Monday, November 30, 2009

My 25th Birthday Party

Mini pumpkin cupcakes

On November 17, I turned the age that when I was much younger I considered to be officially "old" - twenty-five. I was not psyched to be passing this age milestone, so I decided to deal with it in my favorite way - plan a big party. With the party to look forward to, I happily started planning all of the details of the party - most notably the desserts.

Center of the top cake tier

I decided I really wanted a birthday cake - like a big birthday cake. I've been really wanting a Wall-E shaped cake, but decided it didn't really fit with the theme I was going for. The color scheme was purple - my favorite color, and I decided to go all out.

Top chocolate cake tier

From the outer space order I did, I used the remaining pumpkin spice batter to make two dozen mini cupcakes in bright purple liners. Once I topped them with cream cheese frosting, I sprinkled them with purple sugar.

Cakes chilling in the refrigerator with the party beverages

The next piece of this was the cake. I baked a 6 inch chocolate cake that I filled with chocolate frosting and chopped Reese's. I then covered it with more chocolate frosting. The 9 inch cake was vanilla bean, frosted and filled with vanilla frosting. After refrigerating both cakes, I covered them in a lavender fondant. The cakes were then refrigerated again. I stacked them using wooden dowels as support in the 9 inch cake. Then I painted the cakes with an edible sparkly paint and wrapped a darker purple ribbon around the bottoms of both cakes.

Sugar cookies set up on the table

I also made some sugar cookies cut into circles. These were iced with royal icing and covered in purple sugar. Everything came out really well and looked really nice set up. The party was as much of a success as the desserts were.

Side view of the table

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

These Cupcakes Were Out of This World

White chocolate spaceships

Really terrible subject line, I know, but the second order I had last week was for five dozen assorted flavors for a surprise 30th birthday party. The birthday boy is apparently a big fan of all things outerspace related, so I brainstormed with his fiance to come up with cupcakes to reflect this. She was able to find a chocolate mold online of tiny spaceships, and I used this to make white chocolate rockets.
Box of space cupcakes
The flavors of the cupcakes were red velvet, cookie dough, chocolate Oreo, vanilla, and pumpkin spice. On the pumpkin and vanilla, I piped a swirl of dark blue frosting and sprinkled some edible gold glitter and silver dragees over top before putting on the spaceships. I thought these looked pretty cool, although again I had the same issue with the edible glitter migrating all over my face when I accidentally touched it. I looked like Edward stepping into the sun (geeky Twilight reference there...).

Close up of the space cupcakes

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Crazy Week & My First Wedding Order

Last week was absolutely insane. My birthday was Tuesday, and in addition to being incredibly busy in my real job, I had two orders to bake, one of my favorite coworker's going away party, and my own birthday party on Saturday. Over the course of Wednesday through Friday, I baked almost 250 cupcakes, a two tier cake, and 2 dozen sugar cookies. My to-do list was 3 pages long, but somehow I got it all done.

Close up of the cupcakes

The first order I had was for a wedding - the first wedding I've baked for aside from my aunt's. It was 150 cupcakes to be given as the favor. Half were red velvet with white cream cheese frosting and the other half were vanilla with chocolate frosting dyed black. Silver, white, and black dragees were sprinkled over all of cupcakes.

My apartment was overrun with cupcakes

These didn't take me nearly as long to bake as I expected. The most time-consuming aspect was individually boxing each cupcake. Each needed to be "glued" to the bottom of the clear plastic box and then tied with a ribbon and the favor tag. Fortunately, I had an all-star help team consisting of the bride's sister Linda, who I had done the fiesta order for back in May, and her cousin Andrea. They were such a huge help, and I can't even imagine if I had to tie all those boxes without their help.

Individual cupcake favor

I can't wait to see the pictures from the set up at the wedding and will hopefully be posting them here if I get them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

White Chocolate Mocha Cupcakes

Last weekend I was home for the weekend with both of my siblings, and when I couldn't come up with a new type of cupcake to make, my sister Melissa suggested one based off her favorite Starbuck's drink - a white chocolate mocha. It was the best suggestion I had, so I went with that.

The frosting started out looking more like batter before I changed strategy

I didn't bother looking up a recipe for it; I've started to really enjoy coming up with my own recipes. Most cake recipes stem from the same base - 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of sugar and a cup of butter. It makes it easy to remember. To this base, I added several teaspoons of instant espresso powder and a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder. I also brewed some coffee (using my parents Tassimo that I want to steal) and used half coffee half milk as the liquid ingredient. I kept sniffing the batter to see if the coffee scent was strong enough. Which led me to keep adding more espresso powder. Next time I'd cut back on the espresso powder by a couple teaspoons - one of these cupcakes could have you up for days.

Wish I had red wrappers for these to mimic the Starbuck's red cups I love
during winter!

For the frosting, I wanted to use the frosting I made for the Whiteout Cupcakes. I don't know what happened to the recipe (I think it had something to do with the fact that apparently half and half is not half milk/half heavy cream), but it did not come out right initially. I ended up adapting it into a typical buttercream frosting and added melted white chocolate. The final touch was a sprinkling of cinnamon (credit for that idea goes to Melissa - I've never ordered the drink at Starbuck's, but apparently that's how the drink is served).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cookies are Hard

Started out so promising

I don't know what it is about cookies. No matter what recipe I use, they almost always turn out poorly. I just want to make cookies that look like they're from a magazine or cookbook. Instead they turn out looking super flat and sad.

Less than stellar results

I was on a cookie kick the other week. I don't know what it was. I make great-looking cupcakes, and I just don't understand why I can't do cookies. Determined to make the perfect chocolate chip M&M cookies, I started with a recipe that I found on Martha Stewart. The recipe called for all butter, no shortening. I did exactly what the recipe said - mixed everything together correctly, chilled the dough for the right amount of time, and baked for exactly how long the recipe told me to. It was looking promising...until I looked into the oven and saw my beautifully formed cookies and turned into a cookie pancake.

Better results round 2

Determined to overcome my cookie inabilities, I picked the highest ranked chocolate chip cookie recipe on Epicurious and decided to make those. This recipe had half butter and half shortening. I guess it made a big difference because these cookies did not flatten out. I still wasn't 100% satisfied with these cookies. I would have liked if they had a more buttery flavor. I think I still need to tinker with the shortening to butter ratio.

Another surprise cookie package

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another Perfect Fall Cupcake: Caramel Apple

Apples are one of the reasons I love fall so much. I know they're available all year round, but autumn has things like apple cider and caramel apples. Last year I had made caramel apple cupcakes, but I wasn't 100% happy with it. While looking for apple cake recipes this year, I kept coming across ones that essentially used an applesauce as the source of apple in the cake. I finally found one that sounded interesting that had you grate the apples and then caramelize them in a saucepan with butter and brown sugar. I made note that it was the recipe I wanted to use and exited the page. A couple days later when I was trying to figure out where the recipe was that I found, I could not remember what website it was on for the life of me. I still have been unable to find it, and I'm not entirely sure that I didn't dream this recipe.

Butter & brown sugar in the skillet

Working off that, I went about caramelizing the grated apples (I used Gala apples). I used my pumpkin spice recipe to work off. First I melted the butter in the pan and mixed in the brown sugar. I should have let the mixture caramelize a bit more, but it came out pretty well. The texture of the cake was really moist and less muffin-like than the one I made last year.

Grated apple after cooking it on the stove

For the frosting, I first made my own caramel and let it cool, I used it to make caramel frosting. I used the remaining caramel to swirl on top of the frosting. The caramel frosting complimented the apple cake really nicely. I'm hoping I have an excuse to make these again this autumn.

Finished cupcakes

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Cookie Packages

One of the things I love the most is receiving surprises in the mail. Whether it's a card, something I purchased and forgot about, or a new magazine, it really brightens my day. When I was in college, I would make my mom send me boxes of surprises several times a semester. I really loved opening up the box and finding usually a mix of things I needed and asked her to send plus some unexpected items. Unfortunately, it feels like all I ever get is bills and junk mail, and I'm sure this is the case for most people.

I forgot to take pictures of the actual cookies, but this is a packaged bundle of cookies

The other week, I mixed up a batch of monster cookies from the Baked cookbook. Monster cookies are sort of a hybrid of oatmeal, peanut butter, M&M, and chocolate chip cookies. It's an everything but the kitchen sink cookie. I know I've mentioned how complicated and tricky the Baked recipes can be, and this was another one that was just truly baffling. When I was looking over the ingredient list, it seemed like a large quantity of ingredients (5 cups of oatmeal!), but the recipe said that it made 36 cookies. So I went ahead and made the full batch, and ended up with almost more dough than could fit in my mixer bowl. I immediately took half and froze it - that's still in my freezer in case I need a spontaneous batch of cookies one day. The other half needed to chill in the freezer for 5 hours, so I planned on keeping it there overnight and baking the cookies the next day. Then I got the flu and my plan was put off until I was noncontagious. Flu cookies are not the type of surprise people like to receive in the mail.

Melissa & Joe's package

Once I was successfully over the flu (regular, not swine), I pulled the cookie dough out of the refrigerator and began baking. These cookies turned out really beautifully. Me and cookies have major issues usually. As easy as cupcakes are to me, cookies are the polar opposite. That's the thing about the Baked cookbook - the recipes are truly difficult, but if done correctly, they make beautiful things (if done incorrectly, you end up with a ganache flecked with large visible chunks of butter). Once these baked and cooled, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and then tissue paper and packaged them to go out. One box went to my sister and her boyfriend (who will never be receiving anything from me again because he complained they weren't cupcakes!), another to my friend Vica, and a third to my brother's girlfriend Meghann. I would have sent one to my brother, but I knew he wouldn't have eaten anything in the box. In addition to the cookies, I threw some other Halloween-related items in there, including glow bracelets, which have to be one of my favorite things in the world.

Meghann's box

While these cookies came out great, later on that week I wasn't as lucky. I'll be posting the pictures soon of my failed M&M cookies.

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