Driving “Up Island” in a Smart Car

Michell's

This is my last post about our west coast trip, I promise.

While we were staying in Victoria, the Pie and I took two days out and drove up to Courtenay to visit Tim, one of the Pie’s childhood friends from Ottawa who had made the move west.  Tim was best man at our wedding.  There’s pretty much only one highway that goes the length of Vancouver Island, and if you go anywhere north of Victoria you are going “up island”.  Courtenay-Comox, while situated pretty much in the middle of the length of the island, is considered to be the farthest you want to go up island.  When I was a child, I actually thought it WAS at the northern tip of the island.  It turns out instead that nobody really wants to go that much farther than Courtenay-Comox, and the best way to go further is to take a boat.

So we rented a car.  My firm gets me a corporate discount at Enterprise rentals, and they’ve always treated me well.  Since it was just the two of us and we were only traveling for two days we rented an economy-sized car.  I joked as we were waiting in line that I’d love to take the little Smart Car in the parking lot on our trip, and the Pie rolled his eyes.  Little did we know that it was the only “economy” sized car left in the lot!  Have I mentioned that the Pie is 6’4″?  This was going to be interesting.

Courtenay-Comox

Neither of us had ever driven a Smart Car before so we took it on as a challenge. Here is the super-awesomely small rear view mirror. There are no blind spots in this car, so it’s not a huge deal.

Courtenay-Comox

And the nonexistent leg room.  And the lack of gadgets. And our pasty, pasty legs.

Courtenay-Comox

But the whole roof was glass, which was neat when you are driving through the mountains.

Courtenay-Comox

Though because the car is energy-efficient, it seemed to always want to be in the highest gear possible, which meant it rumbled along like it had a diesel engine.  An engine that never wanted to accelerate, and that shifted violently, like a newbie on a standard transmission.  And it was an automatic!

Courtenay-Comox

We booked it up to Courtenay, sliding through Chemainus and its famous murals and Nanaimo, where we got a coffee.

Courtenay-Comox

We hit Tim’s place in the mid-afternoon, and he took us out to Stotan Falls to cool off, as it was about 33°C and sunny.

Courtenay-Comox

This series of short falls is a very popular place to come and sit in the sun and the water.  While much of it is very shallow, the limestone has worn away in spots to form these potholes, which can catch you unawares.

Courtenay-Comox

Some of them are large enough to tuck yourself into, as Tim demonstrates here.

Courtenay-Comox

And you can swim in the deeper, cool water just after the falls.  Floater that I am, I nearly got swept away because I couldn’t get my feet under me, but Tim hauled me out safe.

Courtenay-Comox

In trekking around, we also got to see some neat fossils. That’s my foot, for scale.

Courtenay-Comox

As well as the sheer neatness of the geology of this area.

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

That night we drove to Comox and had dinner on the sandy beach near CFB Comox.  While planes took off behind us, the sun set to our left.

Courtenay-Comox

The water was so warm that even the Pie went into the ocean and swam.  This is a history-making moment, people.

Courtenay-Comox
This dog never left the water!

On the way home we got a brief tour of the organic spa that Tim owns with his partner Lisa.  If you’re ever in Courtenay and you need a massage, Ziva is the place to visit.  After my ordeal in the rapids I could have used a massage myself, but it was late.

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

Courtenay-Comox

The next morning, after saying our goodbyes, the Pie and I began our trek south, though in a more leisurely manner.  We stopped at a farmer’s market in Qualicum Beach, which happens every Saturday.

Courtenay-Comox

Our breakfast consisted of some locally roasted organic coffee, local tay berries, and home-made cinnamon sticky buns.

Courtenay-Comox

The tay berries taste like a combination between raspberries and blackberries, and look like logan berries (what’s the difference, anyway?).

Courtenay-Comox

The cinnamon buns were so sticky and delicious we may have died a little.

Courtenay-Comox

These were my sticky and stained hands at the beginning of breakfast.  By the end I was a total mess. The camera was going to get sticky if we took a picture of that so we refrained.

Courtenay-Comox

Then back to our Smart Car, which we had dubbed Blinky.

Courtenay-Comox

To give you a sense of scale …

Courtenay-Comox

We paused at the Little Qualicum River Falls, which were stunning.  I took way too many pictures, but you can see some below.

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

Little Qualicum River Falls

And had a brief stop in Cathedral Grove, home to some of the oldest and tallest trees on the island. We didn’t stick around too long, because the Falls hike and the Falls themselves had made us very thirsty.

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Then we had lunch in Coombs, which has to be one of the weirdest towns I have ever seen.  This exporter seemed to own the whole place, and had these strange (and not for sale) sculptures all over the open space.  The wooden and marble sculptures inside were even more fantastical, and many of them were pornographic.  We weren’t allowed to photograph any of them, though, and I’m not even going to get started on some of the strange chairs they had there.

Coombs

In the same place was Goats on Roof, a market place specializing in imported foods.  And all sorts of kitschy Asian paraphernalia, like these lanterns, which hung everywhere in the store.

Coombs

Let’s not forget that there were actual goats on the roof.

Coombs

It was a long drive both ways, but in the Smart Car we only went through one tank of gas, even with all our perambulations.  It was a nice change of pace to be on our own schedule and under our own steam, and we quite enjoyed the trip.  I was very sad when we had to return Blinky.  Not a good car for highway driving, but a fun challenge nonetheless.  And backing up was AWESOME. What a fun trip!

Michell's

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

Iced Coffee (ARRRR MATEY!)

Iced Coffee

My man loves his morning coffee.  He also loves it with whipping cream.  He SAYS he’s just helping me use up the excess cream, but if there is some in the house, the first place it goes is in his coffee.  Oh, don’t have enough anymore for baking?  Let’s get some more!  And so it goes.  He’s a devious one, that man.

Iced Coffee

In addition to being International Talk Like a Pirate Day (I’m not making this up), today also marks the seventh anniversary of our first date.  We have been together for most of our adult lives.  That is so weird.  Anyway, this one is for the Pie, from his saucy sea wench.  ARRRRR!

Most of the recipes for iced coffee I found on the internet involved using instant coffee granules.  I personally feel like instant coffee tastes like beef broth and should only be used in baking.  So this recipe (which I have made up all with my own brain meats) uses fresh ground, fresh brewed coffee, and I won’t have it any other way.

I don’t want to water down any of my coffee goodness, so first I made a tray of coffee-ice cubes.  There’s your caffeine — with a crunch.

Iced Coffee

Then I made some more coffee, added a ton of cane sugar to it (it will dissolve best when hot), and let it cool.  And stuck it in the fridge so it was cold.  I wouldn’t leave coffee in the fridge for too long, lest it start to taste like old, cold coffee.  Maybe a day or two at best.

Iced Coffee

When it comes to the mixing, I think the best ratio is 1 part coffee ice cubes : 1 part whipping cream : 2 parts cold sweet coffee.  For two people, this worked out to 1 cup ice cubes, 1 cup cream, and 2 cups coffee.

Iced Coffee

Blend that sucker silly.

Iced Coffee

Pour it in a pretty glass (or your man’s favourite glass, thanks Cait), and drink it up.

Iced Coffee

Try some variations.  Use milk instead of cream for a beverage that won’t kill you as quickly (and deliciously).  Squirt in some chocolate syrup for a mocha iced coffee.  Add vanilla and white chocolate for a white chocolate latte.  Use espresso instead of coffee and create yourself an iced cappucino or mochacino.  Up the proportion of ice to liquid coffee if you like your coffee a little on the slushy side.  The possibilities are nearly endless!

Iced Coffee

Fika with Swedish Chocolate Balls

My lovely pseudo-family came to visit my parents and I all the way from Sweden.  I got to see my nephew after four years’ absence, and meet my goddaughter in person for the first time.

We were also introduced to the fantastic Swedish tradition of fika.  Roughly translated, fika means “to drink coffee”.  In Sweden it is used as both a noun and a verb and it’s an invitation to have a coffee break and enjoy some baked nibblies.  “Shall we fika?” is a common phrase in offices across Sweden in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

And what better treat to fika with than traditional Swedish chocolate balls (“Chokladboll“).  Chocolate balls do not really contain any chocolate, only cocoa, and are also known by another, rather racist name, so we’ll stick with the chocolate one, shall we? 

Now, I multiplied the recipe and had to translate it from the metric — because in Canada, though we wholeheartedly espoused the metric system decades ago, we still cook in American.  So bear with me.

Cream together 1 3/4 cups softened butter and 1 cup and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar.

Add in 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 4 teaspoons icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar), and 3/4 cup cold coffee.  Mix well.

Stir in 8 cups oats.

Roll the mixture into small balls, about the size of your average Timbit (the traditional Canadian version of the fika treat).

Roll the balls in dessicated coconut (a cup should do) and toss them in the fridge to harden a bit.

My pseudo-family sometimes piles the balls into towers and uses them as cakes for those with gluten allergies.

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

This recipe comes from January’s Canadian Living magazine and it was so fabulous that my parents had to take their share to be redistributed at my mother’s physiotherapist.  They are too delectable.

The amounts below give you about 12 cupcakes but of course I multiplied the recipe, and ended up with a variety of mini, medium, and large cupcakes.  Perfect for sharing.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a muffin tin with cupcake cups.

Melt about 2oz chocolate (I ain’t gonna try to tell you what kind, you use your judgment) in a double boiler with 1/4 cup strong coffee until melted and smooth.

In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk with 1/3 cup cocoa powder and stir into your melted chocolate/coffee.

In another bowl (this time make it a big one), beat 1/3 cup softened butter and 1 3/4 cups icing sugar until light and fluffy — this will take you about two minutes.  If you do this by hand, well, then it will take you a spell longer.  Be lazy: use a mixer.

Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, as well as 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

In ANOTHER freaking bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon EACH baking soda and baking powder.  Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternately with the chocolate mixture, making three additions of flour and two of chocolate.  Stir that sucker up good until the colour and texture are even.

Divide the batter amongst your cupcake cups.

Bake for about 12-18 minutes, or until a tester/toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for about five minutes before removing them to a rack to cool completely.

To make your lovely double chocolate fudgy icing, beat together in a bowl 1/2 cup softened butter and 1 3/4 cups icing sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Melt together about 2oz each of unsweetened and milk chocolates (or use dark and light, I don’t care), and beat the chocolate into the fluffy stuff along with about a teaspoon of milk. You can add more milk if you like until the texture is lovely and smooth.

Spread that brown goo all over your cupcakes.

Be prepared to see them magically disappear!

Espresso Brownies

Would you like another life-changing experience?

You should make these brownies.  I mean it.

I made about three hundred.  Every single one of them was eaten.  They’re even good stale.  The recipe for these babies comes with thanks from the folks at my mother’s physiotherapy place.  Not that they need any more caffeine.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 15″x10″x1″ baking pan (or whatever you can find that will fit the brownie goodness.

In a large saucepan, plop yourself in 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder.

Add to that 1 cup butter (oh yes) and 1 1/2 cups chopped chocolate pieces (your choice).

Melt that pot of loveliness until it’s smooth and then remove from heat. 

Now this next part you are supposed to do in the saucepan but because I tripled the recipe I had to expand to a bowl.

Crack four eggs into a large bowl (I know there are more than four there, but just roll with it) and beat them up.

Add 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat it up.

Pour in your lovely chocolate goo and beat until just combined.

Stir in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.

Stir in 2 cups all-purpose flour.

Spread your batter evenly in the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

I love that crackly-shiny top on a brownie.

While the brownies are baking and cooling you can whip together 3 cups icing sugar, 1/4 cup softened butter, 2 tablespoons boiling water, 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and, if you wish, 2 tablespoons of a coffee liqueur.

Spread the frosting evenly over the cooled brownies and dust with more espresso powder.

Cut into pieces.

LOVE.

Devil (‘s Food Cake) Made Me Do It

I have designated certain days in my life as chocolate cake days.  You know, those days where things tend to go wrong, and you end up with FLOOR PIZZAThat kind of day.  Normally I turn to the convenient comfort of cake-in-a-box (similar to garlic-in-a-jar but probably not quite as good for you), but recently I’ve been more interested in the process of making one from scratch, and doing it was way easier than I expected.  You, my lovely readers, get the benefit of my experience here.

Seeing as I had recently made an angel’s food cake, it was only fitting that I make a devil’s food cake as well.  You may not know this but traditionally the angel’s food and devil’s food were made concurrently, as the angel’s food used all the whites of the eggs and the devil’s food used all of the yolks.  Modern devil’s food cakes are much lighter affairs these days and generally use whole eggs (and less of them), but I think they would be a nice accompaniment to each other even without the egg symbiosis.  I still have the yolks from the other cake, but I’m going to make them into a masterful pudding sometime soon.

I got this recipe from David Lebovitz, and this is his American-in-Paris masterpiece.  I picked it because of his pictures of the icing on the cake.  I’m such a sucker for chocolate frosting, especially a ganache.  I also thought this recipe had an interesting improvement of putting coffee into the mix.  Coffee and chocolate are always a good combination.  His recipe calls for unsalted butter and salt, but I just use salted butter and I rarely add salt to anything.

Okie dokey (never really sure how to spell that).

Put your oven rack in the centre of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Butter up two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and place pretty circles of parchment paper (not to be mistaken with waxed paper, that would be a bad idea) in the bottom of each.  I used a compass because I have a good attention to detail (the Pie called me a nerd for doing so but HE’s the one who wrote a remote sensing exam today).  Put those pans somewhere and work on the other stuff.

Sift together 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose because that’s what I had), 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder in a bowl and set that sucker aside for a spell.

In yer mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter (or a stick, or 4 ounces) and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar until creamy and fluffy and stuff.

Add 2 eggs, one at a time.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl on occasion.

Mix 1/2 cup strong coffee and 1/2 cup milk together in a measuring cup (or some other form of vessel).

Add half your dry mixture to the creamy butter goodness in the mixer and stir.  Don’t forget to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the milky coffee and stir that up.

Finally, add the second half of the dry mixture to your bowl and mix that up as well.

Divide your batter between the two buttered and papered pans, smooth it flat, and bake for 25 minutes.

You can tell it’s done when you stick a toothpick in the centre and it comes out clean.  I found that mine took an extra five minutes.  Make sure the cake is completely cool before you think about icing it.  When removing from the pan, run a spatula around the edge to loosen the sucker. Due to time constraints, I actually made up the cake part the day before, then wrapped it tightly in plastic over night, and made the frosting the next day.

While it’s cooling (or sitting politely in plastic wrap) you can make your lovely ganache frosting.

In a double boiler or a bowl set over (but not touching) a pot of barely simmering water, melt 10 oz good quality chocolate (your preference for the type) in 1/2 cup cream.  Just so you know, an ounce of chocolate is one of those squares in the boxes of baking chocolate.

Be very careful removing the top of your double boiler, as escaping steam can burn.

Remove from heat and cut in 3/4 cup butter.  Whisk until butter is thoroughly melted and mixed in and the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Let your ganache cool until it’s spreadable, which could take up to an hour (your cake will take probably this long to cool anyway).  Be sure to give the cooled ganache a good whisk to fluff it up a little.

Pop your cooled cakes out of the pans and remove the paper. 

Put one half of the cake on the plate of your choice.

I made another modification here.  I took the leftover frozen glaze from the previous angel’s food cake and decided to put it on this one as well.  It seemed fitting.  All I did was defrost the glaze and whisk it up a little.  It was slightly lumpy after its time in the freezer but it tasted the same.

Smooth a generous amount of your cooled ganache over the top of the first cake. 

Plop the second cake on top of that frosted layer and go nuts covering the whole thing with luscious ganache (or, in my case, glaze it first, then go nuts). 

The cake was very moist and I didn’t do a crumb coat, so you’ll notice a few crumbs here and there in the frosting. 

I also decided to jazz it up a little by drizzling melted 2 oz white chocolate over it.

As with most cakes, you should eat it the day it’s made but it’s pretty good the next day as well.  And the day after that, and the day after that.  Just keep it wrapped up.  Om nom indeed.

The Great Wedding Cupcake Experiment of 2009

The Pie and I were married on 22 August 2009.  We wanted to do our wedding on the cheap, because we are stone broke, and we also wanted to give our guests a little taste of our personality.  With that in mind, we turned down my parents’ repeated offers to make fruitcakes (‘but it’s a traditional Scottish wedding cake’) and decided to make cupcakes instead of buying a tiered and costly confection.

Which flavours were we to pick?  The choices were almost endless and we didn’t know where to begin.  My mother gave me Cupcake Heaven by Susannah Blake as a Christmas present, and we decided to start there.  With one exception, all the recipes we tried are from there.

I chose a panel of a dozen people at work to help us to test our cupcakes, and every one of them looked forward to Cupcake Friday.  By the time I was finished the experiment (which ran from the beginning of March to the end of June 2009), my panel had doubled in size and I was a very popular lady at work.

A crucial piece of machinery without which I would have gone MAD is the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who does a lot of baking.  Also my camera, of course.  I took a lot of pictures during this period.  You can see the rest of them on my Flickr site here.

Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Cupcakes

#1 Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream

These were extremely tasty but not particularly attractive, texture-wise.  Aesthetically they weren’t much to go on either.  The icing was also quite runny and very sticky, but also very good.  The sour cream mixed with the lemon and the icing sugar made a tangy topping.  The Committee thought it would make a good brunch baked good.

One thing to note about these is that I had to re-cup the cupcakes after they were baked, because the bottoms had burned a bit in my antiquated oven and I wanted to hide that.  Fun fact: if you re-cup a cupcake, the cupcake will not stick to the paper cup anymore, as you can see in the photograph.

 

#2 Carrot Cardamom

I really like the word ‘cardamom.’  These ones turned out exactly like the picture in the book, which was gratifying, and they had a much smoother texture than the Apple Cinnamon, which was reassuring.

I’m not a huge fan of walnuts, however; they have a bitter after taste that I am not fond of – I much prefer pecans.  The mascarpone icing, however, was incredible and there was an enormous amount of it.  If these cupcake experiments taught me anything (and to quote one of the Committee members), ‘there is no such thing as too much icing.’

Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

#3 Cherry and Marzipan Cupcakes

These little boogers were a spectacular failure on my part.  The recipe involved putting half the batter into the cup, then sprinkling it with grated marzipan, then putting the other half of the dough on top.  Silly me, I did all the bottom halves first, then all the marzipan, and by the time I got around to the tops, I had run out of batter.

In addition, I had to deal with runny icing and artificial cherries, and that’s never a good combination.  Let us not forget as well that I had to face the inevitable comments at work that these strongly resembled boobs.  So much for professionalism.

Overall, they were too sweet, and too much of a pain to make.  Vetoed.

… then something magic happened …

… my oven exploded!

I’m totally serious.  The Pie was making dinner one night and I heard this loud thrumming noise coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a yell that I should probably get in there.  I ran in and saw bright white light coming from the oven window – element was arcing and sending off sparks.  It was making the thrumming noise.  We turned off the oven and got the hell out of there.  Two days later my landlord bought us a new oven.  It’s so low tech that it has no interior light and you have to shine a flashlight in to see if your stuff is done, but it works really well, I will give it that.

The Perfect Cupcake was born.
Creamy Coconut Lime

#4 Creamy Coconut Lime

It was from this new oven that a new generation of cupcake was born.  I could now actually follow the recipe when it came to temperature and cooking time.  Nothing burned, or exploded.  It was inspiring, actually.  The first experiment to come out of the new oven, or ‘tailgate special’ as I like to refer to it, was this perfect confection.  It was unanimously voted by the Committee as the perfect cupcake for a wedding.  Nothing I made after this counted for much in their opinions.  I was, however, undaunted, and continued on with my experiments.  I couldn’t stop now – things were just getting good.

Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

#5 Orange Poppyseed with Mascarpone Icing

In these, I substituted canned mandarin slices for regular orange segments.  Other than the fact that I am truly lazy and did not want to segment several oranges, the canned pieces meant that my cupcakes would be uniform and also that the quality of the fruit would be good.  Living in Newfoundland, especially during the winter, means that produce quality is always a guessing game.

These cakes were popular with those who liked poppyseeds.  I liked them, but the Pie was not a huge fan.

As you can see, I was really getting into my groove here.  My photographic cupcake record had turned more artistic now that my appliances were cooperating.

#6 Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal

These little beauties contained fresh Newfoundland blueberries stuck right into the batter, and were made with cornmeal, which made the batter a sunshiny yellow but which created a texture many were not expecting.

Blueberries directly in the batter!

I thought they were great but most people were unconvinced.  In any case, I had  a lot of fun with my new zester, creating and photographing my confections.

Martha Stewart eat your heart out:

Blueberry and Lemon with Cornmeal
Maple and Pecan Cupcakes

#7 Maple and Pecan

I had a lot of fun making these – and burned myself severely in the process.  They were one of my favourite cupcakes, taste-wise, but many people found the hard caramelized sugar too sharp or tough to bite into, the Pie included, so they were eventually scrapped.

Playing with melted sugar is a lot of fun.  If I ever made these again, however, I would let the sugar cool a bit more before pouring it, to keep the fluid from spreading too much – I think that was my major failing here.

Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

#8 Bittersweet Chocolate Wedding Cupcakes

I ended up renaming these bad beauties Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, because that’s pretty much what they tasted like, and that’s pretty much all the ‘icing’ really was: hot whipping cream poured over dark and bittersweet chocolate and then whipped into a light foam.  They are truly divine.  The batter itself was a little bland, however, so I thought I could improve somewhat.

You can see at this time that spring was coming, and my seedlings were on the sprout.  But spring comes late to Newfoundland, and we had a while yet to wait.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

#9 Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Icing

I can pretty much guarantee that I will never make these again.  I have never been so disappointed with myself.  I didn’t want to serve them to the Committee, and some Committee members refused to even finish them.  They were dry and tasteless and the crystallized ginger on top was too strong.  It was supposed to be stem ginger in syrup but this being Newfoundland I couldn’t find any.

EPIC FAIL.

I had to redeem myself.

Experiment #10
Marble Cupcakes

#10 Marble Cupcakes

When these were finished they looked nothing like the photograph but boy were they tasty.  Inside was a chocolate-vanilla swirl cake that really wasn’t visible unless there was no icing but which was nice and moist and light.

The icing was cream cheese mixed with cream and icing sugar.  You can’t really top that, but of course that would mean leaving out the caramel.

I used Smucker’s caramel ice cream topping, but had I been thinking I would have used real dulce de leche, because it would have held its shape better and not oozed everywhere.  These cupcakes certainly entailed sticky fingers.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

#11 Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes with Ricotta Icing

The Pie and I wanted to experiment with a few lower-fat options, and this was one of them, containing no butter at all, and of course using ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for icing.

They turned out really well but weren’t quite what we were looking for.

Chocolate Fireworks

#12 Chocolate Fireworks

These were meant to be served with lit sparklers in them, but I wasn’t sure how I would get them into the office.

I settled for the little silver balls instead.  Did you know they are called ‘dragees’?

The icing was rather unimaginative and runny, but the batter had some orange in it that kept in moist and gave it a nice tart tang.

Raspberry Trifle

#13 Raspberry Trifle

Unlucky number 13.  We were drawing to the close of our experiment here, with only three more recipes to try, and I was pretty tired of making cupcakes at this time.  It seemed every week I was adding someone new to the Cupcake Committee email distribution list.

I made these while watching Detroit lose to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I was cheering for the Red Wings (my beloved Senators didn’t even make the post-season) because I hate Crosby, but alas, I was out of luck.

This cake was really good, though, because it was chock-full of raspberries.  I thought the custardy topping could have had more flavour, but that might have had something to do with me failing at making custard.

Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

#14 Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

I left the picture of this one small because it’s blurry.  It was late, I was tired, and these were such a hassle that I forgot to take a picture until super late at night.

The recipe called for slicing off the top of the cupcake so the cream cheese topping would set, smooth and flat, like a real cheesecake.  I cut off the tops, which was a pain, considering I then had to re-cup the cakes, and then topped them.  And discovered that the topping wasn’t going to lie smooth and flat anyway.

There was some swearing.

In the end, these were one of my favourites: a fine vanilla cake with vanilla cream-cheesy ‘icing’ and sliced strawberries on top.  The fanning of the berry was my idea, as the berries I got weren’t of the quality that they would stand up on their own, like they were in the book.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

#15 Gluten-Free Chocolate Cheesecake

Another cheesecake-y recipe that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.  The Pie’s grandmother is a celiac, as is one of my former coworkers, and both of them were coming to the wedding.  I didn’t want them to feel excluded from the cake part of the festivities, so I experimented with a gluten-free recipe.

It was an all right cupcake, but it wasn’t light or fluffy, the potato flour I used made the texture a little grainy, and, all in all, it was rather bland.

Coconut Cream from the Barefoot Contessa

#16 Coconut Cream

This was my final cupcake, and it wasn’t really an experiment.

One of the people in the Cupcake Committee had been talking about the Barefoot Contessa’s Coconut and Cream cupcakes for a while so as a final treat I decided to make them.  You can get the recipe from the Food Network here.

The cupcakes were huge, and I knew I wasn’t going to make them for the wedding – they were pretty time-consuming.  But everyone on the Committee had been talking about that other coconut recipe for ages, so I thought I would end it with an echo of the earlier recipe.

They were fabulous and if you ate more than one you felt ill.  We had wayyy too many leftovers and I think we ate them for three weeks straight.  Or at least it felt like that.  They were good though.  I recommend giving them a shot.

And that’s it.  Sixteen cupcakes in seventeen weeks.

Which ones did we eventually choose: Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake, Fireworks (but with the icing from the Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse), and the Raspberry Trifle (but with a lemon cream cheese icing instead of the custard.  They were a hit.