Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Adventures in Baking

This past weekend my wife and I were throwing around ideas of things we could do for Valentines Day this year.  My Brother had mentioned some plans he was thinking about doing for his girlfriend, and when I mentioned them to my wife, I promptly was asked, "why can't you do things like that for me?"   In an effort to be somewhat romantic, I told her that we should bake some cupcakes together.   I am a huge fan of Food Network's, "Cupcake Wars", but I'm chef not a baker, so I knew this would be a good chance for me to get outside of my normal comfort zone.

I started digging through some of my books and looking for basic baking techniques, did some google searching, and then came up with a rough cake batter recipe (I will post it below).  My wife and I put the kids to bed, and began our baking.  I have to mention, my wife and I do not work harmoneously together in the kitchen. The old addage, "there are too many chef's in the kitchen" truly applies to us.  I setup our mis en place before we put the kids to bed, and assigned my wife to the hand mixer, while I measured out all of the dry ingredients.  We were able to get the batter together quite quickly, but my wife and I thought it looked extremely light.  Most people probably would think that would be a good quality, but I wanted to make sure the cake had a nice density to it as well.  It was too late to adjust anything at that point, so we pushed ahead and poured the batter into our cupcake pan, and put them in the oven.  About 15 to 18 minutes later they were done, and we pulled them out.  As my wife began to remove the cakes from the pan and put them on a cooling rack, we both initially thought that they were way too light, but I told myself lets just wait and see until they were completely cooled.

Now that the cakes were out of the oven, it was time to move onto the icing.  We decided to make fresh vanilla buttercream, so I had my wife whip the butter until is smooth and airy, and then blended in the confectioner sugar, and the vanilla.  Everything was tasting pretty good.   I then go to add my heavy cream and this is where I ran into problems. The cream and butter were not incorporating together, the butter was separating from the cream.  I basically had heavy cream and sweetened butter in my bowl.  At this point I was ready to scrap the separated buttercream and go with a whipped cream icing, and then I did some quick research and found that the butter was too cold to incorporate with the cream.  My heavy cream was actually still probably to cold as well.  I put on a pot of water and brought it up to temp so it started to steam (double boiler), and sat my bowl of separated icing on top, and began whisking.   As the butter melted and cream came up to temperature it started to incorporate, and finally I had a beautiful buttercream.

The cupcakes were cooled by this time, and they had firmed up as well.  My wife then iced the cupcakes, but we were both skeptical on how they would ultimately taste. I had tasted the batter and it was pretty good, but I wasn't sure how the final product would come out.  My wife and I both tasted a cupcake and they were really good.  The cake was moist and light, the buttercream was creamy and had a nice vanilla flavor.  We were actually quite impressed with ourselves. I told my wife we had a keeper with this recipe!  We will definitely be trying this recipe again, but expanding the flavors now that we have a good base.  I am not sure how romantic this was, but it was definitely fun!


Yields about 18 - 20 cupcakes

Cake Batter
1 1/2 Cups - Cake Flour
1 1/2 Cups - Self-Rising Flour
1 Pinch of Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp of Baking Soda
1 1/4 Cup - Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 tsp - Pure Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup (2 3/4 sticks) - Softened unsalted butter
4 large eggs (room temperature)
2/3 Cup Buttermilk
1/3 milk

1.  Using a stand mixer or hand mixer and whip the butter until it's airy (about 3 minutes).  Add sugar and cream butter and sugar together until they are fully incorporated.
2.  Add Vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture and incorporate.
3.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next.
4.  Combine cake flour, self-rising flour, kosher salt in another bowl
5.  Add portion of the dry ingredient mixture to your egg/sugar/butter mixture and incorporate fully.  Then add portion of the buttermilk and incorporate. Repeat these steps until all of the dry ingredients, buttermilk, and milk are all incorporated.
6. Your batter should be light and airy.
7.  Put your batter into your lined cupcake pan and cook for 15-18 minutes on 350.  Do not over fill.
8. Once they are done, from your pan and let cool

Buttercream Icing

2 Sticks - softened Butter (room temperature)
1 1/4 Cups - Confectioner sugar
1 1/2 tsp - Pure Vanilla extract
1/2 cup - heavy cream

1.  Using a hand mixer or stand mixer whip butter until soft and airy
2.  Add Sugar and Vanilla to butter and whip until it is fully incoporated.
3.  Add heavy cream to the mixture.  It should incorporate, if it doesn't put mixture over a double boiler and whisk until it starts to incorporate and remove from double boiler.
4.  Ice cupcakes when they have cooled.

The recipe can be used to make a cake as well.