Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting

This is officially my first blog post about a cupcake that was made AFTER I decided to start a blog, which doesn't really mean anything to you except MORE PICTURES (which Ian makes fun of...but I don't know anyone who would want to read a blog about baking and wouldn't want to see pictures.  Do you???). 

So, I found the recipe for Caramel Apple Cupcake with Vanilla Bean Frosting on the Cupcake Wars website during my first scan through their recipes and I was very excited to try them.  In my excitemed state I wanted to share my new recipe finds, so I sent links to the three cupcake recipes I really wanted to try to Megan (one of my best friends who is from Kansas, but now works in Iowa).  She looked at the recipes and said that they looked interesting, but that she wasn't really interested in eating any of them because she doesn't really care for sweets.  Well, she wasn't interested in eating any of them except the caramel apple cupcake.   

Megan came to visit me (and her family) a couple of weeks later, and I decided that between work and our dinner reservations, I would make these cupcakes so she could try one! 

The cupcakes themselves were very simple to make; however, there were a few interesting aspects.  First, the recipe calls for four apples, peeled, cored, and cut.  I don't really like using knives (I'm fairly certain I am going to cut off my finger...and my skittishness while using them probably makes that more likely...which makes me more skittish...and around and around we go).  So, to peel the apples, I used a potato peeler, which worked rather nicely.

Next, it was time to cut the apples.  Many of the people who commented on the original recipe suggested that shredding the apples worked better in the recipe.  Again, I don't like knives, so anything that keeps a knife out of my hand is a good option.  However, I've also never shredded fruit...so I was very uncertain how that would work.  Turns out, it works rather well!

I have to admit, that after I had mixed all of my ingredients, but before I added my apples to the batter, I was really concerned.  This batter was unlike any other that I have made.  Usually the batter is semi-runny...this time, it was just a clump of ingredients.  But when I added the apples, like magic, the batter actually looked like batter (ok, it isn't magic...it is the fact that apples have juice)!  I still thought this batter looked funny with strings of apple in it, so I took a picture to share with you!

Yummy, right?

I also had the opportunity to use some fun ingredients in this recipe.  First, I have a sister-in-law, Amanda, who is very crafty.  On one of my last trips home, Amanda told me that she had made her own vanilla extract!  I was thoroughly impressed, and she gave me some to take home with me!  This isn't a very good picture...but here it is!

You can't see them in this picture, but there are actually vanilla beans in that jar.  Apparently all you do is put vanilla beans in a jar and cover them with alcohol (vodka or bourbon will work) and then let everything sit for a while!  I LOVE my vanilla!

The second fun ingredient is also vanilla.  This vanilla is vanilla bean paste, and it was in the frosting.  I purchased mine at William Sonoma.  The difference between the vanilla bean paste and the vanilla extract is that in vanilla bean paste, vanilla beans are actually chopped up in the paste.  Vanilla bean paste is much thicker than vanilla extract, but it is still a liquid.  Apparently you can substitute it anytime your recipe calls for vanilla extract.  Here is a picture of the bottle that I purchased...and here is a picture of what the actual paste looks like (along with a better description of what it is and how/when to use it!).

The last fun part of the caramel apple cupcakes baking experiment was finding new baking cups and trying them out.  Obviously, for the past couple of weeks (a month, maybe?), I have been baking lots of cupcakes.  One thing that always drives me crazy about cupcakes are the little cupcake liners.  First off, I'm cheap and I don't really want to buy expensive liners.  However, the cheap liners are...well...cheap.  They are very thin, they pull away from the cake, and they leave the cupcakes looking like crap.  However, when I was at William Sonoma purchasing my vanilla bean paste, I found what I hoped would fix my issue with cupcake liners:  SILI-CUPS!


Sili-cups are silicone cupcake liners (baking cups) that are completely reusable.  Being a cheap person, this was one of those purchases that I justified by saying I would spend a little more now (about $25) to make the initial purchase, but I will use them so much that I will make up for it in the future!  Whether my justification pans out remains to be seen.  I purchased the sili-cups and tested them out with this recipe by lining one cupcake pan with normal paper liners, and a second cupcake pan with the sili-cups (notice how colorful the sili-cups are! I love them!).

In the end, I decided that I like the sili-cups better than regular cupcake liners (which is good...because I couldn't have returned them)!  Once the cupcakes are cool, you can just pop them out of the liners before decorating them (I had an irrational fear that the cupcakes would lose their cupcake form if I removed them from their liner...which is NOT true!).  They wash up really easily and are dishwasher safe.  They were a great purchase!

At the end of the day, I learned a couple of important baking lessons with this recipe.  First, don't frost cupcakes while they are still hot (or warm).  I had a little frosting melting problem.  This didn't effect the excellent taste of my cupcakes, but it did make them look a little bad.  Woops!

Second - don't soak cupcake pans.  They rust! 

I did finish my cupcakes in time to share them with Megan and her family (but the need to finish early contributed to the frosting fiasco!), and I can safely say that everyone who ate one of these cupcakes LOVED them.  So far, these have been my personal favorite!

Caramel Apple Cupcakes
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 apples, cored, peeled, and chopped (recommended: 2 Granny Smith and 2 Fuji) (I shredded the apples)
Caramel Syrup (garnish)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two regular size cupcake pans with cupcake liners.
  2. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, combine the sugar, eggs, butter, and vanilla extract until blended.  In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low until blended.  Stir in the apples.
  3. Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full with batter and bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched with your finger (15 to 20 minutes).  Let cool in the pan for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely (the cooling is important...)
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8-oz bar cream cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla bean paste until smooth and thoroughly blended. 
  2. Slowly add the powdered sugar and salt. 
  3. Mix until smooth.
  4. (try not to eat all of the frosting!)
  5. Pipe or spread the frosting onto your COOLED cupcakes and then garnish with Caramel Syrup!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My First Year as a Baby Lawyer

Today is my first anniversary at the Firm and yesterday three new associates started, so I am now no longer the newest attorney here!  My life has changed significantly in this past year, and I have to say that every single day I feel so lucky to have found a job that I absolutely love!  So, my highlights from my first year as a baby lawyer are:
  1. Participating in my first jury trial!  I never expected that a mere 4 months after I started here a partner would ask me to participate in a jury trial.  During jury selection, the partner  told the jury that I had only recently passed the bar, and the entire group of potential jurors gave me an ovation (which is rather odd in a courtroom).  I gave my very first opening statement to a jury of 12, and it was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time!  I also directed a witness.  All in all, the experience was WONDERFUL and only reaffirmed my desire to be a trial attorney.  The best part, however, was listening as the verdict was read and realizing that we had won!
  2. Having free time!  All throughout college and law school, if I ever complained about life being hectic, a common retort to my complaints was, "Just wait until you get into the real world!"  I am happy to report that I am now in "the real world" (although I fail to understand how law school is somehow not the real world) and I have more free time than I know what to do with!  It is AMAZING!  Obviously there are times when I have to put in late hours at the office or come in early.  I work the occasional weekend.  But on the whole, I have more me time than I remember having at any other point in my life!  I read FOR FUN!  I watch TV, go to movies, hang out with friends, BAKE, and do all other sorts of fun stuff.  Free time is definitely a highlight!
  3. Taking my first deposition!  Just a couple of weeks ago I took my very first deposition.  I was very nervous going in, but by the end of the afternoon I was relaxed and comfortable with what I was doing...and I left with a story to tell.  My first deposition was such a good experience I will be devoting an entire post to it once I get the transcript! 
  4. The people I work with.  Personally, I think that coworkers can make or break a job.  I LOVE my coworkers at the Firm!  We have attorneys' nights out where we eat greasy hamburgers and drink beer, we play poker, we host baby showers, we have happy hours about once a month, we play practical jokes, and we produce good work.  I love the fun atmosphere combined with an opportunity to learn from some very intelligent and highly respected attorneys!
Of course, no job is amazing all of the time, and there have definitely been some rough spots as well.  For me, the worst part of this year was when the associate I started with decided to take a job offer in a different state to be near his son.  Obviously, I was very happy for him to have the opportunity to spend more time with his child, and it was definitely the right choice for him, but I was sad to see such a good friend and confidant leave! 

Another difficult part of this job is being so far away from my family and other loved ones!  In my perfect world, everyone I love would move here...obviously, that isn't happening anytime soon (other people apparently don't have the same affection for Kansas as I do!)!

So, in the end, I am happy to report that having completed my very first year as a baby lawyer, I am still convinced that I made the right career choice for me and I still go to work every morning excited for my job (well, not every morning...I'm not really a morning person...)!  In honor of this milestone, I finally brought my diploma to work and hung it on my wall, thus making it much more difficult for me to make a fast and unnoticed escape!  So, here's hoping that year two goes just as well (seriously, I still have a lot of student loans...)!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes and Irish Cream Frosting

If you have actually been reading all of my blog posts, chances are good that by now you are thinking to yourself that this blog may be misnamed.  Maybe you think that I have lead you astray.  Well fear not, I finally bring you a cupcake filled with booze!

Over the summer my law firm brings in summer associates to work for ten weeks, and at the end of ten weeks we decide whether we want to hire them to work here full time after they graduate from law school.  Because I am the newest associate at the firm (until Monday!) and because I tend to enjoy the social events throughout the summer (I really like places where there is free food and alcohol), I spent a lot of time with the summer associates this summer.  I also spent a lot of time with their significant others.  During one of the many social events, my cupcake baking came up and of the significant others said, "Oh, you must love Cupcake Wars."  I had no idea what she was talking about.  It turns out that there is a show on the food network that is all about baking cupcakes...who knew?! 

Personally, I prefer to watch crime dramas and the occasional reality TV show featuring trashy women (hello The Bachelor, I'm lookin' at you!).  But, I figured I should at least check out the Cupcake Wars website to see what it had to offer.  It was AWESOME and I immediately printed off three recipes that I knew I wanted to make.  I let Ian make the ultimate decision about which cupcake to try first, and he chose the Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Cream Frosting.

These cupcakes were a little more complicated to make.  For instance, you make the batter in a saucepan, which meant no using my/Ian's Kitchen Aid.  However, they were still rather simple if you follow the directions. 

I did make one modification to the recipe.  The recipe recommends that you use Guiness as your Irish stout.  However, you are using it to make chocolate cupcakes, and I KNOW there are more chocolaty Irish stouts available.  So, I went to my local liquor store and requested to be pointed in the direction of the stout with the best chocolaty flavor.  The very helpful gentleman told me that the best and most chocolaty stout that they carry is Rogue Chocolate Stout, which is what I used.  Now, the recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of Irish stout...but the Rogue Chocolate Stout comes in 16 ounce bottles...so I had to drink the leftovers.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of stout on its own, but a good chocolate stout mixed with and equal amount of Lambic's (I prefer raspberry, but you could also use cherry, peach, or any of the other flavors) makes a delightful chocolaty/fruity drink!

Unfortunately, after the filled cupcake and the upside down cupcake, this cupcake had big shoes to fill, and it came up short.  Don't get me wrong, the cupcake itself tasted fine...but it was just fine.  It was a chocolate cupcake that took more effort to make than my other chocolate cupcakes but tasted just like a regular old chocolate cupcake. 

The frosting was the best part about this cupcake.  I always take all but two of my cupcakes to my office on the Monday morning after I bake because the people in my office will eat anything in about an hour at the most.  Sometimes after I leave the cupcakes in the cafeteria, I will stop by to see if anyone is actually eating them (they always are, but I have this illogical fear that no one is going to take them).  This time when I came back to check on the cupcake eating progress, I noticed that someone had taken the frosting off of one of the cupcakes, but left the cupcake in the container.  My guess is that they had already eaten one and just wanted more frosting...but I am really not sure what happened there!

In the end, these cupcakes were good, but the first two I made were better.  These ones were definitely better after I chilled them in the refrigerator overnight.

Oh, this was also the first time I ever attempted to decorate a cupcake with frosting out of a pastry bag.  I originally did this...

Ian promptly made fun of my inability to frost my cupcake and tried to teach me proper form...but all I ended up with was this:

Which I tend to think looks like a mound of dog poo.  So...obviously my frosting technique needs some work. 

Lesson learned about frosting made mostly from butter = it melts.  Especially if you frost your cupcakes, remove it from the cupcakes, frost them again, remove it again, etc.  Beware! 

The recipe is here,
but I will also write it below to make it easier! 

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups Irish stout (I recommend Rogue Chocolate Stout)
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cups sour cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a cupcake pan with 24 regular-size cupcake liners.
  2. Place the stout and butter in a medium-size saucepan and whisk together on medium heat until the butter is melted.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Sift the cocoa powder into a medium-size bowl and add the sugar.  Slowly whisk into the stout mixture. 
  4. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and lightly whisk until smooth.  Add this mixture to the saucepan and whisk thoroughly (it may appear lumpy). 
  5. Sift the flour and baking soda together in another small bowl and then add it to the saucepan, mixing a final time until the color is even.
  6. Fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full with the batter and bake until the cake spring back after touching, about 27 minutes.  Cool the cupcakes in their pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Irish Liquor Frosting
1 pound unsalted butter
4 tablespoons Irish cream liquor (Baileys)
4 cups confectioners' sugar (if you are like me and don't know...this is powdered sugar).
  1. Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer until pale.  Turn the mixer on low speed and add the Baileys in a steady stream.  Slowly add the confectioners' sugar and continue beating until a creamy consistency is achieved.
  2. Pipe the frosting onto cooled cupcakes using a large plain tip.  Dust with cocoa powder if preferred (I didn't do this).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

I'm fairly certain I have never had pineapple upside down cake in my life, so I'm not really sure why I couldn't stop thinking about making pineapple upside down cupcakes for about two weeks straight.  Seriously, it made no sense.  I wasn't even sure what they would taste like...but I KNEW I wanted to eat them!  

I found a recipe for pineapple upside down cake in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and thought that it would be perfect.  I also knew that I wanted to use a glaze recipe from the same cookbook for the frosting. 

The most complicated thing about this recipe was flipping the cupcakes over so that the butter/brown sugar/pineapple combination could seep into the cake.  I have wire racks for cooling baked goods, but I didn't want to cool the cupcakes upside down on a wire rack.  I didn't want the imprints from the rack on my beautiful cupcakes.

Instead, I turned the cupcakes upside down on a flat cookie sheet.  This was also problematic.  The cake from the top of the cupcakes got stuck to the cookie sheet.  The lesson I took away from this was that I should have lined my pans with waxed paper.  I didn't really mind the missing cake on the top of the cupcakes, though...it just provided the perfect little divot to fill with frosting! 

Oh, another lesson I learned from this recipe is that the butter/brown sugar/pineapple combination is HOT when you take the cupcakes out of the oven.  As I was pulling one of the cupcakes out of its pan, a little of the melted mixture got onto my finger...and I promptly dropped the cupcake on the floor.

I was really happy with the way these cupcakes tasted, but I have to admit that I wasn't prepared for how they ended up looking.  You see, once the melted mixture seeps into the cooked cake, there is an empty space at the bottom of the cupcake liner for the cake to sink down into.  I didn't really like the sinking cupcakes.  However, they were delicious...so it wasn't THAT big of a deal! 

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 8-ounce can pineapple chunks
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place to 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan and put the pan in the oven until the butter melts.  Remove from the oven and stir in brown sugar and water.
  2. Put liners in a cupcake pan (unless you make a double batch...then you should use two cupcake pans and make 24 cupcakes).
  3. Spoon equal amounts of the butter and brown sugar mixture into the bottom of each cupcake liners and then arrange pineapple chunks in the brown sugar/butter mixture (I used 4 chunks per liner).
  4. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, granulated sugar,and baking powder.  Add milk, 1/4 cup butter, the egg, and vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined.  Beat on medium speed 1 minute.  Spoon batter into the cupcake liners, filling each liner about 3/4 full.
  5. Bake 25-30 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center of a cupcake comes out clean. 
  6. Cool in pan for five minutes then remove cupcakes from your pan and flip them onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper to finish cooling.
Powdered Sugar Icing (I call this glaze)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk 
  1. In a small bowl combine powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk.  Stir in additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until icing reaches drizzling consistency (I'm fairly certain I only made one recipe of the icing for 24 cupcakes).
  2. After your cupcakes have cooled, flip them over so they are right-side up again and drizzle them with icing.  I topped each cupcake with a pineapple chunk!  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Epic Burrito

At the end of June, Ian and I took a much needed vacation...back to Iowa (I know, it is rather exotic).  We were in Iowa to visit two of our best friends, Pete and Olivia, who moved to Washington about a year and a half earlier, and this was to be the first time we had seen them since their move.  It was also the first time we met their adorable baby.

Over the course of the week we visited our favorite watering holes from our previous lives as young and irresponsible adults.  It was a fantastic week full of shopping, games, and martinis...and flower headbands...

I did zero baking on this trip.  In fact, no one did any baking on this trip (that I am aware of).  What we did do was participate in an epic mealtime.  I don't really understand epic mealtime.  I think its a guy thing.  What I do know is that prior to heading to Iowa, Ian informed me that at some point during this trip we were going to eat possibly the most fattening and bacon filled meal that has ever existed.

We were making an Epic Burrito.  I use the word "we" loosely, because I did zero cooking of the Epic Burrito.  

Ian and Pete came up with an Epic Burrito plan of action.  I can't really tell you what it was.  I can tell you that they made a burrito shell out of a bacon weave.  The burrito was filled with more bacon (seriously), chorizo, green pork, hamburger, beans, and rice.  Then we smothered it.  In homemade cheese dip.  The cheese dip also contained all of our leftover meat.  This was the type of meal you are almost certain is going to kill you as you eat it.  Amazingly, we all survived!  Here is a picture of the burrito pre-cheese dip smothering!  I know it looks really scary, but it was AMAZING (for one time only...seriously, you could NOT eat this on a regular basis)!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling and Chocolate Ganche

After my successful rendevous into the world of boxed cakes, I decided that I was prepared to try my hand at baking something that required the addition of more than just eggs, oil, and water.  I decided I would attempt to make cupcakes (from scratch).

Without even looking for recipes, I knew what I wanted to make.  You see, my favorite dessert flavor combination is chocolate and peanut butter.  So I wanted to make chocolate cupcakes and fill them with peanut butter (I believe I've mentioned that I have a tendency to jump in head first rather than take things slowly). 

I talked to Ian (my boyfriend with a degree in culinary arts) about the logistics of filling a cupcake with peanut butter, and we had a couple of ideas...such as just putting a little spoonful of peanut butter into the batter when I filled the cupcake liners before baking.  However, I needed to find a cupcake recipe anyway, so I decided that while I was researching I would figure out exactly how to fill a cupcake.

My research of the proper way to bake a cupcake began in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook...where I learned that YOU CAN TAKE ANY CAKE RECIPE AND TURN IT INTO CUPCAKES.  This may seem obvious to some of you, but to me this was a real revelation.  So, I picked out a chocolate cake recipe from the cookbook to try.  I also found a chocolate ganache recipe at the end of the chapter.  Now all I needed was my filling.

I was lucky enough to find a peanut butter filling recipe with a great description of how to actually get the filling into the cupcakes all in one place.  So, with all of my ingredients in hand, I set out to make what I was sure would be the best cupcakes EVER (or a major failure that I would never tell anyone about).

This is my Kitchen Aid...technically, this is Ian's Kitchen Aid.  He stores it at my apartment, which is conveniently seven hours away from his own kitchen.  I LOVE IT.  

Baking cupcakes is a fairly simple process if you are able to read and follow directions (at least it was for this recipe), especially when you have a Kitchen Aid mixer at your disposal.  Really, my first attempt at baking cupcakes turned out to be rather uneventful.  I put in the correct ingredients, the ingredients formed a delicious batter, and the batter baked into moist and chocolaty cupcakes.  

The ganache was a little different story.  You see, at the point where I was making the ganache, Ian had decided to use his expertise to help me.  I have a personality quirk where I want help when I want it...but then I want you to go away because I'm not helpless, you know?  I'm also slightly a perfectionist.  Oh, and I follow directions.  To a T.  Ian, on the other hand, is a little more of a free spirit in the kitchen...and he is very helpful.  And I'm not sure he reads directions.

So before making the ganache I called Ian into the kitchen to help me chop up the chocolate with his food processor.  And by help, I mean he did it because I don't know how to use a food processor.  Then he went away.  Then I was simmering the cream and I called him in to help me decide when the cream was slightly boiling.  He told me it was time to add the chocolate, so I did.  I, following the direction, removed the pan from the heat and set a timer to let the chocolate sit in the cream.  Ian grabbed a spoon to start stirring and I screamed, "DON'T STIR THAT!"  I may have control issues as well.  He looked at me like I was a crazy person...obviously stirring the chocolate into the cream was the end goal, and it wasn't going to hurt anything to stir it now...but that isn't what the directions said, so that is not what I was going to do.  He dropped the spoon and walked away, finished helping with my first cupcake baking experiment (luckily he knows I am a control freak who wigs out when you don't follow directions, so he wasn't mad about the scream).

After finishing the ganache, I assembled the cupcakes (filling and all), and shared the first finished product with Ian.  They were DELICIOUS.  

What I learned from making these cupcakes is to make a double batch.  One cake recipe only makes 12 cupcakes...one ganache recipe could easily frost 36 (or more)...and peanut butter filling recipe fills 24.  Obviously one cake recipe was simply not going to cut it.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk
1/3 cup cooking oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg

  1. Preheat oven to 350. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add milk, oil, and vanilla.  Beat with electric mixer on low speed just until combined.  Beat on medium speed for two minutes.  Add egg; beat two minutes more.  Pour batter into cupcake pan.
  3. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center of a cupcake comes out clean. 
  4. Cool cupcakes in pan for about five minutes, then remove and continue cooling on wire rack.

1 cup whipping cream
12 ounces milk chocolate, semisweet chocolate, or bittersweet chocolate, chopped.
  1. In a medium saucepan bring whipping cream just to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly making sure not to scorch.  Remove from heat. 
  2. Add chocolate (do not stir).  Let stand for five minutes.  Stir until smooth.  Cool 15 minutes.
  3. This should frost at least a double batch of cupcakes.

Peanut Butter Filling
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons of butter
2/3 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  1. In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter and butter until creamy. 
  2. Sift in the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl and beat until light and fluffy (about two minutes)
  3. Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter filling into a pastry bag fitting with a ¼ inch star tip.
  4. Holding the cupcake in your hand, plunge the tip into the top of the cake, pushing it about ¾ inch deep.  Gently squeeze the pastry bag to fill the cupcake, withdrawing it slowly as you squeeze.  You will feel the cupcake expand slightly as you fill it.  Scrape any filling from the top of the cupcake and repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.
  5. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the ganache, letting the excess drip back into the pan.  Transfer the cupcakes to the cooling rack and let them stand for five muntes.  Dip the tops of the cupcakes again and transfer them to the racks.
  6. Spoon the remaining three tablespoons of peanut butter filling into the pastry bag and pipe tiny rosettes on the tops of the cupcakes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Baby Shower, Staff Appreciation, and Cake Balls

A couple of months ago I helped host a baby shower for a friend and offered to make some of the desserts.  Considering my lack of baking skills and experience, I was sure that I was getting in over my head.  I offered to make cake balls (something my sister, Dani, has made many times, so I knew I would have someone to walk me through the process step by scary step).  Dani claimed that cake balls would be easy...I was skeptical.

First, Dani sent me an email explaining the process and also adding little words of wisdom.  For instance, when working with almond bark (which goes around the cake balls and forms this cute little outer shell), DO NOT add food coloring.  Also, only heat the almond bark in the microwave for 20 second increments to avoid overheating it.  Then, she sent me to Bakerella where I could find step-by-step instructions on how to make basic cake balls.  If you haven't visited the Bakerella site and you are at least a little interesting in baking (or eating), you should definitely check it out.

Given the fact that I am somewhat overzealous at times (which occasionally leads me to bite off more than I can chew) I perused the website for a while and ultimately decided that rather than make plain old boring cake in the shape of balls, I was going to make mini cupcake cake balls! 

Having decided EXACTLY what I wanted to do, I went to the store and purchased the necessary items:  boxes of cake, canned frosting, eggs, oil, sprinkles, and almond bark (chocolate and vanilla).  I then went home and immediately set to the process of making my cake balls...sort of.  You see, making cake balls is a multi-day process.  I'm not really going to explain the process here...you can visit the Bakerella site for that.  I will tell you that the most frustrating part of the whole process is the almond bark.

First lesson I learned in the kitchen - listen to Dani.  She knows what she is talking about.  DO NOT HEAT THE ALMOND BARK FOR MORE THAN 20 SECOND INCREMENTS.  Seriously.

I started with a 30 second increment.  I opened the microwave door, the almond bark still had its block shape so I figured not melted, right?  Another 30 seconds we go.  This time, I removed the almond bark and stirred it.  It wasn't smooth like melted chocolate should be, so 30 more seconds.  This time when it came out of the microwave it was even more of a lumpy mess.  So I tried again...the final time in the microwave turned the almond bark into some semi-liquid, semi-solid congealed burnt chocolaty mess that wouldn't come out of the bowl.  It was at that point that I thought, "You know, I may have burnt this!"

On the second try I went with 20 seconds.  I stirred after the first time in the microwave.  It was sufficiently melted.  Lesson learned!

Once I learned how to use the almond bark, the mini cupcake cake ball experience became a much less frustrating experience (minus a few minor mishaps with cake balls crushed in my surprisingly strong fingers mid almond bark dip).
In the end, I think they turned out fairly cute -

After they were finished, I loaded them up into this cute little hatbox and we were on our way to the baby shower. 

All night long, people raved about how good they were...to which I always responded, "It's boxed cake!"  This may not have been the most appropriate response, but I didn't really think I should take credit for being capable of mixing the powder with the appropriate amount of egg, oil, and water. 

Because these cake balls were such a hit at the baby shower, when a new baking opportunity arose I decided to go with what was now my "old faithful" (meaning, I didn't screw it up the first time or food poison anyone).  This time, it was the annual lawyer bake-off for staff appreciation day at work.  Lawyers in the office submit entries, and an esteemed panel of judges chooses a winner.  This being my first year at the firm, I really wanted to impress.  Judging was based on taste and creativity.  Because I knew I was going to be using boxed cake, I opted to up my game in creativity.  This time, I was making cake balls in the shape of flowers and would display them in these flower pots (which I bought specifically for this occasion and haven't used since) -

Having decided on a theme, I needed to figure out how I was actually going to make it happen and make it look good.  First, I purchased some cookie cutters in the shape of flowers.  After crumbling my baked cakes and mixing them with their frosting, I flattened the cake like you would sugar cookie dough (only much, much thicker), and cut out my shapes. 

Next came the difficult part...how to decorate them so they retained their flowery look.  First I tried white almond bark with a decorating gel...but I think it is clear that my decorating skills are sub par.

Next, I tried using the vanilla almond bark with this food coloring.  Remember that thing my sister told me about not using food coloring with the almond bark?  Well, baking lesson number two is the same as the first, listen to Dani.  My almond bark melted fine, I added the color, it started to turn a beautiful red...then things started going wrong.  The almond bark and food coloring mixed together and formed this ball that had a dough-like consistency (which is obviously not what you want when you intend to dip things into it).  Ultimately, the dough ball of chocolate went into the garbage and I was back to square one.

I decided to head to Hobby Lobby and purchase different colors of candy melts I saw used on Bakerella.  I got red, pink, and blue and the candy melts worked exactly like the almond bark I had been using!  I was in business!

So, after stabbing all of my flowers with their sticks, I set to the task of covering them in their candy coating.  This time proved more challenging.  Some of the flowers slid off of their sticks and straight into the bowl of melted chocolate.  Some of the flowers just snapped in half.  I had to stick the covered flowers on a piece of Styrofoam while the candy coating hardened, and this lead to some of the sticks going all the way through the flower tops.  Ultimately I had a big stack of broken, partially covered flowers sitting on my counter (which, by the way, was a bad place to put them as their candy coating solidified and became one with my counter top!). 

Then there was the issue of making sure the flowers still looked like flowers, which meant making sure the melted candy coating didn't get stuck in the flower crevaces.  My solution to the problem was to lightly tap the sticks on the side of the bowl while I twirled the stick in my hand, evening out the candy coating and removing the excess.  However, sometimes my "taps" were actually hits that sent my flowers flying across the counter.  

In the end, more flowers made it out of my kitchen the way I wanted than ended up stuck to the kitchen counter, and I call that a win! 

Again, I received multiple compliments on my boxed cake and creativity.  One of the judges told me that I came in second! 

In both of my cake ball experiments, I followed the directions from the Bakerella website.  Per Dani's suggestions, I used devil's food cake mixed with chocolate frosting and spice cake mixed with cream cheese frosting.  Both are AMAZING combinations!