Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One Cake Down, One to Go

Earlier in the year, I had agreed to do a small wedding cake and cupcakes for a couple referred to me by a classmate from culinary school.  The wedding was September 3.  Of course at the time we had made these arrangements, I had no idea that my personal life would suffer the losses that it did.  I think that made me more vulnerable than usual.  While it's usual for me to get stressed when I'm doing cake for someone else, it was on the extreme side this time.  When I'm doing something that is so personal - for me and the other person - it causes self-doubt to creep in.  It didn't creep in this time so much as hit me like a linebacker.  This small cake gave me as much difficulty as it did doubt. 

The beginning of the candy clay acorns.

Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures, it was a fall-themed wedding.  Who knew in April it would be 100 degrees in September?  The bride wanted about five dozen cupcakes with fall-themed decorations and a small white cake to cut.  We agreed on peanut butter cupcakes with chocolate ganache, cappuccino cupcakes with mocha buttercream and pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese buttercream.  She also wanted the cake to be peanut butter with ganache filling.  She liked the look of fondant, but not the taste; so my plan was to cover the cake with white candy clay.  I've used chocolate candy clay to cover a cake before and it worked beautifully.  White candy clay did not.  I finally made a judgment call and went with straight buttercream.  This presented problems of it's own as you must be very careful not to make marks in the buttercream once you have it smoothed.  And you have to figure out how to fix it when you have a decoration fall off and leave a big divot.
These leaves ended up getting tossed. 
The gold color I was using beaded
up on the candy clay.
I can't say the icing was perfectly smooth.  Sometimes it's necessary to recognize that trying to fix it can only make it worse.  At least I had sense enough to realize that.

Going with the buttercream presented another problem as well.  My original plan was to make small, leaf-shaped tuiles in fall colors to have sort of a "leaf pile" on top of the cake.  (The bride didn't have a topper.  My instructions were "make it pretty.")  Given that the tuiles would likely absorb moisture from the buttercream, I needed a plan B there as well.  Honestly, I struggled with this one.  Finally I decided to use some of the uncooperative candy clay to make ribbon roses.  Ribbon roses are not my favorite decoration.  I prefer more realistic flowers, but there simply wasn't time.  And since ribbon roses are not my favorite decoration, I'd not made them before.  I'm sure they could have been better.  My lack of experience and the fact that just the heat from my hands made the uncooperative candy clay even more so was problematic, but this is mere hours before delivery so it was time to just make it work.  I had shortened my deadline because I wasn't aware of what the set up was going to be and needed to make sure I had enough time to set up and be gone before the wedding party arrived.  I made my deadline, didn't get lost, and even got it all delivered and set up intact.  And most of the anxiety was dismissed after I received a wonderful follow-up note from the bride.

These are the cappuccino cupcakes with mocha buttercream and the finished candy clay acorns.   It's quite possible these are my favorite cupcakes. 

Pumpkin spice cupcakes with cream cheese buttercream (not the sickly sweet stuff) and edible gold painted fondant leaves.

Peanut butter cupcakes with chocolate ganache underneath a candy clay maple leaf.

The wedding cake with vanilla buttercream, candy clay roses and leaves, fondant ribbon and initial plaque.  By the time I was finished with this cake, I was a nervous wreck and swearing I wouldn't do any more cakes.  Except the one I promised my friend, Alicia, I would do for her sister's bridal shower.  For 80 people.  On September 18.  Occasionally, I am a glutton for punishment. 

Cappuccino Cupcakes
¼ cup Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
cup instant coffee granules
¾ cup whole milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1½ cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
5 each large eggs
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Prepare muffin tins with paper liners.  

Microwave the liqueur and ¼ cup milk until warm in a glass measuring cup.  Add instant coffee and stir until coffee dissolves, reheating as necessary.  Watch carefully – it will boil quickly!!  Add enough of the remaining milk to equal 1 cup of liquid and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda. 

In a large electric mixer bowl, beat butter until soft.  Add granulated sugar, vanilla and salt and beat until light.  Lightly beat eggs in a large measuring cup.  Add eggs approximately two tablespoonfuls at a time beating well after each addition.  Stop to scrape the bowl and paddle halfway through.  

Scrape the sides of bowl and paddle.  Add flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with coffee liquid, beginning and ending with flour.  Using an ice cream scoop, fill muffin tins approximately ¾ full.  

Bake 18 – 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. 

If you don't want to use alcohol in this recipe, just use very strong coffee or espresso.

Makes approximately 36 cupcakes.

Mocha Buttercream
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbs instant espresso
3/4 cup whole milk
1-1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp natural cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs vanilla extract
6 Tbs heavy whipping cream
2-1/2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature

Heat the milk, sugar and instant espresso over medium low heat in a heavy bottomed pan until the sugar dissolves.  Remove the pan from heat and gradually sift in the flour, cocoa and salt while whisking until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to cool.  After the mixture is cooled, whisk in the vanilla extract.

Pour the cooled milk/sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  On low speed, add the cream and butter cubes.  Continue mixing on low for about 30 seconds to incorporate the butter.  Gradually increase the speed to medium high (about 8 on a KitchenAid).  The buttercream will start to look curdled.  It’s okay – don’t panic!  Just keep going; it’s nearly impossible to overbeat this icing.  Beat for 8 – 10 minutes or until the buttercream is smooth and creamy.  It will happen.

This is definitely a fair-weather icing; it does not hold up particularly well in warmer temperatures.


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