Friday, April 30, 2010

Too many strawberries

I got really excited at the grocery store last week because the strawberries were buy one get one free. So I did. And then I realized I had 2 containers of strawberries (quarts, perhaps?) and could not eat them fast enough on my own (Nick does not like them. He's weird sometimes). I finally decided to stray from cupcakes and make a strawberry coffee cake.

I used a recipe from and followed it pretty much exactly except that it says to put all the strawberries on top and I mixed in about 2/3 of them. Unfortunately, this recipe is merely okay. And this time, the mediocrity is not my fault! I really did what it said. But next time (if there is a next time), I will use
  • less sugar
  • less butter
  • more strawberries
  • cinnamon!
It takes a lot for me to think something is too sweet, but I really think this cake is. Also, there was a small pool of butter on top from the crumb topping. Gross. I don't like to be reminded of the fat content of baked goods.

On the bright side, I got to use one package of strawberries and the cake is certainly good enough to eat (though it doesn't have to be very good for me to think so). Next time I have extras I'll just go the safe route with strawberry shortcake (following my grandmother's example, because she makes absolutely THE BEST strawberry shortcake. Stay tuned for it this summer...).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I wish I were an athlete

I do not wish this because I particularly care about sports and want to be good at them. I wish this because they need to eat MASSIVE amounts of food because of all the energy they use exercising.

I started thinking about this when I was in the dining hall the other day, and I happened to be next to a football player at the cereal counter. I was amazed to see that he took 3 HEAPING bowls of cereal (Lucky Charms, Corn Flakes, and something I can't remember) compared to my measly normal-sized serving of Lucky Charms. I didn't even really want to eat 3 huge bowls of it; I just wanted to want to eat that much. If I had an appetite 3x as big, I would get to enjoy 3x the food. Awesome.

This was not the first time I noticed how much football players eat. Once I saw a guy with one plate holding 7 chicken breasts and another piled with pasta. I was astonished. I thought he must be sharing it with someone, but then decided against it when I saw him sit next to his anorexic-looking girlfriend. All for him.

So the point is, I would like be an athlete because of all the exercising and all the food. Minus the exercising part.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coconut is the best thing ever

And that is not hyperbole.

Okay so it's definitely hyperbole, but coconut is pretty damn good. My internship is about to end, and I want to go out with a bang and bring in some really amazing cupcakes. The goal: coconut cupcakes with coconut frosting.

I got the recipe for the cake part from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but I changed it slightly because they were supposed to be coconut lime cupcakes and I only wanted coconut. And I didn't make them vegan. And I tried to make it slightly less fattening by using a bit less coconut oil and milk (not that anyone eats a cupcake expecting it not to be fattening). So here's my [doubled] version...

Coconut Cupcakes

1/2 c. coconut oil
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 c. light coconut milk
2/3 c. skim milk
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
dash of salt
1 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. melt coconut oil in the microwave (10 sec., then stir, then 5-10 more) or in a saucepan over low heat
  3. mix together coconut oil and sugar
  4. add coconut milk and skim milk
  5. add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; mix
  6. stir in coconut
  7. pour into lined cupcake pan and bake for 18-20 minutes (possibly longer for you since my oven is weird)
This recipe ended up making 23 cupcakes, and I definitely under-filled some of the liners, so it would make about 20 or 21 of the right size. As usual, I skipped the vanilla (I swear I'll buy some soon), and I also skipped the coconut extract that the original recipe called for (put in 2 t. of vanilla and coconut extract to stay true[r] to it).

On their own, these were merely okay. But as I have come to learn, the frosting is crucial in making an excellent cupcake. It is the icing on the cake. Literally.

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

1/2 c. unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 T. coconut oil
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 1/2 T. light coconut milk
  1. mix together the butter and coconut oil
  2. add powdered sugar and coconut milk; beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes)
  3. After frosting the cupcakes, sprinkle some unsweetened coconut on top
Oh my god. This frosting tastes AMAZING. It's just a fluffy mouthful of coconut, and it really complements the cupcakes well because they aren't too sweet on their own. There was enough frosting to frost 22 cupcakes pretty thickly (though not as thick as piping it...then you'd need a lot more). I was trying to frost them in this cool swirl pattern, but I was only moderately successful. Whatever, I'm very very happy with how they look! They're probably my favorite thing I've baked so far, though I'm torn between these and the chocolate-raspberry mini cakes. I'll have to make them both again (and again, and again) to see which wins.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Orange-Creamsicle Cupcakes

I was so tempted to bake after my post yesterday that I immediately began on the orange-creamsicle cupcakes that I'd thought so much about.

Of course, as usual, things did not go exactly as planned. I started off with this recipe for white cupcakes from allrecipes. They were pretty bland on their own, which I'll admit was probably my fault because I left out the vanilla extract. You see, I don't have vanilla extract. And the reason I don't have it is that I don't like it. I never really understand the point -- it just makes stuff taste bad (like chocolate-chip cookie dough, which is very hard to ruin). And if I am going to use it, I like the imitation kind. But I think I have finally realized that it is necessary for some things, like white cupcakes. Next time I'll probably just use Pillsbury because they have mastered the art of artificial flavoring, and I simply cannot match it.

Anyway, the white cake was mediocre, but I figured the frosting and filling I had planned would redeem it. But then the filling did not work out as I'd imagined it. At all. I thought I'd use nice fresh, lightly-sweetened whipped cream inside. But my cream was unwilling to whip. It stayed kind of runny, and I knew it would just make the inside of the cupcake soggy overnight, so I abandoned the filling plan.

Alright, on to the frosting. I was actually reasonably successful with this (which is surprising because I just sort of combined things in random amounts until it tasted right).

Orange Cream Frosting

3 oz cream cheese
1/2 c. butter
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. orange juice (no pulp!)
Some yellow and red food dye

Miraculously, the frosting tasted like a creamsicle! It completely redeemed my failing cupcakes, such that I was able to feed them to people without the utter shame I expected from the initial results.

If I make these again, I'm going to use a different kind of cake. Maybe one with buttermilk in it. Or maybe I just need to suck it up and buy some vanilla extract. I also think the orange cream frosting might be really good on chocolate cupcakes instead.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No time to bake!

Sadly, I have not had time to bake lately (homework gets in the way of everything good). But that does not mean I haven't been thinking about cupcakes nonstop. Ideas I want to try...

  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes. Could be gross, but maybe not.
  • Coconut (and, variations like pina colada and mango-coconut)
  • Orange Creamsicle (brings back childhood memories of eating the ice cream bars)
  • White-chocolate Raspberry
  • Chocolate Mint with Chocolate Ganache
  • Maple
So many cupcakes to make, so little time to make them. Maybe I'll have a chance today (which may mean neglecting my homework. Hmm, what's more important?). Top on my list is Orange Creamsicle...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chocolate-Raspberry Mini Cakes

Things did not start off well this morning with these cakes (though, in my humble opinion, they ended pretty well). I started with my great-grandmother's recipe for Wacky Cake (I have no idea what's "wacky" about it). It happens to be vegan, so you could easily make vegan frosting for it.

Wacky Cake
makes one 9" square cake

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. white sugar
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/3 c. oil
1 t. vanilla
1 t. apple cider vinegar
1 c. water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; spray and dust pan with flour, or use baking cups for cupcakes
  2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together
  3. Mke a well in the middle and pour in the wet ingredients; stir
  4. Bake for 35 minutes (if making a 9" square), or 16-18 minutes if making cupcakes

The batter is much thinner than most cake batters, but that's how it's supposed to be. Mine might have been a little too thin actually because I can't measure dry ingredients very precisely. You see, I don't have any dry measuring cups. That's right, I'm trying to become an expert baker with no dry measuring cups. Oh well, I just never seem to get around to buying them. Anyway...

Since I was making cupcakes (the mini cakes are just upside down cupcakes with no liners), I kind of just guessed how long to cook them. I filled each well in the cupcake pan about halfway because I wanted them to be pretty flat on the bottom when I turned them over, and then I cooked them for 16 minutes at somewhere between 325-350 degrees (you never know with my oven).

My first problem was that the cupcakes got sort of stuck in the pan even though I sprayed it, so I had to piece them back together a bit. No big deal since they were to be covered in ganache. Next problem: the cupcakes were so deliciously moist that they were too moist -- they were kind of tacky on the top, so as they settled onto the cooling rack, they got stuck to it (not to mention I dumped them out after they were out of the oven only 1 minute, which was probably not the right thing to do). I was feeling pretty discouraged by this point, but I wasn't about to waste them (waste=eat them all myself), so I kept going anyway.

I looked up various recipes for ganache and ended up with these amounts:

1 c. heavy cream
8 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped into small pieces
Boil the heavy cream (watch out, it will foam over quickly!), then pour it over the chocolate and mix with a whisk until it's smooth and glossy.

This made way more ganache than I needed for the dozen cupcakes and single layer 6" cake I made with the batter. I'd probably cut it in half next time for the amount of cake I had. To make it easy to pour, I put the ganache in a measuring cup, poured it on the cakes, and then spread it a little with a knife to get it to flow over the edge. It hid the crumbly mess underneath nicely.

Also, I had originally intended to add raspberry extract, but, wary from my experience with "Hazelnut Type Flavor," I decided to sniff it first. Good thing I did. It smelled awful and nothing like raspberries. The first ingredient was grain alcohol, and it smelled like it. So the raspberry part came in with the swirl of buttercream on the top. I used:

2 c. powdered sugar
approx. 5 T. butter
approx. 1/8 c. frozen raspberries, thawed and drained.

There's no need to add any liquid because the raspberries are wet enough. I also didn't need to add any food dye to get it that pretty pink color because the raspberries did it themselves. The frosting is nice and sweet and complements the dark chocolate-y taste of the cakes and ganache.

Things weren't looking good for a while, and I was pleasantly surprised that they turned out so well. Next time I'll try adding a bit more flour or less water or something to see it they get less sticky. Or maybe I need to cook them a little longer. Or maybe I need dry measuring cups. Ugh. I guess this will take a lot of trial and error (and will probably be heavy on the error).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to become a baker with an ivy league degree

As I near the end of my four years at college, I, like every other senior, am trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.  Somehow I thought I'd know by now, like these four years were supposed to show me the answer and that I'd still be doing at 50 what I'm going to be doing at 22.  The problem is, I don't know what career I want, and even when I think I do, I change my mind so often that I have mostly stopped fooling myself into believing I know what I want.  (Some sample career choices that I was convinced of for at least 24 hours at one point:  lawyer, teacher, advertiser, publisher, novelist, graphic designer, gynecologist [not sure what I was thinking there], psychologist, and, contradictory to what this blog is all about, nutritionist.) 

My current obsession, as you can see, is baking.  And I think I really could be happy doing that, but it doesn't seem entirely realistic.  Question: why did I go to a damn Ivy League school rather than culinary school?  Answer: because I was told throughout high school that a four-year college was the only route to success.  Also implied was that the degree should be academic, although I now see that my English degree is not quite as useful as I once imagined.

As I was doing my mostly-useless psychology reading a little while ago, I read an article about what really makes people happy.  This psychologist (Csikszentmihalyi -- go ahead, try to pronounce his name) said that it's being in a state of "flow" that makes us happy; that is, being so absorbed in something that we forget everything else, time passes without our knowing, and the experience is intense and satisfactory (check it out, it's pretty cool).  Anyway, the point is that I think I feel flow when I bake and when I blog.  I don't know if it's that they both have to do with food or if I like baking and writing, but at least I've found something I like, right?

So I want to be like Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction -- overly educated woman turned baker because she loved bringing people food (this clip says it all, from about minute 1 to minute 3).  Unfortunately, the movie is purely fiction.  Actually owning your own bakery is not just giving away food and baking all day. So where does baking fit into my life, and is there any way for me to make money doing it with no formal training?  Until I figure out the answer, I'll just keep making cupcakes to procrastinate and fatten people up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bring Kinder Candy to the US!

Besides Nutella, I also developed a love for Kinder candy while I was in Italy a couple of summers ago. I guess it originated in Germany, but it at least made it to Italy (and I'm assuming it's all over Europe). I've never seen it in stores here, and, though it's sold on Amazon, I don't particularly want to buy an entire case because it seems absurd to buy $40 of candy at one time, no matter how delicious.

My absolute favorite Kinder candy is Happy Hippos. Yup, that's right. Happy Hippos. Awesome. They come in cocoa- and hazelnut-cream filled (hazelnut is my preferred Hippo). Little delectable wafer hippos staring up at you with those concerned little eyes. Truly genius.I was even fortunate enough to live less than a 10 minute walk from a gelateria that had Happy Hippo gelato, both hazelnut and cocoa. It was a dream come true. If for no other reason, I will go back to Italy just for that gelato.

Kinder also brilliantly created cream-filled chocolate rhinos, Kinder Bueno (chocolate-covered hazelnut-cream-filled wafer), and these little sectioned chocolate bars with white filling. In the U.S., we value our peanuts but completely neglect hazelnuts! Don't get me wrong, I love a good peanut-butter and jelly sandwich or a Reese's, but we need to jump on the hazelnut bandwagon (alright so there's no bandwagon that I know of. But there should be, and we should be on it). And now that I've written this, I have a serious craving for Happy Hippos. Damn. Time to order a case I guess =)

Thank you, Italy

My idea for these Nutella-filled cupcakes came from having a massive jar of Nutella that I was either going to consume rapidly with a spoon or bake with and force-feed to other people. I chose the latter.

I started off with a basic yellow cake mix (Pillsbury, I think) and baked the cupcakes according to the directions. Then I filled a pastry disposable pastry bag with Nutella and used a frosting tip with just a round opening, maybe about 1/4" in diameter. Since the cupcakes were pretty fluffy, I was able to stick the tip into the top of each cupcake and fill them. My incredibly precise method for getting the same amount into each was to count to 5 as I squeezed the pastry bag. Of course, I have no idea if they're all equal because I did not personally eat every one of them (good thing, too, because I'm trying to avoid obesity until I'm out of my 20s).

Then I attempted to make hazelnut frosting. I bought hazelnut extract (the bottle suspiciously says:
Type Flavor
What, I ask you, is "hazelnut type flavor"? Well, the emphasis was on hazelnut, so I decided to focus on that) and added about 1/2 teaspoon to the buttercream frosting recipe on the Domino Sugar box instead of vanilla extract. It calls for:

1 box (3 3/4 cup) powdered sugar
1/2 cup bu
tter, softened
3-4 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Then I also added about a tablespoon of Nutella, which made it a nice light tan color. I liked the look of the frosting, but I was not a huge fan of the taste. It was too sweet, and the "hazelnut type flavor" did not taste much like hazelnut. If I make these again, I'll probably just add a bit of Nutella to the frosting and then maybe add a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder as well to make it less coma-inducingly sweet. Another option would be to use chocolate cake instead of yellow cake because it tends to be less sweet.

Overall, not a bad experiment. The people at my internship liked it at least, and as long as other people enjoy them, I'm happy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The addiction ends?

I have reached a strange point in my [short-lived, amateur] baking career (and by career I mean hobby because nobody pays me): I enjoy creating baked goods more than eating them. This feeling could simply be a result of having taste-tested the hazelnut frosting for the nutella-filled cupcakes I just made (pictures and post coming soon...) a few too many times, such that my body is coursing with so much sugar that I cannot crave it.

But really, I think this is a turning point for me. When I used to bake, it was because I wanted something sugary and I was bored so I baked it. Today I baked because I couldn't wait to make these cupcakes for the people I work with. Seriously, I dreamed about them last night. I could think of nothing else, and not because I wanted to eat them, just because I wanted to experiment with them.

Surely the sugar addiction has not ended, but at least it's no longer my first priority to satisfy a craving when I bake. Or maybe there is still a craving, but now I crave the process rather than the result. Hmm.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easy mint brownies

I learned how to make these peppermint-pattie topped brownies from a friend of mine. They're really easy to make once you get the timing right, but you have to know your oven. All you do is make a box of brownie mix (or make them from scratch if you like), and then take the pan out of the oven five minutes before they're done and put peppermint patties on top (I used 12 small ones for a 9x13" pan). Pop them back in for the last 5 minutes, and then smear the mints around as soon as they come out. It should create a nice marbled look.

The problem is, my oven is insane and cooks things at least five minutes faster than it's supposed to, even if I turn the temperature down a bit. It's very hard not to overcook things in it, but if you have a normal, well-adjusted oven, you should be fine. If you find that the brownies are already done when you take them out to put the peppermint patties on, don't bother trying to make this batch mint. I've tried melting the patties in the microwave, but then the melty stuff is just brown and not swirled and hardens way faster than you'd imagine. At that point, it's time to give up and start over.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Frosting tips

As I searched to find the right pastry bag and frosting tips (also called pastry tubes and potentially not called frosting tips, it's just what I call them) to frost cupcakes a couple of months ago, I could not find a good source of information that told which tip would give which results. The way I ended up with the two different tips I have was by getting one from a baker and one from somebody who works at a cake decorating store. If you don't have the luxury of talking to people in those positions, this will probably help.

Okay the first tip I got was an Ateco 829 (right side of the top image), and the result was:

It was surprisingly easy to use. I thought I'd need lots of practice before I attempt to decorate cupcakes for my wedding, but the first cupcake turned out perfectly. It's foolproof.

I also have a similar tip, a Wilton 1M (left side of the top image, that is just a bit smaller. Using it makes:

I think I like the Ateco one better, but they're so similar I'm not sure I care too much. Both make cupcakes look impressive despite taking little effort to use. I definitely recommend buying some (but be prepared to make about double the frosting you normally would because they make a very thick layer are artery-clogging goodness on your cupcakes).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The 4 best days of the year

As a person who a) loves all thing sweet, and b) has very little money, I highly anticipate the day after a holiday. There's nothing like getting candy at a fraction of its original price to bake with (or, in my case, to eat within 6 minutes and never have the chance to bake with).

Yesterday morning, I made a beeline for CVS with a specific mission in mind: find Mini Eggs. I've been eating them nonstop for the past month (just ask the guys at the mini mart down the street), and I was just waiting for the day after Easter so I could stock up.

This day was preceded by much anxiety. I knew that I could get as many Mini Eggs as I wanted leading up to Easter, but at full price. Did I want to risk missing out on several more pounds of unique chocolate coated in that thiiin thin candy coating just for a discount? Yes. And I got some. But they're gone now. Sick, huh?

Unfortunately, there's a long dry spell between now and the next candy-endorsed holiday: Halloween. Then begins the golden period of holiday candy as Halloween is followed by Christmas and the lame-if-not-for-the-candy Valentine's Day. Until then, I guess I'll have to shell out the cash to feel appropriately sick to my stomach each day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A new level of ridiculous

TLC has a new show called Little Chocolatiers. I can't help but notice that:

Cake Boss + Little People, Big World = Little Chocolatiers

Do you think TLC is in on the joke, or are they serious when they come up with stuff like this?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Being trendy with wedding cupcakes

In an effort to save money, I'm going to bake my own cupcakes for my wedding. Is this a bad idea? Maybe. It could be a disaster, but I like to think that, with the help of some family and friends, I can pull off some cheap and delicious cupcakes. I feel kind of unoriginal because wedding cupcakes seem to be a trend right now, but cupcakes are so much cuter than cake anyway. I hope it's a trend that lasts

To make them look nice, I'm going to put them on a tiered stand, which I spent a good deal of time building the last couple of days (with some help of course). I followed the instructions here and it came out great--especially if you look from far away. I ended up using round cardboard (it might be called cake board) from a party store since I couldn't find anything heavier, but I think it will be sturdy enough. To be safe, I doubled it up. I used wrapping paper to cover each layer and put ribbon around each to make it fancier. It's much nicer than anything I could have found for $20, which is what it ended up costing. Not too shabby.

I'm going to have to hone my presently-nonexistent cake-decorating skills in the next 2 months so I can make the small cake that will go on the top tier look professional-ish, so you can expect to see lots of cupcakes on here soon. Wish me luck.

The only thing I had time to bake in the past week was black and white cookies, and they worked out great. I followed the recipe exactly except for the lemon juice (because I didn't have any). They were very fluffy (though they could have been a bit more moist), and the icing was pretty good too. I might add less cocoa powder to make the chocolate icing next time because it tasted a little darker than I like my chocolate. The only problem I really had was keeping the 2 sides neat and separate. Plus, crumbs got mixed in since you frost the bottom of the cookie, and they were visible on the vanilla side. Not the most aesthetically pleasing, but they certainly treated my mouth well.