I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

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They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

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And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

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This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

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(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

 

or: What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Hey, guys?  This whole maturity thing is a buzzkill.  (Side question: do the Who still sing about hoping they die before they get old?)  Gone are the days of drinking-as-a-competitive sport, all-nighters, and greasy food whenever you darned well felt like it.

Okay, so I exaggerate somewhat – I was never much of a drinker – but this is my pity party, and I’ll embellish if I want to.

Last week, I made margarita cupcakes, and did I pile them high with swirls of tequila-lime-salt icing?  I did not.  I made a ridiculously small batch of icing, and demurely spread an even layer on each cupcake.  They still tasted fine, but didn’t feel as fun.

The weekend before that debacle, I saw a commercial for Robin’s Donuts new summer blended drink: a s’mores mocha.  My inner five year-old shrieked joyously, and the next day, I managed to con my friend into making a detour while we were out.  They had signs for it posted in the windows, and those marshmallows looked good enough to eat (obviously), and then I saw the nutritional information right beside the picture: “starts at 560 calories”.  I hate when people misuse the word “literally”, so when I say I literally froze, I mean it.  I wanted that chocolate-marshmallow-graham concoction so badly, and (with apologies to V.N.) what d’ye know, folks – I just could not make myself do it.  Cringing, I ordered a black coffee (and a Ghostbuster; I’m just old, not dead).

In light of these involuntary displays of maturity, I was intrigued by the recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I like oatmeal.  I like blueberries.  And no refined sugar?  Sign me up!

Sure, they’re sweetened with honey, and sure, a surfeit of sugar isn’t great for you no matter how natural the source, but honey is a lower GI sweetener, so I figure, it’s a trade-off.

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The batter turned out super-thick thanks to letting the oats soak in the milk for the prescribed time.  This recipe makes great use of time: in the 20 minutes of soaking time, I had everything else pulled together, ready to add the oats and milk.  How efficient!

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They baked up so nice and tall.  The whole house smelled like blueberry-oat-cinnamon magic (I did increase the cinnamon to about 1 tsp), and it was divine!

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I really think these are no-fail.  I followed the recipe to a “T” (cinnamon notwithstanding), and they baked up perfectly, no overbrowning or mushy middles.

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Just wholesome, blueberry-studded goodness.

My test audience couldn’t keep their paws off these.  I’m told they’re wonderful with just a little smear of butter on each half, but are excellent naked, too.  If you haven’t already preheated your oven, do it now!

I’m sure my self-imposed health martyrdom – if you can really call less-frosted cupcakes healthy – will come to an end soon enough, but I’ve got this recipe in my back pocket the next time I need a healthy snack or dessert.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

 

I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.”  However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.

Well, then.

I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar.  It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.

I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla.  Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring.  Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.

(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch.  Shocking, I know!  Schools used to allow peanut products on their property.  We were made of tougher stuff then.)

While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!

Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker.  It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.

What’s that?  Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?

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Cue the striptease music…

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The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days.  And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise).  I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of social media.  I don’t care what your lunch looks like, what 144-character brain dropping has just emerged unbidden from your cranial cavity, or what pages you “like” if not actually like.

I realize, too, the irony of posting that on WordPress, which I believe is technically billed as a social media platform of sorts.  And yes, it’s tremendously flattering when someone likes (or at least “likes”) one of my posts – but I do this more for my own amusement than any third-party corroboration, so while a “like” is a nice bonus, it’s not my primary goal.

One of my complaints about social media, especially Instagram, is how carefully curated it can be and what a false sense of reality it provides.  After all, when’s the last time you saw an #ootd featuring sweatpants with defunct elastic and a fine coating of cat hair?  I’ve come to realize, though, that I’m guilty of the same thing.  I don’t post sunken cakes on here, or scorched cupcakes, or curdled frosting.  But we’ve all had recipes that just didn’t quite work out, right?

A little more than a month ago, I was perusing baking blogs before work – as in, at the office, but not on the clock, when a voice behind me asked what I was making to bring in for everyone.  So I showed my coworker this recipe for strawberry cookies, but voiced my doubts: those nonpareils could be murder on the teeth, and anyway, wouldn’t the cookies taste kind of artificial?  The conversation quickly turned to not being able to find more esoteric extracts at a small-town grocery store with new owners, and what ever happened to the guy who used to bag groceries there, anyway?  Construction!  Really?  And then, the clock magically turned over and I turned my attention to work, putting the whole concept of strawberry cookies behind me.

I was therefore surprised when this same coworker caught me on my way to the break room a few days later and handed me these:

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I had honestly had no intention of making the cookies, but I had a patron of my art for the first time ever, which was terribly flattering and made it hard to say no.  How bad could the cookies be?

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They’re pretty, aren’t they?  They’d be great for a little kid’s princess party because kids generally aren’t discerning, but they’re going firmly on my “Do Not Bake” list.  Probably.

I don’t mean to sound completely negative.  They had some bright points.  For example, the cookies themselves were nice and soft and chewy, and not at all greasy.  My parchment paper looked seriously pristine when I was done.  They’d likely be tasty using simple almond or vanilla extract.  The nonpareils really weren’t as tooth-shattering as I expected.  From a technical standpoint, the recipe worked out well.

But oh, that optimistic little instruction to stir in the gel colour?  Nothing stirs into dough that stiff – I had to knead it in with my hands.  The strawberry extract made them extremely fake-tasting, and when I put them in a container and tried to burp out the air as I put the lid on, I was caught with a blast of what smelled like a strawberry fart.  I brought in a baggie of eight to the coworker who had so kindly provided the sprinkles, and although she and her daughter apparently liked them, nobody that I usually bake for did.  After The People Who Will Eat Any Kind Of Cookie politely choked down one or two, these strawberry farts were quickly relegated to the kitchen garbage.

This isn’t meant as a general indictment of that particular website (quite frankly, her mini cheesecakes look delish, and I’ve got them on my to-try list), nor am I saying I’m a bumbling fool in the kitchen.  But as Osgood Fielding III said, “Nobody’s perfect.”, despite what filtered Instagram posts would have us believe.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

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Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

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(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂

So, I recently left a job after more than two-and-a-half years for greener pastures.  I’m excited about the type of work, pay scale, etc. – but am I ever going to miss the people at my old job!  Everybody was so sweet to me on my last day: one girl brought me a cinnamon roll/croissant hybrid from Starbucks to have with my morning coffee, and later that afternoon my boss took me out for a donut glut (lookin’ at you, root beer glaze!).  By the end of the day, I felt admittedly a little unwell and rather full of pastry, but also loved.  And so because food obviously equals love, I wanted to bake a little something over the weekend and do a desk-drop Monday morning for some of my nearest and dearest.  (This isn’t quite as creepy and stalker-ish as it sounds; I’m still working in the same building, so no security guards had to be alerted to escort me from the premises.)  I had mulled over margarita cupcakes, or faux-Hostess cupcakes, but didn’t want to lug six individual cupcake boxes around.  But ah, the Marshmallow Crunch Brownie Bars from the Brown Eyed Baker sounded like a winner.

I did have my reservations, as I’ve had mixed results with some of her recipes in the past.  My solution?  I used my own fail-proof brownie recipe for the base before proceeding as directed.

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(Hot tip, kids: always, always line bar-cookie pans with aluminum foil before greasing, and cleanup will be a snap.)

After all, if I could nail the brownie part, how hard could it be to sprinkle marshmallows and melt some chocolate and peanut butter together?

The answer: just a little harder than I thought.  I had expected the marshmallows to melt into an even layer rather than just puff up (it’s been a long time since I’ve microwaved a Peep, okay?), and they created a bit of a retaining wall for my crispy chocolate mixture.  My test audience was obviously going to be sampling squares from the centre.

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I didn’t get quite the perfectly delineated layers seen in her photos, but aesthetics aside, it’s not a big deal.  These are moist and fudgy, and surprisingly neat to eat.  (And trust me on that.  I hate getting my fingers sticky, so if I can eat these and not immediately freak out, anyone can.)

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All packaged up and ready to go!

These are seriously easy and tasty, and would make a wonderful addition to a potluck or bake sale.  My afternoon was filled with IMs from my peeps squealing over the fudginess.

Happy Monday, and thanks for looking! 🙂

D’oh! Nuts!

March 19, 2017

I had never really been a huge fan of doughnuts/donuts.  Sure, if a box happened to appear at work – as was a near-daily occurrence at a different job, what feels like a lifetime ago – I was happy to grab one and continue reviewing commodity codes on a sugar high.  But they never really excited me in one of those oh-boy-gotta-have-one ways.  They have a tendency to go stale quickly (particularly when stored in their original, not-airtight boxes), or else melt and ooze glaze all over the place.  That’s not to say I don’t still consume the odd one today; I just do so much more judiciously than the Witty Child of yore.

When a new, “gourmet” donut shop opened up a block or so from my office, despite the buzz of excitement from my coworkers, I remained at first impervious.  It was nearly two months before I made my first trek over.  Lemon meringue?  Chocolate-peanut butter cup?  This wasn’t your parbaked Tim’s fare.  They were certainly delicious, but at $3 or $4 each, were definitely a treat.  And so I more or less regained my immunity to their siren song, at least until the day I decided to go for a walk and found the shop boasting a vegan yeast donut with a root beer glaze.

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Who would have known that something so deceptively simple could be so good?!  Words can’t describe it.  This is a full-on-Snuffles-float, lick-the-glaze-off-your-fingers-until-they-turn-pruny delight.

Naturally, I decided I had to try to recreate these.

I’m not a fan of deep-frying (or, let’s be honest, pan-frying) at home due to the inherent chance of setting the kitchen alight, and also because everything in the house will smell like nasty fried oil after.  Fully aware of this self-imposed limitation, I was pleased to find a recipe for baked donuts in Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts.

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The batter came together really quickly, which I loved, and baked quickly, too.  However, I’m starting to suspect I’m not such a fan of baked donuts due to their propensity for getting distinctly darker on the bottom (think muffin bottom vs. muffin top).  The recipe also called for way too much nutmeg which made them smell suspiciously like a baked ham as they cooked, but that can easily be altered if I make them again.

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But ah, it’s all about the glaze, isn’t it?  My stockpile of root beer extract from Watkins came in handy, and let me double-dip these bad boys.  Hands down, the best part of the donut!

As always, thanks for looking! 🙂

So, recently I had been part of a project at work informally known as the “Blackout Blitz”.  In all fairness, its name comes from its ties to production quotas and inter-departmental deadlines; however, from the very beginning, it made me think simultaneously of the Blitz of WWII and of the blackout drills held during the war.  Hardly unusual, given the name.

(This raises an important question: why do so many people glorify the WWII era?  I do it, too, but why?  I’m perfectly able to wear oxfords and listen to big band music today, but without all the hassles of rationing, polio, wartime casualties, the marginalization of women and minorities…  I can only chalk it up to there being a heckuva spin doctor there somewhere, who made the whole damned thing seem so glamourous and wholesome.  And, let’s face it, the Bomb Girls of the eponymous television series seemed to know how to make a blackout drill a real gas.)

Needless to say, by the time my mom’s birthday was approaching, I had blackouts and blitzes on the brain, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that for her cake, I decided to duplicate Ebinger’s Bakery’s famous Brooklyn Blackout Cake.

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I turned to Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Vegan Desserts for the basic how-to and for the killer chocolate pudding to slather between layers and all over the outside – and was I ever excited when the mixture smoothed and thickened exactly as it was supposed to! – but deferred to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for the cake portion.  Their Basic Chocolate Cupcake recipe is moist and foolproof, and with the addition of black cocoa powder to make it extra-dark and rich, there was no going wrong.

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I was concerned that the step of pulsing part of the cake in the food processor to make crumbs to be sprinkled on top would detract somehow from the finished product, but au contraire!  They only add to the chocolatey goodness.

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Moist chocolate cake sandwiching rich chocolate pudding?  Sign me up!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

The Boy Scouts were RIGHT!

January 8, 2017

Is it just me, or does January seem interminable thus far?  It’s cold, it’s miserable, and there are no holidays from work until April…ugh!  While discussing the molasses-in-January (ha!) qualities of the calendar with my friend, I realized something: when it first became cold and snowy in December, I would think, “Well, December’s already [1/4, 1/2, 3/4] done.  It’ll be spring before we know it!”  January is not moving along nearly so quickly, and I joked that perhaps if I started trying desperately to get Christmas gifts finished now, the month would be gone before I knew it.  That has to be what made December so fast!

With thought rattling around my mind, I decided that since I had had such a positive reaction to my Craftmas series of posts this year and last, I should document:

The Witty Child’s Tips for a Successful Craftmas*

*(or festive occasion of your choosing; really, these can be applied to almost anything)

  1. Be prepared – that is to say, have a plan.  I don’t want to go all life-coach on you and chirp that “failing to plan is planning to fail”, but doing a little pre-Craftmas brainstorming will prevent a lot of stress later on.  Think about whom you wish to bestow crafty goodness upon, as well as what that crafty goodness might be, and make sure you’re going to have enough time/money/supplies to make it happen.  If you spend a third of your life asleep, and a third of your waking hours at work, time is a precious commodity.  You don’t want to start trying to hand-knit scarves for your list of 45 on December 2.  All the faux-sick days in the world won’t help you there.
  2. Reconsider your Christmas list.  I used to stitch up little pictures for my Avon lady, but after not…getting…much feedback (I didn’t expect gushing tears of thanks, but even a quick, “Oh, that was cute!” would have been nice), she now gets a thoughtful storebought gift, and my crafty time gets invested elsewhere.  Make sure your intended recipients are going to fully appreciate your mad skills.
  3. Reconsider your idea of crafty.  If someone on your list might not appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a Real Project (see #2), might a tin of homemade cookies or candy go over just as well?  Consumables are always nice because there’s no pressure to wear/display/utilize constantly, and as a bonus, they can come together fairly quickly – perfect for those of us who skip Tip #1.  A group of coworkers got gift boxes packed with monster cookies and Cuban Lunch candies, and were thrilled to find these care packages on their desks.
  4. Realize that things can change, and be prepared for plans to go awry.  If you’ve grossly underestimated how long it’s going to take you to finish a project, or you get slammed with a spate of last-minute invitations that you can’t pass up, things might not get done as you had planned.  Don’t sweat it.  Depending on the person/project, you can always try to postpone your gift swap, make an “I.O.U. one gift” coupon, or procure a backup gift and quietly tuck away your handmade project to be finished in time for next year.
  5. Learn from your mistakes.  This sort of hearkens back to Tip #1, in that you can do a post-mortem and make appropriate changes in next year’s plan.  Didn’t get the response you hoped for?  Found yourself super-stressed and pressed for time?  By knowing what worked and what didn’t, you’ll (hopefully) prevent undue stress going forward.
  6. Have fun with it!  After all, it’s the thought that counts, and you’re crafting/baking/creating because you like these people and want to do something nice for them.  No one should feel bad when this is over!

I hope that you guys find these tips at least vaguely useful – and I hope I take my own advice and start in on Tip #1!  😉

Thanks for looking!

I haven’t done a ton of baking lately (including a “gee-but-I-really-wanted-to” Halloween treat), fixated as I have been on Christmas crafting, but a dear friend celebrated his birthday last week and I thought it was time to get off my heinie and get baking!  This is somebody who, if you ask him, will request vanilla over chocolate every (every, every) time – and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s been done.  There’s just not a lot you can do with that.  I still didn’t want to do the rather obvious chocolate option, however, so I put my thinking cap on.  And, inspired by the best! freaking! donut! I have ever eaten, I came up with…drumroll….root beer float cupcakes.

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In a nod to his usual preference, I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and substituted in root beer extract instead of vanilla.  Shocking, right?  I had initially planned on a vanilla buttercream frosting to mimic the ice cream found in a float, but I was worried the root beer flavour wouldn’t carry through, so that is root beer buttercream gracing those beauties.

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…because he is!

Waiting for a wish:

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De-papered and -candled, and ready to eat:

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I like that these are kind of like stealth cupcakes…to the casual observer, they could almost pass for an unassuming vanilla – they’re only oh-so-slightly less white – but pack a flavour wallop when you bite in!  In fact, the birthday boy didn’t even question what they were when I first dished one up.  It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that he looked up and asked, “What is this?  It tastes almost fizzy!”  I don’t know about fizzy, but like a favourite soda?  Absolutely!

Thanks for looking!