Sunday, October 28, 2012

My First ... and Probably Last ... Wedding Cake

Last summer I attended the wedding of one of my former colleagues. I taught at a small high school for 7 years before switching to the high school I've been teaching at for the past 12 years. Tom was a social studies teacher in the room across the hall from me for 6 of those 7 years. He left the year before I did, but I still know members of his family in the area and was able to keep tabs on him. I was excited when I received in invitation to his wedding last summer and was hoping to reconnect with others I had worked with. That's exactly what happened. It's funny how we can all live within 20 miles of each other and never run into each other. It was really nice seeing everyone and we all promised that we'd get together soon for lunch.

A few weeks after the wedding I received a call with information on the promised lunch gathering. Five of us got together at a local Italian restaurant and had just the best time catching up. While there, I got to see pictures of new grandchildren and grown-up children. I too shared pictures of my boys ... these ladies remembered holding both of my boys when they were born. I also shared with the others that I had a new baking hobby and showed some of the pictures I had stored on my phone. Dianna was very complementary of my cakes and cupcakes. It was a fun afternoon.

Flash forward to January of this year. Out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from from Dianna's daughter. She was getting married and wondered if I'd make the cake. I told her that I didn't make wedding cakes, but she was very persistent. She called me on the phone and told me how she had looked at my pictures on Facebook and she really wanted me to do this. She must have given me the right number of complements, because I finally said yes. She was only asking for a small cake for the wedding party ... a cousin was making cupcakes for the guests.

... A cousin was making cupcakes. Are you thinking what I thought? Am I not the cupcake queen? What was I doing making the cake? Why did I agree to all of this?

... back to the story ...

She wanted a 2-tier red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. I was really concerned about the cream cheese frosting. She told me the reception was going to be in a barn in October. October in Illinois can be cold, hot, rainy, humid, dry ... it's so unpredictable. I tried to talk her out of it, but I just couldn't. I went on and asked for advice there. One of the posters, carmijok, shared her cream cheese recipe with me and it worked beautifully ... not runny and easy to work with. I site of the reception eventually got changed to an indoor venue. I had less to worry about when I learned that information.

So, flash forward to this weekend. The wedding was yesterday. We had Parent/Teacher conferences this week, so I was done at school at 12:30 on Friday. I had the whole afternoon to bake and decorate ... so I thought. I ended up going to our high school football game because it was the 1st round of the playoffs and the band was playing at half-time (son #1 is in the band). That took a couple of hours out of my day ... but I was able to get the whole thing done by 1:30 a.m.

Here's what I did ...

I started off by baking two 6-inch round and two 8-inch round red velvet cakes. I wanted to make each tier three layers. So then I leveled, cut, and assembled each tier.

Crumb coating is a must ... especially with red velvet. Red velvet crumbs get everywhere ... and ... I have never made a red velvet cake where I haven't stained everything in my kitchen red. Why does everyone love red velvet so much?
Top Tier
Bottom Tier
After the crumb coat was all smooth, I started adding more frosting. I had some real issues getting it smooth ... and the darn red velvet kept bleeding through. So I added more frosting. That really seemed to do the trick.

Next came the part that makes me the most nervous ... stacking. I used 5 straws for support, each cut at the same height and inserted into the bottom tier. I had my ruler out and tried to mark the cake so that the top tier would be centered. I think I did okay. The whole cake was 7 inches tall.

It was now time to decorate. Trisha asked for scroll work on the cake as well as a "B" for her new last name. She wanted a blue border (Pepsi can blue) as well. I used a stencil for the "B" and a round fondant cutter for the circle, but all the scroll work was free-hand. That part made me very nervous. I was also concerned about getting the cardboard cake circle under the top tier covered up. It all worked out though. I even hid a heart in the back as a little surprise for the bride and groom.

I had not seen the cake topper, but knew it's dimensions, so I left room for it on the top.

This cake was far from perfect ... and it was a little stressful making it. I don't think I ever want to do one again. I'm glad I had the experience, but now I'm done. :)

For those of you who are interested in making this delicious ... and nice crusting cream cheese frosting, here you go ...

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 sticks of real butter (salted)
1 8-oz pkg of cream cheese
2-lb bag of powdered sugar
Cream the softened butter and cream cheese together, then slowly add the powdered sugar. Mix well.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Peanut Butter / Chocolate Swirl Cupcakes

When it rains it pours. I'll go for so long without any reason to bake, and then BAM ... lots of reasons to make cupcakes. This past Sunday, my husband was having a cookout with some of his co-workers ... he should take cupcakes. Monday was my friend Beth's birthday ... she needs a birthday cupcake. Monday night was the junior high band chili supper ... I need to supply cupcakes. By my calculations, I was going to need 4 dozen (I always have to make extra for the boys to take to their girlfriends ... it's so cute).

What haven't I tried?

I went back through recipes I had pinned on Pinterest that I hadn't tried yet, and I found a winner! Chocolate and peanut butter swirled cupcakes!!!!!!

I used the cake recipe exactly how ... kevin {&} amanda ... posted it on their blog. Really the only thing I changed was the frosting. I love the peanut butter buttercream I usually make, so I stuck with that.

Personally, I thought the cupcakes were a little dry, but everyone who had one liked it. Maybe I'm just too picky. I like this recipe, though, because it starts with a box ... 2 boxes to be exact.

Chocolate Cake
1 box devil's food cake mix
1 small package Jello instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together everything except chocolate chips until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Peanut Butter Cake
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 box butter cake mix
2/3 cup water

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter and butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add approximately 1/3 of the water, and mix on low speed until just combined. Repeat 2 more times with remaining cake mix and water.

Preheat oven to 350. Line 4 standard-sized muffin tins with cupcake liners. Add approximately 2 tbsp of peanut butter cake batter and 2 tbsp of chocolate cake batter to each liner. I found that if I alternated flavors, it swirled batter. Use a knife to gently fold and swirl the cake batter.

Bake for 18-22 minutes.

Peanut Butter Buttercream
2 cup butter, softened
2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 lbs powdered sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp heavy cream

Cream butter and peanut butter. Add powdered sugar and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl, mix on high speed for a minute, then add extract. Mix again before adding the heavy cream. Mix on high speed for 3 minutes.

Sweet Milk Chocolate Ganache
1 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl. In a medium saucepan, whisk the heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar and bring to a simmer. Pour over the chocolate chips, let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk until completely smooth. Chill for 1 hour or until the ganache reaches a thick frosting consistency.

How to Pipe Swirled Frosting
I tried to follow a tutorial for swirling the peanut butter buttercream and ganache on each cupcake. You can find it at Good Life Eats. Here's how mine turned out ...

I thought it looked really cool, but it also made a huge mess. I think maybe I didn't let the ganache chill long enough and it was still too runny. I also quickly discovered that I wouldn't have enough for 4 dozen cupcakes. I only decorated a dozen this way, and I also added chopped peanut butter cups on top. 

I packaged them up in my cupcake carrier and away we went to the cookout.

When I got home, I decided to just drizzle the rest of the cupcakes with the ganache before adding the chopped candy to the top.

So 2 dozen of the drizzled cupcakes went to the band chili supper ... they were a hit ... Beth got one for her birthday ... she liked it ... the boys each gave one to their girlfriends ... they each got a hug ... and the rest were eaten by my family.

These cupcakes are a little high maintenance, but have a "Wow!" factor to them. I'm glad I tried them.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Coconut Cream Cupcakes

My husband loves coconut cream pie. In January, he asked me if I could make coconut cream cupcakes. "Sure," I said ... and I got to work looking for a recipe. I found an interesting one on Pinterest which linked me back to Jamie Cooks It Up! They tasted really good, but the cupcake itself shriveled up when I took it out of the oven. I was a little embarrassed with how small the cupcake ended up being.

Fast forward to last week ...

If you've read my blog before, then you know that my friend Leesa is always asking me to make cupcakes for her. Well ... she asked again last week. She was going to go visit her parents and wanted to take cupcakes. She asked for the coconut cream cupcakes.

The funny part of this story is that Leesa and I were standing in the teachers' lounge talking about cupcakes when another one of our coworkers walked in. She didn't know what kind of cupcakes we were talking about when she said, "You need to make more of those coconut cupcakes. They're my favorite." Kris was delighted when she found out that I was making them for Leesa.

Back to the real story ...

I really didn't want these cupcakes to shrivel up again so I spent several days trying to figure out what I did wrong. Did I not bake them long enough? Was there too much liquid in the recipe? Was it because the recipe called for both oil and sour cream? I really wasn't sure what I should try tweaking.

And then I had an epiphany ...

I have tweaked other people's recipes a bit ... usually just the frosting ... but I have never gone out on a limb to try putting together my own recipe. This week, however, I was ready to test that limb.

I was so thrilled when I took the cupcakes out of the oven and they didn't shrivel. Then I tasted one ... it was light and fluffy and delicious. I am so proud of myself.

Here's what I did ...

Coconut Cream Cupcake
1 box of White cake mix
1 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3.4 oz box instant coconut cream pudding
1 generous dash of salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup water
3 whole eggs
1 tsp coconut extract

Combine everything and mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Put cupcake liners into muffin tins and fill 2/3 full. Bake at 350 for 19 minutes. I was able to get 36 cupcakes.

Coconut Filling
1 3.4 oz box instant coconut cream pudding
2 cups half & half

Mix the pudding and the half & half with a whisk and put in the refrigerator to thicken.

Coconut Buttercream
1 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp coconut extract
2 lb bag of powdered sugar
2-4 tbsp milk

Beat the butter and shortening together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the milk and coconut extract. Beat in powdered sugar in three installments. Beat until well combined. If it seems a bit too thick, add more milk.

Toasted Coconut Topping
3 cups shredded coconut

Spread the shredded coconut out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.

Load a piping bag with the coconut filling and squirt some into the center of each cupcake. Pipe a bit of Coconut Buttercream on top of a few cupcakes at a time and then carefully roll it in the toasted coconut. I like my buttercream piled high on my cupcakes, so I tend to put a lot on top. You may need to cup your hand over the top of the cupcake to make sure the toasted coconut sticks to the buttercream.

Old Recipe
New Recipe

You can see from the pictures that the cupcake from the new recipe domed nicer and didn't shrivel or cave in the middle.

So Leesa took 15 Coconut Cream Cupcakes to her family, I took 1 to Kris (because they're her favorite), I gave one to another colleague because tomorrow is his 25th birthday, I gave 6 to my friend Ginger (she always wants 6 cupcakes when I bake ... I used to have a cupcake box with her name on it that I was instructed to fill every time I baked), and my sons took one to their respective girlfriends. 

For those of you doing the math, that only left 11 cupcakes for my family to eat. That's a good thing, because if there are cupcakes here then I'm going to eat them. If I eat them, I have to go out and run more often ... and although I do enjoy running, I'd rather not be bogged down with cupcakes ... even if they are as delicious as these Coconut Cream Cupcakes.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Peach Cobbler Cupcakes ... Take 2

To recap ... My friend, Leesa, asked me to make a Peach Cobbler cupcake. My two thoughts were to 1) bake the peaches inside the cupcake and 2) make a peach filling for the cupcakes. So I decided to try both thoughts. I already blogged about the the first kind. You can read about it here. So here's how I made the second Peach Cobbler Cupcake of the day ...

I decided to make a brown sugar cupcake, fill it with a peach filling, and then top it with vanilla buttercream sprinkled with streusel.

Peach Cobbler Cupcakes

Brown Sugar Cupcakes:
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake wells with cupcake liners. I am able to get about 18 cupcakes with this recipe.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl combine sugars and butter on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the milk in 1 addition, beating on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners, filling 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a golden crust forms on the edges of the cupcakes.

Peach Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 diced peaches or a can of drained diced peaches
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir in peaches and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Let cool completely.

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix all ingredients until crumbly. Bake in oven safe dish at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

When the cupcakes and peach filling are completely cooled, cut the core out of each cupcake and place next to it. Spoon the peach filling into each cupcake, cut the tops off the removed cores, and place the tops back on the cupcakes.
When the cupcakes are filled, place a swirl of you favorite go-to vanilla buttercream on top and sprinkle with the prepared streusel.

These were my husband's favorite. He loved the filling and the brown sugar cupcake. When Leesa taste tested them, she liked both this Peach Cobbler Cupcake and the first Peach Cobbler Cupcake. She felt that this second one was sweeter. They both tasted so different but were both very good. I sent several of both kinds home with Leesa so that her family could taste them. I was really hoping that one would come out as the winner and would be my go-to Peach Cobbler Cupcake. No such luck. Her family liked them both. I guess they both have their qualities.

So if you're looking for a sweeter tasting Peach Cobbler Cupcake, try this one. If you want one that would be delicious with a cup of coffee, try the other one.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Peach Cobbler Cupcakes ... Take 1

Back in June, my friend Leesa sent me a text. She and her daughter were watching Cupcake Wars and really wanted a cupcake. She wanted to know if I had any. I almost always have leftover cupcakes in the freezer, but on this particular evening, my freezer was cupcake free. We were leaving for vacation in a few days so I pretty much had no food in my house. Leesa and her daughter Athena understood, but then Leesa made a request. She and Athena thought that a peach cobbler cupcake sounded good and that I should try making some. Leesa was the friend who suggested that I make a Pecan Pie Cupcake, and that turned out wonderful ... so Peach Cobbler was my next adventure.

So July came and went, and finally in August I had a free Friday to fool around with cupcakes. I had two thoughts on how to make a Peach Cobbler cupcake. The first thought was to bake the peaches into the cupcake ... the second thought was to make a peach filling and fill the cupcakes after they had cooled. It was Friday and I had nothing better to do (well ... I actually did ... but I like to avoid responsibility by baking instead), so I tried both.

Up first ... baking the peaches inside. The peach filling will be a later post.

I searched all kinds of recipes on-line, and I finally found one that I could tweak a bit at Willow Bird Baking. Here's what I did ...

Peach Cobbler Cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 stick butter
3/8 cup light brown sugar
3/8 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Splash of peach syrup from canned peaches (if using canned peaches)
1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Fresh or canned peaches, chopped

Streusel Ingredients:
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line wells in cupcake pan with cupcake liners. In a small bowl make streusel. Add all the ingredients and cut the mixture into crumbles with two knives until it's about the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and mix. Mix in the buttermilk, vanilla, and a little peach syrup.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add a little to the flour mixture at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat the batter for an additional 2 minutes.

Pour just enough batter into each of 12 cupcake wells to cover the bottom.
Spoon a thin layer of streusel over this batter, and drop several pieces of chopped peach on top (depending on the size of the pieces and your personal taste).
Spoon another layer of batter over each well until each is about 3/4 full. Spoon a sprinkle of streusel over the top of the batter in each well.

If there is extra batter left over, fill some more wells. I was able to fill 16 total.

Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan for a couple of minutes, and then on a cooling rack.

Once cupcakes are completely cool, frost them.

I decided to top my Peach Cobbler Cupcakes with vanilla buttercream because I was hoping it would taste like a scoop of ice cream on top. To give it a little more pop, I took the extra streusel and popped it in the oven for about 5 minutes and then sprinkled it on top.

I thought these cupcakes tasted kind of like a peach coffee cake. When I make these again, however, I think I will add more peaches to each cupcake. I added about 3 peach chunks to each one ... it needed more.

On a side note ... If you are going to use canned peaches (like I did), make sure that they are drained and dried. Before I started, I placed the peach chunks on a paper towel and blotted them dry. I then let them sit there and dry for quite a while.

When I was all done, I texted Leesa to see if she wanted to come taste them. She did. She agreed with me that they were very good but really did need more peaches in them.

Coming soon ... Peach Cobbler Cupcakes ... Take 2.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I'm Calling It Cupcake Research

So ... a couple of weeks ago we took a trip to Washington D.C. Craig and I were going for a teacher convention and decided to take the boys out for a family vacation as well. Since my sister lives just outside of D.C., everything fell into place. We flew out a week early, stayed with my sister, and did some sight seeing with the boys. Craig and I then took the Metro into our hotel while the boys spent another week out in the burbs.

During our two weeks there, I decided to check out some of the cupcakes establishments in the area. Regretfully, I was unable to hit all of them, but I did make it to three.

It was really, really hot the entire time we were in D.C., but on one particular day we decided to brave the heat and headed out to Georgetown. We took the blue line and then had to walk about a mile to make it to Georgetown Cupcakes. Along the way, we passed Sprinkles, but I was on a mission to try a Georgetown cupcake, so we didn't stop. This is the place, after all, where they film the show DC Cupcakes. I've read all kinds of reviews where people had to wait in a line outside for 30 to 45 minutes before even getting into the store. Can you imagine ... a cupcake store with a hostess? We must have gotten there at the right time, though, because we only had to wait outside for a couple of minutes. While we waited, the hostess gave us each a menu to look over so that we didn't waste any time when we got inside. When we walked through the door, we were greeted by a beautiful display case full of that day's cupcakes.

It was decided that we would each try a different flavor. So we each ordered, paid ($2.75 per cupcake), and then moved over to the next counter and waited for our order to be filled.

The cupcakes were packaged in a cute pink box inside a nice little shopping bag.

So here's what we got ...
I got a chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream, Craig got a coconut cupcake, Collin got a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing, and Jared got a chocolate cupcake with vanilla icing.
My sister, Lisa, got a chocolate cupcake like mine, my niece, Hannah got the one in the upper right (I don't remember what it was), and Lisa took a key lime cupcake home to my brother-in-law, Eric.

I think we all agreed that they were good, but dry. I personally thought that the chocolate icing was fantastic ... I just couldn't get over the dryness of the cupcake. The general consensus was that my cupcakes taste better. :)

I few days later, after Craig and I had ditched the kids, we visited Red Velvet Cupcakery near the Crime and Punishment Museum.
It was a quaint little place with two very pleasant workers. This time I ordered a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter buttercream. Unfortunately, Craig can't remember what he had. I paid $3.25 for each of those cupcakes and he can't remember what he had. Again, we felt that the cupcakes were pretty dry. We were kind of disappointed.

A few days later, on a very HOT morning, we took off after our morning meetings. We visited the White House ...
... and then went to find Crumbs before going to the Smithsonian Museums. We were quite delighted to find out that Crumbs sold jumbo cupcakes. These huge cupcakes were $3.75 each, which seemed like a steal after visiting the other two establishments. Craig had a peach cobbler cupcake and I had a chocolate filled chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing.
We had to eat them with a spoon. Craig is such a light weight ... he couldn't even finish his. I, however, ate every crumb. I was, after all, conducting research. Again, we felt that the cake was dry. What saved this cupcake was the filling. None of the others were filled. Also, this cupcake was a lot for the price.

We tried to go to Hello Cupcake, but it was Sunday and they closed a 6:00 ... we got there at 6:15. We also never made it back to Sprinkles. I guess I'll just have to go back to finish my research.

All in all, we felt that my cupcakes taste better. Everyone we tried was dry. Is it because they are mass produced? Is it because they've been sitting in the cases for a while? I'm not sure I know the answers.

I was a little concerned that I was going to gain too much weight from all this research. The 110 degree days and all the walking we did help a lot though. I was pleased that I was still able to fit into the dress I brought for our evening out. :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

French Toast Cupcakes

So I've discovered that there's a world where cupcakes are acceptable for any meal. I used to think they were only good for desserts, snacks, and celebrations ... but now I've discovered breakfast cupcakes. Now, I know what you're thinking. You're probably asking yourself, "Aren't these called muffins?" The answer to that is, "No!" They are really cupcakes that just taste like breakfast items. Earlier, I wrote about Blueberry Pancake Cupcakes. Today, however, I'm going to tell you about French Toast Cupcakes.

These were so easy to make because they start with a box. I got the idea from Kate at Grin and Bake It.

1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 package (3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners. Mix cake mix, pudding packet, milk, oil, eggs, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer until smooth (approximately 2 minutes). Spoon batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it 2/3 full. Bake approximately 15-20 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

I used the same Maple Buttercream recipe that I used for my Blueberry Pancake Cupcakes. You can find it here.

To assemble, I loaded up my piping bag with the maple buttercream and a large star tip and made a pretty little pile on top. I then sprinkled with some powdered sugar. In hindsight, a strip of bacon might have made a nice garnish for this cupcake.

Just like with the Blueberry Pancake Cupcakes, I fed these to the junior high jazz band. They loved them.

I don't really understand why my mother wouldn't let me have things like pie and cake for breakfast when I was a kid. How is this any different from donuts and Pop Tarts? Yea ... I know... I won't let my kids have cake and pie for breakfast either. I save it for other people's kids.