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! 🙂

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! 🙂

Hut…hut…hike!

February 7, 2013

I hate to use the “S”-word (I’m more of a Grey Cup gal myself), but I’m told [conspiratorial whisper] that there was a big football game on Sunday.  Say what?  I don’t know what it was all about, but it sure must have been super.  In any case, I was thrilled to be able to use my grass tip on something besides assorted Muppets.

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There’s not much to explain about these; they’re (of course) the basic chocolate cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, with a green-tinged vanilla buttercream.  The two most interesting things I learned from all of this:

1. Chocolate-covered almonds wobble something fierce when placed on a flat surface to pipe detailing onto them.  And Wilton’s decorating icing-in-a-tube is extremely stiff and awkward to work with, which is my penance for being lazy and not wanting to do two colours of my own icing.  (It – Wilton – doesn’t taste that great, either, and sticks to piping tips like cement even when run under hot water.)  Having a helper hold the last few steady for me was a huge boon to my creative process.  But I’m still using my own icing next time.

2. Speaking of assorted Muppets: I need to use my grass tip for actual grass more often.  A trusted member of my test audience thought at first glance that I had brought him a slightly deformed Oscar the Grouch to try.

But I have 289 days to perfect my technique before the Grey Cup…

…store-bought snack cakes!” – Marge Simpson, Homer’s Phobia

Seriously, whyyyyy did it take me so long to try making mock-Hostess/Fauxtess/cream-filled chocolate cupcakes?

Answer: because I had seen the recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance ages ago, and decided it looked like way too much work.  But it really wasn’t!  Okay, so I skipped a step and had my filling do double-duty as the squiggle medium as well, but even the coring, filling, and ganache-ing of the cupcakes wasn’t particularly onerous.

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The cupcake recipe is pretty much identical to the one in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, moist and chocolatey and wonderful, and I made a basic vanilla buttercream for inside and on top.  (For some reason, the Fluffy White Icing prescribed in VwaV didn’t taste like much to me, although my dad seemed to like it.  Weird.)

These came together really quickly, multiple steps considered, and taste way better than any chemical-filled Hostess special ever could.

And for the record: leftover cupcake cores dotted with frosting and dunked in ganache are a midafternoon snack to die for.

While most crafty/cook-y bloggers are no doubt posting homemade cornucopia centrepieces or locavore turkey and stuffing recipes this weekend, I decided to bypass Thanksgiving entirely in favour of Halloween, which is frankly far more fun.

From the instant I first saw the recipe for Black Cat Cookies in Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan Desserts, I knew I had to make them.  Because…OMG…cats and cookies?  That’s pretty much a whole-package dessert right there.  And yeah, I realize it’s just a jazzed-up chocolate cookie, but I loved the inclusion of black cocoa powder to get that deep colour.

I vant to suck your blood...

I probably should have used a metal cookie cutter instead of a plastic one with little details etched right in, since I found the dough just a tad sticky and difficult to use with the cutter I chose (my fault – I added more liquid than the recipe called for when my dough wasn’t coming together as nicely as I had hoped).  But any headache I may have had while rolling and cutting paid off later when I didn’t have to frost-in any features.

Okay, so they’re not quite black, but a deep brown.  But I found a no-frosting-necessary way to make them look darker:

Flip the background fabric around!  Score one for innovation!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Son of Cookie Monster

August 19, 2012

Last week, I celebrated my two-year anniversary at my job.  That’s right: for 731 days, give or take, I’ve been delighting and entertaining my coworkers with my very presence in the office.  Okay, maybe not.  And not that anyone else would have remembered the date, but I wanted to do something just a little festive.  I had some extra time one evening and decided that mini cupcakes were in order.

The conversation went something like this:

“I thought I’d do vanilla cupcakes with a pink frosting.  Maybe I can use some maraschino cherry juice for flavour.  Ooh, or that Dr. Pepper stuff I got!”  (At this point, I was picturing something all princess-y.)

“Oh.  But your chocolate ones are so good, have such a nice flavour.”

“Okay.  Sure.  I can do chocolate with a cherry or Dr. Pepper frosting.”

“Why don’t you do blue raspberry frosting again?  It tasted really nice.”

Okay, so I did the blue raspberry frosting again.  (It worked so nicely with the pale blue liners you can’t really see for the chocolate cake.)  I thought I was smart by dissolving my drink crystals in the almond milk before adding it to the frosting, but they didn’t provide me with a sufficiently intense flavour or colour, so I added a smidge of raspberry extract and some blue food colouring.  Maybe it was the addition of the extract, but it had almost a blue-bubblegum flavour this time.  They might lack the characterization of their Cookie Monster predecessors, but they hold a certain charm nonetheless.

My coworkers loved them!  Between 8:00 and 10:00, they managed to polish off 30 of the little suckers.

I still have to try Dr. Pepper frosting, though…

The Oscar the Grouch cupcakes I made a few weeks back went over well with everyone who tried one – and I was so excited by the way the grass tip created his fur.  I couldn’t wait to try other Sesame Street characters!  I was pretty sure that Cookie Monster was going to be next on my list, because I’ve always felt a strange kinship with him.  My grammar may be better than his, but honestly, the reason I learned how to bake was to feed my cookie addiction.

While searching the bulk food store for some chickpea flour, I happened upon bins of flavoured drink crystals, including a vibrant blue-raspberry.  It was fate.  Yes!  Now I absolutely had to buy some, and mix them into my frosting instead of/in addition to blue food colouring, and I had to make Cookie Monster cupcakes post-haste!  This was going to be great!

Not, perhaps, a spitting image, but certainly recognizable.  My fatal mistake (I realize now) was adding in the drink crystals along with some food colouring after I had mixed all the other frosting ingredients and already had a nice, fluffy buttercream.  I had thought because the icing was “wet” – as in, not yet dried and hardened – that the crystals would dissolve.  They did not, at least not entirely.  And they might be miniscule, but that didn’t stop them from clogging up my grass tip.  After six incredibly frustrating cupcakes, including several attempts to clear and re-clear the holes in the tip using a toothpick or just unscrewing the coupler and rinsing the silly thing out with water, I got fed up, switched tips, and did this:

It may look and feel like a cop-out, sure, but I’ve always liked blue-and-brown as a colour combination, so it’s not that bad.  They’re still whimsical, just in a non-licensed way.

Oh, and in case you were curious: the drink crystals did impart a lovely blue-raspberry flavour that is noticeable without being overpowering.  I’ve learned from my mistake, though, and next time they’re being dissolved in the almond milk first before being mixed in.

…is like pillaging without burning?  No, that can’t be right…

But I do have a theory that if I don’t make somebody a birthday cake (note: cupcakes, cheesecakes, and pies are all perfectly acceptable alternatives), I don’t truly care about them.  So for my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I made him the Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Cake from Kris Holechek’s Have Your Cake and Vegan Too.

It’s a fairly standard chocolate cake with a peanut butter filling in between the layers and topped off with a chocolate-peanut butter ganache – garnish as desired.  The recipe was easy to follow, and the cake easy to assemble; if and when I do it again, the only thing I’ll do differently is grease-and-cocoa the pans instead of greasing-and-flouring them, to avoid that flour residue (since it’s not frosted all over, it does kinda show).

And yes, I probably will make it again.  Not only did the birthday boy love it, but it went over extremely well with my omnivorous coworkers, too.  Such is the power of chocolate and peanut butter together.

I desperately wanted to bake this weekend – had a serious kitchen itchin’ going on – but it was so hot.  To make a long story short: yes, there is air conditioning in the house.  I absolutely hate it; it’s a battle royale over whether it goes on at all, and so its use is restricted to those days with crazy, 40-degree humidex.  I figure, I freeze my tuchus off six months out of the year or so, and so I can suck it up for a few steamy days because come February I’ll be wistfully reminiscing, “Remember how hot it was in July?”

Baking wasn’t going to happen unless I felt like waking up early and starting while the grass was still vaguely dewy.  So what about a cool, refreshing dessert instead?

I took the basic recipe for Chocolate Mousse Topping from (where else?) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added two teaspoons of raspberry extract to the works to give it a twist.  This ain’t your grandma’s Jell-o pudding!  And thanks to Pyrex bowls and the microwave,  I didn’t even have to turn on the stove to melt the chocolate in a double boiler!  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I have a hunch – but haven’t tried it yet – that this mixture would be great frozen in popsicle moulds for creamy tofudgsicles, too.  The dollar store is definitely on my must-go list.

Summertime…and the livin’ is easy.