Category: baking tips

Brown butter donuts? Vanilla bean glaze? YES.

WARNING: These donuts are CRAZY.

I wasn’t even going to post them. Not really. I made them for Jay’s partner who helped him out moving some stuff, and because they were so insane I decided I had to make them again & post them for you. Seriously.

I also upped the ante a bit.

Brown butter donuts with a thick vanilla bean glaze!

See… the first time I made them I made a regular vanilla bean glaze. Half a bean scraped into some milk & confectioner’s sugar. Bam. It was delicious. Jay’s partner loved ‘em, we loved ‘em.

But I knew that it could be BETTER.

Brown butter donuts with vanilla bean glaze. They're baked, so they're good for you. Right?

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The perfect November pound cake.

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Ah, November. You crept up on me this year. I wasn’t expecting you so soon! It seems like literally yesterday I was posting on the first day of October. And I’m still in Halloween-mode, to be honest. Mainly because I feel like there was no Halloween. Hurricane Sandy came & that was that. I just got power back last night- I had been without power since Monday night! But the calendar doesn’t care what I’m thinking, does it? No it doesn’t. Nor does Mother Nature. If you can spare a few bucks, or some pocket change, please donate to the Red Cross & help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. I’m lucky to have power, food & a house. Not everyone is. Please help feed, clothe and shelter your fellow human being in need.

I’ve mentioned before that when you’ve got a food blog, or you just bake often, you get a lot of requests. My dad always wants lasagna or blueberry cake/pie/cupcakes, Jay always wants beer bread, maple cookies or applesauce cake (even in the middle of summer), my aunt wants strawberry jam, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on. And my mother…. well, my mother usually has an entire list of things. I’m forever getting e-mails from her that contain recipes, or recipe ideas. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s just outright- “Hey, make this for me?” And that means that a good percentage of the time, I’m making things I don’t really like or I wouldn’t eat. Which is fine by me. Not only does it give me more blogging material, it spices things up a bit. Who wants to make the same vanilla cupcakes over & over?

So when I’m presented with an opportunity to use cranberries & orange in something, I jump at it. It’s November, guys. It’s cranberry time.

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This is all Entenmann’s fault. When I was a kid growing up, Entenmann’s baked goods were the bomb dot com. Everyone- I mean everyone- had an Entenmann’s cake or box of donuts in their kitchen. The glazed Pop’Ems, the marshmallow iced devil’s food cake, the Holiday butter cookies, the French all butter crumb cake…

Entenmann’s is a company that is over 100 years old and originated in New York. In the 1800s, William Entenmann immigrated to New York in the United States of America. William learned the trade of baking from his father in Stuttgart, Germany, and used his acquired skills to work in a bakery in the United States, eventually opening his own bakery in 1898 on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn.[1] Later, William moved his bakery to Bay Shore, Long Island. Home-delivery was a substantial part of the bakery that William owned, eventually turning into 30 home delivery routes by the time his son, William Jr., took over the bakery.[1] While William Jr. headed the bakery, it flourished; Frank Sinatra was a weekly customer.[1]

William Jr. died in 1951 leaving the bakery to his wife Martha and their sons, Robert, Charles and William. The family decided to phase out bread, focus on pastries and cakes, and start supplying grocery stores as opposed to home delivering. In 1959 the Entenmann family invented the “see-through” cake box that is used by many today.[2] In 1961, the business grew, with new bakeries and factories in Bay Shore, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Plans to expand nationally stalled in 1970. Entenmann’s Bakery, with the assistance of new product consultants at Calle & Company reformulated heavier New England style baked goods into lighter offerings more suitable for hotter, more humid test markets such as Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. Entenmann’s successful national expansion quickly followed suit. In 1972, Entenmann’s started to sell chocolate chip cookies and has since sold more than 620 million cookies.[2] Since its first opening in 1898, Entenmann’s has been selling “all butter loaf cake” and sold more than 700 million to date.

The pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert purchased Entenmann’s in 1978 and sold it to General Foods in 1982. General Foods merged with Kraft in 1990. Kraft sold its bakery business to CPC International (later Bestfoods). Bestfoods was purchased by Unilever in 2000, which sold its baking division to George Weston, a Canadian baked goods and supermarket business, the next year. Weston sold its United States interests including Entemann’s in 2008 to Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo. Other Bimbo Bakeries USA holdings include companies such as Thomas’, Brownberry, Boboli, Arnold, Oroweat, Freihofer’s, and Stroehmann.[3]

-Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, I was food shopping with my mother. She had hurt her ankle, & was limping along with my assistance. She spotted the Entenmann’s display and made a beeline for it. My mom is a big fan of anything sweet; baked goods, cookies, candy, candy bars, etc. So she saw the display, and immediately zoned in on the seasonal Cranberry Orange loaf. She picked it up and I said, “No, ma, really. Come on. I can make that for you.” She initially resisted a bit, there were a few longing looks (and I think she might have said, “Are you sure?”… what is THAT about!?), but then she gave in. There is no bigger insult to someone like me than a family member buying a supermarket cake or box of cookies. At least buy stuff from a bakery. Just please don’t buy the styrofoam cupcakes that Costco sells. I’d permit Entenmann’s… in certain dire circumstances… but seriously… I bake ALL THE TIME. How are you gonna be in the supermarket with me & pick up BOXED CAKE. No. No, no, no.

I know she really wanted that cake. But mom, why buy it when I can make it for you!? And… uh… make it better.

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‘Cause see, the Entenmann’s cake might be scrumptious. But it doesn’t come with an orange butter rum sauce on top, which mine does.

And just so you know- that brown Kraft paper makes things a hell of a lot easier to clean up. Especially when you’re using a messy sauce or glaze & want to take photos (or maybe if you have kids… *cough*). I highly recommend it. Plus it’s great not only as a “tablecloth”, but as wrapping paper. A gift wrapped with Kraft paper, twine & some dehydrated citrus slices is rustically beautiful. Even to give this loaf as a gift, it’s a great wrapping idea. Okay, sorry- back to the cake!

CRANBERRY ORANGE LOAF CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries*

Directions:

  1. Butter and flour a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, orange juice and orange peel. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Fold in cranberries.
  3. Pour into the greased pan. Bake at 350° for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. Spoon orange butter rum sauce (if desired) over the top. Wait 3-5 minutes for it to set, then serve.
*You could use fresh cranberries too (& you can also toss in some walnuts, or even unsalted shelled pistachios, if you like)

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ORANGE BUTTER RUM SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Add the orange juice, flour, sugar and heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Cook (constantly stirring) on medium heat until combined, then add the butter.
  2. Stir until the butter is melted, combined, and the mixture is thickened. Add the rum. Continue cooking until thick & smooth. Stir it constantly while it cooks, or it’ll scorch & burn.
  3. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes.
  4. Spoon over pound cake.

The butter rum sauce isn’t terribly attractive on it’s own, but it tastes spectacular. Especially on the cake.

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The cake is moist & delicious, not too much cake-y, not too much bread-y. Just perfectly in the middle of a pound cake & loaf cake. Just as good in the morning as it is at night.

And here’s a little tip. If you’re making this for a large crowd, you can double the recipe and make it in one 10″ tube pan, or just double it and make two 9″ loaf pans. The same goes for most pound or loaf cakes, or even regular cakes, actually. Here’s a conversion table for pan sizes. And most cupcake recipes that make 2 dozen will also make two 9″ cake layers. Same goes for the reverse: if you find a recipe that calls for a bundt pan or tube pan and you only want to make a small cake, then you can usually halve it (or in some cases maybe quarter it), and most layer cake recipes will convert into 2 dozen cupcakes (sometimes a little more). This particular recipe would definitely be amazing doubled and made in a 10″ pan, a great Thanksgiving dessert. But this way, it’d make a great Thanksgiving breakfast. Keep the sauce on the side if you want, that way people who aren’t into rum sauce for breakfast can avoid it. But seriously? It’s a holiday. You can so have rum sauce with breakfast!

And before I go, just a reminder. Make sure that all you U.S. citizens who are registered to vote get your asses to the polls on Tuesday! It’s important, and it’s something we’re privileged to be able to do. I really don’t care who you vote for… just vote. And if you aren’t registered: for shame. But consider this a kick in the booty to register for next time. And I know it’s going to be hard for those displaced by Sandy, but there are still places for you to vote. Pass this info & this info on if you know someone affected by this tragedy, please. The election will NOT be postponed because of the hurricane, so we need to get out there & get people voting.

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An apple pie a day…

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Apples are my favorite fruits ever. That might be another reason why I live for fall. I can’t get enough of apples- a cold apple right out of the refrigerator is awesome. Especially if it’s a juicy, crisp one. Macintosh, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Empire, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady… I love ‘em all. I don’t care for other fruits as much as I care for the apple. And I live in (or close enough to) the Big Apple, so how appropriate is that? New York is famous for it’s apples, actually. We’re not only the second largest apple-producing state in the country, but we grow some of the best you can get!

And so therefore it wouldn’t be this time of year without apple desserts. Apple strudel, caramel apple syrup, baked apples with sweet ricotta, apple dumplings, caramel apples, apple turnovers, apple muffins, apple cupcakes, apple cider donuts and apple pie.

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Apple pie is one of those classic desserts that, in my opinion, is best made by pie-people. You know who those people are, right? Pie-people? Tania is a pie-person. Her pies are always beautiful, with perfectly rolled, evenly baked crusts. I’m not a pie person (as is evidenced by my horrendous crust-rolling & uneven pies). I’m a cake-person. That’s not to say that pie-people can’t bake cakes or cake-people can’t bake pies… no, not at all. I can make a successful pie, and Tania can most certainly make a beautiful cake. It’s just for me personally, my specialty isn’t in the area of piedom. I can make ‘em, but they’re far from perfect. Yes, they taste delicious and most people don’t notice the imperfections I do. But are they going to win any prizes at a county fair?

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Hell to the no. But my mini-apple pies? They just might.

I love that they look like little shrunken mini versions of apple pies!

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See, I really, really wanted to make an apple pie this year, desperately. Despite my inherent lack of pie-making skills. I have this great vintage “apple pie” pie plate (above) that was my mom’s, and it’s super cute. It’s got a recipe for apple pie written right on the bottom! I’ve always loved it and wanted to use it, but I just felt like it wasn’t right to make anything but apple pie in it. So this year I decided I’d use it. And I bought a new pie bird (isn’t he adorable!?) just for that reason. I was going to get all old school and make a big ass apple pie with my little ceramic black bird in the middle in my vintage pie plate. But then I looked up some recipes, and I thought about it… and I decided no. I was going to go an alternate route. A more me route.

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‘Cause, like I said, I’m not really a pie-person, you know?

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But I am a hand-held pie person. I’m a Pop-Tart person. I like my desserts portable, easy to bring along with you. Cupcakes, brownies, cookies, you get my drift. So how about a mini pie? Better yet… how about a portable mini apple pie?

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And while I’m sure the hand-pie has been done a thousand times before, so has the pie itself. How many times have you seen an apple pie recipe on a blog? And how many variations are there? And… how many of them proclaim themselves the BEST? Lots, I’m willing to bet. And I’m betting you, yourself, have a pie recipe that you boast as being the best. And everyone is probably correct: pie is such a comforting, familial thing. Our family pie recipes are always going to be the best. They’re never totally new or completely original, but that’s what makes them fantastic. Pie is a concept as old as the concept of food itself, and has been incarnated in hundreds if not thousands of ways since the beginning of pie-creation.

Pie has graced our kitchens for thousands of years, and not just as a holiday treat. Pie once offered cooks a practical way to bake and store all kinds of perishable ingredients. Meat, game, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and spices, along with more familiar fillings like berries, nuts, and custards, were mixed and matched in piecrusts that could be more than an inch thick. If fat was poured into a hole in the crust’s lid after baking, the contents could be preserved for months. Small, folded-over hand pies were given to travelers and field laborers, who kept them stashed safely in their pockets or rucksacks until mealtime—a messy-sounding practice, until you realize that the crusts were probably more like papier-mâché shells than the flaky delicacies we admire today.

America didn’t invent pie—ancient Egypt gets credit for that. We didn’t even come up with the most outrageous ones, a distinction that belongs to medieval Europe, where, for the delight of dinner guests, piecrusts were baked hollow in fanciful shapes, then filled with live birds or frogs that would burst out when the dish was cut into. “Four and 20 blackbirds…” isn’t just a nursery rhyme after all.

But America is the country that truly embraced pie. Over open hearths and in cast-iron stoves, New World cooks baked partridge pies, lobster pies, squirrel pies, macaroni pies, and quichelike fiddlehead-fern pies. They’d follow a meal of savory pie with a dessert of, say, buttermilk pie. Or raisin pie. Or gooey, molasses-rich shoofly pie. So ubiquitous was pie that a character in a 19th-century tale griped about sitting down to “pie 21 times a week.” And a British journalist visiting the United States in 1882 wrote, “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except pie…. Men may come and men may go…but pie goes on forever.”

-Oprah.com: “The History of Pie”

So what’s one more hand-pie recipe out there, right?

MINI HAND-HELD APPLE PIES

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch of double pie-crust dough OR one box frozen pie crust (defrosted according to package)
  • 3-4 apples, one kind or any combination you like, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces (about 1/2″- 1″)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice OR
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 egg, beaten

Directions:

  1. Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 375° degrees.
  2. Mix apples & lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar, flour & spices until the apples are evenly covered. Set aside.
  3. Roll out the pastry crust and cut out your circles (or whatever shape you’re making), placing them on the baking sheet. Spoon a teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half of the mixture into the center of each circle.
  4. Cut out the same amount of circles from the dough, making an X in the middle of this batch. Brush the egg around the edges of the “bottom” circles (the ones on the baking sheet), and place the X circles on top. Gently press to seal the edges, then crimp them using a fork.
  5. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg, and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. After removing from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack. Pies are best when eaten warm or room temperature the day they’re made, but are quite decent the next day. Longer than that, I don’t know- mine were all gone!

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This one isn’t particularly groundbreaking or unique, it’s just a simple, straightforward apple hand-pie. You can spice it up a bit by adding some spiced rum or gold rum or even bourbon to the filling if that tickles you. You can also add a cream cheese-y cheesecake type filling to them along with the apple. You can add an icing or “glaze” on top, you can even cut out bits of dough to look like apples and “glue” them on top with the egg wash before baking. Cut them into a square shape and then cut out a jack-o-lantern face on the top dough layer. Fill it with a jam filling, a fresh fruit filling, a Nutella filling, a Shoo-fly pie filling, a pecan pie filling, or a canned pie filling. Make them pumpkin hand pies! Do whatever you want. That’s all up to you.

I prefer to use the whole egg to do an egg wash; I find it creates a more attractive & shiny golden brown color. But if you’d rather skip using the yolk, then you can.

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I’m just giving you the basic idea. Run with it.

Some people will be bossy about what kind of apples you should use. I won’t be. I’ve made this just as successfully with Red Delicious apples as well as Braeburn or Granny Smith. These aren’t real apple pies, they aren’t baked for an hour. So if you use a softer apple it won’t turn to mush like it would in a pie. The best pies are the ones made with things you enjoy eating… so if you like Fuji apples then use them! Don’t be concerned about how it’s going to turn out. Save the worries about whether or not the apples will be firm enough for the contestants on Master Chef. I guarantee no matter what you do, you’ll be fine with these. And yes- pears work well in this recipe too, with minimal adaptation.

Even Mr. Blackbird here enjoyed them… and his day off.

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While I didn’t make an actual pie… I did make many pies, and I still got to use the pie plate!

Shortcut tip: like I said in the recipe above, you can use frozen pie crusts for the dough. Just use a good quality one. Let them defrost or come to room temperature (according to directions on the box) and roll them out as needed to 1/4″ thick, then cut your circles, or whatever shapes you’re using, and go from there. If you do this you’ll cut a lot of time out of the creation of the pies, so it might be worth it to you. I don’t know about using frozen puff pastry, but I don’t see why not. I’d love to hear about it if that’s what you decided to use.

Sources & credits: Royal China by Jeannette “apple pie” pie plate; vintage, Norpro black pie bird.

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She sells seashell cupcakes by the seashore.

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One of the things that just screams summer, especially when you live near an ocean and are apt to see them A LOT, are seashells. Once the seashells come out, I know it’s definitely summer. You start to see them hanging on wreaths, on restaurant tables, used as planters or candle holders, hanging on walls, on sandals, as earrings, etc. Most people don’t think of the ocean when they think of New York, they just think of “the city.” But New York boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in- dare I say- the world. Coney Island, The Hamptons, Jones Beach, Point Lookout, Brighton Beach, Rye Beach, Manhattan Beach, etc. All of those are not only beautiful but historic beaches. As a kid, going to to beach a few times a week was one of the glories of summer; I could be the little mermaid I was born to be all day long, collecting seashells & starfish, finding little crabs & tide pools, making sand castles and of course swimming myself silly. It’s still one of my favorite things to do. And I still love seashells. I can’t help it, I’m a true summer baby- born July 30th, the height of summer.


I bought these Mary Englebreit cupcake liners last spring, with all intentions of using them last summer. But that didn’t happen. I thought they were so cute, I couldn’t resist! I saw a whole summer cupcake theme going on in my head. Sadly, my summer last year was not how I expected. So this summer I decided I would definitely use those little seahorse liners. And I had an idea! I wanted to do a little seahorse on top of each cupcake. But I couldn’t find appropriate molds, nor could I find any edible toppers that were up to my standards. So I decided I’d buy a set of chocolate seashells, and put one on top of each cupcake. But then I saw the assortment of chocolate shells on the internet, and I wasn’t really pleased. I could’ve made my own, by buying some seashell chocolate molds, but then the weather got really hot.  And that’s when I said, “Self.. maybe chocolate isn’t the best material to use right now.” I was stuck, yet determined. I’d already put off using those liners for a year! I was GOING to use them.

And right about then is when I saw these cute little molded sugar shells at the Cupcake Social and they were perfect.


I brushed them with some gold Wilton pearl dust to give them a little something extra special. It also reminds me a little of sand.


I used an extra large open star tip to frost the vanilla cupcakes with a sweet but ever-so-slightly salty blue frosting (supposed to be reminiscent of saltwater taffy!). Then I topped each one with two seashells. And there you have it- the perfect beachy summery cupcakes.

VANILLA CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs, mixing well after each addition, followed by the vanilla and almond extracts.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a small bowl. Then, with the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with the flour.
  4. Fill each cup 3/4 full with batter. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the center of the cupcakes spring back when touched. Cool completely before frosting.

SLIGHTLY SALTY “SALT WATER TAFFY” BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 stick SALTED butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 pound – 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk (perhaps more)
  • food coloring, if desired

Directions:

  1. Place the butter and shortening in a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until fluffy. Slowly add the first pound and a half of powdered sugar, a cup at a time until all is incorporated. Turn off the mixer and scrape the bottom of the bowl very well. Add the vanilla and mix again.
  2. Slowly add half of the milk while the mixer is on, and beat for one minute. Add food coloring. Blend.
  3. Add more milk or sugar as needed to achieve a frosting consistency that’s suitable to piping.

For this frosting color, I used regular McCormick liquid food coloring: two drops of green and three drops of blue. It was the perfect color, wasn’t it? And if you don’t have any salted butter, use a little bit of table salt. Just sprinkle it in, a teeny bit at a time until the desired saltiness is achieved. If you’re concerned about the possible grittiness, then just grind the table salt until it’s super fine. And I usually use homemade buttermilk for things like this; I just mix milk & white vinegar together in a ratio of 1 cup to 1 tablespoon (or 1/2 cup to 1 teaspoon). I mix it together and then just let it sit for 15 minutes. I just find the flavor is better, and this way I don’t have to keep throwing away buttermilk that’s been in my fridge too long or worry about the powdered kind getting all clumpy. Of course any kind of buttermilk works, but that’s just what I like to do.

That beautiful cake stand was a gift from my cousin and his wife who live in New Orleans; it’s from a store called Roux Royale, just in case you’re wondering.


Sometimes, you have to just make some pretty cupcakes for no other reason than to enjoy them, and put them on a pretty cake plate. Even on a random Monday. Or Tuesday… or Thursday. Whenever. Even if it’s pretty hot out. Even if it’s so hot you think your face is going to melt off. ‘Cause look at these! They’re so beautiful, you can’t help but smile.


They’re worth it.

And of course, they go perfectly with my grandmother’s vintage 40′s/50′s summer tablecloth that I recently found. How amazing is this? And how jealous are you? ‘Cause I bet you’re pretty friggin’ jealous right now. That’s okay, I would be too. Between my cake plate and this… pfft. You might as well give up. You ain’t got nuthin’ on me & my summer steez.

Anyway, I love you summer. ♥ Here’s to you & all your awesomeness.

All your burning questions answered.

Let me preface this by saying I am not in any way, shape or form the expert in these matters. All I am is a chick whose been baking weekly or bi-weekly for the last 6 years and had this blog for about 4 ½, so I know a little bit about a few things baking-wise. I am not trained, I am not a pastry chef, I did not go to school for this. I am self-taught and therefore I think in some ways I’m better at answering the basic questions that arise in every day kitchens, when you don’t have a fancy Viking range or Williams-Sonoma goldtone bakeware. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m all about encouraging the average person to bake & cook, and letting them know they don’t need to invest in a brand new chef’s kitchen to do it.

I ain’t no genius & I’m definitely not Florian Bellanger (thank cupcakes!). I’m no June Cleaver and I am most likely not the person you think of when “perfect” comes to mind. But I have failed a few times, and I have made many mistakes and with most of them I’ve managed to figure out the how/why. Again- don’t think I’m being cocky here, not at all. I just hope my basic little down-home, practical knowledge can help someone else out there. So I decided to do a little Q&A on my Facebook page.

Q: Neikya Davis- I was wondering if cupcake batters should be different from cake batters. I’ve made hundreds of cakes and never have any baking problems. But whenever I try to make cupcakes, I always have issues with the cupcakes rising. And for that reason, I HATE making cupcakes. Thanks!

A: Well Neikya, I don’t think that there’s a difference in the batters themselves. I say that because most cupcake recipes can be adapted into making cakes and vice versa. I have noticed most cake recipes when used for cupcakes don’t rise quite as well as cupcake recipes alone, though. If your trouble is with the cupcakes rising but sinking in the middle during or after baking, then that could be a few things: ingredients aren’t “fresh” enough, off-brand butter or oil (as silly as it sounds, there is a serious fat difference in “cheap” butter & good quality butter), the wrong size eggs or the fact that the eggs/butter are too cold. It could also have to do with oven temperature. If that isn’t the problem, or the factors I listed definitely aren’t the problem, then it could be your baking powder or baking soda is old. It loses it’s power after a certain period of time and won’t rise. The reason you may not have a problem with the cakes is that it’s a larger surface area for one, and two they don’t have to rise as much as a cupcake does. And if that doesn’t sound like it’s the problem, maybe you’re over-beating your butter? Are you at a higher/lower altitude? Is your oven gas or electric? Is it humid or dry out? All those factors can also influence your baking. I hope that helped! If not, I suggest The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. She answers tons of scientific questions and gives reasons for everything.

Q: Cindy Wright- I have never had good luck making carrot cake cupcakes. Do you a good recipe? I usually bake from scratch.

A: I’ve had the same exact problem. I can’t find a good carrot cake or carrot cupcake recipe. I sorta gave up. That said, I heard this one is to die for. If you try it, please let me know how it worked out for you!

Q: Melanie Bishop- I have tried to make cupcakes with peanut butter cups or kisses in the middle. However, no matter if the candy is room temp, frozen, or just barely covered with cake batter, the candy inevitably sinks to the bottom of the cupcake. Any tips to prevent this?

A: Melanie, I’ve had this problem, but mainly with chocolate chips. I find it happens when the batter is very liquidy. I have two solutions you can try: one, coat the candies in flour first. Just put a tablespoon in a bowl and toss ‘em in it, then stick ‘em in. Two, bake the cupcakes halfway and try putting them in then. It will be tricky, and don’t burn yourself. Good luck & please let me know if it works!

Q: Dee Kozarov- I am always excited when I see red velvet cupcakes but then I taste one and the cake is always dry and the cream cheese frosting always taste cheap. Do you have any suggestions on better cake and icing?

A: When a cupcake is dry, it’s usually because it was over-beaten or there isn’t enough fat in it. Red velvet in particular can be tricky, I don’t know why. I’ve tried some duds, let me tell you. But I have found an excellent red velvet recipe that I suggest you try. As far as the icing, I hate cream cheese frosting so I recommend either a vanilla bean cream cheese frosting or a regular vanilla frosting.

Q: Jill Ritenour Wilch- I have problems with my cupcakes rising like I would like them to as well. They prefer to spread instead of rise. Anyone else find they do not fill out the bottoms of the liners either? Mine always seem a bit brown and loose.

A: Jill, you may be overfilling the cups. Or not mixing them thoroughly, and the ingredients aren’t fully incorporated. If you could, send me a photo some time. I could help better if I see exactly what you mean about the bottoms. Until then, make sure your ingredients are room temperature, get an oven thermometer if you don’t have one, make sure you mix your ingredients thoroughly but don’t overbeat them, and you fill the cups no more than halfway. Halfway is the standard, although some recipes call for three-fourths or two-thirds, to be on the safe side I usually do halfway. Could it also be that the recipe calls for either not enough/too much flour or sugar and not enough baking powder? Does it happen with all your cupcakes or just specific ones? Do they use butter, shortening or oil? Those can be factors as well.

Q: Jocelyn Lua- I was wondering if you have any way of telling if your cupcakes are gonna turn out soft & moist, or otherwise. Cos I have been baking them for some time now, but i could never know how they are going to turn out until they finish baking (even if i might have used the recipe before). And it makes me nervous as hell, cos I’ll really hate to waste food. =x

A: I don’t really think there’s a way to tell that 100% from the batter, Jocelyn. However I have found that the thicker the batter, the heavier & denser the cupcake and the more liquidy the batter the more moist and “squishy” the cupcake. However, I’ve made some batters that were quite thick like cookie dough, and I’ve gotten some lovely cakes. Again, the weather, the humidity, your oven, and the ingredients all make a difference as to how exactly a cupcake is going to turn out.


Q: Pola Sanchez-Baker- Is there any way to save a whipped cream that’s been whipped too long? It becomes butter-like and… well, just too thick for frosting.

A: In a word, Pola, no. Sorry. Once it’s been whipped that long, it’s beyond the “cream” stage and into the butter stage. It’s best to keep going, add a little salt, and make homemade butter so the whole thing isn’t a loss. That’s what I’d do, anyway. I’d make lemons out of lemonade & use it to make a homemade compound butter. Maybe with some sauteed garlic/parsley, some basil & chopped sundried tomatoes or just with some cilantro. Then I’d wrap it in waxed paper, refrigerate it (or freeze it) and use it for cooking or topping bread later on. Just don’t keep it frozen for longer than 7 or 8 months.


Q: Tina Becker- Every once in a while when I bake cupcakes from scratch, I notice they have a raw flour taste. It only happens now and then…is it just a “bad recipe” or something that I might be doing?

A: There are a lot of reasons it could be. Yes, it could be a bad recipe. If it always happens with just that particular recipe and no others, then toss it, it sucks. It could also be that the flour isn’t being incorporated well enough so it’s not “cooking.” Make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl during the mixing to get everything all up in there. Another reason could be the brand of flour has a very strong flavor; although I’ve tried many brands myself and never had that issue, it could very well be. So if you switch brands a lot and notice it only with one brand- stop using it. There could also be too much flour in the recipe, or you’re using all-purpose when you need to use cake flour. And yet another reason could be that the flour is old and therefore stale. If you don’t bake a lot and have the flour in the house for a long time, it’ll turn. Finally, are you using the right amount of salt & extract? Both of those things add flavor (and salt also helps the rising if you’re using baking powder, but that’s another unrelated issue), and without them you’ll definitely end up with a not very delicious baked good. I hope one of these can help you! Happy baking!


If you have any questions yourself, feel free to ask me on Twitter or on Facebook. And as always, you can totally e-mail me your questions any time.

(Winter) white velvet butter cupcakes.

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)

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Directions:

  1. Set 15 cupcake liners in muffin pans or custard cups.
  2. Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites, 3 tbs of the milk, and the vanilla just until lightly combined.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. Continue reading

Frosting tutorial part two: the icing on the cake.

Sorry, it’s been longer than expected. I’ve had a few setbacks, if you’re a regular reader you’re aware of myEYE PROBLEM and my broken coupler… *sigh* But we’re back in business now, folks. Hope all you mommies had a wonderful Mother’s Day. Now let’s get back down to business.

I’m really glad that part one of the frosting tutorial was a success, and that people found it helpful. Here’s where we get into the real stuff, though: piping using a pastry bag and frosting using an offset spatula. I’ll be frosting these using three different tips, as well as telling you how to use the tips, fill the bags, and pipe the frosting so it looks super pretty. I made cupcakes especially for this occasion (well, and for Mother’s Day), they’re lemon cupcakes with a light lemon buttercream, and I topped them with raspberries. If you’d like to make them as well, the recipe and all credits for it and the liners, etc will be at the very end of the post. Boy, it felt good to make some cupcakes again! I hadn’t made any since my Fluffernutter cupcakes from April 15th.. that’s a month ago. A month without cupcakes, how sad. Anyway here’s what the finished products looked like:

Pretty, aren’t they?

I’ll say this again: I am not a professional. There are people out there with much better techniques than I, I’m sure, for frosting cupcakes. I don’t think I’m all that and a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, believe me. But people asked me to do this, so I am, because I want to help them out. However please don’t take this to mean I’m conceited and think I’m a pastry chef or anything. I’m just a regular chick, with a regular kitchen, who likes to bake and happens to be sorta good at it. And if by sharing my tips, tricks and cheats I can help a few other people get in touch with their inner Francois Payard, then by all means… I just don’t want anyone thinking I’m walking around looking for accolades on my frosting techniques.

First of all, the following Wilton materials will be used in this tutorial:

  • 16″ pastry bag – I recommend this size because it holds enough frosting for at least 24 cupcakes without having to refill
  • disposable pastry bags – definitely needed if you’re using colored frostings, they’ll dye your polyester reusable bags something fierce, you can also use these instead of reusable bags, despite the horrible effect they probably have on the environment, it saves time: instead of washing ‘em, you toss ‘em
  • large coupler – this is what you use to attach the tips to the bags.. duh… although when using disposable bags, this isn’t needed
  • offset spatula – important for frosting cupcakes that you don’t want to pipe, or for creating smooth tops on them, like this
  • 1A tip (large round) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree (also it’s good for piping on frosting before you spread it out with an offset spatula, like this)
  • 1M tip / #2110 (large star) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree
  • 4B tip (open star) – this tip is also known in some brands as a “french star”… I just got it so I don’t have any examples to show you other than the cupcakes I’ll be frosting today

To begin, we’re going to get our bags ready. We already made our frosting and covered how to make it pipable in the last post. So here I’ll show you how to fill and use a reusable bag as well as a disposable. To use a reusable bag, first you have to put the coupler base in the bag. If you haven’t already cut your bag, you’ll have to do that before you do anything else. To cut the bag, you have to first push the coupler base as far down into the bag as you can. Then, using a pen or pencil, mark the bag where the bottom screw thread is outlined against the bag material. Push the coupler base back out of your bag, cut the bag on the mark, and push the base back in. It should fit perfectly. Now put the tip on, and then screw the coupler ring over the tip. It should fit snugly, and not be wobbly or uneven. I can’t show you pictures of this because I cut mine a long time ago, but it should be fairly self-explanatory. To prepare a disposable bag, when marking the spot on the outside of the bag, do it about a ¼ of an inch below that screw thread line. You don’t have to use a coupler for disposable bags- I never do. I won’t be doing so in this tutorial either, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can use one.

Filling a reusable bag with an offset spatula…

To fill the bag, you have two options. Option one is the way Wilton will tell you to do it: hold the bag in one hand, and fold the top over to form a large “cuff.” With an angled spatula or silicone spatula, fill the bag with about ½ – 1½ cups frosting. The second way to do it is to use a drinking glass to hold the bag. Then fold it over to form the cuff, and fill it, lifting the bag up and shaking it slightly every so often so that the frosting works it’s way down to the tip. When you’ve filled it enough, close the bag by unfolding the cuff and twisting it closed, forcing the frosting down into the bag further. This prevents “frosting farts”; aka when you think you’ve filled the bag and didn’t push it down enough, so when you try and pipe frosting on your cakes, a bit comes out, then stops, and when you push the frosting comes “farting” out with an obnoxious sound and splattering itself all over the top of your cupcake. This can also happen when your bag is running low on frosting, so make sure you’re aware of how much you have in there.

Once you have your bag filled and ready, position your tip over the cupcake. Depending on the look you’re going for, and the tip you’re using, you can either do a straight pipe or a circular pipe. A straight pipe is when you hold the bag directly perpendicular to the cupcake, place the tip against the cake, and slightly push on the frosting bag. Continue pushing until the frosting “blooms” out large enough, while lifting the bag upwards. When you’re finished, do a final little push into the frosting while doing one last little squeeze on the bag. Then just lift it away. Ta-da! This looks awesome with a large round tip when using meringue type frosting, but for these purposes I used the 1A tip to frost and then smoothed it with an offset spatula. This, like anything else, requires an amount of practice. The 1M star tip also makes a nice look when used like this.

Using a disposable bag there, as you can see


Another way to pipe is the circular pipe. To do this, you place your tip over the cupcake much in the same way as previously stated. Instead of pushing down in one spot in the center of the cake, however, you push down a little ways away from the center, and go in a circle, pushing the frosting out of the bag all the while… making a coil. Usually, I try not to go around more than once or twice, ending with a pretty point on the top (ending in the same fashion as above: doing a final little push into the frosting while doing one last little squeeze on the bag, then quickly releasing pressure and lifting the bag away). But depending on how thick your frosting is and how steady your hands are, it’s possible to go 3-4 times around. Also, try making circles if your coils don’t work. Make a larger circle, then a smaller one on top, then finish it with a “dollop” on top of that. It has the same look, especially when using a round tip, but easier to try and get the hang of. All three tips I used today can be used in this way, as well as tip 2A.

….

While I’m frosting I find it helpful to listen to music or have a DVD on of a movie I like. I find that listening to Lady Gaga & Beyonce sing ‘Telephone’ or something makes it not only more fun but helps me get into a “zone” of sorts. Though depending on the type of cupcakes or dessert I’m making, different music is in order. These cupcakes just made me think of Nicki Minaj & her “Harajuku Barbie”-ness, but sometimes Green Day, Black Sabbath or Social Distortion and even Method Man, Mos Def or Lil’ Kim is necessary. Movies with a lot of awesome music make for good frosting assistants too- for example, Quentin Tarantino movies, biopic movies on musical artists, etc. Find your groove and rock out while frosting. I promise you, it helps!

I thought I’d show you all how they came out, and maybe seeing the differently frosted finished products would also help you in your frosting efforts. The tips used, in order, are: 4B, 1A, 1M and 1A that I then spread out with the offset spatula.

The main thing to remember is practice really makes perfect when it comes to frosting. As long as your frosting is the right consistency, you’re on the right path. Just attempting these things over and over again will let you work out, through trial and error, the best way of doing it for you. Just practice, you can even practice your technique on paper plates until you get the hang of it.

Of  course, Lola got jealous of all the equipment and stuff being photographed, and she wanted some face-time too. She’s such a camera whore. But it’s allright, she’s beautiful. She deserves to be seen.

LEMON CUPCAKES (tweaked from original cupcake & frosting recipes courtesy of ourbestbites.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 2 lemons (just zest the other lemons before you squeeze them)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Don’t go skimping here–you want the mixture to be almost white and super fluffy. This is absolutely essential to the outcome of the cake.
  3. While butter and sugar are mixing, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside. After butter and sugar have mixed sufficiently, With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Beat in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  4. With mixer on low speed, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating until fully incorporated.
  5. Fill the liners with the batter. DO NOT FILL THEM TOO HIGH. They will rise, and rise, and rise.  Be super conservative. These cupcakes won’t have a nice, curvy crown, but that’s okay–no one will ever know or care. However, they will rise like you have no idea. A tablespoon of batter might be just right, but do a test run or two to make sure.
  6. Bake about 20-25 minutes or just until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. You don’t want to overbake these even a bit, or they’ll start to lose their delicious moisture. Remove from oven and cool completely.

LIGHT LEMON BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups butter (2 ½ sticks)
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon rind
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

  1. Beat butter, lemon rind, and vanilla in an electric mixer until creamy.
  2. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating to spreading consistency. Makes 2 ¾ cups frosting.

I used pink polka dot and pink solid liners from sweet estelle’s baking supply and topped the cupcakes with frozen raspberries that I defrosted, then laid out on a paper towel and sprinkled with sugar, then let rest a while before putting them on the cakes. By all means if you want to use fresh raspberries you can, I just used all mine up in the pie and had happened to have some frozen ones in the freezer. After a few minutes on top of the cupcakes, the raspberries leak a little bit of juice, and it looks pretty when traveling down the rivets of the frosting. I halved the recipe and I got about 18 cupcakes, so keep that in mind. Also, DON’T TRY THIS RECIPE WITH ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR. Only use cake flour for this. And trust me on what I said in the recipe about them rising. I’ve made them twice so far, and the first time I listened to the recipe author’s advice to fill the liners up to almost the top… and it was disastrous. Cupcake batter overflowing everywhere. So really, trust me on this, fill them halfway (if that, even) and do a trial run or a test cupcake to make sure.

I hope this tutorial helps you, and if you have any questions, feel free to comment and I’ll answer them best I can. Or, alternately, if you have any tips I didn’t list here, feel free to add those in the comments as well so everyone can benefit. And if there is any other topic you’d like me to cover, please tell me, if enough people want it then I’ll do a part three.

Before I forget… mucho thanks to everyone who made Cupcake Rehab reach the big 231 “likers” this past week on Facebook. Let’s get to 250, shall we?

Chocolate chip muffins- an update!

Remember last week when I made best chocolate chip muffins ever? After making them twice in one week, I had a request to make them yet again. However, I ran out of all-purpose flour, and all I had was cake flour. If you don’t know already, cake flour is a softer, more powdery flour. It typically has around 6-9% protein, whereas all-purpose flour has around 10-13%, on average. It’s used in angel food cakes and cakes/cupcakes that are lighter and airy-er than regular. Cake flour really isn’t recommended for breads or doughs, because it’s very fine and doesn’t have as much heft as all-purpose. As they say on Joyofbaking.com:

The type of flour used will ultimately affect the finished product. Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe (without compensating for this change) will alter the outcome of the baked good.  A cake flour is used to make a white cake where a delicate tender crumb is desired.  Bread flour is used to make a chewy bread and all-purpose flour makes a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies.

All-purpose flour has a 10-12% protein content and is made from a blend of hard and soft wheat flours. It can be bleached or unbleached which are interchangeable.  However, Southern brands of bleached all-purpose flour have a lower protein content (8%) as they are made from a soft winter wheat.  All-purpose flour can vary in its protein content not only by brand but also regionally. The same brand can have different protein contents depending on what area of the country in the United States you are buying it.  Good for making cakes, cookies, breads, and pastries.

Cake flour has a 6-8% protein content and is made from soft wheat flour. It is chlorinated to further break down the strength of the gluten and is smooth and velvety in texture. Good for making cakes (especially white cakes and biscuits) and cookies where a tender and delicate texture is desired.  To substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for every cup of all-purpose flour.  Make your own – one cup sifted cake flour can be substituted with 3/4 cup (84 grams) sifted bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch.


Now, normally, I could just go out and buy some AP flour and be done with it. Except I had just come home from CVS where I had to purchase a cream for a suspicious rash that popped up under my right eye last weekend and that was resistant to hydrocortisone and every other allergy and itch cream you can imagine. So the past few days had been completely taken over by my funky, itchy, random eye rash that I lovingly referred to as my “EYE PROBLEM” much in the same way Heather at Dooce said “SHINGLES!”, although not always with jazz hands. Was I in the mood to go out again just to buy flour, especially with aforementioned EYE PROBLEM? HELL-to-the-motherfucking-NO. Yet I kinda did want those muffins. So I decided to do a little experiment, and I thought you all, my little baking minions, would appreciate the results, either way. I’m all about substitutions and cheats and tricks when it comes to baking, so I don’t mind being the guinea pig. I figured the worst thing that would happen is that the muffins would be lighter, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I didn’t expect them to come out even more perfect than before!

What I did was I used the regular substitution equation: 1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour for every 1 cup all-purpose flour needed (that works the same in reverse, by the way, 1 cup – 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour = 1 cup cake flour in a pinch… although the results won’t be as lightly textured, and this shouldn’t be used in every recipe, some French pastries and desserts need cake flour).

(EVEN BETTER!) BASIC CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons cake flour
  • 1/3 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • ½ cup butter — melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs – beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 ounces mini chocolate chips (about half an average size bag)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. and grease up twelve muffin cups or put liners in them ( I prefer liners because it’s less messy that way).
  2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, stir together milk, eggs, butter, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add milk mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.
  3. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling them as much as possible; bake 15-20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
  4. Remove muffin tin to wire rack; cool 5 minutes and remove from tins to finish cooling.

Like I said, these are the best muffins ever, and apparently they only get better with cake flour! Now you know- no matter what flour you use, these are going to come out pretty damn spectacular. If you substitute self-rising, though, just remember to take out the baking powder and salt.

I filled the cups up more this time, and still got 3 more muffins, making a total of 15. No idea why, really, even though there are two extra tablespoons of flour in them, the flour is so much finer than all-purpose I don’t know if that would really give me an extra 3 muffins. But boy am I glad it did. They came out a tad smoother on top than the ones made with all-purpose flour, but still not as smooth as my banana chocolate chip yogurt muffins. That could be the difference in the flour, or the difference in my hand-mixing of this particular batch.

I know you’re all still waiting for that second frosting tutorial, and I promise you it’s coming. Between my EYE PROBLEM and the usual crap, once again I got behind on my plans. But it should be up next week. Okay? So stop hating me!

oh, and my EYE PROBLEM? All gone, thanks for asking.



Frosting lesson number one: logistics, a.k.a. “common sense.”

For quite some time now, people have been asking me to do tutorials on frosting. Specifically piping and the use of pastry bags, but I’ve gotten requests for things like tinting frosting, mixing frosting, and basic frosting application as well. In no way do I think I’m the best at this, nor am I professionally trained. But nonetheless, the public asked, and I’ll deliver. And since I’ve learned a lot since the start of this blog 2.5 years ago, and I’ve made some mistakes, I decided to use some of my own cupcake pictures as examples for this first post. This is all things that I have learned through trial and error and I am most certainly not Julia Child… but if it helps someone else, then how bad could I be for posting it? I thought it would be best to start really simple- with some common sense (or what I think to be common sense anyway) ideas for making your cupcakes look the best they can. Before you can frost, or make frosting, you should have a general idea of some basic concepts that can really help you out along the way. I know some of you may be past this point, and ready for the piping tutorial, and I’m sorry to keep you waiting… but you’ve gotta crawl before you can walk and some people have asked for this. So stick with me and the next tutorial will be more relevant to you.

First off, let’s start with basic chemistry. Baking has a lot to do with science. Even if you’re a casual baker who just likes making cupcakes or cakes for fun and you don’t take it seriously, you’ll need to know certain things. If you are making a frosting, for example a “buttercream” (which usually isn’t a real buttercream, just a butter frosting), and it’s too stiff, you add more liquid. If your frosting is too thin, you add more sugar. In the rare event that doesn’t help, an extra pat of butter or spoonful of shortening will do the job as well. Also, depending on the weather, you might want to incorporate shortening into your frostings anyway. It adds more stability and substance in places of high humidity or heat, so your frostings don’t drip or wilt. Another thing to remember is certain flavorings, or things you can use as flavorings, can cause your frosting to separate. Coffee is a big culprit with this. I suggest using a coffee extract instead, but if you’re dead set on using regular coffee (which is totally possible, don’t get me wrong), make sure you add some shortening as an added bonding agent and you frost your cake/cupcake immediately to avoid the frosting “breaking” on you.

Sources: top, almond cupcakes, bottom, cream soda toffee cupcakes

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Same goes for white chocolate. If you melt white chocolate to use in your frosting, you will absolutely have to add shortening to it. White chocolate is notorious for being really soft and making the frosting wilt. For example:

Sources: White chocolate almond cupcakes, left and Dylan Lauren’s cupcakes, right

KEEP IN MIND: BUTTERCREAM IS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE. Unlike cake, or cupcakes, or baked items, there is no definitive way of doing it. It does not have to contain an equal amount or specific amount of anything in it. You don’t really even need a recipe. As long as the finished product is stiff enough to be frosting, isn’t runny or isn’t too thick… then you’re good. If you’re making a recipe for buttercream, and it comes out too runny, add more sugar! If it’s too thick, add more milk! I don’t think I’ve used a recipe in years. I just wing it, and as long as it comes out pipeable and edible, it’s all gravy. Or… frosting?

I always test my frosting by picking some up with a spoon and plopping it on a piece of paper towel. If it holds it’s shape, it’s probably good to go. If not, it needs more sugar/shortening, and if it’s too thick to come off the spoon no matter how hard you shake… then you should add a bit more milk (or vanilla extract). You want your frosting stiff & thick, but not brick-like. The thicker your buttercream is from sugar, the harder it’s going to get when left out. You know that hard shell buttercream sometimes develops? Yeah, like that.

(The concept is the same with a cream cheese frosting. It’s always going to be part cream cheese, obviously, but I like to add some butter too. So I use about ¼ stick of butter and 4-8 oz cream cheese, depending how many cupcakes I’m frosting or how big the cake is. Then I just add the sugar as needed, and add some milk or vanilla extract to help thin it out a bit. In this case, the cream cheese adds what the shortening would- a thicker creamier base that helps the frosting get stiffer.)


A lot of people have problems with wilting frosting even if they follow all those directions to a tee. The frosting was just fine before it was put on the cake/cupcakes, but then you frost them and it just melts, or wilts, or slides off. In that case, I would say it’s most likely because your cupcakes aren’t cool enough when you frost them. This is HUGELY IMPORTANT. Many of us, myself included sometimes, as evidenced above, are too impatient to wait long enough. So we jump in, pipe our pretty little piles of frosting on top, and by the time we get to the fourth cupcake… the rest of the cupcakes have flattened, mushed down, drippy, lop-sided frosting. This is easily remedied. No, not once it’s done. But before it’s done. I know we’re all busy, and that most of you have kids running around, or pets, or husbands or boyfriends poking fingers in your batter bowls and frosting bags (wow that sounded dirty!), but you have to wait. The cupcakes (or cake) have to be totally and completely cool… not just to the touch. The internal temperature of the cake takes a much longer time to cool, and if the inside is still hot (or even slightly warmer), then for sure that frosting is going to melt. What I do (especially if I’m in a hurry, otherwise I try and avoid doing it and practice my patience instead) is I let them cool for 15 – 20 minutes, 5 – 10 in the pan usually and then another 10 on a rack, then I pop them into the freezer for like 5 – 10 minutes at the most. Then when I take them out, the tops are very cool and I’m more certain the internal temp is room temperature if not slightly cooler. Then I can frost them quicker. This is especially helpful in the warm weather when no matter what I do short of holding them in front of the A/C vents, my cupcakes do not cool down quick enough.

If you do ALL these things and your frosting STILL isn’t pipable… well, then the cupcake gods are against you and you should just stick to making Jello because I don’t know what to tell you.

(I’m not going to get into meringues, 7-minute frostings and the like in this post… but if anyone would like a post on them, e·mail me.)

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Next thing I’m going to discuss is color theory. I know, you’re all thinking “WHAT!?” but honestly, it’s important. So many times I see people make cupcakes and they try a dual colored frosting, and they pick colors that combine to make… a mud color. And when frosting gets soft, and the colors start to bleed slightly… you want to make sure you have two colors that compliment one another at best and at worst look decent and not muddy. Nobody wants to eat a cupcake with a pile of mushy frosting that looks like a non-descript mud colored lump. Maybe because I’m an artist first, baker second, to me this is something that comes naturally. So I’m going to show you a tool to help you with this, and that tool is… the color wheel. TA DA!

(Thanks to seanmarcellus.com for the color wheel image)

Okay, so what you should realize is that there are primary colors, secondary colors (which I’m sure you all know), tertiary colors, and complimentary colors which for our purposes (frosting) are NOT always complimentary. The colors that are OPPOSITE one another on the wheel, i.e. purple & yellow, blue & orange, etc… those colors compliment each other well. That is, when put next to one another, like in a painting, in decorating a room, in clothing, etc. When used in a frosting…it would look great too, however you can’t predict exactly how your frosting is going to take it, for example, you create a striped or two tone frosting, using purple and yellow, and the edges of the colors blend together… well, you’re going to get a brown, or a muddy color. Ick. That said, tinting a cupcake orange and using a blue frosting on it would be fantastic, or using two separate pastry bags filled with the colors separately, and you frost one on top of the other after the first sets. I’d just tend to stick with plain white frosting if you’re going to stripe it, and use a color for the stripes or second tone. Or, use colors that if they do blend together a bit, it looks good; for example pink & red, orange & yellow, blue & green, purple & black, etc. Otherwise, unless you’re really good, you run the risk of the colors mushing together a bit and ruining the brightness and the striking effect you’re trying to create.

Sources: left, pink zebra girly cakes, right, Obama cakes
Source: Anti-Valentine’s day cupcakes

Another way to avoid the running or blending of the colors is to do two separate frosting colors, and pipe them on separately, or do a half-n-half frosting like CB at I ♥ Cuppycakes did. I’ll leave the explaining of that to her since I already linked to her *wink*

I hope this helps some of you. My next tutorial will be piping frosting/frosting cupcakes, both with a pastry bag and without. It will probably be up in about a week, maybe two weeks from now. Here’s a list of basics I suggest you invest in:

  • 16″ pastry bag – I recommend this size because it holds enough frosting for at least 24 cupcakes without having to refill
  • disposable pastry bags – definitely needed if you’re using colored frostings, they’ll dye your polyester reusable bags something fierce, you can also use these instead of reusable bags, despite the horrible effect they probably have on the environment, it saves time: instead of washing ‘em, you toss ‘em
  • large coupler – this is what you use to attach the tips to the bags.. duh… although when using disposable bags, this isn’t needed
  • offset spatula – important for frosting cupcakes that you don’t want to pipe, or for creating smooth tops on them, like this
  • 1A tip (large round) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree (also it’s good for piping on frosting before you spread it out with an offset spatula, like this)
  • 1M tip / #2110 (large star) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree

Again, I use all Wilton products. These things are also available in other brands, but that’s up to you. I think you should always invest in something that’s built to last, especially if you’re going to be using it a lot and wearing it out, so I don’t suggest going cheapo with this. However, it’s totally up to you what brand you choose to buy or what you want to pay.

Is there anything you’d like me to have a tutorial on? Let me know either in the comments or via e·mail and I’ll certainly take it into consideration!

Treat yourself.

Some people call Valentine’s Day “Single’s Awareness Day.” I don’t really know why single people would get bent out of shape over Valentine’s Day- it’s about love. Not just romantic love, but familial love, love of friends, and love of yourself. If you’re single on Valentine’s Day instead of feeling bad, go buy yourself something! Or treat yourself. And not just on Valentine’s Day.

I am not single by any means. And Jay is very good to me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t treat myself, either. So this doesn’t have anything to do with cupcakes, per se (there are cupcakes in this post though, I promise, and if jewelry doesn’t interest you feel free to scroll on down to the baked goods)… but thanks to Sarah at LuShae Jewelry I got the opportunity to treat myself to this beautiful ring, and I wanted to thank her!

I don’t want to sound like I’m doing a sales pitch on the Home Shopping Network, but if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like wearing your real diamonds everyday on the subway, if you like the look of expensive jewelry & your budget doesn’t allow it, or if you’re into costume jewelry, then check out their website. Or, if you don’t like wearing diamonds because of the political and social issues involved (remember Blood Diamond?) this is another option for you. I wrote about fake stuff the other day… and while I still stand by all that, the only fakes that are acceptable in my eyes are costume jewelry pieces. At this website, they have really lovely rings and earrings and some amazing pendants as well. I happen to be very hard on jewelry. Like Paula Deen, I bake and cook with ALL of my jewelry on, and I never take it off to shower, I wear them while gardening, etc. Mainly because I just don’t remember to take ‘em off, I  jump in to everything without thinking about “my jewels” (haha… yeah, my jewels… like I’m Queen Elizabeth!). So because it takes a beating, I prefer costume jewelry for the most part, but I need it to be well-made, strong and also affordable, in case it needs to be replaced. That’s the main reason I wear men’s watches too, they’re chunkier and usually take a beating better (plus, the styles are usually cleaner & less “dainty” than women’s watches). Aside from that, I’m not the “super bling” type of girl, so I rarely go for diamonds or anything like that. But this was such a pretty ring, I just knew I had to have it. So go treat yourself to a piece of jewelry… and then, like me, treat yourself to some of these.

So like I said in the spirit of treating oneself… I made these cupcakes for me, they’re everything I like; they’re vanilla- I baked the Magnolia Bakery recipe (my favorite… and if you’re going to be treating yourself, make a real recipe… no Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker mixes, although I happen to stand by the fact that one should never consider a mix to be “baking”, I’ve long ago grown out of that pre-fab food phase), put some nice, thick, creamy pink-striped vanilla buttercream, and they’re in pink zebra print liners (thanks to sweet estelle’s baking supply and Yoyo who bought them for me!). Let me say that again. Pink zebra liners!

How ADORABLE are they!? If I was Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com I’d be yelling PINK ZEBRA LINERS!! (instead of her versions, WAFFLE FRIES! or SHINGLES!) and doing jazz hands in a video right about now (yeah if you don’t read Dooce, you’re definitely not going to get that reference). I sprinkled some pearl nonpareils on top of the frosting, because what goes better with treating yourself to some jewelry than pearls? They’re really girly looking, and would be perfect for a Bachelorette party or bridal shower, or birthday. Or if you’re me, a Friday night watching Olympic ice dancing.

I know.. it’s the cutest thing ever.

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I think that presentation is one of the most important things when it comes to anything creative- art, design, baking, cooking, etc. So the liners you choose and the toppings you put on your cupcakes can make a HUGE difference. Also, the way you apply your frosting makes a big difference too. Always make sure your cupcakes are 100% cool before frosting, otherwise the frosting will melt, and your sweet little cakes will turn into a mess. Even if they feel cool to the touch, the internal temperature may still be hot. Also, make sure your frosting is the right consistency for piping (or even spreading). Too thin and it won’t look right, too thick and it may not pipe properly. A trick I use is that after they cool in the pan for awhile, I take them out and let them cool out of the pan the same amount of time. If I’m rushed, I stick them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. Not long enough to freeze, mind you. Just long enough to bring the temperature down to a cooler one so I can frost them and not worry about the frosting I put on them getting “deflated.”

I don’t think I’m all that wonderful at it, but I’ve been told quite a few times, both in comments here on the site and “in real life” that I should do a piping/frosting tutorial, and I’m seriously considering it.  Considering it as in I’m actually planning it mentally. It seems people have a lot of trouble with it, and I’d like to give them a hand. Because it’s really not that hard, once you get your technique down. I’m no professional pastry chef, but I will say that in addition to making sure your frosting is the right consistency and your cupcakes are the right temperature, the supplies you work with make a huge difference too…

Here’s a list of basics I suggest you invest in:

  • 16″ pastry bag – I recommend this size because it holds enough frosting for at least 24 cupcakes without having to refill
  • disposable pastry bags – definitely needed if you’re using colored frostings, they’ll dye your polyester reusable bags something fierce
  • large coupler – this is what you use to attach the tips to the bags.. duh… although when using disposable bags, this isn’t needed
  • offset spatula – important for frosting cupcakes that you don’t want to pipe, or for creating smooth tops on them, like this
  • 1A tip (large round) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree (also it’s good for piping on frosting before you spread it out with an offset spatula, like this)
  • 1M tip / #2110 (large star) – this tip makes the frosting look like these examples: onetwothree

As I’ve said before, I have this kit, and it’s a lifesaver. But I realize that many people won’t use the majority of things included in it, and it’s almost $150.00. So you’ll do just as well (and save some money) buying things separately and as you need them. I also suggest that you practice, practice, practice. Buy some premade Wilton buttercream and just practice with the tips on top of either cupcakes you made or even just on a piece of wax paper. Wasteful, maybe, but if you need the practice, you need the practice… so invest in some good supplies (like I said, I use everything Wilton- so I totally recommend them), start practicing, and we’ll meet back here sometime soon for my piping tutorial!