Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Great Grape Birthday Cake Experiment

When I asked the girl, some weeks ago, what flavors of birthday cake she wanted this year, she promptly responded, "Strawberry and grape."

Grape.  Really.

She opted for strawberry cake and grape cupcakes, instead of a 2-tier cake.  And she wanted her cupcakes to have rainbow frosting like she saw on the Wilton cupcake book in the grocery store.  So I got to mix rainbow colors again.  Joy!

But back to the grape cake.  There are really no recipes for grape-flavored birthday cake on the internet. At least not that I could find.  I found cakes with actual grapes in them, but that's not what she wanted. So we got to experiment.

First, I used my scratch strawberry cake recipe and adapted it for grape.  The cupcakes tasted good, but they didn't really rise very well.  And they were a strange color.

So I set the rest of the batter aside and we moved on to plan B:

These cupcakes rose and were purple.

Here's a side-by-side:

The only problem was, the scratch cupcakes tasted better.  At least to the adults.  The kids liked the mix better.

In the meantime, I looked over and saw the rest of the scratch cake batter sitting on the counter.  I decided to add some purple food coloring and bake them.


After sitting around for a while they rose higher, and the color was much better overall.  Maybe my baking powder needed time to activate.  Maybe the batter needed to rest.  Who knows?

So we ended up with a massive amount of grape cupcakes.  Honestly, they weren't bad, but they were definitely grape-y.  Not something I will make regularly, but they were fun for a kid's birthday party.  Especially with the rainbow icing.  Which turned out to be an obscene amount on each cupcake, in case you were wondering.

Topped with fondant "cherries". I didn't want to use regular maraschino cherries because they leak.

Most importantly, though, the girl was quite happy with both her cake and her cupcakes.

Here's the recipe for the scratch cupcakes:

Grape Cake from Scratch
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 3-oz package grape gelatin
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, room temperature
2 3/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup thawed frozen grape concentrate, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour two 8" round cake pans or line 24 muffin cups.

In a large bowl, cream together sugar, butter and dry grape gelatin until fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Combine dry ingredients and mix in alternately with the milk.  Blend in extracts and grape concentrate.  Divide batter into pans and bake.  30 - 35 minutes for cake, 18 minutes for cupcakes.

Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Frost and enjoy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Little Pony Birthday Cake

The girl wanted unicorns on her birthday cake again this year.  I wasn't really feeling it.  I'm a baker, not an artist.

So I made this:

And then we did this:

That's Princess Cadance.  It was a win-win.

Strawberry cake, just like she wanted.  But don't worry, this isn't all she got.  She also wanted cupcakes for her birthday.  I'll post about those a little later.

That's all for now.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

The boy's school had a bake sale on Friday.  I forgot about it until Wednesday.  Really, his school tells us about things waaaaaay too early.  Like I'm supposed to remember in April, a notice that got sent home in January.  Sheesh.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: some people are organized.  I am not one of them.  So instead of making fabulous, beautiful, amazing, creatively genius-y sugar cookies for the bake sale, I made cupcakes.  Go me!

But, I remembered to take a few pictures for anyone who's interested in seeing the process.  I can seriously whip this recipe out in no time these days.  I make it that often.

First things first, boil 2 cups of water and mix it with one cup of cocoa powder.  Let that cool to room temperature.

That looks kind of weird, right?  Here's a tip: Mix the cocoa and water the night before and leave it in the fridge.  Shake it up a little when you're ready to use it.  You'll get a few air bubbles, but we can deal with air bubbles.  Because if you're in a hurry you really don't want to wait for the cocoa mixture to cool down.

Next, measure the dry ingredients and whisk them together in a bowl.  Set it aside for now.

Put butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream it together until it is light and fluffy.

Get some eggs.

I love eggs.  Someday I'm going to have chickens.  But for now, I just have eggs.

Anyhoo, mix the eggs in one at a time.  I like to crack my eggs into the little blue bowl first, then beat them a little with a fork before adding to the mixer.  Alton Brown told me to, and he seems to know what he's doing.

Add a heaping tablespoon of vanilla extract.  Real vanilla, please.

And next you will mix the dry ingredients and the cooled cocoa mixture alternately into the creamed mixture.

I start and end with the dry ingredients.  I'm probably doing it backwards.  I can never remember how you're supposed to do it.

There's the last of the cocoa.  And here's where I forgot to take another picture until after I put two tins of cupcakes into the oven.

There's what it will look like when it's done.  Only triple that amount.

Pretty little cupcakes before they go into the oven...

...and after they come out.

Why yes, that is two different cupcake tins.  I only have three, and they're all strikingly different from each other.

Remove your cupcakes to a cooling rack and hold onto your hat.  Because now comes the fun part...strawberry frosting!

I know I just posted about frosting, but I'm out to prove how adaptable this recipe is.

Throw a cuppa butter and a cuppa shortening into your freshly washed mixing bowl.  Because you only have one bowl, too...right?

Beat the snot out of it (technical baking term right there...there will be a quiz later) for a few minutes.  Like 4 or 5.  It will look light and silky and just barely yellow.

 Throw in a heaping tablespoon of vanilla and a quarter teaspoon of salt. (I guess you could use salted butter if you want to do it the easy way...I feel like I have more control this way.)

Mix that all together, then dump in 2 pounds of powdered sugar and mix on low speed until blended.

Yeah, like that.  It will be very thick.  Your mixer may start making angry noises at you.  Be careful that it doesn't.

I started out with a few tablespoons of strawberry puree (just throw some thawed frozen berries in the food processor for a moment to make the puree).

*Make a mental note to thank Jen at Cake Wrecks for making it impossible for you to say the word "puree" without mentally singing "raspberry puree" to the tune of Prince's "Raspberry Beret".

Thanks, Jen.

Add a splash of heavy cream and keep an eye on it.  This looks nice, but it's still too thick for my liking.

A little more cream, a couple more tablespoons of strawberry puree, and a small splash of strawberry extract later and it's just right!  Turn the speed up and let it go for a few minutes.

Gorgeous!  Light, pink, fluffy perfection.

Now the cupcakes should be cool, so start frosting!  I made swirls, roses and carnations.  The swirls had white sugar pearls, the carnations had disco dust (!) and the roses were nekkid.

Sorry for the bad photo.  It was the worst one I got all day.  Figures.

I could use this one, but it gives me vertigo.  Not sure what happened here.

The girl thought the carnations were awesome.

They were really pretty with the disco dust (!).  It was baby pink.

Here's the recipe.  I've linked to it before, but I don't know that I've ever put it on the blog.

Dark Chocolate Cake I

2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 Tbs vanilla extract

-Whisk boiling water into cocoa powder and set aside to cool.
-Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
-Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
-Add dry ingredients alternately with cooled cocoa mixture.
-Put into prepared pans and bake.

This recipe makes about 8 cups of batter.  The original recipe calls for three 9 inch pans, but for me that is too many.  I usually make 2 - 8" layers, 1 - 10" and 1 - 6", or 36 cupcakes.  (If you use the right ice cream scoop for portioning, you will get exactly 36 cupcakes.)

Oh, and the cupcakes were a success at the bake sale.  WooHoo!  And I took a few to work, where they were promptly scarfed down.  They're yummy.  You should try them.

Well, that's all for now.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lemon Meringue Pie!

It's Springtime!  Sort of!  It's 41 degrees today!  But that beats snow, and I'll take whatever I can get at this point.

To me, spring means lemon meringue pie.  Summer means peaches, but that's another post altogether.

I tried a few recipes until coming across this one a few years back.  It's Alton Brown's, and it's the best one I've ever found.  I forgot to take pictures so no step-by-step today.  Actually, I always forget to take pictures.  Because I make these quite a lot.  Maybe someday I'll get a picture of a slice, too.

It's sooooo good.  Really.  My dad wants two for his birthday.

Anyhoo, follow the link, try the recipe.  You'll be glad you did.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Hot Cross Buns

Happy Easter!  Just a day late!

I'm usually just a little behind the 8-ball.  Today is no exception.

Saturday we made hot cross buns for Easter. It was fun!I think this is the third year we've made them.  They were never a tradition in our house when I was growing up, but now that I've discovered them, we'll be making them every year, time permitting.

I use the Pioneer Woman's recipe, just slightly tweaked.  First, I use the whole cinnamon roll dough recipe, instead of half.  Because, really, the half recipe only makes two dozen or so buns, and for all that work, it's not enough.  Just being honest.

Second, I use currants instead of raisins.  The first year I used raisins because I could not find currants anywhere.  It was bizarre. But the past two years our grocery store has carried SunMaid Zante currants, which are lovely.

Third, I use the cinnamon called for in the recipe, plus one teaspoon (heaping) cardamom and a heavy pinch of ground cloves.  Mmmm...spicy.

Anyhoo, start by mixing up the dough as per the Pioneer Woman's instructions.  I made the dough the day before and left it in the fridge overnight.  If you do that, keep an eye on it.  When I got home from work (2 a.m.) and checked on it, the dough was about to overflow the giant bowl it was sitting in.  I punched it down firmly and went to bed.

The next day, it had risen again (kind of appropriate for Easter, huh?) and looked like this:

(Again, that's a really big bowl.)

To make hot cross buns, mix the sugar and spices together and set aside. Measure out the currants and set aside.

Flour your workstation and get to rolling!  And here's where I flaked out and stopped taking pictures. I guess I was caught up in the moment. But roll the dough, not too thin and sprinkle on a third of the sugar mixture and a third of the currants.  Fold the dough in half and roll lightly to flatten it out.  Sprinkle on the second third of sugar and currants.  Fold the dough in half and roll lightly to flatten.  Repeat this process one more time.

And here's where I remembered to start taking pictures again.  I used my bench scraper to cut slices of dough, then cut the slices into squares.  I may be slightly OCD.  Carefully form the squares into golf ball pulling and stretching the dough from the top and tucking it under.  The finished product looks nicer if you can hide all the good stuff inside.

My helper had a great time. Messy hair and all.

Let the buns rise for another hour, brush the tops with beaten egg white mixed with a little milk and pop them into a 400 oven for about 15 minutes.  Mine took 14 minutes exactly, but the original recipe calls for 20.  So do whatever works for you.  You'll smell them when they're ready.  I wish I could blog the smell.  Heavenly!

Here they are fresh out of the oven.  Do you see the girl's?

She may have had a little trouble with the tucking under.  But she did a good job!

The full recipe made just over 4 dozen.  The kids and I may have eaten the extras.  The boy told me that fresh baked bread is the best thing in the world.  I had to agree.

I made the royal icing the Pioneer Woman uses, the kind with a real egg white. It's really, really good.  If you feel like living on the edge, you should try it sometime. Unfortunately, the recipe with one egg only made enough icing for 3 dozen buns.  And I really didn't want leftovers.  Fortunately, I just *happened* to have some leftover white royal icing in the fridge. So I used that on the last dozen.  Honestly, if I'd remembered it sooner, I would have used it on all of them.

Well, that's all for today.  Hope everyone had a joyous and blessed Easter!