Espresso Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream

Espresso Cupcakes

So here I was, trying to come up with a good morning cupcake for my Sweet Treats committee at work.  Everyone at the firm seems to need a bit of a caffeine kick in the morning, so I thought I would modify my espresso brownies into cupcake form.  Then I thought, what about a smooth mocha buttercream icing on top?  Yeah, that sounded good.

Espresso Cupcakes

And then, lo and behold, what did I find on the internet?  The exact recipe I wanted!  And I didn’t even have to make it up myself!  Score one for the lazy part of me and big thanks to Nam for cooking it up and writing it down.

Brew  up a pot of strong coffee and save 1 cup coffee for this recipe.  Do what you like with the rest (preferably drink it, or save it for iced coffee).

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin pans with cupcake cups.

In a large bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups cocoa, 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda and set aside.

Espresso Cupcakes

Dissolve 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder in 1 cup coffee and set that aside.

Espresso Cupcakes

Clear the spider out of your stand mixer.  Apologize profusely to it as you send it on its merry way, but explain that despite its residency of nearly two weeks in your bowl, it does not qualify for squatters’ rights.  Then decide that, as you are doubling the recipe, the batter won’t fit in the mixer anyway, and opt for a larger bowl and a hand mixer.  Sorry, spider.

Espresso Cupcakes

In the bowl of the stand mixer, cream together 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 eggs, 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat until well combined.  Add in 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar and mix some more.

Espresso Cupcakes

Pour in the coffee and beat for another minute.

Espresso Cupcakes

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Espresso Cupcakes

Using a spoon, fill the paper cups about two-thirds full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.

Espresso Cupcakes

Let the cupcakes rest in the pan for about five minutes before removing them to a rack.  Remember that a super hot dropped cupcake will explode all over your floor, while a cooler cupcake will just bounce a bit.  That’s a handy fact to remember.

Espresso Cupcakes

Now for the luscious buttercream frosting.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (you know, like the one you just used), whip 10 tablespoons room temperature butter (which, by the way, is 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons butter) until it’s fluffy, light, and creamy. Add in 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder and whip until combined.

Espresso Cupcakes

Slowly add in 3 tablespoons room temperature espresso (you can make this by following the instructions on your bottle of instant espresso powder).  As with most buttercreams, it will look a little curdled and gross at this point, but don’t you worry.

Espresso Cupcakes

A little bit at a time, add in 3-4 cups icing sugar.  You may need more or less, depending on the consistency you want, or the temperature outside, or a bunch of other variables.  Just go with what looks (and tastes) right to you.  Refrigerate the buttercream for at least ten minutes before using.

Espresso Cupcakes

Once the cupcakes have completely cooled and the frosting has chilled out a little, you can frost your cupcakes, or pipe on the frosting, if you wish.

Espresso Cupcakes

Garnish each cupcake with a dusting of cocoa powder (or some shaved chocolate) or a chocolate-covered espresso bean.

Espresso Cupcakes

Your coworkers will be appropriately wowed, especially once the caffeine kicks in.  Good morning to you, too!

Espresso Cupcakes

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake

On Saturday my best friend Chel got married.  To Invis.  For the second time.

Photo by Kurt Heinecke, http://www.khstudios.biz

My wedding present to the lovely couple was their wedding cake, which they wanted to be vanilla flavoured, white on the outside, and have ivy trailing over it.

I practiced ahead of time.  I got the recipe down with the Pie’s birthday cake last summer.  Then I worked on my fondant technique with my own birthday cake, and adapted the fondant flavourings with the moose cake.  I even made my own vanilla for the occasion.Was I ready for this?  I had never made a wedding cake before.  Chel and Invis wanted it simple, but a wedding cake is still a definite challenge.

First I had to figure out how much cake I needed.  I had an 8″ springform pan, an 11″ springform pan, and then a gigantic 16″ aluminum pan (which I think my father now covets).  So I did some mental math and decided to quadruple the recipe that I had for the Pie’s birthday cake and go from there.

That’s a lot of cake.

Four kilograms of icing sugar, 2 of white chocolate.  Two litres of whipping cream.  One and a half pounds of butter and the same in shortening.  Two kilos of cream cheese.  Sixteen eggs.  Two bags of flour.  Lots of mixing.

I gave myself three days to make this cake: the first day to do the actual baking and prepare the decorations; the second day to ice the cakes, and the third day to put the cake together.  So that means you get to have three days of posts, because otherwise you’d be reading the world’s longest essay on cake.  I gotta break it up a little.  Shall we begin?

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter your pans generously and dust them with flour, knocking out the excess.Of course, the whole selling point of a springform pan is it makes removing cake from it so ridiculously easy.  Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to find a springform pan bigger than 12″ in diameter.  So for the 16″ pan, which wasn’t springform, I had to cut out a circle in parchment paper for it and then butter and flour that as well.Separate 12 eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  Save the yolks for making custard.

Then you want to do some sifting.  A lot of sifting.  More sifting than you actually want to do, to tell the truth.  I started out with a regular sifter.Then I got bored and my hand got tired so I switched to a fine mesh sieve instead.  In any case, sift together 13 cups flour (I used cake and pastry flour because it’s fortified with a bit of cornstarch, which helps you maintain volume in your cake) with 4 tablespoons baking powder and 4 teaspoons baking soda.  The sifting process helps to eliminate lumps and also serves to add a bit of air into your flour, making it lighter and fluffier.  Volume is key.Now set that aside.  In a larger bowl, beat together 2 cups softened butter with 2 cups vegetable shortening until fluffy and creamy.And I’m talking creamy.Add in 7 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup pure vanilla extract.

Make sure you’ve also got all those precious vanilla seeds in there too.Beat that up until it’s fluffy, and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Now crack in 4 whole eggs and mix that up as well.Okay so this next bit you mix in your flour mixture, as well as 6 cups ice water.  But WAIT.You gotta do it a bit at a time.  You want to add the flour in three separate increments, and the ice water in two.  So you start with the flour, then add water, then flour, then water, and then the rest of your flour.  And that’s how that is done.Once you’ve done all your adding, scrape down the sides of the bowl and just keep mixing for a further minute or so.  Isn’t that lovely and smooth?Now, in yet another bowl, you want to whip up those nice warm egg whites.  Add in 1 teaspoon cream of tartar to firm things up a little and beat the whites until they are at the soft peak stage, shapely but not dry.Plop those whipped whites into your batter bowl.Gently, ever so gently, fold those whites into the batter.  This is what will give you the majority of your fluffy cake.Now distribute the batter between your three pans and smooth the tops.Now we bake.  Unfortunately the day I did this, Ottawa was in the midst of a heatwave.  So this is what I look like when it’s hot and I’m leaning over an oven: hair in pins, shorts, dishtowel tied around my waist, and a jaunty wet scarf on my neck to keep me cool.  Super sexy, I know.

Self-portrait of the baker in a heat wave.

In terms of baking times, I baked the first two tiers for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre came out clean.   I used a convection oven, so it might take a little longer in a regular oven.  The bottom tier took about 60 minutes to bake, but just keep checking on them to make sure they don’t burn.  The 16″ tier BARELY fit in the oven.When the cakes are all golden-brown and lovely, put them on racks to cool completely.  When they are completely cool, remove them from the pans, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge overnight.  It is much easier to decorate a cold cake than a warm one, trust me.While the cakes are doing their thing, you can make the fondant and frosting, as well as the gum paste for the ivy leaves.

For the fondant, I creamed together 1 cup softened butter, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups lily white corn syrup, and 6 teaspoons almond extract.When it was all creamy I was ready to add in the icing sugar.By the time I had the texture right, I had added almost 3 kilograms of the stuff (I’m Canadian, so forgive me for switching back and forth between Imperial and Metric.  It’s just what we do).  I had also neglected to take my rings off before I kneaded the stuff.  Shame on me.  Then wrap the fondant tightly in waxed paper and chuck it in the refrigerator overnight.For the frosting, start off by melting 4lb white chocolate, chopped.  I know, it’s a lot.  But it’s necessary.While your chocolate is becoming liquid, cream together 6, 250g packages of cream cheese.Really mix it well to get out all the lumps.Pour in 2 1/4 cups each whipping cream and icing sugar.  Add in 3 teaspoons vanilla extract as well.Whip that extra good until it’s super smooth and creamy.

By now your chocolate should be all melty.Pour that white goodness into your other white goodness and whip it up to create more white goodness.Now put plastic wrap on the surface of the icing and chuck that in the refrigerator overnight.

For the gum paste, I didn’t want to tempt fate (I know my own limitations, folks) so I purchased gum paste mix from a cake decoration store.The instructions on the package are to mix 16oz of the mixture with 1/4 cup water.Then you stir like crazy, eventually using your hands to knead it all in.Then wrap it tightly in a bag and leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes.Now you can dye it.  I used two different shades of Wilton icing colour: moss green and juniper green.It’s a good idea to use gloves when you do this, unless you want green hands.  Apply the colour with a toothpick.   Just remember that a little goes a long way.Then, with gloves on your pretty little hands, knead the gum paste until the colour is thoroughly mixed in.Okay, so now put a bit of spray oil on your rolling pin and roll that sucker out flat.We’re cutting out ivy leaves here, so I thought, what better template than a real ivy leaf?

Cait came over to help me with the cutting out.

First we squished real (washed) ivy into the flattened gum paste.

You can see how the veins show up nicely.

Now we took a sharp pointy knife and cut them all out.

Laid them on waxed paper to dry overnight.

Aaaand … that’s all you get for today.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped.  More Friday!

Raspberry Trifle Cake

Ten days ago (that would be 8 March 2011) was a very auspicious day.  It was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (go us!), and it was also Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras.  AND.  And.  It was my birthday.  I turned TWENTY-NINE.  Holy smokes.  That’s a prime number.

In honour of the occasion (and because I need to perfect my fondant for Chel‘s wedding cake in June), I made my own birthday cake.

This is very loosely based on a cupcake the Pie and I made for our own wedding back in August 2009.  The cupcake itself came from Susannah Blake’s Cupcake Heaven, but I think I’ve sufficiently changed this so I can call this recipe all my own.

Some of this stuff you can do ahead of time, like the fondant and the buttercream icing, and just put them in the fridge until you need them.

For the Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter two 8″ round baking pans.  Line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper and butter those too.
Beat together 1 cup butter, softened, and 1 cup granulated sugar, until pale and fluffy.
Add in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Sift in 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder) and fold it in.
Fold in 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained.  Save about half a cup of the juice you’ve drained off for your icing.  You could use fresh raspberries if you’ve got them but it seems kind of a waste if you’re just squishing them into batter. 
Spoon the batter into your prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove the pans to racks to cool completely.

For the Fondant:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip together 3 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup butter, softened but not melted, and 1 cup corn syrup.  If you want your fondant to be white, use the light corn syrup, as the dark stuff I used gave the fondant a creamy complexion.

When the mixture is creamy and fluffy, reduce the speed to low and add 1kg icing sugar, a bit at a time.  If you do it all at once, or if you do it on high, you will get a mushroom cloud of icing sugar everywhere.

And it might even get on your dog.

When it is all incorporated, you will have a large doughy mass. 

Tip it out onto some waxed paper and knead it into a ball. If your dough is too tacky you might find that you want to add more icing sugar.  To do this simply dust a work surface with icing sugar and knead it in.

When the dough has reached the consistency that you are happy with (i.e., not sticky, but not so dry that it cracks), then you can colour it.   It helps to wear gloves for this part.

Spread a few drops of food colouring over your dough and knead them in until the colour is uniform. 

It will take a while to get it the colour you want it.

I was aiming for a pale pink but because of the yellowish tinge due to the dark corn syrup it came out more flesh coloured.  Or at least, MY flesh colour.

I pulled off an extra bit of the newly coloured dough here and added extra food colouring so it was a darker pink than the rest. 

I will use this for the decoration part.

When you have kneaded to your satisfaction, wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper and seal it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you need it.

For the Buttercream Icing:

In a stand mixer, whip 2 cups softened butter until pale and fluffy.  

Beat in 2 cups icing sugar until you get soft peaks.

Add in 4 tablespoons raspberry jam.

And that 1/2 cup reserved raspberry juice

Mix well.  It may be slightly grainy, but that’s okay for our purposes.

Plop the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To Decorate:

Remove the icing and the fondant from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature.

Tip out the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.

Slice off the round top of each cake, if you care about such things.  I didn’t, because I wanted the top to be rounded slightly, and so I flipped one cake upside down and put the two flat sides together.  Cut each cake in half horizontally.

I am spreading raspberry jam here in the centre, with custard on the bottom and top-most layers.  I did not make the jam or the custard myself.  I suppose you could create some form of preserve with fresh raspberries, but at this point I think I’ve done enough. I tried to make custard by hand, but I messed it up twice and that’s my limit on egg-wasting.  I suppose you could use pudding if you like, but I didn’t have any on hand.
So here’s the custard.
And here’s the jam.
Then there’s another custard layer.
Don’t go all the way to the edges, because the cake’s weight will force the filling out and down the sides.

Spread a crumb coat of buttercream on your cake (just a thin layer to trap the crumbs) and place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until the icing has set.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the remaining buttercream to smooth out the surface.  Chuck it in the refrigerator again until the second layer of icing is set.

While the cake is chilling, roll out your fondant on a surface dusted with icing sugar or corn starch.  You will want to roll it to about 1/4″ thick.  Any thinner and you will be able to see the flaws in the cake through it.  Any thicker and you will have trouble stretching it properly.  Make sure to take off your rings and watches while you do this so you don’t mar the fondant surface.

To determine the surface area you will be covering, measure the height and width of your cake.  You will need to create a round surface of fondant that is a diameter of twice the height plus the width of your cake.

Gently lift the flattened fondant over your rolling pin and use it as a lever to help you lay the fondant over your chilled cake.  I found that approach didn’t work for me, and I had to try several different methods before I found one that worked.  I rolled it out over waxed paper and used the waxed paper to do the transfer.  The only problem is that my waxed paper was too narrow and I had to double it, which resulted in it leaving a line on the fondant.  I will have to find some industrial-width waxed paper for next time.

Using your hands, gently lift and press the fondant into the sides of your cake after smoothing the top.  Don’t pull on the fondant or it will crack — lift instead and flatten out the wrinkles with the palm of your hand.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll see what I mean when you do it.  Notice the strong colour resemblance between my hand hand the fondant?  Yes, I am pale and pasty and spring can’t come soon enough.

Trim off excess fondant at the base of the cake.  Otherwise you will have a cake that resembles a demented jellyfish.  Or some bizarre prehistoric alien life form that may slowly yet inexorably expand, engulfing your family, your house, and then the entire planet.  THE THING THAT TIME FORGOT.

So yeah, you want to trim that sucker.

There are such things as fondant smoothers that you can use to even out the fondant surface.  I didn’t have one, so I used a flat-sided plastic cup.  And that excess icing sugar or corn starch on the surface?  Don’t worry about it.  It will either come off by itself in the course of you smoothing and shaping, or you can wipe it off with a wet finger.It’s far from perfect, but quite impressive for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

Here I have rolled out the darker fondant onto a sheet of waxed paper and traced on it a design.

Cut out the design with a sharp knife and pull off the excess, leaving the design on the waxed paper.

Lightly brush the top of the fondant pieces with water.

Carefully roll the design on the paper face down on top of the cake and press down lightly.

I took a deep breath after I’d done this.

Even more carefully, peel off the waxed paper, leaving your design on the cake.  Smooth the sharp edges with your fingers.

You can also freehand other elements out of the leftover fondant, as you see I did here.  You can also store the scraps in the fridge in an airtight container, just in case you want them for something else later.

Chill the cake to harden the fondant before serving.  Then eat as much of it as you can handle.

I would definitely recommend storing this cake in the refrigerator and eating it within a few days of making it.