Friday, June 19, 2009

With a Cherry on Top

There's some crucial information you need to know about me before hearing about the cupcakes I baked yesterday:

First of all, I love "fake" food. Love probably does not even begin to describe how much I enjoy it. The one food I could eat for every meal, every single day, for the rest of my life is Kraft macaroni & cheese. Kraft probably would have sponsored me as a young child if they knew how much mac & cheese I would go on to consume. Despite this, when I bake, I use only "real" ingredients and the highest quality of them I can find.

Second, in line with my first point, maraschino cherries are my favorite fruit. In fact, there was a time in my life where they were the only "fruit" I would eat. Probably one of the things that made me most sad about growing up was losing the ability to order Shirley Temples at restaurants without looking ridiculous. Not that that's stopped me from doing so; I usually just blush the color of the drink when ordering them.

Chopped maraschino cherries for batter

Third, illustrations of cupcakes with cherries are a personal pet peeve of mine. When I was commissioning my logo, one of my few criteria was that the image of the cupcake did not have a cherry on it. Realistically, how often do you see cupcakes with a cherry on them?

After racking my brain and the internet for a new cupcake flavor to bring to work, I settled on cherry vanilla. Almost all the recipes I found had real cherries in them, and I did contemplate using them, but I knew I'd be happier with maraschino cherries (although I did fear my coworkers would shun these cupcakes). I had also brought back some vanilla bean paste from a vineyard I went to in New Zealand, and was excited to try that out in the frosting. Unable to find a recipe I thought would work, I just put together one of my own.
After work, I picked up two different types of maraschino cherries - with stems and without. The cutting of the cherries left my fingertips stained deep red from the food dye. This reminded me of how my childhood best friend was not allowed to eat certain red dyes because her mother forbade her. Maraschino cherries were on that family's list of forbidden foods. After chopping all the cherries, I tossed them in to the batter and added a few drops of red dye for good measure, just to be safe. I didn't want any repeat grey cupcakes (see this post if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Cupcake briefcase I take to work
I know I said the other day that cookie dough is my favorite, but it has been replaced (or at least tied) with these cupcakes. I ate an embarrassing amount of them. Really, embarrassing. I'm usually pretty uninterested in the cupcakes I bake because once I'm done with all the effort, I'm too "over" them to eat them. These cupcakes also survived the monsoon we are having in NYC (and I didn't have an umbrella this morning) and made it into work, relatively dry. They definitely were appreciated though...they unanimously got my coworkers' seal of approval.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kick Off to Summer Baking

Being as I only got home from Australia last week and hadn't seen my parents or friends in a while, I hopped on the bus to Toms River at the end of a very long, jet-lagged week at work last Friday. Aside from the 2 dozen I had made Thursday night, I hadn't baked since before Australia and knew I needed to get my baking (and the blog) back on track. Although the weather has been uncooperative, it is essentially summer, and this means two things: heavy shore traffic and fresh summer fruits.

Vanilla bean cupcakes with peach frosting

Wanting to use the latter in cupcake form, I stole the mango that was ripening on our windowsill and made a mango lime curd from it. Having never made curd before, I had no clue what it was supposed to look or taste like. I just kept cooking it hoping I wouldn't burn it or take it off while the eggs were still raw. I'm pretty sure I got it right and being as there were no reported cases of salmonella poisoning, I think it was okay. I baked 3 dozen vanilla bean cupcakes to use as a base. My mom & I then headed off to Stop & Shop to find some peaches and other baking ingredients I had run out of (no surprises there).

Vanilla bean cupcakes filled with mango curd

I pureed the peaches and cooked them stove top to attempt to reduce the water so that my peach frosting would not be watery. No such luck there. It's a pretty tricky balance between adding too many peaches and having too thin icing and adding not enough and not being able to taste them. Half the cupcakes I frosted with the peach frosting and the other half I filled with the curd and topped with vanilla bean buttercream. I had some left over fondant flowers that I decorated the mango cupcakes with.

Inside of the cupcake with curd

I'm not sure how crazy I was about these. I think I just don't like mango, despite trying to force myself to like it by incorporating it into every type of dessert I can think of (sorbet, mousse cake, cupcakes). The next time I make the peach frosting, I think I'll pair it with a peach cake in order to maximize the peach flavor. My mom also suggested using peaches baby food instead of pureeing my own peaches, but this idea sort of grossed me out. I know baby food is just pureed grown-up food, but it still seems weird. I might have to try it and let everyone know how it goes though.

Cupcakes for the Morgan's fam - Mrs. R is making me a cupcake stand!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Like Riding a Bicycle

The phrase "it's like riding a bicycle" is probably not one I should use to describe something I do, having never quite mastered the art of bike-riding. However, when it came to getting back to baking after being away from it for almost 3 weeks, the description was pretty accurate. All of last week I was pretty jet-lagged, but when Lauren asked if I could make 2 dozen cupcakes for her coworker, I jumped at the chance to get back to baking. Her coworker was throwing a party for her husband and wanted 1 dozen cookie dough and 1 dozen chocolate mint chip.

The baking process went pretty much like it always does for me - midway through mixing one of the batters, I ran out of an
ingredient. In this case, it was cocoa powder. Fortunately, there's a convenience store up the corner from me, but it's always a pain to have to leave what I'm doing for an ingredient run. As it's getting warmer out, I realized it's going to be more and more uncomfortable to bake in my kitchen being as we don't have air conditioning.

I think cookie dough is shaping up to be my favorite flavor I make and not just because I can eat the leftover cookie dough while I'm baking. I like the unexpected surprise of finding a cookie baked inside your cupcake.

Finished cookie dough cupcakes

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cupcake Disappointment in Sydney

Our entire trip was fantastic, but overall, I was a tiny bit disappointed in the quality of cupcakes we found there. On our first night in Sydney, we headed over to Cupcakes on Pitt, a cupcake bakery whose website looked amazing. I had very high hopes for this one.

Inside Cupcakes on Pitt

When we got there, the store was really adorable, and the cupcakes in the case looked great. Vica and I chose an assortment - vanilla sundae, chocolate sundae, tiramisu, strawberry, chocolate, and lemon meringue. We promptly took them back to our hotel and set out to try every one of them. The cupcakes were slightly larger than a mini cupcake. Unfortunately, the cake part was so dry on all of the vanilla ones. It was about a half hour before close, so it's possible these cupcakes were more moist during the day, but I don't know. The worst though was the lemon meringue. The taste of the filling was offensive, and it sent Vica and I running for water to wash it away.

Cupcakes from Cupcakes on Pitt

Having struck out at Cupcakes on Pitt, we found another cupcake bakery on the way to Bondi Beach, The Cupcake Bakery. After some googling, we found they had a location in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a really nice shopping mall near our hotel. Our last day there, Vica and I split up and I went sightseeing by myself while she went to pet kangaroos. I had wanted to see the QVB anyway, so I set off in that direction, and after navigating an extremely confusing basement, found the cupcake bakery. It was a cute stand in the mall and they had a ton of cupcakes there. I picked out an assortment, saw more of the sights, and headed back to the hotel to lay down before the next feat (walking the Harbour Bridge). Vica came back from the Taronga Zoo, excited about all the kangaroos and koalas, and starving. These cupcakes were better than Cupcakes on Pitt, but still a little on the dry side. I'd go with The Cupcake Bakery though if I needed a bakery in Sydney.

The Cupcake Bakery in the QVB

That was all the cupcakes we tasted in Australia. After Australia, we went to Auckland, NZ, but were unable to find any cupcake shops or even cupcakes there.

Vica eating cupcakes from The Cupcake Bakery

This means I'm at the end of my vacation cupcake photos, but I'll be back to regular blogging about the cupcakes I have going on.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Cupcakes than Kangaroos in Australia

Since coming back from my trip, I've felt like such an Australia failure. One of the first questions everyone asks is "So did you see any kangaroos??" Sadly, I did not see any kangaroos there. People just can't believe this. In Australia, we really only were in cities, where kangaroos don't live, and I didn't have the time to go to the zoo while in Sydney. My friend Vica did, and I'm living vicariously through her kangaroo experience (she also ate kangaroo - ewww). She just sent me pictures from our vacation and there's a ton from the zoo so I feel like I was there (and am very jealous she got to pet a kangaroo!).

Cupcakes in Macca's - not a bad price!

I may not have seen any kangaroos, but I did see a ton of cupcakes surprisingly. They seemed to be following us. While we were in Airlie Beach, we wandered into the McDonald's (or Macca's as it's nicknamed in Australia) to get a soft serve cone, and at the McDonald's Cafe, there were cupcakes! Almost all of the McDonald's there have what's like a Starbucks-type cafe inside, separate from the other food. It's pretty nice, and I gather that's what they're starting to do here in the U.S. with the McCafe drinks. The first time we saw those cupcakes, we didn't try any because I was already set on icecream, but when we went back a few days later, they were all out of cupcakes. When we asked about them at the register, the woman told us that she could take some out of the freezer for us. Clearly we passed up that offer. Frozen cupcakes? No thanks.

On the our sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands, it always felt like food was scarce. Because no one brought food on with them, what we ate and when we ate were entirely up to the crew. And the cook, Fern, particularly didn't seem to care if we all starved to death. That being said, one afternoon as a snack there were cupcakes. They were vanilla cupcakes with a glaze-like frosting, covered in nonpareils. It was probably the best thing I ate on the trip.

Cupcakes in the Whitsundays

Next up, I'll let you guys know about the two cupcake bakeries I visited in Sydney.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'm Back! With Cupcakes from Down Under!

Me outside of Little Cupcakes

My two week Australia/New Zealand trek started in Melbourne, the city my brother had studied abroad in and I had heard so much about. We were staying with three of Eric's friends, who definitely showed my friend Vica & I a good and authentic Aussie time. Our first day in the city, our first stop was the cupcake shop I had read about, Little Cupcakes. Located on the laneway DeGraves Street, this place was really cute. I loved the whole feel of Melbourne, and DeGraves Street personified the cluttered laneway/outdoor cafes vibe. My first thought was that the cupcakes looked great, but they were pretty pricey. I think each was $2.50 Australian Dollars, which with the exchange rate we had, was about $2/cupcake. They were the mini size though.

Red Velvet - Love the stars!

I brought a dozen of these back to the guys' place to try, and we all thought they were pretty good. My favorite was definitely the white chocolate raspberry, but the ones with the Teddy Grahams were just adorable. These cupcakes were definitely the type we're used to in America. The buttercream frosting was similar to the one I use, not the cooked buttercream that's popular elsewhere. The cake itself was a bit dense, more like a muffin than a cake.
Teddy cupcake on my guide book

If you ever find yourself in Melbourne, these are definitely cupcakes worth checking out.

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