Thursday, May 31, 2007

Raspberry Cupcakes

Here's a cupcake success story.

After a couple of batches of the strawberry cupcakes (and no extract or syrup available to boost the strawberry flavor), I decided to try the formula (from Julie Hasson's cupcake cookbook) with raspberry instead of strawberry. I replaced the original recipe's 1/3 cup of strawberry puree with raspberry puree, which I'd strained through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. I added a teaspoon of raspberry extract. And for fun, I tossed 1/2 cup of miniature chocolate chips with 2 teaspoons of the dry ingredients and added them to the batter after all the dry stuff and liquid were incorporated.

Leaving the oven, the cupcakes had a pleasant berry aroma. Because raspberry and chocolate are such great buddies, I topped the cupcakes with a fudgy chocolate frosting. If I had to name them, I think I might choose something alluring like Raspberry Truffle Cupcakes.

It's entirely possible that I might not share these cupcakes with anyone.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Strawberry Cupcakes, Part 2

I finally got around to experimenting with the Pretty in Pink Cupcake recipe from Julie Hasson's 125 Best Cupcake Recipes. My first attempt at boosting the strawberry flavor was using jarred strawberries in light syrup instead of "fresh" strawberries. The result? The cupcakes were much pinker (thanks, red food dye!), but oddly enough, they had less strawberry flavor than the cupcakes made with the red yet styrofoamesque fresh berries. Shrug. I think they're going to need extract or some other flavor booster, as Julie suggested earlier. I am going to try one more thing: rehydrating some dried strawberries, then pureeing them with fresh berries.

In the meantime, I'll have to order strawberry extract because it's impossible to find in stores in my area. In my hunt for strawberry extract, I found lime, various mints, and even ginger extracts. But no strawberry. Ginger extract is the sort of thing that gives me ideas, though.

Also in the meantime, I'm going to use the Pretty in Pink Cupcake formula for a batch of raspberry cupcakes. I was able to purchase raspberry extract, and California raspberries have been on sale here for the past week. I think they would be terrific topped with a fudge icing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lost Lunch Thursday Finale

We ended another season of Lost and another season of Thursday dissections and chats about this still-entertaining TV show. Maybe I'm a TV snob, but if I'm going to watch something on TV, it has to be compelling and demand my attention. Lost continues to do that. And for the past few years, it has given me a chance to make fun desserts to conclude our Lost chats at work.

For last year's finale, I made a toasted coconut-almond cake from Tish Boyle's Diner Desserts. This year, I wanted to do something similarly lush and extravagant, so I made Iced Coffee Chocolate Layer Cake from Lisa Yockelson's Baking by Flavor.

BBF might be near about my favorite baking cookbook. I love the structure of the book (chapters based on primary flavors rather than final product), I love the breadth of the recipes, I admire the specificity of the instructions. Of all the baking books I own, I think I've made more stuff from this book than any other (possibly upward of a third of the book). I can think of only two things that didn't turn out well (a lemon Bundt cake and some oatmeal cookies).

I'd made Iced Coffee Chocolate Layer Cake twice before, but never actually tasted it. Once was for Karen to bring in for a coworker's birthday, and once I brought it in for a work birthday during a pre-marathon taper period (so no sweets). I'd clearly missed out on something good. The cake is pretty straightforward chocolate, with cold brewed coffee as the liquid component. Between the layers, there's a filling of coffee pastry cream. The icing is a soft, chocolate frosting. All in all, this one is a keeper. The cake is lovely and moist; I wish I'd dropped the pans full of batter on the table to dislodge air bubbles before I baked them. Otherwise, no complaints.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Catching Up and Some Old Favorites

I can't believe it has been ten days since my last post. (That sounds very much like the start of a trip to the confessional.) I ran into a bit of technical difficulty with my digital camera, which froze up with cupcake photos on it and a consequent inability to take new photos. I'm happy to report, however, that the camera is functional again.

In the meantime, I made an apple pie last week for Lost Lunch Thursday. Apples: very out of season, but the pie was delicious.

Today, I made a couple of things that I've made before for two different work-based events. From time to time, we have potluck lunches at work, for those who are interested in participating, and today, we had one. The theme was appetizers, and perhaps not too surprisingly, we managed to make a pretty good meal of hors d'oeuvres. I made hot spinach and artichoke dip, which has a lot more to do with various cheeses than it does with vegetables. Among the other tasty offerings: chicken satay, shrimp dip and vegetable crudite, crab-stuffed deviled eggs, ceviche, gently seared tuna, crab rangoons, and more. It was all very tasty. We lucked out with two desserts, too. My colleague Krysta brought some very nice, simple brownies, and I brought a batch of my new favorite blondies.

Over the weekend, my colleague Chuck celebrated his birthday. Usually for work birthdays, we gather in the breakroom for some sort of cake or dessert. Today was slightly overrun with meetings, though, so I had to slice and deliver pieces of Milky Way Cake. It was fun making people guess what was in the cake. But what was even more fun was actually tasting the cake. Despite having made this cake several times, I'd never tasted it before today, and it's absolutely amazing. Incredibly moist, and not at all as sweet as I was afraid it was going to be.

I'm not sure what went slightly awry here, but the cake was reluctant to leave the Bundt pan after baking. So I decided to slather the cake with icing. Taking a shot in the dark, I opted for a Caramel Frosting from Allysa Torey's More from Magnolia, thinking that would be a good complement for the caramel-and-nougat Milky Way Cake. In fact, I'd have to say it was perfect.

I also have to confess to one other small thing. While suffering from both being overtired and overconfident when baking this cake yesterday, I muddled up the baking instructions. I was supposed to melt one stick of butter with four chopped-up candy bars, then save a second stick to cream with granulated sugar. I melted all the butter with the candy bars. To make up for that error, I beat the eggs with the sugar until it was thick and creamy-yellow, dropping from the beater in a nice, thick ribbon. Then I continued on with the recipe, incorporating the butter-candy mixture at the end. I don't know what sort of difference that made from the regular directions, but it certainly didn't make the cake inedible.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Cupcakes

I am in a cupcake groove. After the very good Apple Crisp Cupcakes from Julie Hasson's book 125 Best Cupcake Recipes, I took a dive in and came back with a batch of Pistachio Cupcakes and a batch of Pretty in Pink Cupcakes (flavored with pureed strawberries). Both batches of cupcakes baked up perfectly.

The Pistachio Cupcakes were my immediate favorite of the two. The pistachio flavor is subtle but nice, and probably would be enhanced with a garnish of some chopped pistachios on top of the plain buttercream frosting.

The strawberry cupcakes were a bit more problematic. Because strawberries aren't in season here (Connecticut) yet, what we're getting is stuff imported from California and Florida. To make these berries stable for long-term travel, they've pretty much been hybridized for size and color to the detriment of Actual Strawberry Flavor. At first taste, the Pretty in Pink Cupcakes were OK, but frustrating. I wanted strawberry flavor. That got me to thinking about ways I could tweak the recipe to boost the strawberry flavor. I've got about four ideas going, and I'm going to be testing them out over the next few days. Stay tuned. (At this point, the necessity of mowing the backyard is taking precedence over virtually any other activity I can think of, so I don't think I'll be recipe-testing tonight.)

I am sure that I'll be making more recipes from this cupcake book. I'm not sure why I've let it languish on the bookshelf for so long.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I'm Ready for My Closeup, Mr. De Mille

My colleagues across the hall are publishing a special foldout in an upcoming special outdoor-living issue of Fine Gardening, and they're going to be featuring some recipes from a new cookbook, Barbecue Nation. Because they were in need of a dessert to be shown in one photo, I was invited to prepare something that could be photographed. So coming up soon, nationwide, will be a photo of Molten Chocolate Cakes.

I took a bit of a chance with the recipe. I made the batter and portioned it into ramekins, and I baked it off this morning at work. Then the ramekins were whisked away for their photo session. I also made a lightly sweetened, espresso-spiked whipped cream to go with the cakes; it's the recommended garnish accompanying the recipe.

Everything seemed to turn out OK. The resting of the batter overnight in the fridge didn't seem to inhibit the cakes from puffing up in the oven. The one glitch is that they ended up cooked all the way through, consequently lacking moltenness. I hadn't considered the reality that the batter would continue baking in the hot ramekins, which weren't photographed immediately upon coming out of the oven. As you can see, however, the cakes were in highly able hands. Ace photographer Scott and art director Stephanie styled the shoot in an amazing way. And by all accounts, the cakes were tasty, especially when served with the espresso whipped cream.

Apple Crisp Cupcakes

I know apple season is long gone, but I had purchased a few apples with the idea of making an apple Bundt cake a couple of weeks ago. That notion came and went, but the apples lingered on. Consequently, after deciding that cupcakes would be ideal for "Lost" Lunch Thursday, I browsed through Julie Hasson's 125 Best Cupcake Recipes for ideas, and found something appealing: Apple Crisp Cupcakes.

I've had really good results from other recipes in this book. Additionally, I love that most of the recipes are scaled to make only a dozen cupcakes. That seems like just enough. The Apple Crisp Cupcakes turned out extremely well. Based on a simple batter containing pieces of diced apple, the cupcakes have a ripple of streusel running through their centers. (That effect is created by putting a bit of batter in the cupcake liner, then sprinkling on some streusel, then topping off with a bit more batter.) Julie recommends Cream Cheese Icing for these cupcakes, so I went with it. They're so moist and flavorful that I suspect they could go without frosting at all, but the frosting makes a nice touch.

Friday, May 4, 2007

My New Favorite Blondie

After the salt-free peanut-butter cookie mishap, I felt that I needed to give The Greyston Bakery Cookbook one more chance. I decided to give The Great Blondie a try.

Years ago, I had a favorite blondie recipe, from Completely Cookies by Leslie Weiner and the late Barbara Albright. I made it so often that I ended up memorizing the recipe. I dabbled with other blondie recipes. I love Caprial Pence's, from Caprial's Desserts, but it's a fancy blondie, not an everyday blondie. The Great Blondie from Greyston is everyday, easy to make, and very tasty. I made one batch for PLTI this week, then made another to bring this weekend on my trip to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig Marathon. The published recipe calls for a mix of semisweet and butterscotch chips, but I used semisweet chips and a cup of multicolored mini-M&Ms.

Dark-Chocolate Cupcakes

The other day, I needed to make something for Lost Lunch Thursday, and Karen was looking for something chocolaty. Cupcakes sounded pretty good, so I looked at Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker and settled on Dark Chocolate Cupcakes. These cupcakes are nearly flourless, with a leavening boost from whipped eggs. In this case, I wasn't too surprised when they sank slightly in the center. Bloom frosts these cupcakes with a ganache, which seemed too rich for me. The cupcakes themselves are pretty dense and rich. So I chose a cream-cheese frosting, something to contrast with the rich cakes.

Easy Snack Cake

For a PLTI alumni meeting this week, I made a simple 1-2-3-4 cake from Debra Ponzek's The Family Kitchen. I bought this family-friendly book thinking that Claire and I would discover some interesting new things she would like to try to eat. (We're still working on that.)

Ponzek's cake is called Easy Snack Cake, and it is pretty straightforward. I think it would be a little easier if it used regular all-purpose flour instead of cake flour (just a slightly fussier ingredient). I zested a couple of oranges into the batter, and I think that the orange gave the cake a nice flavor. I frosted the cake with her Homestyle Chocolate Frosting. I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo, but the frosting -- which most definitely is homemade -- has a strangely canned appearance. It uses no butter but contains a lot of cream cheese (9 oz.). I'm not entirely sure about the frosting. It seemed like a nifty idea when I was reading the recipe, but something about it isn't adding up for me. My sense is that it's too sweet, and maybe a bit gummy. The cake is fine; the frosting is something I might try once more to see if I get a similar result.