Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spring Comes Early

Maybe it’s to make up for the utter lack of spring we had in the northeast last year, but it has been an incredibly mild winter. And I’m surely not complaining! Two days ago on my walk home from work, it was so warm that I got frozen yogurt! At night! In February!

In the spirit of this joyous and unexpected warmth in the depths of winter, I set out to make these beautiful Spring Cupcakes from Martha Stewart. I had seen them in my cupcake cookbook long ago and fallen in love with their exquisite elegance. I decided that I was going to put them aside and make them when my friend Rocio got engaged, because a) they are so pretty, perfect for an engagement, b) purple is Rocio’s favorite color and c) they’re kind of complicated so they called for a special occasion. But she is taking an awfully long time to get engaged. It’s so annoying when other people don’t plan their major life decisions around my cupcake-baking schedule.

I was beginning to despair that these cupcakes would ever get made when I got a message from my friend Sarah – she was having a Downton Abbey-themed birthday party, and all were welcome to bring baked goods! I could totally picture the Crawley sisters nibbling on these cupcakes and – added bonus! – purple is Sarah’s favorite color too! So I set to work, feeling rather like Mrs. Patmore and wishing I had a scullery maid to yell at. The brownie base was straightforward enough, and sooo tasty, although the tops were not quite as flat as I had hoped. I found the lavender for the icing at Fairway. Maybe I didn’t steep it for long enough, or maybe I don’t know what lavender is supposed to taste like, but I thought the frosting mostly tasted like milk and confectioner’s sugar. I was also having trouble getting it to not run off the sides and create unsightly rivulets (Mr. Carson would not approve). What I ultimately ended up doing was pouring on spoonfuls of icing from the Pyrex cup and then holding the cupcake over it, rotating so that any extra icing ran off back into the cup. You can do this a few times over if you want a nice thick layer of icing.

The edible flowers are what makes this recipe complicated, so I took the easy way out and just bought some sugar flowers instead of candying pansies or whatever the hell Martha wants you to do. Guess I’ll save that task for when Rocio gets engaged. You can find the recipe here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

MSC Club: Raspberry Swirl Cheesecakes

These almost didn't happen (I realize this is often a theme with baking groups).  In fact, I made them yesterday morning beginning at 6:30am.  Often, if I have all the ingredients, I feel guilty not baking, especially if one of my fellow bakers is hosting.

Anyway, this month's selection for Martha Stewart's Cupcake club was raspberry swirl cheesecakes.  The last mini cheesecakes we made for this club, the oreo ones, were so delicious, that I knew these would be good too.  They were easy to put together -- graham cracker crust, quick cheesecake batter and raspberry puree swirled in before they went in the oven.  However, this was a case of read the whole recipe before starting because I learned that they have to be baked in a water bath.  I don't have a roasting pan big enough for my cupcake tins, so I lowered the temperature and baked them without the water.  They puffed up beautifully, but once they started to cool, the majorly sunk, which I assume was related to my baking method.

I haven't had a chance to try them yet, but I assume they are delicious.  Cheesecake and raspberry -- what could be bad about that?  Many thanks to Gem of Cupcake Crazy Gem for hosting.  Check out the MSC website for all the other bakers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate Whoopie Pies

This week's Baked Sunday Mornings was chocolate whoopie pies, a fairly straightforward mix of 2 chocolate cake cookies with a marshmallowy frosting.  These were easy to put together -- the cake didn't even require a mixer and the frosting came together quickly.

I enjoyed these, as did the two events I brought them to (the recipe said it would make 15-17 small pies, I got 24 small and two very large).  However, knowing the enormous amount of butter in the filling made me think that they could have been just as good with a less rich filling.  Even at a small size, one is really enough.  I was thinking that the filling could also be made in other flavors -- salted caramel, mint, or raspberry (which would make a nice Valentine's day pink color) all came to mind.  I will certainly try that in the future.

You can find the recipe and all the other bakers' creations on the Baked Sunday Mornings website.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice...

…That’s what pain d’epices are made of. I can’t pronounce it but it translates to “spice bread” or gingerbread, even though ginger is one of the few spices not in it! This was another one of those instances where I saw a gorgeous, mouth-watering photo on Tartelette and vowed that I would make it happen. At least this time it only took two months instead of two years. I was a little worried about the dent that all of those spices were going to make in my bank account, and then one of my officemates told me about how the Indian supermarket down the street from our office sells super-inexpensive spices. And behold, they did! I got all the spices I needed for a little over twenty dollars (and almost half of that was the cardamom, which is guess is pretty pricey anywhere you go). I ground ‘em up in my food processor, although I have to say that at 50 grams each, it was WAAAAAY more than I needed. As in, there are two sandwich bags each three-quarters full of ground spices sitting in my freezer. There’s no way I’ll be able to use them all, even if I make pain d’epices every day for the rest of the year. But hey, it’s giving me good incentive to make them again! That, and the fact that they were soooo good. I was worried that they wouldn’t be sweet enough, and the spices are definitely prominent (especially the peppercorn), but I have to say that the balance was totally delightful. They were dense yet springy, and yeasty, almost like baked donuts. Plus, they smelled awesome and looked adorable. These are a really fun winter treat for anyone in possession of a mini-bundt pan.

Pain D'Epices:adapted from Saveurs France, December 2011.

Makes 12 mini cakes

For the spice mix:
equal parts in ounces or grams (I usually go by 30 grams of each & refrigerate)
star anise
black peppercorns
dried lemon peel
dried orange peel

Place the cinnamon, cardamom seeds and the rest of the ingredients in a coffee grinder and process until finely ground.

For the cakes:
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup milk (Bloggers note: for whatever reason, I had cream but no milk in the fridge, so I used cream. Don't think it affected the cakes negatively)
1 cup Jeanne's gluten free all purpose flour mix or regular flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon spice mix for Pain d'epices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, kept cold
1 large egg

Sugar coating:
equal parts sugar and equals spice mix stirred together well.

Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. Butter 12 mini bundt cake pans or other of your choice.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir together the honey, dark brown sugar and milk until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and reserve.
In a food processor or with a pastry blender, combine the flour, baking powder, spice mix, and unsalted butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Whisk the egg into the cooled milk mixture and add it to the flour mix. Pulse a couple of times until the mixture is smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared molds and coo 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out free of crumbs. Let the cakes cool completely before rolling them in the sugar coating.
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