I made that!

Happy Birthday Cherry Almond Cupcakes

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake! by brandi on July 18, 2009

So I know I said I needed 4 weeks off, but there was an emergency. A birthday emergency. Today was Pantea’s birthday BBQ and I am the official cupcake maker. I wanted a cupcake that would make Pantea smile, and I knew she was a big fan of the cherry almond combination. So I had a plan. And John offered to fill in for my busted hands.

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First I (John) made an almond cake batter and poured it into cupcake pans.

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Then I (John) placed a cherry on top. As the cake baked, the cherry would sink down to the middle of the cake, a nice little surprise for whoever bit into it.

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While the cakes baked I (John) got started making the frosting. I wanted a swiss meringue buttercream, so I whipped up a meringue.

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Then I (John) whipped in the butter. In case you didn’t already know, there is a LOT of butter in buttercream. Makes me happy just thinking about it.

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Once I had a nice fluffy buttercream, I (John) mixed in some strained cherry jam.

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I let my cupcakes cool on a rack.

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Then I (John) brushed on some of that cherry jam.

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Then topped them with the cherry buttercream.

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And finished them off with some toasted almond slices and a cherry.

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Happy Birthday Pantea!

ALMOND CUPCAKES (adapted from Flo Braker):

2/3 cup AP flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, room temperature

8 ounces almond paste, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

5 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

– Preheat oven to 350° F.

– Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

– Pulse the almond paste and sugar in a food processor until mixture is sandy.

– Pour almond mixture into mixer bowl and beat with paddle for 30 seconds.

– Continue on low speed while adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon. Stop the machine after all the buttcr has been added, and scrape the mixture clinging to the sides down into the center of bowl. Increase the speed to medium and cream until mixture is smooth, lighter in color, and fluffy in texture (about 3 minutes). No lumps of almond paste should be visible.

– With the mixer still on medium speed, slowly pour in the eggs one at a time.

– Continue to cream, scraping the sides of the bowl at least once, until the mixture appears light in color and fluffy in texture (about 2 minutes). Beat in the lemon zest.

– Fold in the flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl often and mixing until smooth.

– Pour the batter into a lined cupcake pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center is removed free of cake.

– Allow to cool. Makes around 18 cupcakes.

CHERRY BUTTERCREAM

4 oz egg whites (roughly 4 large eggs)

8 oz sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

22 tbsp (11 oz) butter, room temperature, chopped into ½” chunks.

1 jar of good (no corn syrup) cherry jam

– Strain cherry jam through sieve.

– Heat up some water in a large saucepan.

– Put egg whites and sugar in a kitchen aid mixing bowl and whisk together.

– Place bowl in simmering water and whisk until egg whites register 145 on a thermometer.

– Remove from heat and whip at high speed until cooled and you have a stiff meringue.

– Gradually add the butter in pieces, while whipping constantly.

– Continue mixing until smooth and creamy. The buttercream will go through a phase inversion as (or after) the butter is added. This will make it looked curdled. Keep mixing, it will come back together.

– Add strained cherry jam, 1 TBSP at a time until it tastes like you want.

*Keep buttercream at room temperature, it’s a pain to warm up if it’s been refrigerated.

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Happy Birthday Abbe!

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake! by brandi on March 6, 2009

This weekend my landlord Abbe is celebrating her birthday and her husband Jim asked me to bake a cake. Of course I couldn’t refuse. He wanted me to recreate a cake he tasted on a recent trip to the south: a Caramel Pecan Cake. I’m not sure if my interpretation was a close match, but I’m certain it’s tasty…

Since I’m a buttercream fan, I like to start there when putting together my cake combinations. I wanted to make a really caramelly frosting (surprise sursprise) and needed a cake that could stand up to that amount of flavor. After some poking around, I found a recipe on Epicurious that called for mixing a caramel syrup and roasted pecans straight into the cake batter. Since I hadn’t done that before I decided to experiment. The first test run sunk like crazy, but after adjusting the amount of batter in the pans it rose beautifully.

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I actually did a decent job of keeping it looking like a cake while assembling the layers, a rare treat for photographing.

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A bunch of toasted pecans thrown on the sides later and I had a cake for Abby!

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And now I’m off to Napa for the weekend! but first – the recipe:

For caramel:

3 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups water

For cake:

1 1/2 cups pecans
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Make caramel:
Bring sugar and 3/4 cup water to a boil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals on side of skillet with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling skillet occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Remove from heat and carefully and slowly whisk in remaining 1 1/2 cup water (mixture will steam vigorously and may stiffen). Return to a boil and stir until caramel has completely dissolved. If necessary, simmer until just syrupy, 1 to 3 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Toast pecans for cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Toast pecans in a 4-sided sheet pan in oven until fragrant and a shade darker, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

Make cake:
Put 2 cups cooled caramel syrup in a bowl and add butter, egg, and cream, whisking well after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugars into a large bowl. Make a well in center, then add caramel mixture and gradually whisk in dry ingredients until smooth. Fold in pecans. Chill, covered, until cold (or 12 to 24 hours for best results).

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Butter two 8″ cake pans.

Divide batter among the pans. Bake until cakes just spring back when lightly pressed, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cakes to room temperature. Remove from pans and frost.

Blueberry Pancakes, Revisited.

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake! by brandi on January 25, 2009

Today is John’s birthday (Happy Birthday!). He turns 34(!) and to celebrate, we’re having friends over and partying like he’s turning 7. John likes his desserts sweet, so I went into the vault for this maple cake recipe.

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In the past I’ve paired this cake with a simple glaze or a whipped cream. But I wanted to go further today, needed it to be sweet on John’s sweetometer.  So I made a maple buttercream and layered in some blueberry jam. I think it worked. You really can’t go wrong with obscene amounts of maple syrup and butter.

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I rarely make cakes, cupcakes are so much…simpler. For me, cake decorating is the closest thing (that I do) to performing surgery. Obviously no one dies (I hope) if things don’t go well, but still. If you don’t have everything in place, it becomes a complete mess. It’s right around here that I start to wonder if I’m gonna end up with a giant blob of smear:

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But it pretty much came together, and I used every last drop of frosting.

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In the baking world, we just call that “rustic”. I’m just thankful for nuts. Rule #2: “Decorate to hide mistakes (or down and dirty spatula skills)”.

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My god I’m good. Seriously, that was some fine cake. And it REALLY did taste like blueberry pancakes! I think John will keep me for another year.

RECIPES:

Maple Cake (from Martha Stewart)

4 oz butter, room temperature
2 3/4 cups AP flour
2 cups maple syrup
3 eggs
1 TBSP baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz walnuts

– In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy.
– Add maple syrup, and beat until combined.
– Add eggs, and beat until combined.
– In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger.
– Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and beat to combine.
– Beat in the milk and vanilla extract until combined.
– Stir in 3/4 cup chopped walnuts.
– Divide batter between the two greased 8″ or 9″ pans.
– Bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Maple Buttercream (from Martha Stewart)

6 egg yolks
2 cups maple syrup
1 pound butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

– In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
– Meanwhile, pour maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
– Cook syrup until 240 degrees, about 15 minutes.
– Remove the saucepan from the heat.
– While the electric mixer is running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg-yolk mixture until the syrup has been completely incorporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.
– Beat until the bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes.
– Add butter, one piece at a time, until all of it has been completely incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

Coco-lem-amel

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake! by brandi on December 10, 2008

For a dual birthday party for Megan & Leila I was in charge of the cupcakes. Since it’s deep in winter, the flavor options were a bit limited (especially since a certain Megan doesn’t like ginger). But lemon is always a winner, and I’ve been craving coconut milk. And well, there’s always room for caramel.

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And coco-lem-amel was born! Lemon cake covered with caramel sauce, coconut milk buttercream and toasted coconut flakes. Really just fabulous.

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A little drippy maybe, but who minds a sticky mess of a dessert? Not me…