Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I <3 Red Velvet

One of my absolute cupcake flavors is red velvet. Prior to last year, I had never even heard of this flavor, but when I was organizing a Valentine's Day dinner party last year, there were these adorable red velvet cupcakes on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. After reading up on it, I found out that red velvet is a traditional Southern recipe (i.e. the red velvet armadillo groom's cake in Steel Magnolias) and is a hybrid between vanilla and chocolate cake with a lot of red dye. I don't know why red dye, I just know the end result paired with cream cheese frosting is fantastic.

Before adding the dry ingredients, the batter looks like abstract art

I have turned almost everyone I know into red velvet fanatics. It's gotten to the point where if I'm baking cupcakes, everyone is like "these are really good, but where's the red velvet??" I think someone may even currently be in rehab for their red velvet addiction. (Kidding, but Kim did have to flee the country to shake the addiction.)

Cooling cupcakes - Love my new cupcake trivet - Thanks Kathie!!

The worst part about making these is that after I get done mixing them, that area of the kitchen looks like a crime scene, with bright red batter splattered all over the place. I am not a tidy baker (although I'm working on it Mom!), and before these go in the oven, the kitchen is straight out of an episode of CSI.

Murder mystery scene

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Purple Cupcakes to Match My New Logo

Last Thursday night I decided to make some cupcakes to give to Lauren, the graphic designer who did my logo, when I met her the next day to get the cd of images. I knew I wanted them to be purple to match the logo, and I had some some purple liners that I absolutely love.

Meghan and I are a bit behind in taking down our Easter
decorations...check out the tablecloth

The baking process itself was sort of a debacle. First I took all the baking stuff to Lauren's because I was going to bake there. When I got there, I realized I had left the majority of things I needed at my apartment. So I made her come back with me and I baked intermittently with watching Grey's Anatomy. By the time I got around to making frosting, it was about 11:00 pm and I realized I had no powdered sugar. At that point, no store was still open, so I had to wake up early Friday morning to go out and get sugar to make the frosting before I went to work. I love baking, but that's not quite the way I want to start a Friday morning. After all that though, they ended up coming out pretty. I had some extra white and yellow royal icing flowers, and topped the lavender frosting with them.

Why I Threw Out 12 Perfectly Good Cupcakes

Yesterday I alluded to the fact I threw out the first batch of the vanilla cupcakes I made for the golf order. Some of you were probably wondering why in the world I would do that. When my mom came home and saw I had thrown them all away, she was like "Why would you do that??"

Good cupcake on left, trashed cupcake on right

I bought 1000 of these greaseproof liners online about a month ago. I like greaseproof liners because they're opaque and the cupcakes don't leave grease marks when you set them down. The down side to them though is nothing sticks to them - not even the cupcake. As soon as they come out of the oven, the cupcake immediately starts separate from the liners. This just isn't nice looking. I think I'm just cutting the other ones as a loss and going with new ones from now on.

Monday, April 27, 2009

60th Birthday Golf Cupcakes

In addition to the baby shower this weekend, I was also asked to make three dozen cupcakes for a golf lover's 60th birthday party. Half were vanilla, half were chocolate. I started out by making white chocolate golf balls using a chocolate mold I found.


I baked the 18 vanilla and 18 chocolate cupcakes (well, I first baked 24 vanilla cupcakes and threw a dozen of them out, but I'll save that for a separate post). Once they cooled, I mixed the vanilla icing and tinted it green so it would eventually look like grass. Using Wilton tip 233 (it has multiple openings that create the grass effect), I piped the icing onto the cake. Then I set the golf ball onto the center of the cupcake.

Boxed up and ready to go!

After finishing the cupcakes, I decided they needed something more. After thinking about it for a little while, I decided to make tiny golf flags (clearly not in proportion to the giant golf ball!) that spelled out "Happy Birthday Gary". My handwriting even looked surprisingly nice.

Another Baby Shower, More Cupcakes

Top tier of the stand

This past weekend was the first ever cupcake order I was asked to do, which started this whole thing. I have done a few orders preceding this one, but this order is the one that started it all off. It was a baby shower for the daughter of one of my mom's acquaintances. I made red velvet, chocolate, and vanilla with toasted coconut.

Vanilla with Toasted Coconut - makes me wish I eat coconut!

Now that I've gotten the oven issues more or less resolved at my parents' house, baking there is so enjoyable. The kitchen is big, air-conditioned (which was key on a 90 degree Saturday), and there's occasionally someone there to wash some dishes (my mom). I just need to carefully monitor the oven temperature, but I didn't have any major issues this time.

The last baby shower I did, I worked straight from 6:00 am until delivery at 2:00 pm to battle the fluctuating oven and make sure they got done in time. This time, I woke up at 7:00 am, was done by 10:30 am, and napping by 11:00.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Blog Layout!

You may have noticed, but my blog has a brand new layout! It was purchased from Delicious Design Studio, and Chris was nice enough to install it for me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Big Things Happening!

I've decided to take the plunge and attempt to make this fledgling cupcake hobby I have going into a real endeavor. The first step for me was to get a logo for my baking "business", Tara's Cupcakes. Through a miracle of the Craigslist gods, I managed to find Lauren Jean O'Hare, who is an extraordinarily talented graphic designer. After posting a brief, and probably not descriptive blurb of what I was looking for, she managed to come up with a logo that was exactly like the one I had in my mind. Seriously, amazing.

Very soon this blog will have a new layout as well (ahem, Chris...put down the vodka and upload my template!!).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ooh Baby Baby (Cupcakes)

This weekend I had an order that was being delivered to a couple who had just announced they were having a baby. The husband's sister is a friend of my friend Liz, and she wanted to send a dozen vanilla cupcakes with blue and pink frosting to them as a congratulations gift. I had these tiny baby bottle chocolate molds that I had ordered for a baby shower I'm doing this weekend. I topped the cupcakes with frosting, sprinkles, and the chocolate baby bottles.

You can't really see the contrast between the frosting and the baby bottles well enough here, but these were really cute. I really like this design for future baby showers.

Inside a Cookie Dough Cupcake

Last week, I brought my coworker Kara one of the extra cookie dough cupcakes I had baked for Lauren's class. I promised it to her though on the condition that I was allowed to cut it open and photograph it before she could have it.

Like I said in the post about baking them, the cupcake has a cookie actually baked inside of it. It's a pretty awesome combo. After I was done photographing it, I was really tempted to keep it for myself and eat it. Despite giving it to Kara in a slightly demolished form, I'm pretty sure she enjoyed it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wedding Anniversary Cupcakes Photos

The woman who ordered the cupcakes for the 50th wedding anniversary just sent me a few pictures from the party with them all set up. It looked really pretty, and I wanted to share.

I LOVE the ribbon she put around the cupcake stand I gave her to use. It looked so pretty. That blue is the same color the bridesmaids wore 50 years ago.

Cupcakes for Students

My friend Lauren is a high school teacher and I've been using her students as a cupcake focus group. They put together a "wish list" of cupcake flavors for potential new test batches. Because I'm constantly baking new cupcakes so that I can keep this blog updated and (hopefully) interesting, I told Lauren that I would bake four dozen cupcakes for her class's Great Expectations party. Classic British pastries these were not, but I don't think the kids noticed the difference.

Vanilla with sprinkles in a purple liner: my ideal cupcake

Some of the wish list cupcakes made it into this "order"- Oreo and the cookie dough. The cookie dough I have made before, but the Oreo was a new attempt. Actually, the first time I made the cookie dough cupcakes for some friends, I received two marriage proposals (but turned them both down). They are that good. Seriously. And the best part about them is they're relatively easy to make.

Cookie dough, but the best part is inside

To make the cookie dough, you just need a good vanilla batter and those Nestle Tollhouse break and bake cookies. Break the cookie dough into the preassigned pieces and freeze them for at least 20 minutes. You then push them into a liner half-filled with cupcake batter. Then you just bake like normal, and you end up with a soft cookie baked into a cupcake. It really is just amazing.

Chocolate Oreo. a.k.a. Breakfast

All the other flavors turned out pretty great too. Vanilla is just my all-time favorite. It's so simple, but delicious. I had one of the Oreo ones unfortunately for breakfast this morning. I only say unfortunately because that is 8:30 am, and I should be eating something like granola, not cupcakes. They were pretty great though. Way better than granola. I didn't have any of the Sweet & Salty this time (I mean, how many cupcake calories can I really consume in one day??), but they looked good and were made with the leftover salted caramel I had stored in the fridge after I made it the other weekend.

Sweet & Salty and Oreo, all ready to go to school

Lauren said the kids were ecstatic about the cupcakes. I'm pretty sure this cemented her as their favorite teacher ever.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Cake on a Cupcake Blog? Oh Noooo!

Before I was so obsessed with cupcakes, it was cakes. My mom and I took a Wilton class my junior year of high school, and we had to each bake a cake every week for class. That was a lot of cakes, but it didn't stop us from stopping at Friendly's most nights after class for ice cream. I've strayed from cakes to cupcakes in the past couple years because I just love cupcakes. They're so cute and happy and portable. Plus the frosting to cake ratio is so much better. So it's been a while since I've made an actual cake. In the past couple weeks, I've gotten a couple cake orders to go along with cupcakes. I knew I hadn't forgotten how to make a cake, but figured it would be wise to practice before those orders, especially because I had never covered a cake with fondant before.

While home for Easter, I tackled the cake along with all the cupcakes I posted on Sunday night. Like I've said before, I find fondant pretty easy to work with, so I was not anticipating a problem. For the most part, it went well. I made some mistakes that I would definitely fix in my next attempt, but it wasn't too bad. The hardest part is to get the fondant smooth over the cake with no creases. There was just one tiny crease in the cake, and I covered it with the decorations anyway. I have since watched many YouTube videos about fondant covering (yes, they do exist). So while I discovered that I am perfectly capable of making cakes, I really prefer cupcakes still.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Cupcakes!

Mini rainbow swirled cupcakes

I went home this weekend for Easter and used the opportunity (and available double oven) to bake somethings I've been wanting to try and some old favorites. One of my friends gave up cupcakes for Lent and I've been torturing her with pictures of all these cupcakes on my blogs.

Middle Tier - rainbow, lemon w/ lemon and mini rainbow

When it came time to break her cupcake ban, she knew exactly what kind she wanted - the rainbow, so those were on the must-bake list. I had also been looking at pictures of cupcake bouquets all week, and knew those would be good to give out to some family friends. Additionally, I've recently gotten some cake orders, and being as it's been a while since I've baked an actual cake, I figured it would be wise not to let the practice round wait until the day the order was due. That's going to be a whole separate post.

Bottom Tier - lemon w/ lemon frosting, vanilla minis, coconut

I made the rainbow first, setting aside a few plain white ones to make coconut-covered cupcakes for my mom. Lauren was a huge help with the rainbow, and I think she's even come up with a new technique to make them more tie dye than rainbow. I'll have to try it on the bigger ones in the future.

The cupcake bouquets were pretty awesome. I had seen them done by other people on a couple blogs, and they looked pretty difficult. While they were tricky, they weren't impossible. I decided to go with mini cupcakes. I love mini cupcakes, they're so cute, and on the bouquet they were even better. From every batter, I made a batch of minis and set these aside for the bouquets.

I piped frosting on the cupcakes so that they resembled flowers. Years ago, my mom and I took Wilton Course 1 at Michael's craft store, so I have some piped flower background, but it takes a few to practice on before I get the hang of it. While everyone else was dying Easter eggs, I was piping all these cupcakes.

These flower pots were on sale at Michael's this week for only 49 cents! In them, I fit half a styrofoam ball that would serve as the base for the cupcakes. The cupcakes are anchored into the styrofoam using toothpicks.

Everyone who was the recipient of one of these bouquets loved them. I really think they would be adorable as centerpieces on tables for a bridal shower or other event. They can also be done with more and larger cupcakes. I'm looking forward to experimenting with these in the future.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wedding Anniversary Cupcakes - Completed!

Finished cupcake painted with gold luster dust with a fondant flower

Wednesday after working a full day and a two hour commute down to Toms River, I was finally ready to start these four dozen 50th wedding anniversary cupcakes that were being picked up the next morning. Just in time, my 100 cupcake boxes had arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately, I had left several things I needed at my apartment in Hoboken. Being as I'm not the most organized person, baking out of two separate locations is going to be a challenge for me, and I'll probably end up with 10 of everything at some point. After getting all the cupcakes baked, my mom and I ran to Michael's craft store to pick up the missing things I needed.

Engineering my new cupcake boxes - I love that they have the
holders to keep each cupcake in place

There's still a problem with my parents' oven...I brought home my oven thermometer, and saw that the oven is fluctuating in temperature from 330-400. This may not seem like a big difference, but when you're baking cakes and cupcakes, it's extremely important to have an even temperature. Otherwise you end up with cupcakes that either won't rise or overflow. I also need to just work on filling the cupcake liners with less, especially in Toms River where I know the baking temperature is going to be a problem.

Me, covered in corn starch. Apparently while rolling out the fondant, I have a tendency
to wipe my hands on my pants...I need to start wearing one of the aprons I have

When I first started rolling out the fondant, embossing, covering the cupcakes and painting, I thought it was going to take forever. This is a really time-consuming way to decorate a cupcake, and when you have 3 done and 45 left to go, it feels like you will never be finished. Fortunately I got into a nice rhythm and had a baking assistant (my mom), and was able to finish them so that I could get some sleep before having to be up at 6 am to get to my real job.

Cupcakes all ready to be picked up

I wasn't able to be there the next morning when these were picked up, so I had to rely on my mom for feedback. She said the woman who ordered them was extremely happy with them, which is great. This was only my second time baking larger orders under pressure , and I think it's going to get easier (or at least maybe I will get less nervous) every time.

I'm heading back down to Toms River today for Easter and am baking 3 different types of cupcakes (rainbow, lemon, and coconut), a cake (to practice my fondant abilities), and a cupcake bouquet. Assuming no major baking catastrophes, I'll have posts up of all of these next week.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sneak Peak - Wedding Anniversary Cupcakes

Naked flowers

Tomorrow I'm heading down to South Jersey after work (the real job that pays the bills) to bake an order of cupcakes for a 50th wedding anniversary party. Because the cupcakes are traveling to North Carolina, I need to be extra cautious about packing them. They each will be topped with buttercream and embossed fondant with a fondant flower. I made the flowers in advance this weekend because they need to dry and harden before you can paint them. Last night, I carefully packed the 57 (3 broke while painting) flowers into two egg cartons with lots of layers of tissue. These survived the trip to work with no problem (I brought them early because it was supposed to rain tomorrow morning).

Gold is the traditional gift for 50th anniversaries. The blue was the
color the couple's bridesmaids wore in 1959

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sweet & Salty Cupcakes

Finished product

I think I'm on a chocolate cupcake kick, which is weird because I prefer vanilla so much more. I guess there's only so much you can do with vanilla though. Yesterday when I woke up, I realized I had nothing to do for the whole day, which has been rare these past few weekends. I was really craving vanilla cupcakes, but those are relatively easy and I make them all the time. Being as I had so much time, I figured it was time to tackle the Sweet & Salty cake recipe from the Baked cookbook once more. See, I had made it (in cake form) for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a total disaster. Going into it, I knew it was going to be a tricky recipe (for some reason the Baked recipes are the most complex, high level of difficulty), but I was over confident and even bragged that it would be no sweat for me. Everything that could have gone wrong did - I burnt the caramel, the butter wouldn't incorporate into the ganache, etc.

Me with the failed Thanksgiving attempt - note the
chunks of butter

I had learned valuable lessons from that experience and regained some humility. This was the perfect project though for a free Saturday. Making caramel has to be one of my least favorite activities ever. It's like watching water boil, but more dangerous. There's about a 3 second window when the caramel is done and you need to take it off the stove before it burns. I usually miss that window and either end up with charred sugar. Additionally, when you take the sugar off the stove and add the cream, it's very easy to get burned because when the two combine, the mixture boils up and spits. This time it turned out a lot better where I managed to 1. not get 1st degree burns and 2. cook the sugar for the correct amount of time. Success!

Caramel in the dangerous bubbly stage

Salted caramel cooling

The Sweet & Salty cake is a chocolate cake with salted caramel, chocolate caramel ganache and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. I like this combination of sweet and salt - it's very reminiscent of chocolate-covered pretzels, which I love. The chocolate cupcakes came out great. I didn't follow the Baked recipe 100% (I simplified it a bit). After these were done and cooled, I filled them with the salted caramel and topped them with the ganache and fleur de sel. These may be one of my new favorite cupcakes. I'd love to go to the Baked bakery in Brooklyn to see what their cake tastes like. For now though, I think I'll definitely be making these cupcakes again.

Filled cupcake before putting the cupcake top back on

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thin Mint Cupcakes

My coworker sold Girl Scout cookies in the office for her daughter's troop. This was truly evil because not only did I buy two boxes (Tagalogs and Thanks a Lots), but sadly I ate them all by myself within two days. I attempted to feel better about this by reasoning that both boxes were only 2800 calories combined.

Cupcake with its inspiration

Only one week after this unfortunate incident, I found myself thinking about Girl Scout cookies again. I didn't want to eat an entire box again by myself, so I decided to turn a box into Girl Scout cupcakes. Out of the kinds I like (I hate Samoas), I thought Thin Mints would be best incorporated into a cupcake. I had an idea to do a chocolate cupcake with a Thin Mint baked into the center and a whipped chocolate mint ganache.

Fortunately, my coworker donated a box of Thin Mints to the greater good (you know, cupcakes for the office), and I was able to make these. I used my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe from The Cupcake Blog and a chocolate ganache recipe I came up with myself. After preparing the batter, I spooned about a tablespoon into each cupcake liner and then pushed a Thin Mint cookie into it to spread the batter along the bottom of the cup. Then I scooped more batter on top and baked them. Once they were done, I topped them with the whipped ganache and a quarter of a Thin Mint.

Inside of the cupcake, you can sort of see the cookie in the center
That whiskey was not used in the making of these cupcakes

I decided to eat one for quality control purposes. Honestly, I didn't even want to because I'm not a huge fan of neither chocolate nor mint (my alliance is strongly with vanilla), but these ended up being some of my favorite cupcakes I've made in a while. I decided that I like this type of chocolate frosting better than the chocolate buttercream recipe I've been using. I think I'm making the permanent switch to this one.

Whipped Chocolate Mint Ganache Recipe
Frosts 15 cupcakes

5 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp. mint extract (use vanilla extract for regular chocolate frosting)
2 C sifted powdered sugar

1. Heat heavy cream over low heat until bubbles form
2. Pour cream over chocolate, let stand 1 minute
3. Stir chocolate mixture
4. Add mint extract. Let mixture stand 15 minutes to cool
5. After cool, use mixer to slowly add powdered sugar. Beat on high until smooth and lighter in color.

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