Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cupcakes Galore

Lately, it seems that all my cake adventures involve cupcakes.  I love the flexibility of cupcakes.  They're quick to bake.  I can pipe the tops lickety-split.  You can easily have multiple flavours available. There are so many pretty wrappers easily available. No need for forks and plates, so they’re fast on clean-up. 

If you’re making the mini ones, they’re adorable just because of their size.   Who can resist things like two-bite brownies or the mini cinnamon rolls.  Mini cupcakes are just the same. Only potential downside, needing to make extras since you know people will want more than one!

It started with Hunter & Chris’s wedding. 

When scheduling craziness meant we didn’t have a large room we could use while we celebrated a co-worker’s upcoming marriage, I decided cupcakes were a good choice for their portability. 

Stacy's Decorated Cubicle

Lemon Nutmeg cupcakes with Blueberry Buttercream was perfect for a bride-to-be who loves lemon and whose wedding colours are dark purple and lime green.  I made my own blueberry syrup and added it to the buttercream along with a little extra colouring to achieve a good purple colour. I  thoroughly enjoyed doodling lime green circles on top for decoration.

Stacy's Wedding Shower Cupcakes

I do have to confess to a near transportation disaster.  I was in a rush that day.  I had five extra cupcakes that didn’t fit on the big tray, but I thought I should bring them along just in case. The big tray and the little plate were sitting on the back seat of my car, in what I thought was a reasonable secure fashion.  Not so much!  The first stop the bottom of my hill had me reaching fast to ensure the large tray stayed put, but the little plate … sigh… they became closely acquainted with my floor mat and squeegee brush.  Sad.

Cupcake Disaster

Thankfully, the big tray survived; it turned out we didn’t need the extras; and you get to see the really cute cupcake wrappers I found. 

Did I mention that the Lemon Nutmeg cake that I made for Noah’s birthday and then for Hunter & Chris’s wedding have become a family favourite? Thought I’d point that out just in case you missed how often it’s been made lately. You can find the recipe in this post.

When my dad needed dessert for a community group picnic for almost 80 people, cupcakes were the right choice for ease of distribution and consistent portions. Those Lemon Nutmeg cupcakes appeared again, but this time they had Mexican Vanilla Buttercream and coloured sugar sprinkles.  Add gingham print cupcake wrappers and you’ve got picnic perfect.  To give some additional flexibility, I also made some mini cupcakes for those who wanted just a little bite of dessert.

Picnic Cupcakes 2

This weekend, I was busy making Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting for a surprise birthday celebration at work.  Have I mentioned how much I like using Wilton’s mini cupcake stand.  It’s so easy to assemble and always looks pretty.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Today’s bonus discovery.  If you freeze the mini Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (perhaps because you’re desperate to stop the icing from melting in the heart!), they are delicious straight from the freezer.  Because of the small size, they’re not too hard to bite into, and the frozen Cream Cheese Frosting is, well, awesome!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cupcakes, Pandas and a Wedding

Two of my favourite people got married on Saturday. 

I had the privilege of helping officiate their wedding and of making a crazy number of cupcakes for the reception.  I’ll admit my feet are still a bit sore (should have picked comfy-er shoes) but all of the work was entirely worth it.  I’d do it all again for them in a heartbeat.

We wanted some fun flavours so I got to work.  I hunted for recipes and then I  them to create new recipes with just the flavours we wanted:  Cookies ‘n’ Cream cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream with Oreo Crumbles, Lemon Nutmeg cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream, and Coconut Chai cupcakes with Coconut Chai Buttercream.  I still can’t decide which is my favourite flavour. 

A few days before the wedding, Hunter and I were discussing what we should put on the large cupcake they were going to cut.  The traditional cake toppers weren’t an option so we started browsing Etsy to see what might inspire us.  We found some adorable panda bears which had us giggling with glee.  We obviously didn’t have time to order the ones we saw online, but they were a great inspiration for me to create two personalized fondant pandas.  The best part was seeing the look on Chris’s face since we kept them as a surprise for him.

I’d hoped that I would have recipe cards available at the wedding, but I ran out of time and energy. So here they are.

Lemon Nutmeg Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

Cream until light and fluffy
     3/4 c margarine, softened
     1 1/4 c white sugar

Add and blend well
     3 eggs

Mix in
     1/2 tsp baking soda
     1/4 tsp salt
     1/8 tsp nutmeg
     2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
     3/4 c  lemon yogurt (I like this one by Liberté)
     1 1/2 tbsp grated lemon peel

Bake at 325 degrees F for 14-15 minutes for mini cupcakes.

Once cool, frost with Chocolate Buttercream.

Makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen mini cupcakes.


Cookies ‘N’ Cream Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream and Oreo Crumbles

Cream thoroughly (2-3 minutes)
     1 c butter/margarine
     1 c sugar
     4 eggs

Add in and mix thoroughly
      2 c all-purpose flour
      2 1/2 tsp baking powder
      1 tsp vanilla extract

Blend in
      10 Oreo cookies, crushed

Bake at 350 F for 12-14 min for mini cupcakes.

Make one batch of Wilton Buttercream.  Blend in approximately 5-7 crushed Oreo cookies.  Frost cupcakes once they are completely cool.

Makes approximately 3 dozen mini cupcakes.


Coconut Chai Cupcakes with Coconut Chai Buttercream

Melt and warm 1 1/4 c unsalted butter

Add 3 tbsp Zhena's Gypsy Tea's Coconut Chai and steep for 4 minutes

Strain tea from butter. Allow butter to cool to room temperature

     1 c steeped butter
     1 c sugar

Add and beat well
     4 eggs

Blend in
     1 tsp vanilla
     2 1/2 tsp baking powder
     2 c all-purpose flour

Bake at 350 F for 12-14 min for mini cupcakes.

Steep 1 1/2 tbsp of Coconut Chai tea in approximately 1/4 c milk.  Strain and cool milk.

Once cool, use steeped milk when making Wilton’s Buttercream.  Frost cupcakes once completely cool.

Makes approximately 3 dozen mini cupcakes.

Congratulations Hunter and Chris! May the years ahead be sweet and filled with everything you dream for each other.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Birthday Train

It’s not sensible, but when someone asks me if I can make a cake for them, my first question is not when they need the cake. That would be the practical question, but it’s not what I need to know to make up my mind. 

My first question … well, actually, two questions … who is it for and what do they want the cake to look like.  That’s what makes the difference to whether or not I want to invest the time and effort in making a cake.  If it’s a cake that I’m intrigued to make or it’s for someone I care about or someone who is important to someone I care about, I’ll figure out a way to make the date work.

When a colleague asked me several months in advance if I’d make a cake for his son’s birthday, I knew I was going to say yes.  His son is adorable and I delight in the pictures his proud dad regularly updates on his computer.  The original idea was for something Max and Ruby related. I’ll admit that wouldn’t have been my favourite option for a design choice, but imagining the delight on a two year old face when his favourite characters were on the cake in front of him completely trumped any hesitation I had about the design.  I was all ready to use my piping gel transfer skills, or maybe even try out a frozen buttercream transfer.

When we confirmed the details a month before the birthday, my co-worker asked if there was any way I could do something train themed. His son had recently become a huge fan of trains.

I started to grin as I calmly asked, “Something flat on a cake or something 3D?” The wheels in my head were already turning.

I debated between carving a train or using the Wilton Choo Choo train pan.  When a flyer from the local craft store arrived with a fabulous coupon, I knew which way I was going. 

My first attempt with the train cake pan was, how shall I put this? … an unmitigated disaster. It is a very bad feeling when you look in the oven window and discover that more than a third of your batter is on the tray outside the cake pan.  ACK! 

I wish I’d thought to take a picture.  Looking back, it was pretty funny. In the moment, I was too busy panicking. After I took a moment to breathe, I looked at the other 3D pans I had and read through their instructions to see what I might have missed.  End result, I tied some butcher cord around the pan to help make sure it didn’t leak.  Second try, perfect … and it even came out of the pan well.

We’d also arranged that I would make some additional cupcakes for to take to his daycare, and some for the party as well, because we couldn’t resist the jungle cupcakes holder and picks.  Did I mention the first batch of chocolate cupcakes were too big to fit in the wrappers?  It was clearly a bad day for baking.  LOL!

The train is made from a very solid chocolate cake that I’ve used before in 3D pans so I knew it would stand up well.  The train car is a yummy lemon nutmeg cake which is particularly amazing when you add chocolate icing. 

While you couldn’t see a lot of it in the finished product, I wanted to include a train track under the cake.  Strips of black fondant with some cookies and cream sprinkles for the gravel worked really well.

To finish things off, I’d originally wanted to make a little fondant boy to peak out the engine window.  There wasn’t a solid way to attach him, so I decided that if a little boy couldn’t be driving the train, he’d want to be riding on top.  From the look on the birthday boy’s face, I know I got it just right.

I couldn’t resist taking one more picture once everything was loaded in my car for delivery.  My new car worked great!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Manhole Covers and Public Sugar Art

I decided it’s time to share some amusing and inspiring cake adventure related things that I’ve come across … even if I wasn’t involved in the creation … only in the photographing. 

Let’s start with my most recent find. I’m not sure if it’s still the politically correct name, but my hometown has some unusual manhole covers.  What does that have to do with cake? you ask.  Let me show you …

I’ve been doing some online research and while it was unveiled in 2002, the design is based on an advertisement from the 1955 Yellow Pages.  It causes me some glee that when the artists were deciding what would make an interesting design, they picked a cake shop.  I love how they have tried to capture the fine detail of piping on a wedding cake in cast iron creation.  

Apparently there are two other unique covers in the area … not cake related … but I may have to go find them and take a look.  I love finding public art in unexpected places.

Photos of the next find have been sitting on my smartphone since the end of March, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them.  The thing is they need to be shared with people who will appreciate the effort that went into creating a very ephemeral piece of public sugar art.

If  you think you’re looking at something made from ceramic tiles, you’d be incorrect.  Created during a residency at Open Space Gallery in Victoria, BC, the artist, Shelley Miller, made the work entirely from sugar.  There’s a great photo and lots of additional information about the artistic process on the gallery’s website. 

I was so intrigued by the idea that I did go back several times to see how the piece had changed. March and April tend to include a significant quantity of rain when you live on the west coast.  The first day I saw it, the icing that had been piped directly on the wall looked like it was still wet.  I did resist the urge to poke at it with my finger just to see how solid it was, but apparently others didn’t exercise the same restraint.

Despite the rain that had already caused the colours to bleed and run, the texture and depth to the ornamental work is a great example of what can be created with patience and sugar. 

Then there is the humour in having the bottom motif depict the harvesting of sugar cane. I almost forgot to mention how much I love the variation in colour used to create the sea.

My last visit to see how it was changing made me think that the creation had received some help to achieve the level of deterioration that had been achieved.  It did make me sad, but at the same time, I was amazed by how well the rest of the sugar art was surviving.  I know the panic I’ve felt when transporting cakes in the rain.  That terror that the smallest amount of water is going to ruin everything.  And yet, there is still something beautiful even as the art begins to disintegrate.

I’ve often been asked how I can watch people cut into and eat one of the cakes I’ve made.  It’s true, there’s a moment, just before the knife makes the first cut, when I agree with them.  There is a bittersweet feeling.  You’ve just seen the joy inspired by hours of creation, and now it’s about to disappear in matter of minutes.  I consider it a sign that I’ve been "successful” in my cake adventure when no one want to make the first cut.  At the same time, I know that the cake inside tastes just as delicious as it looks on  the outside and I don’t want anyone to miss out on that part either.  So I encourage them to cut and eat.  It’s why I made the cake.  The eating is an equal part of its enjoyment. 

For me there is a freedom in creating a piece of art so impermanent.  It makes it easier for me to let go of perfectionism and just enjoy the adventure of what I can create.  It allows me to focus on what’s most important to me … celebrating the people I love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fizz Candies and a Chocolate Shoe

Some cakes are clearly meant to be made. When all of the little details come together so easily. When you find just the perfect source for the item you need to personalize the cake. When you literally stumble across exactly the right supply that you didn't even realize you were looking for. When the cake turns out better than the one in your imagination. When the look on the face of the recipient is even better than you could have hoped. That's when it's obvious the universe decided to lay a gift right in your hands.

Those are truly special cake adventures. They are so full of joy that you never want to stop decorating. They are precious because they don't come along everyday. Hmm… it’s probably good that they don’t, otherwise I’d never leave my kitchen!

When it was time to celebrate our new manager’s 50th birthday, my co-worker Stacy and I knew there was cake making to be done but the only thing we knew was that it wasn’t time to make another transport truck!  That’s clearly not something you want to repeat a few months later.

Thinking caps on, we decided to go with a Fabulous Fifty idea that included shoes and jewellery. We briefly thought about trying to make our own shoe out of chocolate … we’d made chocolate tires before, why not a shoe?  Then we thought better of that idea when I remembered a fabulous chocolate shoe that I’d seen at Chocolatas on Granville Island.  We made some phone calls, but couldn’t find anything comparable locally, so I placed an order and coordinated a trip over to Vancouver to see Tosca Cafe (which, by the way, was awesome!) with picking up an amazing blue shoe made from white chocolate.

I knew we’d made the right choice as soon as a I saw the shoe.  I took a picture less than 5 minutes later because I had to share my delight.  I really wanted to take the shoe with me to work on the Monday so that Stacy could see it in person, but I knew we’d be caught for sure … we wouldn’t have been able to keep the squeals of glee quiet!

So we had the shoe planned, but we still hadn’t figured out what to do for the jewellery.  Neither of us have any experience with sugar work and it seemed a little late to start learning when the cake was only a week or so away.  We didn’t want to have to use something non-edible. 

While we were still pondering our options, we got to work assembling some goodie bags for a Halloween fundraiser.  Some of the candies were a childhood favourite of mine, Lotsa Fizz. They used to come in a long strip, with individual pouches for the fizzy candy.  For me, they immediately bring back memories of the tuck shop at summer camp. 

Imagine our delight when we discovered two important facts.  One, our manger loves Fizz candies. There was a lot of rejoicing over the fact that they still make them even though they’re now in individual packages and are round instead of their old flat rectangular shape.  And two, the current batch of Fizz Candies?  They also added blue and green coloured candies, that just happen to be prominent colours in our manager’s wardrobe.  We quickly realized we had the perfect “beads” for a chunky bracelet. A little royal icing between to hold the candies together worked as spacers and made for super easy assembly.

We knew we wanted a simple design for covering the cake. We thought about making the fondant look quilted, but decided that would look too busy.  But we needed something to cover a few fondant issues … ever have one of those days when your fondant wrinkles no matter what you try?  Yup, me too! We decided to make our own fondant ribbon skirts for each cake. They helped balance the cake and matched well with the cake plate edge detail too.

Problem was, there was one visible flaw that ended up front and center.  Did I mention how much I love decorating with Stacy?  I came up with the idea of a bow and she came up with the perfect matching hat pin to use for securing the bow the next morning.

Oh, I almost forgot. The cakes were a delicious vanilla with lemon filling for the top cake and a divine chocolate with caramel filling for the bottom.  I need to get Stacy’s recipe for the lemon filling.  Talk about luscious lemon! 

We couldn’t have asked for a better response to the cake.  It was the talk of the office.  The shoe had such rave reviews that I sent a thank you email to Chocolatas.  They asked if they could post the picture and my email to their facebook page.  Of course I said yes!

Sometimes it’s all about finding just the right thing to make the cake perfect. 

Sometimes it’s all about knowing how to turn potential flaws into just the thing to complete the cake.

Sometimes, I’m pretty sure,  it’s also all just about dumb luck =)