Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Best Cupcake Book

The more I bake, the more I appreciate this book.  She never lets me down.  Many cookbooks that I have really don't produce that great of cakes.  They are often dry, or the flavors are too bold.  With good old Martha, you get subtle, delicious and simple flavors.  Some of her ingredients are a bit ladida, but for the most part its good old fashioned eggs, sugar, flour, butter, done.  

If you want to bake successfully, and have a home run every single time - this is your book.

Ladybugs! (My first adventure with fondant)

My good friend, and colleague, Eric, invited us to his adorable daughter's 2nd birthday party today.  The Evite was full of cute little ladybugs, and so I asked if that was the theme of the party?  His reply: "No, that was just the cutest Evite option."  Very much an Eric response.  However, I already had it in my mind that I wanted to make ladybug cupcakes (inspired by the Evite), so even though it wasn't the official theme, we still went ahead!

I shared my idea with Mike, my husband, and he helped brainstorm what the best possible way to tackle these bugs would be.  He chose the cupcake flavor for the day, ran to the store, and our adventure began.

When you have such a fun decoration on the top, and when you are making cupcakes for a 2nd birthday, it probably isn't super important what type of cupcake is underneath.  But, I care.  And I knew a lot of my friends and colleagues would be there, and they would appreciate a yummy cupcake that wasn't just cute, but delicious as well.  We decided to go with a Devil's Food chocolate cupcake.  I LOVE this recipe (have I written about it before?)  The sour cream makes it so flippin' moist - it is the best chocolate cupcake ever.  Seriously.

Fresh outta the oven!
 For some reason these turned out exceptionally well.  I think I am just figuring out (after all of my practicing) how much I need to fill up those lovely little cups.  I was really excited about this.  Before today, I always seem to have like 1/2 meh looking cupcakes and then 1/2 blob looking (where I put way too much in and it spills up over the cup...)  Not cute.

These would probably taste bomb with my new favorite cocktail - Sweet Tea Vodka + Lemonade....
Just saying...
 Once they cooled, we were ready to move onto the next step: fondant.  This was our first time working with fondant, so we were a little nervous.  Especially since we were making them the same day as the event.  Probably not the best idea!  While the cuppies were cooling and second batch was in the oven, I prepared for the next step.

I love this thing.  I got two of them for my bridal shower, and I think they are the bee's knees. 
They're done!  Read to be ladybugged!
Another bridal shower gift - today's apron of choice.

 So, fondant is weird looking.  It looks, to me, like a huge brick of lard.  Not very appetizing.  It was hard for me to imagine how we were going to transform this blob into something cute for a kid's birthday party.

We divided the fondant into our two colors.  1/3 was dyed black and 2/3 red.  This stuff stains your hands.  For real.  I look like I wrestled some beets (according to Mike).  But, it started to look a little more interesting!
Our fondant dye
Fondant is pretty easy to dye.  But, as I said, messy.  It is a good arm workout though.  When it starts to get sticky, you just sprinkle a little bit of powdered sugar in there, and bam!  Good to go.

Then, it was time to get rolling!  Mike rolled out the fondant into a thin layer.  He is very good at this job.

Then, we took one of our cups, and cut out red rounds.  These are going to be our ladybug base.

In order to get the fondant to stick, we put a very thin layer of frosting on there.  By thin, I mean VERY thin.  Due to time constraints, we just used store bought frosting (shhhhh - don't tell anyone!)  But whatever - one less dish, thank goodness!

We popped those red discs on right away, and they looked so cool!  I mean, they didn't really need much else IMO, but we knew they could only get cuter!  There was something both Mike and I appreciated about the smooth and clean line that the fondant created.  It just looked so neat and tidy!  Something we both love.

From there, we started crafting their little heads.  For this, Mike simply took the edge of the same cup to create little parts of discs that folllowed the same curve as the red rounds.

To get the black to stick on top of the red fondant, we brushed it with just a little bit of water!  Stayed on like glue!

After that, it was eye balls (and we used white decorating pearls) and their little dotted backs.  For the polka dots, we actually used the tip of a piping tip - size #12.   It worked perfectly!

We got to the birthday party, and saw the cute printed table cloths - ladybug!  Our cupcakes fit right in!

We thought it was a success, but the ultimate judge was, of course, the birthday girl, Marisa.  Here's what she thought:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Far Out! (Tie Dye Cupcakes and Back to School!)

Today was my first day back to school and the beginning of my sixth year at Fremont High School.  I had a great start, and I definitely feel that this is going to be a good year!

As I have posted about before, I make cupcakes every month for my AVID class in order to celebrate their birthdays.  I have made them many types of cupcakes in the last two years, and so today, I decided it would be fun to put a funky twist on an old recipe.  I made Martha Stewart's Buttermilk Cupcakes with Vanilla frosting.  It's such a simple flavor, and very light and moist (probably from all the eggs!)  But instead of plain old white, I took some inspiration from one of my students, Emma, and made them tie dye!

You split all the batter into 3-4 bowls (my student said that any more than three gets a bit messy).  You dye each color whatever color you want.  I chose purple, teal and blue.  I then used a cookie dough scooper (the little one), and scoop one color into all of the tins.  Then the next color, etc.  Bake and enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tres Leches

One of the greatest gifts I have in my life is wonderful friends.  I don't have a large circle, nor is that something I want.  What I do have is a perfect circle of fabulous friends, most of whom I have known for the better part of my life.  Today, one of my very best friends, Emily, celebrated her birthday.  I have known Em for almost a quarter of a century - holy cow.  From crayons to wedding dresses, from all nighters to puppy play dates, I am happy to celebrate another year of a fabulous friend!

In celebration of Em's big day, Mike suggested trying out a new cupcake recipe.  I tried to find something fabulous and kind of exotic for my jet setting pal, and landed on Martha Stewart's Tres Leches recipe.  It was kind of a pain in the rear because you have to soak them with the milk which takes quite a while.  But, in the end, they look fabulous and taste good too!!  

Happy birthday, Em!

Yummy whipped topping - with Em's dahlias in the back!

With a little cinnamon on top!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lovely Lemon

My sweet, sweet summer is coming to an end.  School starts on Monday and I will be greeted with the smiling, tired, annoyed, anxious, eager faces of my next group of students.  As my days are limited, and I have to think about how I want to spend my last few days of unadulterated freedom, of course, I thought it was a great time to try out a new cupcake recipe!

As usual, I went to my trusty Martha Stewart cookbook (which is looking a bit beat up these days...) and the lemon meringue cupcakes caught my eye.  Nothing is more refreshing than a bright, citrusy cupcake.  I was sold.

I headed to the store to buy a LOT of butter, lots of eggs and of course, lottsa lemons!
The layout - I like to have everything out before I start.  
Since it was the end of summer, I drank champagne while whisking!
I love fresh cupcakes - right of the oven - before they've been frosted.  I have been known (just about every time I bake) to sneak a few bites in and split a warm one with Mike before they receive their final touches.

The end product was SO yummy, and well worth the many dishes it incurred.  The only hiccup was that I was supposed to put the lemon curd on top of the cupcake and then the frosting.  Well, the curd has to chill in the fridge for two hours, and of course, I forgot about it.  So I just whipped up my seven minute frosting, and put it right on there.  Literally as SOON as I did that, I remembered my curd.  Oh well.  It still tasted good.  I never said they would be pretty.  :)  Next time, I'll get it right!

Yummm - the pink polka dot wrapper is a perfect fit!

Holy "Hotcakes!"

I went to visit my fabulous and newly engaged buddy, Brittney, in her LA pad.  Of course the activities for the weekend included girl time, good food, movies and CUPCAKES!  L.A is one of the hotspots of cupcakes - they are ubiquitous and that's something I love about the place!  Granted, some of them are more inviting looking than others...but isn't that always the case?

Brittney had sampled some cupcakes from Hotcakes Bakes at her work, and had great things to say.  Twist my arm...I'm on board. They were also the winner of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network (Similar to Sift - which I blogged about earlier).  I had higher hopes for Hotcakes, since my Sift experience was forgettable.  Hotcakes is a little tiny shop, packed with lots of flavor variety and two stools at a bar by the window.  There were two of us, so it worked perfectly.  Let it be said, though, that I am still in search of my dream cupcakery.  I will find it, or I will open it.

Birdy - ready to sample with me!
There are no words...
As you can see, there were so many flavors to choose from, and well, I just couldn't.  Choose that is.  So, we walked over to the counter with a baker's dozen.  That's right, folks.  Thirteen cupcakes.  Don't judge - it was for research.  ;)

The flavors we chose were:
  1. Red Velvet
  2. Lemon
  3. English Toffee
  4. Tres Leches (their award winning flavor)
  5. Sprinkleicious 
  6. Strawberry
  7. Coconut
  8. Cookies and Cream
  9. Carrot Cake
  10. Chocolate Mint
  11. Snickerdoodle
  12. Key Lime
  13. Chocolate
Oh, and I should probably add (for my own sake) that these were MINI cupcakes, people.  (Not that I wouldn't have ordered 13 normal size cupcakes.)

I don't have the energy to write on all thirteen, and truth be told, we could only get through ten.  I had to leave Brittney the last three to sample with her fiance, Sasha.  The pictures didn't turn out too great once we left the sunny store front, and so I will choose my top two, and then one of Brittney's reviews. I will also briefly let you know which ones were relatively anti-climactic, and that you should avoid...


Photo Credit: Brittney Smith
This is one of the ones that Britt and Sasha tried.  According to her:
"So good! I must admit that I'm partial to lemon cake, but I really enjoyed this one. There was a subtle, but completely present lemon flavor in both the cake and frosting. But the surprise that Sasha and I both loved was that inside the cake was a little dollop of lemon curd. So so yummy. The yellow frosting just looks cute to me too." - Brittney Smith of Britt by Britt

I personally liked the off center frosting.  It made it look like a little party hat - and I was so down to party with this cupcake.  Too bad I didn't get to sample it!  Next time.  Thanks, Birdy, for doing the hard work for me!

Chocolate Mint

I love mint chocolate ice cream from Baskin Robbins.  I mean, who doesn't? (if you don't, don't tell me).  So the idea that that yummy summertime flavor could possibly be captured in a cupcake?  Yes please!

I was a bit put off by the alien green of the frosting - I prefer things to look a little more pale than that, but I wasn't letting that stop me.  I also wasn't a fan of the whole chocolate chips on the top - a bit clunky for my taste.  Perhaps consider some chocolate shavings next time? A little more elegant.

We bit in, and were both a bit overwhelmed with the mint flavor!  It was pretty powerful - like lingering minty burn in the back of your throat and clear your sinuses while your in there, powerful.  But, if you're into that kind of thing, then by all means...

I don't think I would revisit this one, though.




I've said this before, but nothing really says summer like a strawberry cupcake.  This cupcake did not let me down.  It was moist, fluffy, a beautifully pale shade of pink, topped with light and airy whipped cream frosting.  A dream in a wrapper.  Seriously good.

And, similar to the lemon - don't you love the off kilter frosting topper?  This one's totally rocking it.  Love it.



Anti Climactic:

English Toffee.  The only thing toffee about this cupcake was the toffee crumbles on the top.  I would have been better off eating a Heath bar.

Sprinkleicious.  Basically Funfetti.  Tasted like the box.  Kind of a let down.

Overall, I would give Hotcakes a definitely worth a stop if you are in the area!


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