Tag Archives: birthday cake

vanilla on vanilla cupcakes

13 Sep

Simplicity is vastly underrated these days. Take for instance Lady Gaga at last night’s VMAs. Zillions of wardrobe changes, costumer-bearing servants to move her from seat to stage, and a dress made of meat. It’s what we’ve come to expect: OVER STIMULATION.

I won’t deny it. I’m just a copacetic lemming in this tornado of consumption from pop culture to gastronomy. But, every now and then, a day comes along when I stop to smell the ocean breeze, charge up a mountain, and revel in the grit of dirt on my face.

View of SF and its two bridges - Mt. Livermore - Angel Island - Click to enlarge

It was Rosie the birthday girl’s request to spend the day hiking and picnicking at Angel Island. Also requested: cupcakes. When asked for her favorite flavor, I was surprised by her immediate and enthusiastic response — VANILLA! Often deemed a distant second to chocolate or canvas for fruit flavors, we forget how pure, simple and spectacular vanilla can be on its own.

Like an ode to childhood, I resolved to bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and bright pink sugar sprinkles. The cake batter, however, was strictly an “adults only” version with rich pound cake consistency. And, instead of the frosting tub crap from the grocery store, I whipped together an easy cream cheese and vanilla buttercream.

Pure vanilla-on-vanilla goodness is how I’d best describe these cupcakes. Spectacular in their simplicity — just like our day of hiking and birthday-celebrating at Angel Island.

vanilla on vanilla cupcakes
adapted from the barefoot contessa

* 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 3 cups sugar
* 6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:
* 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
* 3/4 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
* 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-full with batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, mix the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, mixing just until smooth. Spread the frosting generously on top of each cupcake.

Makes 30 cupcakes (I know, it’s sorta too much!).

Advertisements

mint chocolate cupcakes, metrics mayhem

15 Jul

At Christmas time, Trader Joes makes a special candy cane version of their Joe-Joe cookies (fake Oreos), which happens to be a favorite of my friend Mariel. So, when asked to make birthday cupcakes for her 30th, I set out to find a recipe that would mimic that oh-so-festive mint and chocolate combination.

Unfortunately, a search for “mint chocolate cupcakes” returns surprisingly slim pickings. However, one recipe stood out with a description stating “like an AERO chocolate in cupcake form.” If you’ve ever had an AERO bar, the titillating sensation of bubbles of chocolate bursting on your tongue immediately springs to mind. I was definitely going to make this recipe.

Of course as AERO would suggest, this recipe comes from the UK, specifically from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson. While I am a huge fan of Nigella, she does live in the land of metrics and I am total crap at mathematical conversions. But… I will do just about anything for the sake of a cupcake.

Here is my metrics conversion masterpiece. Perhaps a tad bit off, since the cupcakes turned out slightly more concave than convex…. all the more room for butter cream frosting!

mint chocolate cupcakes with butter cream frosting
adapted and converted from Nigella

batter:
* 1 2/3 cup self raising flour (not the same as AP flour, but you can find it at Safeway)
* 4 tbsp cocoa powder
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1 1/8 c super fine sugar
* 2 sticks unsalted butter
* 4 eggs
* 1 tsp peppermint extract
* 3/4 c plain choc chips

icing:
* 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
* 1 2/3 cup confectioners sugar, sieved
* 1 tsp peppermint extract
* green food colouring

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.

Place 18 paper wrappers into muffin tins.

In a bowl sieve flour, baking powder and cocoa. Beat butter and sugar together in another bowl. Add eggs one at a time and beat together.

Add flour mixture gradually. Stir in the mint extract and chocolate chips. Spoon mixture into cases and bake for about 25 mins.

To make icing, beat icing sugar and butter in a bowl stir in the mint extract, and just enough food coloring to turn the icing mint green.

Ice the cooled cupcakes and decorate with chocolate chips or sprinkles.

Did I mention our cowboy party theme?

ice cream bombe

5 Jul

A dear friend of mine is allergic to both gluten and dairy. When tasked with creating a birthday cake for her, I found myself completely stumped. I don’t care to mess with ingredients like xantham gum and even Whole Foods only sells cakes that are gluten, but not dairy free!

Eureka! What about an ice cream-less, ice cream bombe? A splendid idea from Bubby, who had seen Ina Garten build a spectacular layered dome of fruit sorbets and ice cream on the Barefoot Contessa. All I would need to do is swap out the ice cream for non-heinous soy ice cream, if that were findable.

A simple endeavor really, especially if you are using pre-made ice cream. Rather than press soften ice cream into a normal crusted pie pan, we build the “bombe” upside down in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Using multiple flavors, we layer and press with successively smaller nesting bowls that have been covered in plastic wrap. You must freeze the layers between, so the process does take a bit of time — plus, you’ll want to freeze the whole thing overnight to set.

To unmold, we dip the entire bowl into warm water for a minute. The melted sorbet ended up artfully cascading off the bombe onto the plate, forming an elegant birthday platter.

It was a delightfully refreshing slice reminiscent of a creamsicle — the perfect gluten and dairy free “birthday bombe.”

Ice Cream Bombe
Adapted from Ina Garten

* 1 quart and 1 pint mango sorbet, softened
* 2 pints raspberry sorbet, softened
* 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened (for dairy free, I used Trader Joe’s Vanilla Soy Ice Cream)

Freeze an 8-inch stainless steel mixing bowl. Note: These vary in depth/volume, so you’ll want to check how much ice cream you’ll need for each layer by filling the bowl with water and submerging the next smaller bowl until the water level hits the rims — repeat for each layer and convert cups of water to pints/quarts of ice cream.

When the bowl is cold, place the mango sorbet in the bowl and press it against the sides of the bowl. If you have a 6 1/2-inch bowl the same shape as the 8-inch bowl (such as from a set of nesting bowls), cover it with plastic wrap and press it into the sorbet to make the layer even. Freeze the sorbet for 30 minutes or until firm. Remove the 6 1/2-inch bowl.

Spread an even layer of softened raspberry sorbet on top of the mango sorbet (a 4 1/2-inch nesting bowl wrapped in plastic wrap helps with this) and freeze for another 30 minutes or until firm. Remove the 4 1/2 inch bowl.

Finally, spoon in enough softened vanilla ice cream to fill the bowl. Freeze until hard.

To unmold, dip the bowl up to the rim in warm water. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the bombe and unmold upside down onto a flat plate. You may need to run a flexible metal spatula along the edge of the bombe to release it. Freeze until ready to serve. Serve in wedges using a knife dipped in hot water.

guava chiffon cake

21 Jun


There are few things in life more satisfying than baking the perfect layered cake: Climbing a mountain. Cold beer on a hot day. The fact that I have not been able to master the perfect layered cake is not so much a bane, but a blindfolded chase… like a game of marco polo where I am flapping my spatula wildly at no one in particular. Of course, I could just go to pastry school or try what I am sure is a “fool-proof” recipe from Alton Brown.

I’ll have none of that, thank you very much. No, instead I had my sights set on the famed Guava Chiffon Cake from Dee Lite Bakery in Hawaii. It’s a ridiculously girly cake with light-as-air pink guava infused chiffon layers, whipped cream frosting and a generous slathering of guava topping. Dee Lite’s recipe has been kept under lock and key since 1959, so even my advanced internet scouring turned up nothing but botched attempts and recipes with a clear thumbs down.

I decided to frankenstein three recipes together: 1) modified Filipino Pandan Chiffon Cake recipe, 2) Stabilized Whipped Cream Icing recipe, and 3) Guava Gel recipe. I baked the cakes in two 8″ rounds, frosted the middle with both whipped cream and guava gel, then frosted the exterior with more whipped cream and the rest of the guava gel topping.

We blazed up the cake for Bubby’s birthday. And yes, I served it on a pizza stone with wax paper on top. Someone remarked that it looked like a giant spicy tuna roll.

The verdict: Great guava flavor, light and airy frosting (didn’t melt!), but the cake was a bit more dense than the original at Dee Lite. I also probably could have tried a little harder on the presentation front and trimmed the brown off the cakes before stacking, plus a piping kit would have been nice! In sum, I’d give myself a spatula on the back for this attempt, but the quest to bake the perfect layered cake will continue on.

guava chiffon cake

* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 1 1/3 cups cake flour, unsifted
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 5 egg yolks
* 2 eggs
* 3/4 cup guava juice concentrate, thawed, undiluted
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2-3 drops red food coloring
* 5 egg whites
* 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Adjust rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in 5 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, guava juice, oil and vanilla extract until the batter is just smooth.

In a standing mixer, beat egg whites until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until the whites are very thick and stiff, just short of dry, 5 to 7 minutes.

With large rubber spatula, fold a third of the whites into the batter until no streaks remain. Fold in the rest of the whites.

Pour the batter into two ungreased 8″ round pans lined with parchment paper. Tap the pan against the counter five times to break up any air pockets.

Bake in a 325F oven for Bake 35-40 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately turn the cake upside down to cool. Let cake hang until completely cold, about 2 hours.

To unmold, turn pan upright. Run frosting spatula or thin knife around pan’s circumference between cake and pan wall, always pressing against the pan.

stabilized whipped cream icing

* 2 teaspoons gelatin
* 4 teaspoons cold water
* 1 cup heavy whipping cream
* 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chill mixing bowl and beaters for at least 15 minutes before using. Place water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to soften 5 minutes.

Dissolve gelatin by microwaving for 2 minutes, stirring after every minute. Remove from microwave and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes; gelatin must be liquid but not warm when added to cream.

Remove bowl and beaters from refrigerator and pour in cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat together just until beater marks begin to show distinctly.

Add gelatin mixture to cream, pouring in a steady stream while beating constantly. Beat until stiff peaks form. Use immediately.

guava gel

* 2 C Guava juice
* 1/2 C Sugar
* 1/4 C Cornstarch

In a medium sauce pan, bring the 2 cups guava juice and sugar to a boil. Make a paste out of the cornstarch and a small amount of water. Remove guava juice from heat and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Return to heat and bring back to a boil and boil for one minute. Cool in refrigerator.