Thursday, August 7, 2008
A Little More Cupcaking Around
Last week there were 2 occasions that served as excuses to make something special; I schemed for several weeks to come up with something sufficiently inspiring, and this is what came about. I am starting to feel like I need a coup de foudre, as the French would say, in order to want to make something. A coup de foudre could literally mean a "clap of thunder," but it is mostly used to describe love at first sight - a moment of passion that seizes you all of a sudden, with involuntary captivation. Any foodies out there get me? I feel a bit lost in the kitchen without the electricity of creative passion. While this general premise previously inspired me, this time the new prospective flavors and icings got me all whipped up again.
General premise: make a good white cake mix (or from scratch if you have more time and a good recipe) and divide the batter evenly up into 6 bowls. Plan your flavors and make icings to match! Last week I opted to top half of them with buttercream frosting and half with cream cheese frosting, to make some of them a little less sweet and the selection more diverse.
Here they are (left to right): coconut, Oreo, orange ginger, mocha, brown sugar au fleur de sel, and chocolate dipped strawberry.
I find these naked cupcakes to be nicely photogenic, with their varying colors and surfaces, but wait 'til you see what they became...as a general decorating technique, I wanted the decorations to clearly reflect the cake flavor, while being pretty, of course! If you decide to do a batch of only one flavor, do make sure to increase your flavoring proportions appropriately.
1 C butter
1 t vanilla
1 lb. powdered sugar (approx. 4 C)
2 T milk (reduce for stiffer icing)
Cream the butter and vanilla with an electric mixer or stand mixer until well combined. Add the powdered sugar gradually until smooth. Add milk 1 T at a time; use less for stiffer icing. I recommend starting with stiffer icing for these cupcakes, since you will be adding more liquid for some of the flavors which will make it softer. When you are piping icing onto cakes, you generally want the piped icing to be stiffer than icing spread on the cake with a spatula (stiff icing will pull the cake apart as you spread it, but when piped holds shape better).
Batter: Mix in 2-3 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder. Pour batter into cupcake pan and insert a whole Oreo into each cupcake - place flat on top of the batter and gently push down until batter rises over the sides of the Oreo. Fill in the middle top with plain white batter (see the unfrosted ones above with white tops and brown sides?). Once baked, this results in a soft cookie on the interior that you can see the profile of when a bite is taken of the cupcake - so cute!
Decoration: Buttercream frosting: Load plain frosting into a piping bag with a medium round tip. Pipe in concentric spirals on top of cupcake, building up as desired. Top with halves or quarters of Oreos and microplane/grate some dark chocolate over the top. Use reduced-fat or sugar-free Oreos to make this a tad healthier.
This mocha guy is very similar to the mocha cupcake I made last time, but I added small chunks of chocolate on top and made the coffee slightly stronger. Still a hit! I love how he stands at attention at the head of the other cupcakes in this picture.
Brown Sugar au Fleur de Sel Cupcakes
It is nearly impossible to pick a favorite for myself from among these 6 flavors, but I will say that this one appeals strongly to my current salty/sweet attraction.
Batter: Make caramel in a saucepan on the stovetop: let 1/3 C brown sugar sit in the saucepan with 1 T water (do not stir, but swish pan occasionally) until bubbles form on the surface; then pull the pan off the heat before it burns, and stir in 3 T butter and 1/4 t fleur de sel or sea salt until butter is melted and all is thoroughly combined. Let cool slightly, then mix into the cake batter. Pour into the cupcake pan and top each with several flecks of fleur de sel.
Decoration: Buttercream frosting: Stir in broken-up brown sugar and a pinch of sea salt (to taste). Make sure to break up the brown sugar chunks and only add small salt pieces, as they will block the decorating tip if they are too big. Use a large star tip in your decorating bag and start making concentric spirals on top of the cupcake, building up to a conical swirl on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar and a few flecks of fleur de sel. Use the fleur de sel sparingly, as it is easy for it to overwhelm the sweetness - a little bit goes a long way. If you are not going to serve the cupcakes immediately, you may want to wait on sprinkling the brown sugar on top; it may dissolve into brown liquid droplets if there is any condensation on the cupcakes in the refrigerator.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cube butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. powdered sugar (approx. 4 C)
1 t vanilla
Cream the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer or stand mixer until well combined. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar gradually until smooth. This icing starts out softer than the buttercream; if you find that this icing gets too thin when you add the flavoring, feel free to mix in more powdered sugar one spoonful at a time until it thickens up as desired.
These were the most disappointing to me, simply because I got very excited about the idea of coconut being paired with toasted pecan, but in the end there wasn't a strong coconut flavor to the cake. I was unable to find coconut extract, and ended up using a coconut pudding mix when I could have had more success with coconut milk. Still, the cake ended up moist due to the pudding, and it tasted good if not super coconut-y.
Batter: Stir in 1/4 of Dr. Oetker Organic Coconut Pudding Mix package and 1/4 C shredded sweetened coconut.
Decoration: Cream cheese frosting: Mix in another 1/4 package of coconut pudding mix. Using medium star tip pipe in concentric spirals onto cupcake, building up into a cone. Top with toasted coconut shreds (toast your own on the stove top, stirring constantly) and toasted pecan bits.
Orange Ginger Cupcakes
Lovely, light, freshly orange cupcakes; these were good for folks who preferred less sweet dessert. The ginger is barely discernable.
Batter: Mix in 2 T freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 large pinch orange zest, and a pinch of grated fresh ginger.
Decoration: Cream cheese frosting: Add 2 t freshly squeezed orange juice and a pinch of freshly grated ginger; stir in more powdered sugar to thicken as necessary. Add a small drop of red food coloring and a few drops of yellow if orange color is desired. Pipe onto cupcakes with medium round tip and top with orange zest.
Chocolate Dipped Strawberry Cupcakes
I consider these cupcakes a fabulous success; the batter ended up very moist and full of strawberry flavor with a tint of chocolate, and the cream cheese frosting was a great complement.
Batter: Add 1/4 C condensed strawberry purée (if making 6 cupcakes, reduce for less). Instructions for the purée on this previous post. Use a small grater or microplaner to grate enough bittersweet chocolate into the batter so that when stirred in the occasional fleck is visible in the midst of the strawberry seeds. These will not rise like the other cupcakes, but don't worry! They will taste great.
Decoration: Cream cheese frosting: Pipe on with medium round tip. Top with a strawberry half, stem included, and surround with small bittersweet chocolate chunks. If making a day ahead, wait until right before serving to put the strawberries on top.
Final tip: Take a sharp knife along when you serve them so that folks can try slices of the different flavors without going sugar crazy!