The Pie’s crowning achievement in life (in his mind) is having gotten the General addicted to Spider-Man (or “Pydermun” as the General says). So when Atlas asked me to make a cake for the General’s second birthday party, we all knew what the theme would be. I made a cake for the Pie a year back with an arachnid theme so I was pretty confident I could replicate my awesomeness. The resulting decoration, due to some recalcitrant icing, was a little underwhelming but boy the cake was good – it disappeared within about twenty minutes!
The cake itself is pretty easy. I adapted a simple yellow cake out of the Joy of Cooking and decided to tip in a bunch of strawberries, too.
So I washed and cut up about a pint of the little red gems, and made sure that they were in decently small pieces.
Then I buttered and lined a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper. This cake is very moist and fragile so you need some help tipping it out of the pan and the paper helps. You can preheat your oven to 350°F as well while you’re at it.
If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, then whip up this quick substitute: add 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice to a 1 cup measuring cup and fill the rest with milk. Stir and leave for 5 minutes. Set that aside for now.
In a bowl, sift together 2 1/3 cups flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Set that aside and grab your mixer.
In the bowl of your mixer, dump 3/4 cup softened butter and whip that into a pale fluffy frenzy for like three minutes.
Now tip in 1 1/3 cup sugar and beat again until you have a fluffy amazing pile of salty sweet buttery goodness.
Now add in 3 large eggs, one at a time, as well as 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and beat until fully combined and smooth.
Grab your flour mixture and your 1 cup buttermilk (or substitute) and alternate adding them to the mix, stirring each time. Start with the flour, so you have three additions of flour and two of buttermilk, and go until it’s all smooth and batter-y.
Dump in your 1 pint chopped strawberries and stir those in well.
Smooth the batter into the pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Set that on a rack in the pan to cool completely.
Make yourself some icing – your choice, but I prefer the standby cream cheese recipe of 1 cup butter:1 package cream cheese:3-4 cups icing sugar. I tipped in some almond extract to boost the strawberry flavour, and then dyed it appropriately with gel paste food colouring.
I actually ran out of red colour so the background ended up a wee bit pink.
And the black stuff got super wobby when I was piping it so it didn’t look so hot. However I did manage to get the floppy cake onto the lid of a tupperware container before decorating so it was a simple matter to simply jam the bottom on top for easy transport!
While chocolate and vanilla actually go quite well together, most people consider them to be opposites of each other. As this is a geographical society, why not have the chocolate and the vanilla represent both poles on our planet? Sure, it’s a stretch, I know, but bear with me. Both of these batter recipes contain buttermilk, which is one of my favourite baking ingredients, and they both come from Baking Bites.
Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin tins with cupcake liners.
For the Chocolate Cupcakes:
In a large bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together 1 egg, 6 tablespoons water, 6 tablespoons buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Alas, I forgot the melted butter in the microwave until it was too late. It looks so sad and neglected.
Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk like crazy until you get no more floury bits floating around.
Fill 12 of the muffin cups with chocolate-y batter. It’s easy if you use a spoon.
For the Vanilla Cupcakes:
In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup room temperature butter until fluffy.
Beat in 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract until the mixture is smooth.
Pour in half your flour mixture and stir until almost combined. Add in 1 cup buttermilk and mix again, then the rest of the flour mixture, and beat until all the ingredients are combined.
Fill the other 12 muffin cups with that batter.
Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.
Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before using a fork to remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely. I wish now that I had used large cupcake liners instead of medium ones. Ah well, what’s done is done.
For the Frosting:
Nothing says holy-crap-this-frosting-is-awesome like ganâche (well, at least, if you’re ME because I’m weird like that), and for me this is the easiest thing in the world to do.
Start by chopping up about 6 ounces each of dark and white chocolate.
Plop the pieces in microwave-safe bowls and pop them in the microwave. Nuke ’em on medium power, stirring a few times in between, for about 5 minutes, or until the chocolate is smooth and liquid. The white chocolate will likely melt long before the dark does, so keep an eye on it so as not to burn it.
Stirring the whole time, add 1 cup room temperature whipping cream into each chocolate. The warmer your cream, the less lumpy your ganâche will be, but the longer it will take to set. Keep that in mind.
Now, because I want something a little firmer than my usual ganâche, I’m going to add some icing sugar. Start with 1 cup icing sugar and add more until you come to the consistency you like. Chuck the frostings in the fridge for a bit to set.
For the Writing Icing:
I was originally going to write on these cupcakes using store-bought piping gel, just because the results are easy and predictable. It then occurred to me, however, that I’d purchased these gels to make a cake for the baby shower for a co-worker’s first child. This was like three jobs ago, in a different province, and I think the little girl is five years old now. It might be time to get rid of those.
Instead, I decided to make a sort of royal icing and pipe it on myself. So I started with two small bowls filled with 1 cup icing sugar each, a few tablespoons water, and some food colouring.
Add a little bit of the water to the icing sugar and stir until you get a good consistency. Likewise, add some food colouring to the mix.
I think this looks so weirdly neat.
Add more icing sugar or food colouring until you reach your desired colour and texture and set those aside.
Remember that this type of icing is kind of like a non-Newtonian fluid, so its physical properties might not be exactly what you expect. AHA! SCIENCE! I like to sneak in a little learning on you now and then. Sorry.
Start by smearing your ganâche on your cupcakes, dark for the chocolate, and white for the vanilla. Or the opposite. Whatever floats your boat.
Grate a little bit of dark chocolate on the surface of the vanilla cupcakes, and a little bit of white chocolate on the chocolate cupcakes.
Looks pretty, right? Now we’re going to de-classy it a little bit.
Spoon your coloured icing into a piping bag and start writing.
You probably don’t want to write MUGS on your cupcakes. Unless you do. In which case, why?
Store them in the fridge to keep them fresh, and enjoy them as you will. I think they look a little like Franken-cupcakes, but the Pie likes the look of ’em, and he’s the boss. I have no idea how they taste, either, because there weren’t any extras. But I can only assume that they are passably tolerable, just like everything else I do!
First thing to do this morning is take the white chocolate frosting and the fondant out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Don’t forget!
Right. So when we left off, we had just set the gum paste ivy leaves out to dry overnight. Fortunately for me, they didn’t completely dry, so I was able to cut tiny sticks of floral wire and stick them into each leaf as a stem. Had I known how rigid and brittle dried gum paste got, I would have done this the day before, when the leaves were still flexible. Also, the thicker the leaf, the better it worked.My plan was to wrap these new “stems” around my green licorice whip “vine” and then drape the whole thing over the cake.Of course the leaves were pretty heavy and the licorice was pretty delicate so of course the vine broke.In any case, I got all the stems in and flipped the leaves over to dry completely.My next idea was to simply drape the licorice vine over the cake, pin it in place with a few concealed floral wire “staples”, and then stick the leaves directly into the cake in strategic places. Of course I wouldn’t get to see if my plan worked until the following day. The tension starts to build.The worst part of decorating the cake today was that I had a medical procedure scheduled for late in the afternoon, and I wasn’t allowed to EAT ANYTHING until after it was over. You try icing a cake and not licking your fingers.
Now, when you make a tiered cake you need to give it support so it doesn’t sag. Not to mention the fact that a three-tiered cake is tremendously heavy, so everything has to be strong and secure.
The entire cake rests on a cake board, which you can buy at any cake or craft store. My lovely father decided he’d make one for me out of plywood, as a cake board is essentially just a board wrapped in foil. In addition, you need cake circles, essentially made of cardboard (though my dad used matting board here) that are exactly the size of each of your upper tiers. They will go on the bottom of each upper tier so that you can move them around and so cutting one tier won’t result in cutting all three tiers. It’s really amazing the amount of hidden structural material goes into a wedding cake.Now, you want to keep your cake as cold as possible, so I worked in shifts, putting each tier back into the fridge when I was finished each step. A cold cake is stiffer and less likely to come apart on you. Of course, the fridge I was using was downstairs in the basement and I had to negotiate several hallways in between. As the cakes became more and more complete, my mantra became “Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …”
First you need to level the tops of your tiers. Use a long serrated knife to remove the round bit at the top. To ensure a perfectly smooth top, I flipped my tiers over so the natural “pan line” was the one that showed. I had to work super hard to get the 16″ tier to come out level.
Use some royal icing or other stiff-drying frosting (which I also purchased) and plaster some on the surface of each cake circle. This will be your glue, and will prevent the tier from sliding off when you move the cake.I did the same with the cake board, and placed the tiers on their respective surfaces, cut-side down.Then I wrapped up the ones I wasn’t using and put them back in the fridge. Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …I’m sure I’ve spoken to you before on the importance of a crumb coat. It is what it sounds like: a coating of icing designed to freeze all your crumbs into place so they don’t show up on the surface of the finished cake. So, smooth a thin layer of white chocolate frosting all over the cake and try to keep it as even as possible. Then chuck the tiers back in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes so the frosting can firm up.
I found the smaller tiers easier to decorate if I placed them on an upside-down plate on top of an inverted bowl. Of course, if you have a rotating cake stand then you’re ahead of the game.And a handy tool like a fondant smoother is useful when you are trying to make your sides uniform. And on your second coat of icing, be generous. This stuff can hide many mistakes. Chuck the tiers in the fridge again after the second coat. Don’t drop it don’t drop it don’t drop it …As I mentioned earlier, this cake is no lightweight. In order to avoid a Leaning Tower of Pisa thing, we have to provide adequate structural support for each tier on top of the bottom one. We are going to create hidden support columns for our tiers, putting them inside the cake itself. This next part is a little weird, but you gotta trust me on this one.
Enter the Slurpee straw.Let’s ignore the fact that I had to purchase a Slurpee in order to make off with all these straws. The key to Slurpee straws is that they’re incredibly wide, which makes your support column all the more strong. Another plus is that they come in lurid colours, so you are unlikely to mistake them for the substance of the cake and consume them by accident.
So, you take your bottom tier. Rest the edges of the pan of the next tier on top for a second, just to leave a wee mark in the frosting where you want the next tier to go.
Insert the straw into the centre of your guideline, pointing straight down, press it all the way to the bottom, and remove it. You will remove a tiny plug of cake while you do this, but don’t worry, you’re going to put it back.
When you pull it out you can see the line that the frosting has left on the straw. Cut the straw at this point, then cut four more sections of straw to match this length.
Return the centre column to its original position in the cake and insert the other four columns around the centre one to evenly distribute the weight. Repeat this straw process for every tier except the top one and put the cakes carefully back in the fridge.Now we are going to start on our fondant embellishments. Slice off some fondant with a sharp knife and knead it with your hands to make it more malleable.I used a small amount of the icing colour we used to make the ivy leaves to create this pale green.I rolled it flat and used a pizza cutter and a metal ruler to cut long strips of the stuff.These are going to form bands at the bottom of each tier.Working carefully, so as not to stretch the fondant strip, place them along the bottom of each tier. Because my fondant was a little on the dry side, I found it easier in the end to cut the fondant strips into sections and handle them with a fondant smoother. You can see that I’m wearing gloves in this shot to avoid putting fingerprints on the fondant.
I used the smoother to provide support as I pressed the strip portions onto the cake.
Then, with a soft paintbrush, I gently brushed on some green lustre dust for texture.Not bad, not bad. You won’t notice all the imperfections from a distance, once the ivy is in place.Next I rolled out some white fondant and got out the French curves. I traced the edges with a sharp pointed knife and pulled away the excess fondant.
Then ever so carefully transferred the shapes to the cake. I used the biggest curves on the bottom tier.On the top two tiers I used used the smaller curve.Now put those all in the fridge and leave them there. More on Monday, when we put this baby together!
This is kind of a mish-mash cake I made for Rusty (the man loves his cake), and it turned out pretty well, all things considered. The cake recipe comes from Epicurious.com and the icing is a modified version of the one I used in the Pie’s vanilla birthday cake.
Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter and flour a 9″ x 9″ square cake pan (or, in this case, a 10″ round springform pan).
Cream together 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup softened butter. Then add in 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder and add that to the butter/egg mixture.
Finally, stir in 1/2 cup milk until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level the top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove to a rack to cool completely.
I was a little disappointed at how flat this cake turned out. I suppose if I were to do it again I would separate the eggs and whip the whites to boost the volume. You can gently fold the whites into your mixed batter to make your cake much fluffier.
While the cake is cooling, prepare your icing. In a double boiler, melt 4 oz white chocolate.
Cream together 1 package (250g) softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup milk, 4 cups icing sugar, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. If you use heavy cream instead of milk you will need less icing sugar.
Add in the melted chocolate and blend until smooth. Put that gooey goodness in the fridge to cool.
I decided to add a fruity boost to the cake with 1 cup blueberry fruit sauce (you can see the basic recipe here). Make sure your sauce is cool before you put it on your cake or it will melt your icing.
When the cake is cool, carefully slice it in half horizontally so you have two layers.
Slather some white chocolate icing on the top of the bottom slice and cool that in the fridge for a few minutes.
Plop about three quarters of your fruit sauce on top of that icing layer and smooth it out. I may have licked the spoon. But everyone who ate it was related to me.
Plop the second cake layer on top and ice the whole cake with your icing. Mine was pretty gooey and so oozed down the sides, but it worked out for me.
Pour the remaining fruit sauce on top of the cake.
Swirl with a knife for a marbled effect and then cool in the refrigerator until set.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a great cake to whip up for a potluck or casual dinner. Baking it in a 9″ x 13″ glass casserole dish makes it easy to carry and means you can even freeze the cake if you need it later.
The fudgy icing adds the element of delectability to what is otherwise a regular cake recipe. Cake recipe from Canadian Living, fudge icing from Chocablog.
Spray the sides of a 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish and line the bottom with parchment paper (you can use metal baking pans as well, but I prefer the even cooking of the glass) and set that aside. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, beat together 1 1/2 cups softened butter with 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar. I ran out of white so I added in some brown.
Add in, one at a time, 3 eggs, followed by 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
In a separate container, mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and the same again of baking soda.
Stir your flour mixture alternately with 2 1/4 cups buttermilk (or milk soured with lemon juice or vinegar), making three additions of the dry stuff and two of the buttermilk.
At this point I was slightly concerned because the mixture was the consistency and colour of wet cement. I figured I might as well forge ahead in any case.
Scrape that cement into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until tester comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about ten minutes, then turn out onto the rack and peel off the paper and allow to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling you can start on your icing.
In a medium saucepan, melt 10 oz butter at low heat.
Holy crap that’s a lot of buttery goodness.
Stir in 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and raise the heat a bit before adding 10 oz icing sugar.
Gradually add in 6 tablespoons milk and allow the mixture to come to a boil.
Remove from heat when you have a glossy, smooth paste, and allow to cool completely.
Slather that goodness all over your cake. Just give ‘er.
Then you get to eat it. I made this for Cait and iPM and Cait informed me that she had it for breakfast. So it’s a multipurpose cake.
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 PIZZA. That 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 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.
#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.’
#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.
#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.
#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.
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:
#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.
#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.
#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.
I had to redeem myself.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.