Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Cupcake Challenge: Chocolate and Yellow Cupcakes


A little while ago I attempted to make cupcakes from scratch. I have always made cupcakes from a box,  but I wanted to officially 'bake cupcakes'. It couldn't be that hard anyway. So I searched my favorite collection of baking recipes that I have always wanted to try and picked out a pretty basic one. Being naive I didn't want to buy cake flour so I baked a recipe that called for just all-purpose flour. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES and don't do this.  This was my first mistake and the cupcakes were absolutely terrible.

My failure put me into a frenzy and I am determined to make, well not necessarily the perfect cupcake, but some pretty good ones at that, hence the cupcake challenge. To start off, I did what I usually do when stumped and turned to my trusty America's Family Kitchen Cookbook and bought some cake flour. These cupcakes were a huge improvement, but I am still working on perfecting them.


Their Dark Chocolate Cupcakes were beautiful. Unfortunately I forgot to buy sour cream and used buttermilk instead resulting in rather dry cupcakes. Also I found the chocolate flavor a little lacking. Yes they were rich, but too bitter. Next attempt I will try to increase the fat ratio and hopefully this will help fix the problem. Overall they were good and in a pinch I would definitely make them again. This particular recipe doesn't call for cake flour, but I do want to try to modify it with cake flour.

DARK CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Makes: 24 cupcakes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes plus cooking time

  • 16 Tbsp. of butter (2 sticks)
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder.
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup of sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small microwave safe bowl add the butter, chocolate and cocoa powder. Microwave the contents for 30 second intervals whisking until completely melted and combined. While this mixture cools, start combining the other ingredients.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix well. In another larger bowl whisk the eggs and vanilla together. Then slowly whisk in the sugar and the cooled chocolate and butter mixture. Finally sift the flower mixture over the batter and then mix in the sour cream.

Bake for 18 to 22 minutes and let cool completely.

As seen in the picture below, you can see the crack in the top of the cupcakes. This shows that the fat and flour within the cupcake are completely set. This means that the cupcake wont change consistency or become gooey the next day, which happens when your baked goods are undercooked. This crack often parallels with a small dome shape on the cupcake, but if you don't overcook them the dome should flatten out a bit.


Next came the Easy Yellow Cupcakes that pretty much double as vanilla cupcakes. I prefer baking without chocolate because the ingredients are simpler and cheaper. My favorite thing about these cupcakes was their super fine crumb. It was amazing. However I found these cupcakes were also too dry. When I imagine the perfect cupcake three words come to mind; dense, moist and fluffy. I know fluffy contradicts dense, but the idea is to find the perfect equilibrium between the two characteristics. This cupcake was dense and slightly fluffy, but definitely not moist. 


I am currently modifying this recipe and I am almost finished. Hopefully I will have it fixed by sometime in September. These cupcakes do not have the crack on top and are actually a tad under cooked, but this helped counter act with their dryness. 

EASY YELLOW CUPCAKES
Makes: 24 cupcakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes plus cooking time
  • 3 cups of cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 12 tbsp. of butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl whisk the vanilla in with the eggs and butter.  Slowly add the sugar and then the buttermilk. Sift the flour over the batter and mix thoroughly, but do not over mix. 

Bake for 18- 22 minutes and let cool completely. 



The cupcakes to the left are my attempt to make coconut cupcakes. However, they did not turn out well and its not even worth providing a recipe. All you need to know is, do not try using coconut milk instead of buttermilk (don't make fun of me, I am still learning the art of the cupcake!).

The last little experiment I conducted was to test the difference between a basic square American oven and a convection oven similar to the round top ovens often found in Europe. A convection oven circulates the hot air making the middle of baked good cook faster. In a square oven the hot air sits at the top of the oven above the cupcakes. 


The cupcake on the left was baked with a convection oven. You can see that it is thinner and taller, which shows that the inside baked faster than the cupcake on the right which was baked in a regular American square oven. These were the coconut cupcakes so they don't look as pretty.  I do like the convection oven, but before I use it again I would need to play around with the cooking times.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Arugula Salad with Walnuts, Prosciutto and Apples

This is a continuation from my last post Penne Pasta with Tomato and Beet Sauce. To start off I'd like to share some flowers I have come across over the past couple of days. The white and purple one is from down town Davis and the peach colored rose is from Clarkspurg, Ca.
 



This salad was a quick and simple combination. The ingredients are as follows:

  • arugula
  • apples
  • walnuts
  • prosciutto 
  • olive oil
  • vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Toss together the first four ingredients. Unfortunately this was a spur of the moment creation and I didn't record the ratio. I would adjust the amount of each ingredient based on what you like most. For the dressing combine olive oil and vinegar and then add Dijon mustard to taste. Add more oil than vinegar. Then add salt and pepper to taste. 



We wanted to make lemonade but we didn't have enough lemons so we added fresh oranges as well. We added one orange and one lemon and then filled the pitcher with water. For sweetness, I added a tablespoon of honey. The taste was soft and light. I added two sprigs of fresh mint and it was delightful.  It tasted like the garden. 





Monday, July 9, 2012

Penne Pasta with Tomato and Beet Sauce




Over the weekend I went to go visit family and meet my Aunt and Uncle's new puppy. They have a nice bit of property outside of Sacramento. It was absolutely beautiful, but oh so hot. 



Our visit was in need of a quick and simple meal that would also help celebrate the occasion. This penne pasta with tomato and beet sauce is a great party dish. You could make the sauce the day before in less than an hour and keep it in the fridge. The day of the party add a quick salad and some pasta and you have a great vegetarian friendly meal in less than a half an hour. I love quick dinner party recipes!


For the penne with beat and tomato sauce:

  • 1 packet of penne
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 4 small beets 
  • 1 onion
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 15-oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce
  • Large pack of goat cheese to crumble over
  • 2 tbsp of fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place the beets in a small pot and cover with water.  You want the water just above the beets so they are always submerged, but you also want to use a limited amount of water. If you use too much water the flavor will not be as rich. Bring the beets to a boil and then let them simmer for roughly 20 minutes. Keep checking on the beets to make sure the water doesn't evaporate. If the water level drops feel free to add a little more. 


While the beets are cooking, start caramelizing the onions. Don't worry about making them pretty because you will end up putting them in the blender or food processor. Add the olive oil to a sauce pan and add the sliced onions, cook for 40 minutes. While they are cooking add the rosemary, salt and pepper. Remove the rosemary sprig at the end. If you like you can pull off the leaves and add them to the sauce. 

While the beets are cooling and the onions are caramelizing start cooking the pasta. This could also be done in the beginning.  Save some of the past water.


After the beets are done simmering, remove their skins. You can save the water which should be bright red and very sweet. Add the beats, onions, dijon mustard and marinara sauce to a blender or food processor. After the mixture is smooth feel free to adjust the thickness with pasta water. Apply the sauce to the pasta in a large bowl for mixing. Don't feel   like you need to use all the sauce. I found that I could have saved some for a smaller batch and if you loosen the mixture with pasta sauce you should have even more left over. Of course you are always welcome to use all the sauce in one batch. 

When serving garnish with crumbled goat cheese and chopped parsley. The dish is best served warm, but its not bad cold. We paired this dish with some left over steak, orange lemonade with mint and arugula salad with walnuts, apples and prosciutto

 And the best part was I got to see my little girl! She is about 17 years old now. She makes me sad a lot of the time because she isn't quite all there, but her nose still works! Nanny is my bundle of love.


My father and I came up with this recipe based on his previous knowledge of basic tomato pasta sauces and my new found obsession with beets.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My Life is Sweet Like Cinnamon

James came to visit for the weekend and he whipped out the old milkshake maker in honor of the heat. I will have to double check with him, but there isn't really an exact recipe for his shakes. He just combines ice cream and milk and the ratio depends on the thickness you want. He used vanilla bean ice cream and regular 2 percent milk. Every once and a while James will surprise me with a hot chocolate or milk shake and it always makes me smile ear to ear. The tell tell sign whether or not a drink was made by James is the presence of whipped cream.


He made us shakes after our Saturday morning trip to the farmers market where I got the most amazing peaches and fresh lavender. I can't wait to go back and get more! I have been craving a peach pie ever since our trip, but I am out of peaches (and time). Hopefully, I will make one this weekend.

At the market we met a flat coat retriever that looked just like Shadow, James's dog at home. She even gave me kisses! I miss living with animals, its killing me. There is a good chance James and I will cave and get a doxie next year.


I always stop at the Fat Face stand to buy a breakfast sammie and a mint black tea, which I am holding. The look on my face is screaming, James is in town! Being separated has allowed for more productive time, but I don't think it is a very good trade. 



On the way home we always stop by and say hi to the farmers market inspector. This little cat waits at the corner and says hi to everyone leaving. He likes to check our produce for us.


Here is my beautiful boy :). I can't believe we've been together for over three years already! Looking forward to seeing him for the Fourth of July. 


Did I mention how much I love lavender? I might even love it as much as I love dachshunds. I have a sensitive nose which gets offended quite easily and lavender or coffee beans are my favorite way to give my nose a break. I am currently attempting to dry my lavender. In the future I want to make candles and small little pillows from it.  


I also got some lovely carrots and beets Saturday. Since then I made an amazing honey glazed carrots with sesame seed dish. I am saving the beats to use as a dye for my white cotton yarn.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Big Fluffy Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins



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