Sunday, April 17, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons, Bake Them.

Lately, winter and spring seem to be having more back and forth fights for air time than presidential candidates at a debate. Last Sunday my husband and I spent the afternoon laying out in the yard soaking up the sun. This Sunday we're hunkered down inside with the heater on. I wish I could just blame eastern New Mexico for this, but it seems to be a country-wide issue (again, just like those darn politicians! Who knew weather and politics held so many similarities? Lots of hot air and inaccurate predictions with both). I hope someday soon I don't have to start my day in a parka and end it in shorts. I feel like that's really not asking for much...but since my power of weather control seems to be nonexistent, the one thing I can do to trick myself into believing spring is really here to stick around is by baking. The power of food, people. So what food group says spring has sprung better than fruit? The day something other than seventy-five varieties of apples hits the produce section, I know to prepare myself for warmer weather. Thanks once again to the betrothed couple that asked me to bake cupcakes for their wedding, I was able to bring about taste bud-related climate change and provide further cupcake tasting samples with these lemon cupcakes with raspberry curd filling and raspberry lemon swirled buttercream frosting. Fortunately, the recipe is much less convoluted than the name.
So bright and cheery that I've forgotten I'm freezing!!
I took these bright and beautiful babies to a cookout last night...once the lid was removed from the cake safe, the smell of lemon and raspberry tickled my nose and immediately caused Pavlovian-style drooling (never has eating dessert before dinner been more tempting). I know lemon scent is usually reserved for cleaning products, but I promise this had a lovely saccharine scent and not one that makes you feel guilty about how long it's been since you've even thought about scrubbing your kitchen cabinets. And the flavor. Wow. If you're a fan of sweet and sour anything, these are perfect. And boy did they ever make me forget (or simply not care because they were so tasty) that it was quite cold out last night during the jacket probably also helped out with that, but I can't eat my jacket, so it is getting no credit here.
Prepare to zest lemon for days.
I found this recipe after tons of searching for lemon raspberry cupcake recipes. Not lemon cupcakes with raspberry frosting or vice versa. I wanted a full on fruit storm in these cupcakes, and this recipe was easy to adapt and fit the bill. I went purely from scratch for these, but I've got corners to cut and tricks to share if you're not being quite as Martha Stewarty as I like to be. Gather up:
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 TBS baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick of butter at room temp
  • 1 TBS of lemon zest from a fresh lemon (this is pretty much the whole lemon to get 1 TBS)
  • 2 eggs at room temp
  • 1 TBS of juice from said fresh lemon
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp of almond extract (I'm obsessed. I go for broke with almond extract)
  • 1/2 cup of room temp buttermilk
A few notes here for quicker prep: you can use dried grated lemon peel in place of the fresh zest. This stuff is quite potent, so use one teaspoon in place of one tablespoon of fresh zest. I honestly prefer the dried stuff because it is smaller and less noticeable when it comes to texture but not taste...also, I don't have to use a grater, so I save my knuckle skin! You can also use lemon juice from the bottle, but it won't be quite as good as fresh. Use the same amount.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line a muffin tin...this recipe makes 14 cupcakes. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In your stand mixer, place the zest and sugar and use your hands to mix until the bowl is super fragrant; cream the butter in after this for a couple minutes. Then add in each egg, mix well, scrape the bowl, and add the juice and extract. Add in half of the dry mix and blend. Add in the buttermilk and blend before dumping in the rest of the dry mix. Blend well. This batter is nice and thick, so using the ice cream scoop trick I talked about in the last blog works perfectly. Fill your cupcake liners 2/3 of the way and bake for 16-20 minutes. The magic window for me was at 18 with the toothpick test.
So blonde! So zesty!
Once cooked, let cool in the tin for 5 minutes on a cooling rack. Then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely on the rack. While cooling, you can make the raspberry curd filling! Few words are less appetizing than "curd," but some of my favorite things involve it...cheese curds, for instance. Now I'm in sad, desperate need of poutine...
At this point, I had grated off most of my left thumb. The joys of baking.
The curd recipe is quite simple, but again, I have more shortcuts:
  • Two egg yolks
  • 1/2 TBS of lemon zest
  • Juice from half a lemon (about 1 1/2 TBS)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 drops red food coloring
  • 2 TBS of cold butter cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup of raspberry preserves/jelly/jam
To me, texture is as important as flavor. This is why I hate seeds, nuts, pulp, or coconut in my food. If my chocolate cake is randomly chunky, I die inside. I also believe coconut shreds work better as floss than at flavoring things. So what I also hate is regular preserves used in place of jelly. If you don't mind chunks of seeds, go for the preserves for richer flavor. Also, go for the fresh lemon zest. I will say when I make these again, I'll use the fresh zest in the cupcakes (not noticeable at all with texture) but not in the curd filling. So if you've got a tongue that trembles at the taste of twisty textures (say that five times fast), heed my advice!
I see you, lemon zest chunks...
Start by whisking together the yolks, sugar, juice, and zest on medium high heat in a saucepan. You want to cook this until it gets nice and thick...probably around 5-10 minutes. You will need to stir constantly, so prepare for a small bicep workout. Turn off the burner one it has thickened and add in one small chunk of the cold butter at a time and stir until completely melted before adding more. I left my pan on the burner to use the residual heat to help melt things. Add in the food coloring and raspberry jam/jelly/preserves after this. Finally, pour this into a bowl, cover, and place in the freezer to set for 30 minutes.
The Purple People Eater makes a rare appearance!
I will say you could totally get away with filling your cupcakes by just piping in raspberry jelly or a jar of plain lemon curd if you're really looking to cut corners, but this homemade curd...dear LORD. I wanted to sit down and just eat the entire bowl. Tart and sweet...much like salty and sweet, a taste combination for the ages. To pipe you can either load a piping bag with a long narrow tip or a frosting gun like I did.
Simply insert about halfway in to the cupcake and pipe until you feel some resistance. There is plenty of curd for all 14 cupcakes, so don't be shy!

I'm going to refrain from making a joke about how these look like man nipples and move on to frosting.
Whew. Mission accomplished.
I went rogue with my frosting recipe. I knew I wanted a swirl of lemon mixed with a swirl of raspberry. You could easily do just one or the other, but I wanted a balance of flavors. So to do that, you'll need:
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  •  Initially 4 cups of powdered sugar plus 2-3 cups more for the raspberry frosting
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Juice of one lemon/2-3 TBS (Dear God we've killed so many lemons at this point) 
  • Zest of one lemon/1 TBS (or use 1 tsp of the dried lemon peel which is what I recommend)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  •  Initially 4 TBS of heavy cream plus 2 TBS more for the raspberry frosting
  • 1/2 cup of raspberry jam/jelly/preserves (again, for smooth texture, use jelly or dessert spread)
  • OPTIONAL: yellow and pink dyes
Cream the butter for a few minutes until fluffy and then add in 4 cups of sugar, the vanilla, lemon juice and peel, and salt, and blend on LOW. Once things are mixing together nicely, add in the 4 TBS of heavy cream. Once this is well mixed, take 2/3 of the frosting and place into a medium/large bowl. Add the yellow dye to this frosting and mix by hand. Set aside. Back in the stand mixer bowl, add two more cups of sugar and two more TBS of heavy cream and blend. Then add in the raspberry jelly and pink dye and mix. If things are still runny at this point, add in an additional cup of powdered sugar to get a consistency thick enough for piping.
To achieve the color swirl, you'll need 3 piping bags and a 1M tip. Load a small amount of lemon frosting to a bag and snip the tip off of the bag. Then load a small amount of raspberry frosting to another bag and snip the tip. Gently smoosh one bag into the final piping bag that is fitted with a 1M tip. You want the snipped end to be as far down as possible. Then load the second bag of frosting in on top of the first, again smooshing gently to get the snipped tip as far down as possible.
Like so.

Admire your skills as needed.
I simply piped a swirl onto each cupcake, alternating with lemon frosting on top for one and then flipping the bag so the raspberry side was on top for another. This is why you see some with more prominent lemon frosting and others with more prominent raspberry frosting. If you want to keep it uniform, don't flip your frosting bag. I was able to frost half of the cupcakes before having to reload my frosting bags. As a firm believer that everything is better with sprinkles, I finished up by adding pink and yellow sprinkles on top.
Anyone for some sorbet? Dammit Pavlov, you knew what you were doing...
I was told several times last night how much people liked the initially sour, mouthwatering flavor of the lemon that was followed by the decadent sweetness of the raspberry (okay, so not as many adjectives were used, but you get the gist). People marveled at the secret surprise filling and generally ate these in under three bites. If you see anyone slamming cupcakes in anything under four bites, get in on that immediately or you're gonna miss out on something magical. These are perfect treats for people who like dessert but don't want anything too know, dessert commitmentphobes. Most definitely words I will not use to describe these at the actual wedding (totes inappropes). But if you're looking for a cupcake that packs a scent strong enough to make your Scentsy warmer jealous while also tasting like a springtime miracle, these are the cupcakes for you. I only wish I had more to eat today to whisk me away to a warm paradise, but instead I'm going to roll myself up into a blanket like a human burrito and pray for warmth. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
My only regret is that you all now know I like to eat cupcakes with a fork...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding (Cupcake)

Alright people, this is not a drill. I've been called up to the big leagues. That's right: I'm the sole baker for a wedding. Does this fill me with joy and exuberance (and a tiny bit of nausea)? Damn right it does. Thankfully the bride has gone incredibly easy on me and requested cupcakes instead of some massive, five-tiered, stark white colossus of a cake with designs on world domination. This may be the big leagues, but baby steps are always appreciated (quite literally) when transporting any form of dessert from kitchen to vehicle to final destination (no, not my mouth). But since I'll be making three flavors of cupcakes, I felt it only right to do a practice round for each. I realize for normal women the best part of wedding preparations is probably finding THE dress, selecting the perfect venue, or simply that awesome sparkly addition to the ring finger. Me? My favorite part was the cake tasting (I'll give you a moment to digest this shocking information). My husband couldn't make it to the tasting as he was currently embroiled in this lovely land called Clovis while I was still up in Detroit (the lesser of two evils!), so he'll never know the wonderment that is the cake tasting until he trades me in for a younger, blonder model. But I wanted the future bride and groom to experience one of the easiest and most stress-free aspects of wedding planning. Think of me as a wedding therapist. Getting stressed about seating charts? Have this sample cupcake and be whisked away by flavor! I'm the Carl Jung of baking. I decided I wanted to start off the sampling of baked goods with the classic white wedding cake flavor. This was a two-fold decision as today happens to mark the four year anniversary of mine and Derek's fancy church wedding. What's a bride to do when her husband is deployed but bake and eat cupcakes to both soothe the pain and reminisce about one of the best days of her life? The actual Carl Jung might have something to say about this, but he's dead, so he won't be the one having his cake and eating it, too.
Well that got real dark real quick.
I'm seriously not going to eat a dozen cupcakes by myself this close to bikini season. I may be crazy, but I'm definitely not stupid. The great thing about cupcakes is they freeze like a champ. So when my husband eventually gets home, we'll have a belated celebration while these cupcakes thaw out (much like the thawing of my cold dead heart when my husband is around. D'awww.). The recipe I used made 16 cupcakes total, 4 of which I left with the bride for sampling purposes. I may or may not have told her about how I sampled my cake without my husband, but sharing is caring, I suppose.
OK, it's not really cheating.
When the bride and I were discussing flavor options, classic white almond cake was at the top of the list. Naturally, I used Pinterest as my spirit guide like I always do to find a perfect recipe to adjust to my liking. When I searched for a recipe, I was shocked to find the same damn recipe everywhere, and it involved the use of a box cake. Dios mio! Sacrilege! But if 80 bajillion Pinterest users finally agreed on something, I figured I better give it a shot. So I found a recipe to adapt. I cut the original recipe in half to get my 16 cupcakes. You could easily double this for a full batch, but unless you're baking for a small army (of brides?), 16 cupcakes is usually plenty for one household. Gather up:
  • 1 cup plus 2 TBS of white cake mix
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/4 heaping tsp of salt
  • 2/3 cup of water
  • 1 TBS of oil
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 egg whites
This is quite a low maintenance recipe which is fantastic. Preheat your oven to 325 and line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. In the bowl of your stand mixer, dump the cake mix, sugar, flour, and salt and give a quick blend on super low. Then add in the water, oil, sour cream, extracts, and whites. Blend on low for 30 seconds, then high for 2 minutes (what am I, the directions on the back of a cake box? ...Wait...).
What's with the really bitchin' ice cream scoop, you ask?
If you're anything like me, you can create a mess in less than a nanosecond when trying to get batter into a cupcake liner. My kitchen goes from zero to "Why is everything so sticky?" at an alarming rate, so I decided to give the old ice cream scoop trick a try. Bakers swear by it, but as usual, I was a skeptic. I will say the ice cream scoop would probably be really helpful with a batter that was thicker, but this cake batter is quite thin, so I still managed to make a total mess of things...there was batter on the back of my bicep. I'm a talented girl. So scoop or spoon enough batter to fill your cups about 3/4 of the way full. These don't expand much, so you're safe. Pop into the oven for 16-20 minutes. My "sweet spot" for timing was 19 minutes.
"Last time you made cupcakes, they were for me. These better be for me, too." -Freyja
Once cooked, let cool in the pan for 5 minutes on a rack before removing and allowing plenty of time to finish cooling before frosting. Speaking of frosting...
You'd be shocked by the amount of butter I possess in my fridge.
A classic white almond wedding cupcake deserves a classic white almond frosting. I may be allergic to actual almonds, but thank God their extract doesn't make me break out into eczema patches like their evil, delicious origins do. Almond flavoring is simply the best thing you could ever add to ANY flavor of cake as far as I'm concerned. So to put the icing on the cake, get:
  • 1 cup of room temp butter
  • 4-5 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-5 TBS whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
Start by creaming the butter and then adding in two cups of powdered sugar, two tablespoons of heavy cream, and the extracts. Blend until well mixed and add in two more cups of sugar and two more tablespoons of heavy cream. At this point you have enough frosting to frost all 16 cupcakes, but the butter will still give it a yellow tint. I wanted frosting pure as the driven snow...frosting so white, even Hitler would've liked it, essentially. This was both a terrible and accurate example. Don't be a racist jerk, but if you want really white frosting, add in the additional cup of sugar and tablespoon of cream. As far as frosting techniques, I used a bunch of floral designs, so let me help you with those.
These adorable little flowers were created with a #104 tip. To get a really good tutorial, check this link out (starts a 1:07).
Essentially, you hold the tip down with narrow side facing out and pipe little petals.
Then add a second layer.
Finish up with a third and add some white or colored pearls to the middle.
I created a hydrangea bouquet with a 2D open star tip. I piped a small mound and twisted while pulling the tip up and away.

Fill in all over and create a second layer if you like! I also used the 2D tip to create a couple roses. Start in the middle of the cupcake and swirl outward and around for these. Top with white crystal sprinkles for a dewy look.
And for the classic favorite swirl, just use a 1M tip. Top with pearls or sprinkles, either way, your dogs will be waiting underfoot for something to be dropped.

What girl doesn't love a bouquet of flowers?
Al-my-god. Classic white almond wedding cake, you made me second guess my decision to go rogue and have a chocolate wedding cake. I adore almond extract, so this flavor was just divine as far as I'm concerned. It was like eating saccharine manna from heaven. If you don't want a super duper sweet cupcake, I'd recommend nixing the almond extract from either the cupcake OR the frosting, but definitely not from both. The flavoring is classic for a reason, after all. But even with a box cake in the mix, this recipe is a total keeper, and if you take the time to decorate the cupcakes like a pro, you don't have to feel terrible about taking a little shortcut (Pinterest made you do it). I'm going to have one hell of a time trying not to eat all of these before my husband gets home, but anything for love, right? Apparently I do have willpower when it comes to dessert, who knew? I guess I can thank my husband for that, along with the one million other reasons I'm thankful for him. Any man that can put up with my level of Type A crazy deserves a cupcake for sure. That's why he's getting a whole damn bouquet of them. Apparently cupcakes are still good therapy well after the wedding. Never mind happy wife, happy life...feel free to use my trade secret as much as possible: cupcakes in the freezer, you'll make it til you're both geezers. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
I know the husband usually gives the wife flowers for an anniversary (which he totally did), but this time, I'm literally taking the (cup)cake with these.