Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hi Hat Cupcakes!

Just look at these babies. Moist chocolate cupcakes, towering pillars of marshmallow, and a hard, thin chocolate shell. Mmmmm...

Like most impressive treats, these do take some time, but they're actually not at all difficult.  And look at them! These are hi hats! These are worth it!

The recipe is posted below, but there's a really great picture tutorial from King Arthur Flour you can look at for step-by-step instructions.

Chocolate Hi Hat Cupcakes
recipe slightly adapted from Martha Stewart and Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Cupcake Batter (Martha says this makes 12 cupcakes, but I doubled the recipe and got WAY more than 24.  I think this recipe makes about 16 cupcakes.)
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
Marshmallow Frosting
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
Chocolate Coating
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
  • 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Cupcake Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 15-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder together.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a regular hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. With the mixer on low, add the melted chocolate and beat to combine.

  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each completely before adding the next.
  7. Mix in the vanilla and beat until the batter is creamy and the color has lightened a bit, about 1 minute.
  8. Add the sour cream and mix until the white streaks disappear.
  9. Finally, with the mixer on low speed, alternately add a third of the flour mixture, then half of the water, then another third of the flour mixture, the rest of the water, then the remaining flour mixture, beating just until combined.
  10. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared liners, filling each with about 1/3 cup of batter (the wells will be quite full, and the cupcakes will bake with tops that rise slightly over the edges of the pan).
  11. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  12. Remove the muffin pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes before removing the cupcakes from the pan to the rack to cool completely.

Marshmallow Frosting Directions
(you can also make marshmallow frosting with egg whites. Martha has a recipe for that)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Let cool to room temperature. (I put it in the refrigerator to speed up the process)
  2. Add the meringue powder to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or use your hand mixer!), and add the cooled sugar water and beat the mixture on medium to medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 10-15 minutes.

  3. Cut the end off of a piping bag or ziploc bag, and fill with marshmallow. I put the bag into a drinking glass, then fold the bag over the mouth of the glass. It makes it easier!

  4. Pipe the marshmallow onto the cooled cupcakes in a tall, swirl pattern. First I piped one circular layer, then another smaller one on top, then another, etc.  You want the frosting to look almost like a soft serve cone of ice cream would. If it takes a few tries to get it right, don't worry - you can scrape the frosting off the cupcake easily and try again.

  5. Once all the cupcakes have been frosted, put them in the freezer for a few hours.
Chocolate Coating Directions
  1. Combine the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in a microwave safe bowl.
  2. Heat in 15-second bursts, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
  3. Let the chocolate cool slightly before you start dipping the cupcakes.
  4. Transfer the chocolate to a tall cup with an opening wide enough for the cupcakes. I used a margarita glass - I found that it was the perfect shape and depth!

  5. Holding each cupcake by its bottom, turn it upside down and dip it into the chocolate - you want to cover all of the marshmallow frosting but not the cupcake itself.
  6. Lift the cupcake out of the chocolate, but continue to hold it upside down over the cup of chocolate to allow the excess to drip off.
  7. Turn right side up and transfer to a platter.
  8. Use a toothpick to touch up any spots at the base of the cupcake that may not have been covered.
  9. Once all of the cupcakes have been dipped, move them to the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to fully set.

  10. Store the cupcakes in the refrigerator, but let them sit out at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making a Wedding Cake

It is such a treat to be asked to make a wedding cake for my friends.  I love sharing in their special day, and making a beautiful, yet tasty cake. (And of course, sparing the couple the expense of a $500+ cake!)  Having only made two wedding cakes, I'm no professional, but I have learned some very helpful tips and tricks along the way.  So with that, let's make a wedding cake!

First: plan, plan, plan!  Almost every part of a wedding cake can be done ahead of time, so you don't need to have one day of stress - spread out the tasks to make it easy on yourself!  You can bake the cakes up to three weeks in advance, just triple wrap the layers in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer.  Also, freezing cakes makes it very easy to work them later: frosting a frozen cake means fewer crumbs to deal with.  Fillings can be made several days ahead, as well as frosting.  Just keep in the refrigerator, and bring the frosting to room temperature before using.  Now that you've planned, let's bake the layers!

This particular cake was intended to serve 30 people.  I wanted a two-tier cake, with the bottom tier an 8" square, and the top tier a 6" square.  Each tier was 3 layers, making a nice, dramatic height.  I've used the same recipe for both wedding cakes that I've made, and it is GOOD.  It comes from the best cake book of all time, and it is chocolate!  Everyone loves chocolate!  And the best thing yet: the recipe adapts perfectly for a gluten-free cake!  I just substituted the cake flour that the recipe called for, with a gluten-free all-purpose flour mix that I made. It worked so well!  The texture was lovely, the cake was moist, and it was oh-so-chocolatey.  I will post the recipe in a separate post later. Once the cake is made, triple wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer.

Next, make the filling. The couple requested a cherry filling, so I got dark canned cherries, and added brandy, lemon juice and corn starch to thicken the filling.  I heated the ingredients on the stove until the filling simmered down into a delicious syrup-y sauce studded with sweet cherries. Then I let the filling cool as I leveled the cakes.

To level the cakes, there are a couple of approaches, that I like to call the Easy Way and the Hard Way.  The Easy Way: purchase a fancy cake leveler, then use it to create nice, even layers. The Hard Way: measure the height at various places and place a toothpick at the desired height, then cut using the toothpicks as your guide.  Can you guess which way I chose?  Yep. The Hard Way.  But it was kind of fun :)  Here are some photos:

Now that the cake is leveled, wrap them in single layers of plastic wrap and place back in the freezer as you make your frosting.  The frosting that I like to use for wedding cakes is Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  My kitchen is a No-Fondant Zone (the stuff has no taste! give me frosting!) so I turn to buttercream to get a nice smooth finish, that is actually delicious to eat!  Swiss Meringue Buttercream may seem scary, but I think it's fairly easy to make.  Deb has a really great post detailing how to make the buttercream.  Join with me - Say NO to Fondant!!

Once your frosting is made, it's time to assemble the cake!  Take your layers from the freezer and lay it on whatever surface will be easiest.  I am terrified of moving the cake once it's frosted, so I filled and frosted it directly in the cake box that I was going to use to transport the cake.  Put the first layer down, then spread on the filling, leaving about a half inch space before the edge.   Repeat with all layers.  Now the cake is ready to frost!

Let's start with the crumb coat.  This is a thin layer of frosting designed to seal in all of the crumbs.  This is especially important for a dark cake and white icing, because you don't want dark flecks of cake showing through in the frosting!  Spread the frosting so that the cake is neatly covered, then add a second coat!  Now you have a finished tier.  Repeat with the remaining tiers, then place in the fridge until the wedding day! This can be done up to three days in advance.  I frosted this cake the night before, but a few days in the fridge is fine.

You've made it to the wedding day!  It's time to transport the cake to the reception location.  I had a 50-mile drive...and I was terrified!  I put the cakes on a towel in the back seat of my car so that they would be as level as possible during the ride.  I also drove the entire route in the slow lane...which is a feat for me ;)  I nervously avoided all instances of speed bumps, slamming on my breaks, or sharp turns.  Thankfully, the cakes all survived the drive without any issues!  I also packed a cake "doctor's bag" to take to the reception location.  I packed: two containers full of extra frosting, pastry bags, tips, an off-set spatula, a plastic spatula, a roll of paper towels, a wet rag in a plastic baggy, aluminum foil, and a bag for trash.  I also packed raspberries to decorate the cake, and extra filling to serve with the cake.

Now it is time to assemble the cake!  First, cover your stand or plate with little strips of foil or parchment paper to keep the edge clean.  Carefully remove the bottom tier from the cake box and place in the center of your stand.  Now add more frosting!  Clean up any imperfections from your original frosting coat by running the spatula along the sides and top of the cake with a thin layer of frosting.  It's important to put more frosting on the top so that the next tier will have something to hold onto.  I didn't use any dowels in this cake because it was small, but if it were a large cake, I'd have used dowels to hold the tier together.  The tiers each sat on a cake board, though, to make it easy to separate the tiers later when slicing and serving.

Next, carefully add the top tier.  Repeat the smoothing and additional frosting.  Again, put more frosting on the top so that the decorations have something to hold onto.  Now you are ready to decorate!  The raspberries are ready.

I covered the top of the cake and the top of the second tier in raspberries, keeping it very simple.  I also piped a little row of pearls along the bottom of the cake to hide the cake board, and because I think it looks pretty :)

Ta-da!  The wedding cake is done!!   Here is a picture of me with the finished product:

But more importantly, here are photos of the bride and groom with their cake! (Photos from Hagop's Photography)

Lastly, I baked one extra top tier so that they could freeze it and eat it on their first anniversary.  Here's a pic:

Congrats Jay and Jenn!
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