Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Another wonderful co-worker’s birthday was this past Thursday. At the beginning of this year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The amount of strength this woman has is amazing! She continued to come to work without stop, always with a smile on her face and never letting us “baby” her. So this birthday celebration was an extra special one in my book. To celebrate our lovely Cheryl’s birthday and the month of October, being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I gave the cupcake a little pink touch.  Cheryl had requested a pumpkin cupcake, and I thought that a nice cream cheese frosting would go well with it. To give the cupcakes the pink look, I added streaks of pink coloring gel to the piping bag (the same technique I used for my 4th of July cupcakes), which gave the frosting a nice rose-like look, if I may say so myself. J

Pumpkin Cupcake
1 package (18.25oz) spice cake mix
1 can (15oz) solid-pack pumpkin puree
4 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup butter, softened at room temperature
½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 regular-sized muffin pans (24 cupcakes total) with cupcake liners. In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, pumpkin puree, eggs, butter, and buttermilk on low speed for 30 seconds until well blended. Then beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Fill each cupcake liner with batter 2/3 way full. Bake in pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes until done. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick in the middle of the cupcake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done!

Cream cheese frosting
8 oz. cream cheese
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)
2 tsp. clear vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp heavy cream
3½-4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pink gel for piping bag

Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Adapted from Fall Baking Cookbook, Taste of Home 2010.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spiced Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream Frosting

Boy, this week has barely started and I just know it will be a busy one! But busy can be good, as long as we have a game plan and we are striving forward. J
So my tasks this week are not one, but 2 co-worker birthdays! Also, I am taking a new cupcake decorating class, with fall as the theme! The class is on Thursday, and so stay tuned for posts to come. Needless to say I am in baking heaven! The first birthday request is for our “Lil’ Mama” at work who will be 51 years young tomorrow! Her request was a simple spice cake with the caramel frosting I made with my Butter Pecan Cupcakes. I did change a couple of things in the frosting recipe though: I had 1 cup of butter-flavored shortening in hand so I used that instead of the butter. One note about shortening, after using it in mWilton decorating class, I have found that it lets the frosting hold its shape better than butter. Since butter is more temperature sensitive, for you to get the best results with a detailed decoration, you have to place it in the fridge, but that is not the case with shortening. Also, added the caramel topping at the end of everything, after I already mixed in the milk and the powdered sugar alternatively. The recipe below reflects my changes.
So for the cupcake itself, I followed the recipe that the book Hello, Cupcake! has on “semi-homemade” cupcakes. It is basically utilizing a boxed cake mix, and add a few ingredients to make it more homemade-like. So if you are ever looking for a quick way to make cupcakes, but adding an extra-special touch, then here is the recipe you should try (a regular yellow boxed cake will also work). Enjoy!

Spiced Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes

4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup of buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil (the same amount of oil recommended by the box recipe)
1 box (18.25oz) of spiced cake mix

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line two 12-muffin pans with cupcake liners. Beat all eggs in a mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and oil into the eggs and beat until well mixed. Add the contents of the boxed cake mix into the wet ingredients and mix for at least 2 minutes. Scoop ~1.5 Tbsp of batter into each cupcake liner, and bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting

1 cup butter-flavored shortening
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk
¼ cup caramel topping (I used Smucker’s Caramel Flavored Topping)

Beat first three ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
Gradually add powdered sugar alternately with 1 Tbsp. (1Tbsp = 3 tsp) milk, beating at low speed until blended and smooth after each addition. Beat in up to 2 Tbsp. additional milk for desired consistency. Finally add the caramel topping, and mix unitl just barely blended.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wilton Cake Decorating Class

Hi everyone! It's a me, Lulu! <-- a la Mario from Mario Brothers :)
Haha just thought I'd be silly there for a little bit. Moment of silliness is now over.
Anywho, I wanted to share with you my experience with the cake decorating class I took through the month of September. I have always liked the detailed work of decorating a cake. Growing up, my mom would actually be the baker (as I could not make the cake rise properly for the life of me!), but I would put the final touches with the decoration. Growing up in Brazil, cakes there are usually frosted with whipped heavy cream (chantili in Portuguese). Whipped cream is very temperature sensitive, and even a little heat from your own hands transferred onto the piping bag can melt the cream into liquid! So I remember sitting in the chilly garage during the winter to decorate the cake properly :P
During those times, I got to start enjoying the small decorative tips, and all the different shapes they can create. Knowing this, my husband gave me Wilton 2104-7778 Master Tip Set for Valentine's Day this past year, and I started experimenting with all the other tips (I had no clue on what most of the tips did!). I got a little frustrated not really understanding how to use these said tips. Around July I went to our local Hobby Lobby and saw a sign for cake decorating class. I thought: Perfect! I signed up for it, got all necessary supplies, and even had first day of class butterflies! There were 4 classes total, once a week for 4 weeks, and each class was 2 hours long. Here is a little run down on each of those classes:

First class: introduction, buttercream making demo.
We didn't really do much during this class, other than being shown how to make Wilton's buttercream frosting recipe (which btw it helped see what they mean by different consistencies! -- I might do a demo of buttercream consistencies as a separate blog sometime). Also we got tips on how to bake and level a cake. Our homework was to bring a leveled cake to decorate at the next class.

Second class:  first cake decorating!
We learned how to use the star and the round tips. You can make stars, shells, and zig-zag lines with the star tip; and balloons, lines, dots, and much more with the round tip. Here is the finalized cake of this class - it was one of my co-working dentist's son's birthday that next day, it was the perfect reason!

Third class: cupcake decorating!
To change things up a bit, our instructor told us to bring in cupcakes instead of a whole cake to decorate. I was so pumped! I went all out and instead of just making plain vanilla cupcakes, I made coconut-pecan cupcakes (recipe at a later date) and flavored the frosting recipe with almond extract (it turned out pretty good, if I may say so myself!)
We learned the drop flower, star flower, shaggy mum, little roses, and leaves! It was really neat to make so many different flowers in one class. Here are the final decorations:

Me finishing my homework :)

Fourth class: final class!
For our final class, the instructor told us to bring a baked cake and a thought-out cake decorating theme. Man, this took me a little while to decide. I wanted it to be special, but unique... I tend to overthink things sometimes (ok, a little more than sometimes...). Guess when I finally decided on what to do: on the drive to the final class!

So with fall being my favorite season, I thought that should be enough of reason for a fall-themed cake. The cake itself was a pumpkin-pecan cake, and although I would have personally preferred the recommended cream cheese icing, I had to use the Wilton's buttercream to have the consistency for decorating. Here are the pictures of that final project:

Me with my final project and my certificate of completion!

My final thoughts on this class: it was so much fun, I learned a lot and can't wait to take the other classes available (flowers, and fondant!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chocolate Pecan Pie

The weather is cooling down, the leaves are turning yellow/orange… Fall is finally here! Even though, technically, fall started on September 22nd, the past week has finally been fall-like here in Indiana. And you know what? Fall is my FAVORITE season!!! I just love the season change, the crisp air… All I can say is: Yay!
If I think of fall, I think of pies. Yes, I guess I am still a sweet tooth at heart :-) However, I have always been scared of making my own pie dough. There are so many different pie dough recipes out there: which one to make? Butter or shortening? Yes or no to sugar in the crust? So many questions… Well, my goal this season is to find my favorite pie dough recipe and stick with it. I want to be able to have it figured out by Thanksgiving, when I plan on making dessert pies for our family gathering.
While researching for the perfect pie dough, I started with my favorite FoodNetwork chef: Alton Brown. I have his first Good Eats recipe book and tried his recipe for the no-pan pear pie (also online here).  He also explained my question of butter vs. shortening: shortening is a lot easier to work with because it has a melting point higher than body temperature, but butter wins in flavor! So that’s what I used in my recipe too.
For the pie filling part, I tried Emeril Lagasse’s Chocolate Pecan Pie recipe. The filling turned out great! I did not make the caramel sauce in his original recipe, but I’m sure it would taste super yummy with the pie.

So, what was the outcome of the whole pie? Usually I like to display pictures of the foods I make so that people have something to go off of, but this one I could only show the empty pie dish… I entered this pie in a neighborhood pie baking contest and everyone loved it! I did get first place, which I was super excited about. Emeril’s recipe online does have a small picture of his own pie, if you need to see one. I hope to take a picture of this pie in the future when I make it again (and I know I’ll be making it again!).

Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 1/2 cups pecans
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (recipe below)
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Spread the pecan pieces and the chocolate chips evenly on the bottom of the pie shell.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together. Pour the filling over the pecans. Bake until the filling sets, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes before slicing. Cut into individual servings and serve with a drizzle of Caramel Sauce (optional) and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

Pie Crust

12 oz (or 2 ½ cups) AP flour, plus additional for dusting
2 ¼ oz (or ½ cup) cornmeal
1 ½ oz (or 3 Tbsp) sugar
1 tsp salt
2 oz (or ½ stick) unsalted butter, diced at room temperature
6 oz (or 1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, diced, divided and chilled in freezer for at least 10 minutes
½ cup iced apple juice, in spritz bottle

Pulse the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt in a food processor to combine. Add the room-temperature butter and pulse until the fat completely disappears into the dry ingredients.
Add half of the chilled butter and pulse 18 times, or until the flour mixture resembles peasized crumbs. Add the rest of the chilled butter and pulse 3 or 4 more times.
Transfer this mixture to a medium-size mixing bowl. Spritz with just enough juice to moisten the surface of the dough. Mix with a spatula. Continue spritzing and mixing until a handful of dough, when squeezed, remains compressed (you may not use all the juice). When you’ve got good adhesion, gather the dough into a round disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 minutes so that the flour can absorb the moisture.
Place the dough on a clean floured surface and roll the dough to a ¼ inch-thick disk and place on pie dish. Fill with your favorite pie filling!

Recipes adapted from:
Chocolate Pecan pie filling – Emeril Lagasse
Pie dough recipe – Alton Brown, Good Eats