Cupcake Week

Last week was a great week for cupcakes! A friend came to visit me in the city, and after we went to a blues and bbq festival on Pier 84 (that pulled pork sandwich really hit the spot!), we went down to Molly’s Cupcakes in the West Village.

There are no words to describe the heaven we were in. I had been there one time previously and loved it, but this time there was no comparison. We couldn’t make a choice at first, and then I had the BRILLIANT idea to get three cupcakes and just cut them in half. I see that all the time on the blogs I follow, so how was that not the plan from when we walked in the door? Crisis averted!

We finally chose the Mixed Berry, Chocolate Decadence, and Creme Brulee and settled into our swing chairs for some cupcake bliss. I knew from the second I cut into the chocolate one that we were in for an amazing experience. We were not disappointed.

I started with the chocolate (obviously!), and it was so rich. I don’t think I could have handled the whole thing. It certainly lived up to its name! Then I moved on to the mixed berry, which was like a perfectly sweet blueberry muffin. The cake and buttercream were light and fluffy, and it was like I was eating a cloud. We each saved the creme brulee for last, since another friend was raving about it before we got there. I’m not even sure how to describe it. It had a thin glaze over a creme-brulee-flavored cake, with a custard filling. It was the perfect ending.

Every so often for the rest of the weekend, when one of us would remember these cupcakes, we would both reply with an “OMG so good!” and sigh in contentment. It was almost a religious experience, and I can’t wait to make the pilgrimage again soon!

Shifting gears, I finally redeemed the voucher I won for frosting the best cupcake at Butter Lane last year. I thought it would be a yummy treat for me and my new roommates. I headed over there after work, eager for another sugary indulgence.

I picked out a Sea Salt Caramel, Strawberry, Salted Caramel with Popcorn, Peanut Butter Banana, Cookie Dough, and Chocolate. I knew immediately that under no circumstances would I share the Sea Salt Caramel cupcake. It was mine.

It was torture waiting for people to come home so we could dig in. I figured we would cut the cupcakes in fours, so we could get a bit of (almost) each. When I ate the Sea Salt Caramel earlier, I had the thought that I didn’t want to share the rest, which made me all the more impatient for later in the evening. In the end it was worth it, as we crowded around the table and sampled the night away.

Snickers Cupcakes

Before this year, I had never actually sat down to watch the Tony Awards. I never really had a reason to watch the actual ceremony. I mean, I like Broadway and all, but I’ve never been truly invested in it. However, I was invited to my friend’s Tonys party this year, so I thought I’d give it a chance. It was a blast! Friends, good food, good sangria, a Playbill puzzle (!), and the Tonys. It was a potluck affair, so of course I offered to bring dessert! I keep looking for reasons to bake and try out new things for an audience, so this was a fun opportunity.

At first I was really excited to bake up some lemon cupcakes, but then I texted my friend and horror of horrors, she’s not a big fan of lemon! I was a bit crushed, but I quickly bounced back and found a different recipe that would hopefully please everyone.

Enter these Snickers Cupcakes from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures! So sinfully rich. The cupcake base is especially delicious, with a deep chocolate flavor and a tender crumb. And such lovely little domes! I broke up the process and made the caramel sauce the day before and then the cupcakes and frosting the day of.

I waited to assemble everything until I got to my friend’s apartment, because I knew it would be a disaster on the subway if I did otherwise. Once I got there, I gave the frosting a good whipping  and then put together the surviving cupcakes. Despite my care, there were still a few casualties, but we’ll get to those next.

Since there were a fair few crushed cupcakes, I had filling and frosting left over. A couple of the girls at the party solved that little problem by just eating the two straight! Can’t say I blame them, though, as I was tempted to do the same.

I didn’t want to just eat the cupcake crumbs alone, so I combined them with the remaining frosting, and make cake balls with a chocolate coating. Such a good idea!

Classic Yellow Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

The baking bug really hit me hard in the days before the semester began. I was home from work by 4pm, and I had the rest of the afternoon and evening at my disposal. I also had a roommate who really loves baked goods. Solution: cupcakes! I found this recipe on Annie’s Eats and quartered it for my purposes. It is originally intended as a cake, but I wanted cupcakes instead. But there’s a very important lesson to be learned from this.

You always dream of the perfect recipe that will result in flat-topped cakes without having to slice off the rounded portion. This is ones of those recipes. But that’s a problem, you see, because with cupcakes you want domes, domes, domes! A domed cupcake this is not. Lesson: do not use a scratch CAKE recipe for CUPcakes. It’s not the end of the world though, because the flatness just means you can use the remainder of the wrapper to support a gigantic pile of frosting, beyond what is physically possible to heap onto a beautifully domed cupcake.

Aside from not doming, this yellow cake recipe is a keeper. The flavor combination was delicious, and the frosting was so rich and perfect, and definitely not sickeningly sweet. I’m always on the look-out for a good yellow cake and chocolate frosting combo that doesn’t require nearly a dozen egg yolks, so I’m glad I found this one. It’s such a classic combo and I get cravings for it at the most random times, so it’ll be nice to have a relatively low-maintenance recipe to fall back on. The large quantities of chocolate might pose a problem from time to time, though.

I also used this baking time to practice my frosting technique. I bought myself a small spatula at Michael’s when I was home, and I tried my best to replicate the technique I learned when I baked cupcakes at Butter Lane. It’s been a few months, but am I still “the best froster ever!”?

Butter Lane Cupcakes

One of the new year events in my dorm involved going up to Butter Lane Cupcakes for a baking class. For the low, low price of $10 plus subway fare, 15 of us got to bake five different kinds of cupcakes with six kinds of frosting. We made vanilla, chocolate, banana, vanilla/chocolate marble, and banana/chocolate marble cupcakes with vanilla, chocolate, cream cheese, chocolate peanut butter, raspberry, and cinnamon buttercream, plus assorted sprinkles and jimmies.

I got to use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for the first time in my life, and boy if I didn’t want one badly before, I REALLY want one of those babies now. Normally I don’t have the patience to properly cream together butter and sugar, but with this it’s no problem! I was coveting the light pink one they had stashed under one of the baking stations.

My group was charged with making the vanilla cupcakes and vanilla buttercream. I wasn’t terribly thrilled about this at the start–mostly because I wanted the chocolate ones–but I ended up liking my group and our final products well enough.

We all took turns adding the different ingredients, and thankfully we didn’t mess anything up too badly, unlike the chocolate group behind us. One of the guys (of course it was a guy, haha) poured the entire cupful of water directly into the batter without measuring out the proper amount. Now, I’ve done that a few times in my life with buttermilk, but at least that was in the privacy of my own kitchen and not in front of 14 other people and a professional pastry chef! Needless to say, this poor boy’s actions did not escape unnoticed and he was promptly called out on them and received a good ribbing from the rest of us.

All the cupcakes went into the oven and baked up. While they were doing their thing, we sampled some of the bakery’s products. Wow did they look good. I didn’t taste anything at the time, but I didn’t mind. More room for me to eat my own creations!

Then came the delicious buttercream. We even got to use a real vanilla bean in it. Now not only do I want a Kichen Aid stand mixer, but I’m dying to use real vanilla beans!

Before we added the powdered sugar to the butter and cream cheese, one of my own group mates wanted to taste the powdered sugar, but the girl who passed him the tasting stick stuck it into the butter/cream cheese instead. He then decided he would taste the two together, and so he dunked another tasting stick into the sugar and attempted to sprinkle the sugar on top of the butter/cream cheese stick. You should have seen the look on the woman’s face who was instructing us. It was hilarious.

This resulted in the dreaded cinnamon challenge. Him, another group mate, and the water boy all came forward for a secret challenge the woman put forth, since they seemed so eager to eat weird things. She lined them up against the wall and gave them each a tablespoon of cinnamon. The person who ate it all first won. As soon as the cinnamon passed each of their lips, puffs of cinnamon immediately spurt forth from their mouths as they tried not to choke or die. It was absolutely HILARIOUS. I got video of it, and myself and my roommate relived those moments when we got home.

After we finished the cinnamon challenge and making the buttercream, we had a frosting competition. By this time the frosting was in sore shape because it was melting due to the room’s temperature and the amount of times we’d handled it. The butter just wasn’t holding up as well as I hoped it would.

Our instructor showed us how they frost them in the bakery and then let us try our hand at doing the same. Sadly, most peoples’ didn’t even come close, but we all had lots of fun trying. However, I wasn’t just in it for the fun. I was in it to win the prize, and I did! I had the best cupcake of the bunch, and for that I won a gift certificate for a free half-dozen cupcakes! I’m not sure when I’m going to go back and claim them–possibly for a special occasion for myself and my suitemates. It doesn’t expire for a year, so I have plenty of time to decide.

We made SO MANY cupcakes. Each batch yielded 36 cupcakes, and we made three batches. We ended up with 108 cupcakes to frost and split among the 15 of us. I think a lot of us got overwhelmed while we were frosting them, because the pace definitely slowed down about halfway through.

We frosted, decorated, and boxed up our creations to take home. Since I went with my roommate, we took home 18 cupcakes because each box held 9. I don’t know how the four of us are going to finish them all; we might have to go knock on some doors in the hallway to pass some out before they get stale. It would be a pity to waste them.

All in all, this was a great trip and I’m glad I went. Originally I wasn’t going to go because I didn’t think I could swing the co-pay, but I’m glad I went. It was a good bonding experience, I met some new people, and I brought home bunches of cupcakes.

The buttercream really didn’t hold up very well. It’s melty and all over the place. I wish we could have stuck it in the fridge for a few minutes. Oh well.

Most importantly, though, for once I didn’t have to clean up my own mess. That alone was worth the cost.

Citrus!

Once again I have fallen desperately behind in updating here, but at least I have a tiny excuse. I’ve actually been out *gasp* HAVING FUN! I can hardly believe it myself, seeing as how I can be a right shut-in most of the time. It’s been an amazing few weeks, and thankfully all this fun hasn’t been breaking the bank too badly. It’s astonishing what you can do when you make the plans in advance and stick to them. I just wish I could say the same about posting, but I’m just glad I’ve even been able to get pictures because all of my baked goods have been disappearing rather quickly as of late.

Three weeks ago for a 4th of July “celebration” I made the Margarita Cupcakes I found on Beantown Baker’s blog. These cupcakes almost didn’t get made because I had no clue what I was doing when I was in the liquor store. It was an entirely new experience for me and not one I’d like to repeat any time in the near future, thank you very much.

They came together and baked up quickly and with little hassle. If anything the longest process was zesting and juicing the limes. I slightly overestimated how many I would need for these cupcakes and the accompanying watermelon “margaritas” (don’t ask . . . it was bad), and as a result I still have four limes sitting in my fridge.

I liked these cupcakes without the added tequila. It turned out to be a really good lime cupcake with a nice crumb; it was sturdy and spongey. I’m definitely going to keep the plain base in mind for future white cake baking endeavors.

Unfortunately for myself I couldn’t finish the remaining cupcakes so I sent them along with my suitemate so she could give them to some friends. While this was an enjoyable baking experience, I just don’t think alcoholic cupcakes will remain in my repertoire, not just because the alcohol is expensive (I’d MUCH rather spend that money on new pans or high-quality chocolate), but because after just one cupcake I had a raging headache. This happens every time I have the slightest bit of any sort of alcohol, and I think it’s stupid to put myself through hours of pain (even with Advil) to consume something I don’t even enjoy (even if it’s a part of something I enjoy).

In other citrus news, I also recently made Strawberry Lemonade Bars from The Baker Chick. I loved this bar base, so if ever I made lemon bars again, I will definitely stick with it. Unlike other recipes I’ve tried, this bar didn’t even come close to sticking to the bottom of the pan–well, except for one bar, but I’m blaming that on the friend trying to get it out.

I ended up adding way more than the 1/2 cup of pureed strawberry the recipe called for, and the strawberry flavor was still extremely faint, at least to me. The lemon still overpowered it, even though I added about a quarter cup less lemon juice than it called for. I’m not sure if the strawberry is meant to be overpowered and it’s just used for color, but I certainly expected some sort of strawberry flavor.

All in all it was a good bar, but the recipe made so many that I only just finished off the last of them, even with a considerable bit of help from friends.

Speaking of friends, two of us are seeing our first-ever GAELIC FOOTBALL GAME TOMORROW! We’re heading up to Gaelic Park in the Bronx to check out “Little Ireland”/Woodlawn and we’re going to catch a game while we’re up there. If only I had known about the league before this summer, I would have definitely gone to a game or two before this.