Saturday, February 27, 2010

Milk Madness: Tres Leches Cupcakes

My long haired, long term boyfriend eats cake in a very peculiar way. Anyone who’s ever seen him slice up a sample can attest to this fact. You see, us normal cake people eat our cake on a plate with a trusty cup of milk nearby. But my long haired, long term boyfriend? Oh no, he eats his cake in a bowl. And then he pours that cup of milk on top formulating a cake-milk stew of sorts. Granted, us cake people create a comparable concoction in our mouths – one bite cake, one sip milk. So, my boyfriend is perhaps simply trying to avoid too many dirty dishes. But why stop there? Why not put the milk in the cake itself?

Can you do that?

You bet you can!

This milky masterpiece – known as Tres Leches cake (meaning three milks) comes from Latin roots. Thought by many to be invented in Nicaragua, this “wet” cake combines three leches – condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. It’s a lighter sponge cake, perfect for sopping up those luscious liquids, topped with an equally light whipped cream frosting!

Drown your own cake in the cup (not the bowl) by following these easy instructions:

Tres Leches Cupcakes

(Comes from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Book)

6 Large Eggs (yolks and whites separated)
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp coarse salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
½ cup all-purpose flour (sifted)
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
¾ cup heavy cream
Ground cinnamon and cinnamon stick (for dusting and decoration)

1 Recipe Whipped Cream

You will also need paper-lined foil cupcake liners. Paper liners alone will not be strong enough to hold after dousing with milk.

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2) Line a cupcake or muffin tin with paper-lined foil liners.
3) With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together egg whites, baking soda, and salt until soft peaks form.
4) Reduce speed to low and add yolks and sugar. Whisk till completely combined.
5) Fold in melted butter with a flexible spatula.
6) Add flours in four batches, folding until just combined.
7) Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each half way. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until light golden brown (about 25 minutes).
8) Remove from oven and immediately poke holes into the cupcake tops with a skewer.
9) Whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.
10) With cupcakes still in the tins, brush milk mixture over cupcakes, repeating until cupcakes are saturated.
11) Allow cupcakes to absorb mixture (at least 30 minutes) or up to one day in the refrigerator. Be sure to wrap tightly in plastic once cool.
12) To finish, add a dollop of whipped cream on top of the cupcakes (or pipe it with a decorating bag and tip). Dust with cinnamon and top with a cinnamon stick.
13) Serve immediately!

Photos Courtesy of Russell Gearhart Photography.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wicked Easy Whipped Cream

Who doesn’t love a dollop of whipped wonderfulness on the top of his or her iced cream? Or cupcake? Or hot chocolate? Or mocha-frappa-starbuck-a-chino? Well throw out the store bought spray can, because with a little wrist whisking you’ll be whirling your way to whipped cream wonderland!

It’s wicked easy!

2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup of powdered sugar
(yeah, only two ingredients…I said it was easy!)

1) Whisk heavy cream until soft peaks form. (I suggest using a stand or hand mixer).
2) Add powdered sugar and whisk until combined.
3) Eat!

If you aren’t using the whipped cream immediately, cover it up tightly and chill in the fridge. It will last about a day.

What are you standing there staring at this blog for!

Whip it! Whip it good!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Everyone needs a loyal best friend. For Dorothy, it was none other than her rascally companion, Toto, who trotted all the way to the Emerald City at her side. For my good friend, Ms. Strawberry Shortcake, her Toto is another Cairn Terrier – Maggie.

(This photo of Maggie is from Strawberry Shortcake's wedding in Cambria. Photo courtesy of Russell Gearhart Photography)

So, what did I make Strawberry Shortcake for her birthday last week? A playful puppy portrait of her loyal and best friend Maggie -in cake of course!

The design for these delectable doggies comes from the book “Hello, Cupcake!” by Alan Richardson and Karen Tack. I modified a few of the ingredients, but these happy hounds were quite simple to make. Follow the directions below to make your own cake-y canines (or buy the book).

Hello, Cupcake! Links:
Hello, Cupcake! Official Website
Hello, Cupcake! Book Info

To Decorate Your Own Dogs:

You Will Need:
1 Batch of Normal Size Cupcakes
1 Batch Mini Cupcakes (same number cupcakes as larger ones)
1 Recipe Butter Cream Icing (don’t use store bought icing, it is too soft and gooey)
Brown Gel Food Coloring
Pink Conversation Hearts (four per dog)
Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds, or Large Sugar Pearl Sprinkles
Tooth Picks
1 Disposable Decorating Bag
#16 Decorating Tip and Coupler
1 Bowl and Spoon for mixing

Prep the Frosting:
1) Add brown food coloring to butter cream icing with a toothpick. Mix till desired shade is achieved.
2) Attach #16 tip to a disposable piping bag using coupler.
3) Put five toothpicks full of brown food coloring on the interior sides of the piping bag. This will create a slight striping effect giving the hair the illusion of texture.
4) Fill piping bag with frosting.

To Make the Head:
1) Using the mini cupcakes to make the head, start by creating the muzzle. To do this, pipe a dollop of frosting just below the cupcake center. Press one conversation heart (upside down) into the frosting. Put a dollop on top of that heart and attach a second conversation heart on top. In the Hello, Cupcake! book, they used small marshmallows instead of conversation hearts.

2) Attach the ears by piping a line of frosting on the top rim of the cupcake (where an ear would go) and press an upside down pink conversation heart into the frosting. Make sure the text (Hug me, Be Mine, etc.) is not facing forward. Do this for both ears.

3) Cover the sides and back of the ears with piping. Start at the base and slowly move each line of frosting upward.

4) Let’s make some fur! Pipe 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch chunks of fur, starting with the outside rim, like you are putting petals on a flower. Slowly work your way inwards. The second layer of fur should slightly overlap the previous layer, and so on as you work your way to the center.

5) When you get to the muzzle, start at the top and pipe long lines from the center down.

6) Add eyes and nose by pressing chocolate covered sunflower seeds in the appropriate space. Or using a craft brush paint the large sugar pearl sprinkles with brown food coloring. Push sprinkles into eye and nose areas, and touch up with food coloring. (I used the sprinkles).

To Make the Body:
1) Start on the outside and work your way inwards (like you did with the head). Pipe chunks of hair, spiraling your way into the center.

2) When you get to the center make a large dollop of icing with which to attach the head.

3) Turn the dog head (decorated mini cupcake) on its side so he head is upright, and press it into the center dollop of frosting. VOILA! You’ve made a cairn terrier cupcake! You’re so talented!

4) Repeat for as many doggies as you desire!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sweet and Simple Buttercream Icing

If you're interested in cake decorating, you will need a reliable buttercream icing. Not to mention the fact that homemade icing tastes better than store bought icing, any day! The following is my standard buttercream recipe that I use all the time. I normally double this recipe, as it allows plenty of icing to cover an 8-inch round cake, and have enough left over to decorate with. Sweet and simple!

Buttercream Icing
(yeilds: 3 cups)
This recipe creates a stiff consistency icing.

1 cup solid white vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor or extract (you can also use butter flavor, or almond)
2 tablespoons water (you can also substitute with extract for more flavor)
1 lbs pure cane confectioners sugar (aprox. 4 cups)
1 tablespoon meringue powder (available a baking or decorating stores. I get mine at Michael's Arts 'n Crafts)

1) Sift sugar two to four times.
2) In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, cream shortening, flavoring, and water.
3) Add dry ingredients and mix on medium speed until all ingredients have been thoroughly mixed.
4) Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
5) Continue to mix three to five more minutes, until creamy.

Icing Consistency:
Stiff Consistency (what the above recipe makes) is good for decorations that need to hold a particular shape such as roses or flowers.
Medium Consistency (add one tablespoon of water for each cup of icing) is great for borders and figures such as figure piping, flowers that lie flat, shells, rosettes, etc.
Thin Consistency (add two tablespoons of water for each cup of icing) is for fine details like writing, vines, leaves, and icing the whole cake itself.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Amazing Muffin Transformation

Earlier this week, I set out on cake-safari to hunt down the perfect birthday cupcake. What was the object of my sport? Why, none other than the rare and delicious orange vanilla cream cupcake.

But this sneaky little baked good pulled a fast one on me. Yes, as I was mixing and whisking through the jungle – measuring spoons in hand – these sweet sleuths filled my cupcake traps with a decoy. As I pulled back the paper liners, I noticed I hadn’t caught cupcakes at all. No, these cupcakes were muffins.


How could this be? I used the right bait. My measurements and ingredients were correct. I even saw the batter crawl into the oven trap. So how is it that my cupcakes spontaneously transformed into muffins?

Perhaps it was survival, like lizards dropping their tails, or frogs spontaneously changing sex for population control. These chameleon-baked-goods were a mystery, hiding in plain sight.

Or was the hunter to blame?

Alas, I hear the peanut gallery whispering. “What is the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Aren’t they the same thing?”

Sure, these two species seem almost identical. After all, they are made from the same exact ingredients. But do you celebrate your birthday with a big birthday muffin? No! And trust me, it's not the frosting that makes the cake.

It's the texture.

Thus, I went on three cupcake hunting safaris last week, in search of perfect cupcake texture. I made three cake-y kills, and I have dissected and documented them below. Soon you too will see what makes a cupcake a cupcake, and a muffin a muffin!

Starting with batch #1 (the muffins) you will notice that muffins innards are rough and crumbly. This is because in muffinland you need not worry about a mixing method. But in cupcakeland, very detailed mixing instructions must be followed. Skip a step at your own peril. Which, is exactly what this little hunter did. I mixed the dry goods in with the wet goods.

This fatal folly caused my batter to clump. Why is this bad? Clumping means the sugar granules don't cut holes into the butter at a consistent rate. Clumping turns perfect tight air bubbles (which make cupcakes) into bulbous and unpredictable puff-pockets (which make muffins). If your batter's lumpy and bumpy – you're hunting muffins. If it's smooth as silk – well hot dog, you're headed for cupcake country.

On Safari number two, I learned that the texture of a cupcake (or cake in general) is smooth and refined. You've got to cream your butter and slowly add in your favorite boxer – the sugar – who will play punching bag with the solid fat. After a few rounds in the bowl, this creates millions of tiny tight air pockets.

Then (skip this step at your peril) you add in the dry goods. Then the wet goods. SEPARATELY!

So, while real estate is about location, location, location - baked goods are about technique, technique, technique!

But I wasn't satisfied with my second cupcake hunt. Sure, I'd caught some cake-y treats, but I found them to be dry. DRY! Curse you, cupcake gods!

Time to retreat? Never!

I put on my safari hat. I referenced my field guides (the Internets), and found a little clue for my final hunt: switch up the bait. I exchanged the solid fats (butter) for liquid fats (oil).

Oh, sweet cupcake, it looks like oil is your Achilles heel. Yes, I had finally caught the illusive and moist, smooth texture of cupcake!

So, if you want to sift your way to the sweet-cake-savannah, be sure to perfect your technique! I suggest following the Alton Brown creaming method, guaranteed to catch cake every time:

The Alton Brown Creaming Method:
1) Measure out all ingredients (by weight if possible). Fats should be pliable but solid (no sign of melting). If kitchen temp is over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, chill the bowl.
2) Combine all dried goods (except sugar) in a food processor, or by sifting.
3) In a small bowl beat eggs together, along with any extracts.
4) Using a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) on medium speed, mix the fats alone for a minute to spread them around.
5) Add sugar (slowly) to the mixture and beat until it lightens noticeably.
6) Reduce speed to “stir” and add eggs very slowly. Stop to scrape down sides as necessary.
7) Work in dry goods in three installments, alternating with any additional liquids, such as milk. Always start with the dry ingredients and finish with the wet for a smoother batter.
8) Stir in any bits and/or pieces (chocolate chips, nuts, etc.)
9) Bake according to the recipe’s instructions.

Yeah, don’t just throw everything into a bowl and stir…unless, of course, you’re hunting muffins.

And if you aren't convinced, then perhaps the best way to know the difference between a muffin and a cupcake is to ... well ... eat them!

Be Mine! Valentine's Day Cupcakes!

Tell 'em you love 'em with a little conversation cupcake! Sweet and tangy these tasty valentines will put carrier pigeons out of business, because nothing says I love you like cake!

(P.S. You can tweet me at: ingridsundberg)

I hope your Valentine's Day was delicious!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ten Sweet Ideas for Your Sweetheart

What are you getting your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day?

Women swoon for roses. But as the age-old saying goes, the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! (Let’s be honest, that works for most women too.) So, I researched some heart-o-riffic cupcake ideas that will leave your valentine craving your sweetness this Valentine's Day!

1)Written With Love
Woo your valentine with a chocolate, hand-written cupcake note! This tasty valent
ine comes to you from her crafty-ness Ms. Martha Stewart and her baking entourage.

2) Be the Queen of Hearts
Quick and classic, entice your sweetheart with a little
devil's food cake love! Top of your cake with butter cream and a flair of fondant hearts! This little secret comes from Confessions of a Bakeaholic.

3) Bring a Box of Chocolates
Take a classic box of chocolates and give it a cake-
y twist! Make mini-cupcakes and decorate them with pink and red candies and chocolate frosting. This chocolate creation is brought to you by the cupcake masters who wrote the book "Hello, Cupcake."

4) Love, With a Cherry on Top
If you're not feeling the chocolate, think about adding a little cherry to your valentine-a
-licious holiday! Cherry chip cake makes a light and lovely cupcake and will add a little "bing" to your relationship. Cherry ideas are compliments of Karen, the housewife looking to Do Better.

5) Say it with Flowers
Sure, fresh flowers can run up a pretty penny, but that doesn't mean you have to forget the sentiment. Make a gift that comes from the heart: rose cupcakes! These flowers use fruit roll-ups or fruit leather to make your heart blossom. Create a dozen with a little help from Disney's Family Fun Magazine. 6) Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! Hearts!
Dazzle up your day with the classic of classic valentine swee
ts: chocolate! Melt up some super-sweet chocolate and pipe hearts to decorate your valentine goodies. These sinful sweets are animal-friendly, too! That's right, this choc-o-riffic recipe is brought to you by a Couple of Vegans with serious chocolate-know-how.

7) Be Mine! Be My Mini-Cake!
Start the conversation with a sassy heart-shaped mini-cake. Be Mine! Hug Me! Tweet Me! Send your loved one a special message with a mini-cake cut in the shape of a heart. Make yours with butter cream and the guidance of Martha Stewart, or try Ezra Pound Cake's fondant fun.

8) Pour on the Sugar!
Forget the frosting and sweeten up a red velvet cupcake with
some powdered sugar. Cut a heart from construction paper and dust your cupcakes with powdered sugar for an elegant and classy look. Tie a ribbon around your confection to catch your valentine's eye! This ruby red recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens.

9) Bleeding Hearts
Not into the super-sappiness of Valentine's Day? That's okay, you can try something a little more "realistic" with a jelly-filled bleeding heart cupcake. It's sure to be a heart stopper! This sweet bleeder comes compliments of YumSugar.

10) Kiss 'Em Goodnight!
Every Valentine wants a goodnight kiss, so be sure to pucker up! Leave your mark on the inside of an Oreo cookie, buy gummy lips, or make your kissers with butter cream or fondant. Just make sure your sweet lips show up to the party!

Feel free to comment with your own sweet ideas! Be safe. Be fabulous. Eat cake!
Happy Valentines Day!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bringing Home the Bacon

We first noticed the fridge was dying when the frozen meat began to bleed and the ice cream turned to soup. As in the life of all appliances, eventually wires get rusty, compressors give up, and lights blink out. As my fridge coughed up its last breaths of cold air, my boyfriend and I frantically made preparations.

What do I do with a fridge full of food about to spoil?

I turn the beef into meatloaf. I turn the chicken into meat pie. I turn the bacon in to meat…..cake.

Meat cake?!!

Yes, as appliance death breathes down my neck, I embrace creativity and bring about new life. And thus the bacon cupcake is born. Sure, the combination of chocolate and bacon is not a new concept. In no way am I breaking new ground in the cupcake world. But it was – in the face of certain disaster – a fun and tasty way to curb certain spoilage.

To some, a bacon cupcake sounds as good as licking a slug. But I assure you it’s more than a pregnant woman’s late night craving, it is the sweet and salty treat you didn’t know you would fall in love with. Go ahead - try it out for yourself! I dare you!


Start with any chocolate cake recipe. You may have a personal favorite, or use a box mix. Below is my mother’s Never Fail Chocolate Cake Recipe! It’s a heavier cake with rich texture and flavor.

You will also need one recipe of Ganache.

Preparing the Bacon:

Cook one package of bacon. You can do this the normal way in a fry pan, or you can make absolutely perfect bacon – the Alton Brown way:

The Alton Brown Secret to Perfect Bacon:
1) Get out a waffle iron and heat it up on medium.
2) Cut your bacon strips in half.
3) Place four to five half strips of bacon on the waffle iron. Close top and cook for 2 min, 30 seconds.
4) Open iron and move bacon around so another area will get cooked. Cook for another two and a half minutes.
5) Pull out your amazing strips of bacon and repeat! Not only will the bacon be flat (great for presentation) but it will be the perfect balance of crispy and fatty. Mmmmmmmmm Bacon!

Take half of your bacon and crumble it into bits for the batter. Save the other half to decorate the top of your cupcakes!

Mom’s Never Fail Chocolate Cake Recipe (with Bacon):

Cake Ingredients:
1 egg
½ cup cocoa
½ cup shortening
1 ½ cup flour
½ cup sour milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
½ cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
(Plus: your bacon bits and strips from above)

1) Mix all ingredients in a bowl (including bacon bit pieces).
2) To make sour milk – add a tbsp of vinegar to the milk and let it sit for a few minutes.
3) Dish out cupcakes into liners in a cupcake tray. I like to use an ice cream scoop for equal portions.
4) Bake for 20 – 30 min, checking cupcakes with a toothpick for done-ness.
5) Let cupcakes cool.
6) Make ganache recipe and dip cool cupcakes into the mixture.
7) While ganache is still liquid dip bacon strips into the ganache and garnish the tops of your cupcakes.
8) Eat left over bacon for breakfast tomorrow! Mmmmmm bacon!

Bacon cupcake photos provided by Russell Gearhart Photography.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Super-Classy Party Cake

What’s black and white and blue all over?

Why Ingrid and her 30th birthday cake, of course! Nothing cures the fear of growing old quite like dying your hair blue and stuffing your face with peanut butter bliss.

In an attempt to step into my thirties with a little class, I opted for a black and white theme. No, I’m not over the hill, or anticipating my own funeral. We’re talkin’ class – people, class! (Yes, as classy as a silly eye-ware party with a blue-haired birthday girl can be). The inspiration for this cake came from a photograph I saw in the book “Beautiful Cakes” by Peggy Porschen. This elegant confection is created with fondant stripes and gum paste flowers, using royal icing as a sugar glue to attach the flowers. The yum-yum interior of this creation is a chocolate and white layer cake filled with Reese’s peanut butter chunks and lathered with a coating of peanut butter frosting.

Are you drooling yet?

Photos provided by Russell Gearhart Photography.