the same this time, actually worse!
I, of course, couldn’t stand to be stuck inside with two new cookbooks without being able to bake, so I walked to Walgreens, which is only about 3 blocks away, and they were out of butter, so I walked to 7-Eleven, which is only 2 blocks away, and managed to get the last Land O’ Lakes package of 4 ½ lb sticks. Whew. I guess everyone had the same idea! Of course, Jay came looking for me by vehicle as I was trudging back home (with coffee & munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts!) but I managed to get home safely & make some snowflake cupcakes, or (winter) white velvet butter cupcakes.
They didn’t so much look like white cupcakes, they had a golden color… but they were delicious. I topped them with a coconut-flavored Swiss meringue buttercream (colored violet with Wilton icing colors) and sugar snowflakes. Since I wasn’t 100% pleased, here’s a small peek at them. The color was inspired by the above photos, which have a sort of lavender/violet shade to them due to the early morning (barely there) light.
See? Too crusty. Pretty, but yellow. Boo. (sugar snowflakes from sweet estelle’s baking supply)
Cute, but not 100% aesthetically pleasing. The funnest thing was the fact that Jay was there watching me bake, which he never does, and was fascinated by Swiss meringue buttercream. I guess for someone who never baked from scratch or made it, it is sorta amazing- the way its just plain ol’ egg whites heated up with some granulated sugar until it’s smooth, then it becomes a kind of glossy meringue, then it “curdles” when you add the butter and then comes together all smooth and beautiful.
After that attempt about a month ago, I decided to try the recipe again. They came out good the first time, don’t get me wrong, but I was so busy glued to the TV watching to see how many feet of snow we’d get, I had a nagging feeling I’d left them in a tad bit too long (25 minutes when they probably only needed 20, hence the super golden color and slight “crust”). So I wanted to make them a second time. So I did. This time, I used cake flour (not all-purpose which I had used the first time), I preheated my oven for 30 minutes before putting them in, I paid close attention to them while in the oven and after exactly 21 minutes I removed them from the oven. The color was definitely better and so was the texture of the top of the cake. The inside had been fine with both, however the first time like I said, the tops developed a crustiness & a golden hue I didn’t care for. The second time… perfect! Even right from the batter I knew it would be awesome. Although sadly, I do not have photos of those. Boo.
WHITE VELVET BUTTER CUPCAKES (from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes)
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- ⅔ cup milk, divided
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups, sifted and leveled cake flour (or 1½ cups all-purpose flour)
- 1 cup superfine sugar (I used granulated)
- 2¼ teaspoons plus ⅛ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (65° to 75°F)
- Set 15 cupcake liners in muffin pans or custard cups.
- Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites, 3 tbs of the milk, and the vanilla just until lightly combined.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining milk and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Use a number 30 ice cream scoop or a spoon to place the batter (1.7 ounces) into the prepared cupcake liners, smoothing the surfaces evenly with a small metal spatula. The liners will be about three-quarters full.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean and the cupcakes spring back when pressed lightly in the centers.
- Let the cupcakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove them from the pans and set them on a wire rack. Cool completely.
*You can make this into a 1-layer cake by using a 9-inch pan lined with parchment and coated with cooking spray and floured generously. Increase the baking powder to 2½ teaspoons plus ⅛ teaspoon and bake 30 to 40 minutes in a 350° preheated oven. I also recommend using the Bake Even cake strips by Wilton, or Rose’s version.
Just a word of warning: these rise like crazy. BE YE EVER SO CAREFUL ABOUT FILLING YOUR LINERS. Either go by Rose’s measurements exactly, use a scale or do a Google as to how many ounces are in a teaspoon, etc.
So because of all the snow & cold, I thought I’d share my mom’s winter tree with you all. It’s a white 4′ Christmas tree with white lights decorated with snowflakes & icicles, & some silver ornaments like initials & ice skates.
To get back to the baking, here’s a tip (that doesn’t matter much in this recipe since the egg whites aren’t beaten); I prefer Pyrex or stainless steel bowls for most of my mixing, especially when beating egg whites or making meringue. For letting dough rise, I’ll use plastic, but I much prefer stainless. Of course, if you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, this is just useless information for you, because you already use a steel or Pyrex bowl for most of your mixing. As far as bowls go, I got a bunch at Ikea for really cheap in all different sizes (and they also come in glass), and KitchenAid also makes some, albeit pricier (although understandably, as they fit the mixers). Honestly, I’d get more Pyrex or glass ones, but I’ve gone through 3 measuring cups in the past 4 years thanks to them slipping out of my greasy baker’s hands, so I’ll pass on them & stick with the steel. Steel & ceramic clean better and don’t absorb grease like plastic, so egg whites come together much better in them. Also, make sure your mixer blade or whisk is clean & not greasy at all before beating. You’ll end up with a pile of fail otherwise.
I’ve been totally absorbed in both of Rose’s books, but The Cake Bible is fascinating me. So much so that I traveled on over to her website and was peeking around and found something very interesting; a blog post all about cake mix vs. scratch. I want to share it with you, but it’s sorta long… so click here to read it.
Here it is, word for word, copied from Rose’s website.
why i believe in real baking, i.e. baking from scratch as opposed to a mix
i suspect that the two main reasons people bake from a mix is 1) that they think it’s faster and easier and 2) it’s practically foolproof. there may even be some who grew up with the flavor of a mix and actually prefer it.
i grew up without a cake baking tradition, in fact, my grandmother used the oven only to store pots and pans. there was NEVER anything baked in that oven until I went to the university of vermont, took a course in basic food, and came home thanksgiving vacation with the intention of making my father’s favorite–a cherry pie. it was a disaster of melting bubbling soap that I hadn’t realized was stored in the broiler beneath. in short, i learned scratch cake baking on my own–from scratch.
it’s o.k. to prefer cake mixes if you really do prefer them. my take on the mixes is that since they contain emulsifiers which give them what is known in the industry as tolerance, i.e., the ability to keep their texture despite additions of various extra ingredients, these emulsifiers result in an unpleasantly metallic after-taste. to my palate, the flavor of a cake baked from scratch is incomparably superior. and making a cake from scratch takes maybe 10 minutes more prep time than one from a mix. but as far as the foolproof aspect, let me tell you how to achieve that in a scratch cake.
there are only two important things to know:
1) use cake flour or bleached all-purpose flour. if you use a scale, the weight is the same. if you are using cup measures, and you have all-purpose bleached flour, for every cup of cake flour use 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose. if you want the cake to be as tender as one with cake flour, use 3/4 cup of all-purpose and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. the all-purpose flour i use is gold medal, but if you happen to have a southern or regional brand the protein content may be as low as cake flour so you will not want to add the cornstarch as it may weaken the cake’s structure and cause it to collapse.
the reason that it is essential to use bleached flour is that unbleached has particles that are smooth and round and the butter slips right through them and lands in a gummy layer at the bottom, causing the cake to fall in the center while cooling. the bleaching process, however, roughens these flour particles enabling them to hold the butter in even suspension.
if you measure the flour instead of weighing it, use a measuring cup with unbroken rim. place it on a counter and use a sifter or strainer to fill it with flour, allowing it to mound over the top. use a long metal spatula or knife to run it over the rim, thus removing any excess flour. never lift the cup or shake it during measuring as this packs more flour into the cup which would result in a denser drier cake.
that’s all you need to know about flour for cakes and it’s really quite simple.
2) have the butter softened but cool, i.e. it feels cool to the touch but when you press it with your finger it will flatten. this is a wide range of temperature, between 65 and 75 degrees. most kitchens are warmer than 75 degrees so to be on the safe side you can let the butter soften in a cooler room. if the butter is too cold or too warm the cake’s texture (crumb) will not be even.
here is my favorite of all my yellow cake recipes. it’s the right amount for a standard 9 inch by 2 1/2 inch springform pan but if you have only a 9 x 2 inch pan, just be sure to fill it only half full and bake the remaining batter as 2 cup cakes. (15 to 20 minutes)
if you still prefer your favorite mix, you have my full permission to use it, but not if the only reason is that you don’t trust a “real” cake!