Monday, August 27, 2007

Birthdays are for Baking

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

My little brother just discovered rock 'n' roll turned sixteen. He's been drooling over VCTOTW's Cookies 'n' Cream and S'mores cupcake recipes since I bought the book, so I decided to treat him for his birthday. I went with the S'mores, which surprised me because given a choice, I always pick the more chocolaty option.

I stuck to the book's recipe, but used half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. Then I frosted them with a spoon because I still hadn't replaced my burst pastry bag, stuck an eighth of a graham cracker on each one and used a vegetable peeler to put some semi-sweet chocolate shavings on top for that little bit of extra birthday fancy.

Everyone is so used to standard chocolate or vanilla cupcakes with the difference being in the filling or topping that my family and brother's friends were pleasantly surprised by the graham taste of the cupcakes themselves. And they all agreed my decorating skills had improved since my first try, despite the fact that I was back to working with a spoon. The best part was now that I was finally getting the hang of the baking thing (and I was only doing one batch, not six), everyone still thought it took me ages to make the cupcakes, but it didn't take much time at all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cupcakes: Bringing More Joy to Joyous Occasions Since (at least) 1796

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

(No, I didn't make that date up. I found it here.)

Two of my best friends recently married each other, and the masses rejoiced. The rejoicement was aided and abetted by the sixty cupcakes I baked for the wedding shower. Most of the shower guests were not vegetarians, so I baked thirty vegan cupcakes and thirty dairy.

For the vegan cupcakes, I used the Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes with Old-Fashioned Velvet Icing from VCTOTW and I made the Lemon Cheesecake recipe from The Cupcake Book because the engaged couple and their family members all love cheesecake.

The Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes were done with half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. Again, I baked a test batch to see if I could make them, but instead of just testing them on my family this time, I also gave two to people planning the shower with me. Everyone loved them. They were tasty and pretty, despite my spoon-applied frosting (I wasn't ready for the pastry bag just yet).

The bride doesn't like lemon cakes, so I omitted the lemon juice from the Lemon Cheesecakes. When we tasted them, they were delicious (my brother said it was the best cheesecake he'd ever had), but I thought they were very greasy and one of my friends said they were a bit too dense. Also, they puffed up very high during baking, then fell while cooling, making a bit of a crater in the top of each one.

I clearly had some work to do if I wanted to wow and amaze with my baked goods.

We needed 60 cupcakes, but I ended up making 72 since I wanted equal amounts of vegan and dairy. This was great because I wasn't able to fit all 72 in the pastry boxes I got, so the messed up ones stayed home.

I made the three dozen Crimson Velveteen cupcakes the same way I'd made them the first time...except I ran out of red food coloring. One dozen ended up brown velvet, but almost all of those went to my family because of the box issue. The decorating with the pastry bag went far better than I'd expected. I was able to make simple swirls, lines and dots reasonably neatly. I didn't do any tall icing swirls because most of the people I knew would be there are not huge icing fans; they prefer the cake.

Yes, everything was fine until the damn pastry bag SPLIT right up the seam and started squirting out icing in various shapes and patterns. It actually looked kind of cool. There were thin, angel hair pasta-like bits of frosting coming out of the smaller holes and a wide ribbon of it squirting out of the seam. I tried to harness the power of the split bag and decorate a couple of cupcakes with the ribbons, but it didn't really work. I ended up frosting the remaining cupcakes with a spoon. Bah. I also sprinkled all the cupcakes with a bit of a blue sugar to match the color theme of the party.

For the cheesecakes, I replaced the full fat cream cheese with fat free and butter with margarine in the hopes of making them less greasy. It worked. I also beat the batter longer to make it less dense and maybe even keep the finished cakes from cratering. They definitely came out less dense and were nice and fluffy, but they still rose and fell, leaving craters behind. So I cut some strawberries into heart shapes to cover them up.

I then put all the cupcakes in laser-cut filigree cupcake wrappers to give them an extra fancy touch and arranged them on a tiered cupcake tower one of the other party organizers decorated.

They all went over very well. Most people had more than one and the bride's aunt was shocked when she learned I'd made them. She thought they came from "a fancy bakery in Brooklyn". I think everyone was quite pleased, brown velvet, craters and all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

How it All Began

I'm starting this blog with entries about what led up to me wanting to keep it. This post is backdated to approximately the date it happened.

There are two things I love more than may be considered normal: music and Harry Potter.

Because of the former, I check BrooklynVegan about a million times daily. Because of the latter, I'm a huge nerd.

Anyway! One day last June, I noticed the "Vegan Cupcakes!" link on BV, which took me to Isa Chandra Moskowitz's blog for Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I've been a vegetarian for about thirteen years, have considered going vegan many times and really like pretty baked goods, so I fell in love immediately and ran right out and bought the book. I should probably point out that I'd never really cooked or baked at this point. I was just compelled. I got my book home, flipped through it and was DYING to try out a few recipes. But for what? I needed some kind of event if I was going to bake enough cake to feed twelve people, right?

The event and inspiration came the next month.

Having absolutely nothing more interesting to do at work, I was poking around online when I found skull shaped cupcake pans on First I laughed at the idea of gothcakes, then I had a brainfart: my friends were having a party to celebrate the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! How awesome would Edible Dark Marks be? Very awesome, indeed.

I decided to go with the Golden Vanilla and Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipes from VCTOTW with the Rich Chocolate Ganache on top. For the cupcakes, I used half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat, canola oil instead of margarine and vanilla extract instead of almond or caramel. Since this was my first time baking, I thought it'd be a good idea to do a test run of each recipe. I did and all the cupcakes came out lovely and skull-looking. Fabulous.

So I got some green sugar and sour gummy worms (OK, I actually got all the colors, used the greens and ate the rest) for garnish and stayed up baking almost all night before the book release (which was just a splendid idea considering I planned on staying up all the following night reading the book at getting in good and late the night after since I had tickets for Gogol Bordello, who were just awesome, by the way).

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or maybe I just couldn't make good twice in a row, because almost all the cupcakes I made that night stuck to the pan and failed. I had skulls without chins and foreheads and some were just cracked right in half. Naturally, most of the ones that broke were the chocolate, which were far more aesthetically pleasing, since the ganache blended in with the cake and all you saw was bright green on the dark background. I salvaged what I could, decorated them according to plan and...they looked like a first attempt at baking. Not terrible, but certainly not on par with anything you'd see in the blog linked above. However, they were still crowd pleasers, so I guess that's all right. It was a start, anyway.