Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cupcake French Toast. Really.

When I was baking the cakes for the wedding cake, a couple of my recipes needed to be increased to have enough batter for the size of pans I was using.  I ended up with a little too much for some, and instead of throwing it out, baked cupcakes.  Almost four dozen cupcakes.  Chocolate, vanilla bean and bourbon-brown sugar.  My plan had been to take them to my former colleagues at the University, my dentist's office, to some friends.  But I didn't get them delivered before I got sick.  So other than those that the hubs took to his office, I still had a bunch of cupcakes.  Even stored in a large plastic container, they will get stale in time. 

Usually when I have stale cake, I think of cake balls.  Not this time.  I was thinking of French toast.  Not French toast cupcakes, mind you (although I do have a couple of recipes for those), but cupcake French toast.  Some time ago, Stef of Cupcake Project was musing about making French toast from cupcakes.  Although I don't think she ever went there, I did. 

It wasn't tragically regrettable, but I probably won't be repeating that experiment any time soon.  Should I change my mind about that, however, there are a couple of things I will do differently.  1) I'll add a little sugar to my egg custard.  Thinking the cupcakes would be sweet enough, I skipped this usual step.  2) I'll use cupcakes with a coarser crumb.  These had a very fine crumb which lent to a final texture I wasn't too crazy about.  And 3) I won't let them overcook while I answer the phone (it was the hubs).  Overcooked egg is extremely unpleasant to me.

I decided to slice them side-to-side instead of top-to-bottom.  (If they had that perfect cupcake shape, top-to-bottom would have been really cute though.)  They ended up not resembling cupcakes at all.

Before walking away to answer the phone.

Actually, I think they ended up looking like sausage patties and polenta.

Chocolate on the left (duh!); bourbon-brown sugar in the center and finally, vanilla bean.

I debated with myself on whether or not to use the chocolate cupcakes, convinced that their texture would lend to crumbling and the bourbon-brown sugar would be the best anyway.  Wrong.  While none of them were "bad"; none of them were really good either, but the chocolate was probably the best of them.  I only ate a bite of each.  My only true regret about this experiment is that I wasted a few drops of my precious maple syrup.  

And what of the rest of the cupcakes?  They're a work in progress.  We'll all have to wait and see how that turns out.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Being the impatient person that I am, I have a tendency to become slightly annoyed when there's a project I want to start, but have other things that must first be finished.  I have a tendency to become really annoyed when there's something I want to do, but am physically sidelined.  That's been the story of the better part of this week.

After delivering the cake on Saturday and cleaning up on Sunday, I chose to do a whole lot of nothing on Monday.  By Tuesday morning, I was feeling a little blah.  I decided to color my hair.  Brighten my perspectives a bit.  Not so much.  Not only is my hair in its current state rather clownish looking, I felt even worse by Tuesday afternoon.  By Wednesday, I was just plain sick.

There are cupcake ideas in my head that want to be realized.  Particularly, root beer float cupcakes.  I want so much to test these cupcakes!  But who is going to want a cupcake from someone sneezing and having near convulsive fits of coughing?  No one I want to know.

So for awhile, I'll keep scribbling recipes; maybe turn my short attention span to some crafty endeavors and look forward to making germ-free cupcakes in the (hopefully) near future.  ***sigh***

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Let them eat cake

Lots and lots of cake.  There are six cakes under all that fondant.   It's a seriously weighty cake.

I thought about taking photos to document my progress,
but I really didn't have time to be interrupting myself that often.

There were difficulties along the way:  I discovered that my 12" square cake pan really isn't square.  I broke a cake for the first time (a 12" semi-square) .  I ran out of buttercream.   I had planned on making plaques, actually I did, with the couple's initial for the center tier but didn't like them once they were finished.  After all of that, the wedding cake is almost done.  Looks done in the photo, doesn't it?   Not quite. 

It was supposed to be delivered yesterday for the wedding today.  But I had to make a judgment call.  I chose to drive a little further to deliver the cake today, than risk the integrity of the decorations by meeting Justin in Marion to deliver it yesterday. 

Yesterday started out damp and wet, and today is shaping up to be the same.  Damp, wet weather is a nemesis of delicate fondant and gumpaste decorations.  The less time they are exposed to those conditions, the better.  You see that drooping swag on the right?  Unfortunately it's something I couldn't fix.  While I did temporarily put the flowers on to get a photo, when I was done they went right back into their air-tight container with a bowl of salt as a desiccant.  They'll get their permanent adhesive a little later this morning.

There are many aspects of making/decorating cakes that make me anxious.  Will the recipients think it's attractive?  Will they like the flavors of the cakes?  Will I get it there intact?  Nagging self-doubts will linger in my head for the next few days.  But then I'll move on to another project.  Maybe I'll revisit the mango pate de fruit.  Maybe I'll stick to an established recipe next time.  Maybe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Failing Successfully

This morning, I finally admitted defeat on the pate de fruit.  For now.  Yesterday afternoon I scraped it back into the pot and cooked it again, this time to 227F and poured it into two pans.  By the time I went to bed last night, I was optimistic.  It seemed like it was setting up much better.  I got up early this morning to check my results.  Well . . .

I managed to get these cut before I retreated.  Although the set was much better than yesterday, it still wasn't firm enough.  Originally I thought a knife dipped in hot water would work best.  Turns out I was wrong.  The round cutter did the job much better, but still not good enough to make me want to cut both pans.  I don't think I have ever worked with anything so sticky in my life.  Even after coating them in sugar, they were so soft they just kind of oozed around the sugar to stick to the cookie sheet.

Plus, I forgot to butter the parchment - again.  So what I decided to save (I'm not sure for what yet) had to be scraped off with a spatula and then scraped off of the spatula. But all in all, I'm not that disappointed for a first attempt and know I'll make some changes before trying them again.  I will definitely go with a low/no sugar pectin so I don't have to use so much sugar.  These things are super sweet.  A little too sweet for my taste.  So sweet that I didn't taste any cardamom after the first try, so when I recooked it, I decided to add a healthy dash of ancho chile.  Can't taste that either.

Further pate de fruit endeavors will have to wait until next week.  A message from Justin yesterday has amped up my wedding cake schedule, as he would like to pick the cake up Friday afternoon instead of Saturday.  I'll be baking six cakes today.  Guess I better get busy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fruit Glue

Pate de fruit translates to "fruit paste".  I think I can give Elmer's a run for their money.  When I read Shae's post on Hitchhiking to Heaven about her attempts at clementine pate de fruit, her title of "pate de oops" about sums up my attempt at mango pate de fruit.  Mind you, I won't say mine sucks - it tastes okay.  But I definitely won't be cutting this stuff into cute little hearts or blocks or anything else.

So as you can see, I've scraped it off of the parchment (a little butter love may be called for next time) and into a pan.  I'm not giving up . . . yet.  There are a number of things that could have gone wrong with this recipe.

  1. It was a franken-recipe - one I put together from several others I found.
  2. The variation of temperatures on the recipes I found ranged from "boil" to 220F to 227F.  It's quite possible I didn't get it to a high enough temperature or keep it at temperature long enough.
  3. Given the constant rain, yesterday was probably not the best day to be working with something high in sugar.
  4. I should have poured it into a pan with a larger surface area (but I just didn't want skinny candies).
  5. Pectin can be temperamental with some fruits.  Even though I left it set overnight, it may not have been long enough.

What am I going to do with it?  I'll boil it again and try reach a higher temperature.  If that doesn't work, I have a lot of really sweet, sticky mango jam.  But first I have to go make some buttercream.  The wedding cake is still due Saturday regardless of my pate de fruit failure.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fish & Fruit

Ewww.  Sort of.  Why fish and fruit? 

Fish, actually seafood, because it was on Saturday night's menu.  We had a bag of bay scallops in the freezer that I'd been staring at for about a week before deciding it was time to make ceviche (or seviche) again.  If you've never had or heard of ceviche, it's a Latin American seafood dish that "cooks" the fish with the acid in citrus juice, usually lime.  It took me a long time to build up the courage to try it.  But once I did, I kind of liked it.  I have one go-to recipe that I adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Savoring Fish & Shellfish and I don't usually deviate too far from it.

My favorite ways to eat ceviche.  I love the crunchy with the creamy textures.

These are called "champagne mangoes".  I'd never heard
of them before yesterday.  Pretty tasty though.

Fruit, specifically mangoes, because I got a 5-1/2 pound box yesterday with a new recipe in my head.  Several of the blogs I read have been talking about/trying pate de fruit (PAHT duh fwee - your French lesson for the day).  They look beautiful:  little blocks and hearts and circles of gem colored fruit purees jelled firm and coated in sparkling sugar.  I want to try to make them because I want to eat them.  I've looked up at least 15 different recipes for them, some using pectin, some using gelatin, some using neither.  I'm going to start with an adapted pectin recipe. 

After washing all of the mangoes, I started by
cutting off their "cheeks".  Sounds a bit cruel, no?

Last night  I prepped the mangoes to make the puree.  I really wanted to finish everything last night but it was getting late and being tired does not bode well for the success of an untested recipe.  Especially when I've read about so many others' failures.  So today's project is finishing the mango pate de fruit.

The cheeks are then scored, without cutting through the skin.
If the mangoes are really ripe, this is easier said than done.

The scored mango can be scooped out with a spoon
or cut from the skin with a knife.  I like the spoon
method because it gets more of the fruit.

One of the things I've noted is the failure rate appears to be higher among those using fruit they puree themselves versus buying commercially prepared fruit puree.  I found myself wondering if the puree was too thin and if the fruit was drained of some of its juice before pureeing.  So I'm going to try letting my cubed mangoes drain a bit before processing  and sieving them.  We'll see how it goes.

But thinking about ceviche and mango instead of "fish and fruit", has me thinking that may not be such a bad combination after all. 

Scallop Ceviche
8 oz bay scallops, thawed if frozen
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 red Serrano chile, minced
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large, ripe avocado
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tbs finely chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley if you think cilantro is vile)

Rinse the scallops in cold water.  Remove the “foot” if desired.  (This is the muscle on the side where the scallop attaches to the shell.  It’s usually slightly more opaque than the rest of the scallop.  I remove them because they are a bit tougher than I prefer.)  Place the scallops in a glass bowl and pour over all but two tablespoons of the lime juice.  Refrigerate for an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure all of the scallops get to bathe in the lime juice.  The scallops are done when they turn milky white and opaque.

In a larger glass bowl, add the tomatoes, chile remaining two tablespoons of lime juice and olive oil.  Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and either scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or cut into cubes.  Add to the bowl and stir to combine.

Drain the lime juice from the scallops and add them to the tomatoes and avocado.  Season to taste with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley.

I like to serve this with crispy blue corn tortilla chips or rustic, crunchy bread toasted with olive oil, salt and pepper.  It provides a nice texture contrast. 

Serves two nicely as a meal, or four as an appetizer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Almost Forgot

I intended to include the caramel recipe(s) with the last post but, well, I did forget - no almost about it.  Since all of my caramels thus far are adapted from the same recipe, I'll give you the recipe for basic caramels and tell you what I've done differently.

So here's the recipe:

Basic Caramels
Recipe adapted from Charlotte Albright
Yield:  depends on how big you cut your caramels

1 Tbs butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup water
2 cups light corn syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz (one stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment.  Rub the parchment with the one tablespoon of butter, paying particular attention to the corners.  You can also melt the butter and brush it on the parchment.

 In a small heavy saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk.  

Pour the water and corn syrup into a large, heavy saucepan.  Pour the sugar into the center, avoiding contact with the sides of the pan.  Add the salt.  Let sit for 15 – 20 minutes, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook and stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 6 to 8 minutes. Brush down the sides of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to remove any sugar crystals.  Stop stirring, insert a candy thermometer, reduce heat to medium and let come to a boil.  Cook, without stirring, until temperature reaches 260°F (hard-ball stage).  This may take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your pan, stove and altitude.

Meanwhile, place milk mixture over low heat and stir until warm.  Do not boil.

When the sugar mixture reaches 260°F, stir in the warm cream and the pieces of butter.   Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until the thermometer reaches 244°F (firm ball stage), 30 to 60 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla.  Immediately pour the caramel into the prepared pan without scraping the pot.  Allow to rest, uncovered, at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours without disturbing.  

Unmold caramel by lifting the parchment paper out of the pan.  Place the caramel slab on a cutting board and cut into pieces with a very sharp, heavy knife.  If necessary, rub the knife with butter or spray with cooking spray.  Wrap the caramels with waxed paper squares, twisting ends to seal, or with foil candy wrappers.  The caramels will stick together if not individually wrapped.

And here are the variations:

For the red wine caramels, I reduced two cups of red wine (in this case, Merlot) down to half of a cup.  Keep a heat-proof measuring cup nearby to check your progress.  If you go too far, just add a little water to make it half of a cup.  The red wine reduction replaces the half cup of water in the recipe.  Everything else is the same.

For the bourbon-vanilla bean caramels, I reduced one cup of bourbon down to a quarter of a cup and decreased the water in the recipe to a quarter of a cup.  (You could also just reduce the bourbon to half a cup, but I got a little carried away with my reduction.)  This takes the place of the half cup of water in the recipe.  I split one vanilla bean lengthwise, scraped the seeds out and tossed the pod in with the milk mixture.  The seeds were reserved and added with two teaspoons of bourbon (instead of two teaspoons vanilla) at the end.

There you go.  And there will be more variations to come.

Caramel Overload

Yesterday I did drag myself to the store as I absolutely had to do; and I did make the second batch of caramels I wanted to test.  These caramels were bourbon and vanilla bean.  I didn't bother taking photos of the process, because one batch of caramel doesn't look that much different than any other (except the mauve thing).

What I wasn't thinking about in my zeal to try these caramels, was that eventually I was going to have to cut them.  Two hours and four knives later, they're finally done.  Just in time because I think my patience was about done, too.

The bourbon-vanilla bean caramels had to be poured into two 8" square pans because the Merlot caramels weren't ready to come out of the 9" x 13" yet.  I tried to pour the caramel evenly between the pans, but one of them was slighted a bit which left me with some skinny caramels.  I wanted to cut hearts like I did for Valentine's Day, but the caramel wasn't cooperating with that idea enough for me to pursue it beyond the three it begrudgingly gave up.  These caramels were definitely the most difficult to cut of all the caramels I've made. 

Until I tried cutting the Merlot caramels.  These were just a bit softer than the bourbon-vanilla bean caramels so I thought since I had three bourbon-vanilla bean hearts, I'd cut three Merlot hearts.  The first one attempted made it quite clear there would be no Merlot caramel hearts.  The generously buttered cutter is still soaking.  I managed to get about six squares cut before my thoughts started turning to caramel sauce.  These things stuck to everything.  I buttered the knife; they still stuck.  I buttered the cutting board; they still stuck.  I buttered my fingers; they still stuck.

Now while I thought cutting all of these caramels was a major pain in the posterior, you want to know what's even worse?  WRAPPING THEM!!!  I think I'll be buying some mini cupcake liners or candy cups or . . . something other than wrapping each and every one of these in little foil squares!

I still have more ideas for caramels.  They're going to wait awhile.  And I'm going to see how much a caramel cutter costs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Practice Makes Caramels

Finished - finally!

I could have said perfect, but caramel doesn't have to be perfect to be good, as evidenced by some of my previous shortcomings.  There have been some ideas for caramels rumbling around in my head for awhile now, kept in place by the time and attention necessary for finishing the wedding cake flowers.  The flowers I actually need for the cake are done (but I still need to finish one or two for the back ups).  So today, I released one of the caramel ideas from its imprisonment inside my head.  Today I made red wine caramels.

Given that the original caramel recipe only called for half of a cup of water, I chose to reduce two cups of red wine (Merlot) down to one-half cup.  I didn't think half of a cup of wine would give me the flavor I was looking for.  But then again, I'm not sure the two cups reduced did either. 

The wine reduction, corn syrup and sugar was so beautiful while it was cooking. 

So pretty . . .

Then the cream, evaporated and sweetened condensed milks were added.  It turned mauve:  a color I find neither appealing nor appetizing. 

so not.

Fortunately the caramelization of the sugars helped the color a bit, and it still has a slight pink tint to it. 

And now we wait.

From what I chewed off of the spatula though, I'm not tasting much of anything that resembles wine.  We'll see what they taste like tomorrow when they're ready to cut.  If I can wait that long.

The reason I have all of these caramel ideas floating around is that I am donating caramels to a food-blogger bake sale for Share our Strength to be held in St. Louis on May 14.  This particular sale is being organized in part by Stef at the Cupcake Project.  I'm donating goat milk caramels with sea salt for sure.  Others are still awaiting testing/results.  The jury is still out on this one.  I really want to get to one of the other recipes today, but I absolutely must get myself to the grocery store.  It can be a bit irritating when the "need to do's" trump the "want to do's". 
Maybe there's a different w(h)ine about these caramels.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Will I ever learn?

Yesterday brought about a couple of lessons, at least one of which I should have already known.  *Sigh*

I'm an early riser for the most part.  (Here is where I need to point out that getting out of bed doesn't necessarily mean that I'm functioning.)  I like getting up a bit early and having the house to myself; the quiet mornings before the dogs bark and the birds start vocalizing.  My usual routine is to make/drink some coffee, check my messages, stare blankly out the window.  You notice that coffee is the first thing.  Yesterday it wasn't. 

Lesson One
Do not attempt anything requiring concentration until coffee has been consumed.

While waiting for the coffee to brew, I looked at the pot of tangerine/orange peels on the stove and thought it would be a good time to give them a one last little simmer while the kitchen was still cool.  I then took my finished cup of coffee to check my messages, thinking 15 minutes should be just perfect for the peels to come up to temp and simmer for a bit.  In theory.  While my brain kept telling me that I turned the heat on to medium low; reality showed me that it was on medium. 

This is what greeted me when I returned to the kitchen:

Lesson Two: 
Never, NEVER walk away from a pot of cooking sugar (regardless of cooking temperature).

Where have we heard this before?  In the January 18 post where I confessed to the same offense having boiled citrus-ginger marmalade all over the stove. 

I knew this and did it anyway.

So the recipe I was conjuring up with the candied peels?  Well, there's been some change to that plan.  The peels themselves were not salvageable.  I did, however, save the burnt orange syrup and am thinking of incorporating it into a caramel.  Not sure how yet, but it will come to me.  And maybe I'll have learned not to walk away while the caramel is cooking.  I can only hope.