27 February 2009

When a Cake is not a Cupcake : a Daring Bakers Challenge

Back in my elementary school years, my mom and I lived in a small community in Florida for about 6 years. It was a great place to be a kid -- lots of warm weather and the ocean nearby; there were about a dozen of us young kids on the block and we would spend weekends and school vacations biking up and down the street and playing in each other's houses and backyards.

We had a great spacious backyard that was bordered at the edges by a dense "jungle" of trees and bushes that delineated where one property ended and the next began. It was here that some of the neighborhood kids and I built our very first secret fort. Only the "most privileged" knew exactly where it could be found or were privy to the secret password that would grant access inside. Truth be told, our fort was nothing more than a cluster of tree stumps hidden under the palm fronds, but we thought it was the coolest hideout and it was from this super secret base that we gossiped about other kids from the neighborhood, cheats to our favorite video games, and which teachers at school we thought were "neat" or "nerds."

I have always been intrigued by secret clubs and societies like the ones at Dartmouth a friend clued me in to that they have had going there since the late 1700's....Or, the Freemasons who had a lodge near my alma mater in Saratoga Springs, NY....Or, the secret clubs in Manhattan I was lucky enough to hang at once or twice -- you know the ones that have no sign and no phone number...you have to show up with the friend of an owner or be recommended, etc. There is a dinner club here in Paris called Hidden Kitchen that I have been dying to try for a while now that is surrounded by some secrecy. Give me cloak and daggers any day and I'll be hooked.

Which brings me to the purpose of today's post which is the first time I have participated in one of the Daring Bakers' challenges. The Daring Bakers is a group made up of bakers from all corners of the world who are tasked each month to prepare a specific recipe. Before you can join you have to agree to a number of stipulations which include not talking to anyone about the monthly challenge until the reveal date (which is today) -- no blogging, no forwarding the recipe, even to another Daring Baker if contacted. The recipe is posted in the "hidden" forums of the DB website which can only be accessed via the secret password that the group's founders email around each month. It's all shrouded in secrecy. And I have done my all to keep my lips sealed this month; apart from my husband who devoured the challenge recipe in no time flat, I didn't breathe a word....

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

February’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Valentino, inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan. Recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan.

The original recipe is paired with a whipped cream though the challenge included an optional "double dare" to make your own ice cream. Since it's a short month and most of it taken up by a school holiday, I opted out of this second dare. (I don't have an ice cream maker and since we've been away on vacation, I didn't have time to try the recipe for making it without). Instead I baked my cakes in small heart-shaped pans which I then used as layers to create a 3-layer cake. One layer was filled with vanilla creme chantilly, and one with chocolate creme chantilly. I then drowned this in a pistachio and white chocolate sauce and topped with additional creme chantilly.

Here is the recipe and some tips. Enjoy! I apologize that my photos aren't the greatest but as you'll see from the last one, that didn't stop us from practically licking the plate. For more photos of this month's (and past) challenges, check out the DB's Flickr group.

- Use your favorite chocolate, and buy the best quality you can afford – the finished cake will taste exactly like the chocolate you use. If you like a sweeter cake use milk chocolate or a combination of the semisweet and milk chocolate. If you like bittersweet chocolate use that and add sweetness by mixing the semi sweet with bittersweet. If you are daring, try white chocolate.
- A higher cocoa percentage increases the bitterness of the chocolate.
-This recipe comes together very quickly with a hand mixer.
-This is a very decadent cake that will sink a little as it cools but will still hold its shape.
-Very dense and fudgy cake that tastes divine.
-The top forms a light crust kind of like a brownie.

Chocolate Valentino Cake
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used a mixture of dark -- Valrhona Guanaja -- and milk chocolate -- Valrhona Cao Grande Lait)
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet. (I baked mine in smaller heart-shaped pans that were ready in about 15-20 minutes).
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Vanilla Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Place chilled cream in a medium-sized bowl, and whip with electric mixer until the cream is slightly thickened.
2. Add the sugar and vanilla. Whip until cream forms soft peaks.

Chocolate Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder

1. Place chilled cream in a medium-sized bowl, and whip with electric mixer until the cream is slightly thickened.
2. Add the sugar, vanilla and cocoa powder. Let sit in fridge for approximately half-hour so the cocoa powder dissolves into the mixture. Then whip until cream forms soft peaks.

Pistachio & White Chocolate Sauce
(taken from a recipe in Madame Figaro Le Chocolat)
200 grams white chocolate, broken into small pieces
20 cl heavy cream
100 grams shelled pistachios

1. Place pistachios in a sealed ziploc bag and beat with rolling pin into very small morsels.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the cream over low heat. Add the pistachios and then the chocolate and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool about 5 minutes before serving.

21 February 2009

Gone Fishing

I'll be out of town on vacation the next few days taking some well-deserved R&R but didn't want to leave you in a lurch so here are two ways to get your cupcake fix while I'm gone......

I recently ordered some cupcake bling from etsy store LORiOLA. Lori makes some beautiful pieces : cupcakes, hearts, bones, skulls and other assorted pendants. All her objects, which she bills as "small wearable works of art that are different from anything you've ever seen before" are made from molten glass, fine metals and enamels that she sculpts at her studio in Raleigh. She ships worldwide and is a pleasure to deal with so if you have been thinking of picking up something a little sweet, a little cupcake-inspired, please do check out her store.

Have you heard about the Kelly Ripa & Electrolux campaign to help support The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund? Through February, exclusively at electroluxappliances.com, people can design and send a special virtual cupcake to a friend, family member or loved one. For every virtual cupcake sent, Electrolux will donate $1 to The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) as part of its $500,000 commitment to help fight ovarian cancer. So surf on over there and start sending some cupcakes -- the excuse "but I don't know how to bake" won't work this time!

In addition to the virtual cupcake campaign, Electrolux is selling “Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve” T-shirts, designed by Ripa, on its Web site. For each T-shirt sold, 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the OCRF to support research to find a cure.

As I always say: For Every Occasion, A Cupcake. How about some cupcakes to help find the cure for cancer?!? It could happen...REALLY!

Okay, peeps, see you back here next week.

17 February 2009

Not a Royale with Cheese

Many years ago, a friend gave me a wonderful carrot cake recipe from her grandmother that was passed down from her grandmother and so on. I've tweaked it a bit so it yields a moist, deliciously rich cake stuffed with nuts, carrots and cinnamon. Like all good Americans, I really LOVE carrot cake - though am mostly prone to the cream cheese frosting the cake serves as a vehicle to consume. Last time I was in the US visiting my mom, I made an almost daily trip to her local Publix to get a slice of their yummy carrot cake. It's no wonder I put on about 5 pounds in the 10 days I was there!

When I had an order recently for a New York-themed breakfast meeting, I was delighted when the customer asked for one of the flavors to be carrot cake. It had been a while since I had an opportunity to use this recipe. For the other half of the order, we bandied about a take on the Black & White, mini cheesecakes with a cherry or blueberry topping, coffee cakes and a few other inspired combinations but apparently the mention of blueberry got a wide round of approval from her colleagues so that was that. The Broadway Blueberry Swirl was born : a blueberry studded vanilla cupcake with blueberry and light hints of lemon swirled buttercream.

I had to go to a local Italian store for the Philadelphia cream cheese that goes in the carrot cake frosting 'cause it's not too easy to find here and I paid through the nose, but it was so worth it. I could eat this stuff straight from the bowl. I was so inspired that when asked to donate some recipes to an article being published about cupcakes in the weekly online edition of L'EXPRESS, I couldn't resist but contribute this one. (I'm going to repost the recipe below in English because truth be told I was under the gun with the publication deadline looming and rather than measure out the ingredients from American to French weights, I did some quick conversions with the help of some online sources and am fearful that they may be a bit funky).

The inspiration for the carrot cake name...well, I didn't need to look much further than one of my favorite action films. I'm sure I don't need to remind you of this scene:

The Young Woman scans the restaurant....She sees all the PATRONS eating, lost in conversations. The tired WAITRESS, taking orders. The BUSBOYS going through the motions, collecting dishes....A smiles breaks out on the Young Woman's face.

Pretty smart.
(into it)
I'm ready, let's go, right here,
right now.

Remember, same as before, you're
crowd control, I handle the

Got it.

They both take out their .32-caliber pistols and lay them on
the table. He looks at her and she back at him.

I love you, Pumpkin.

I love you, Honey Bunny.

And with that, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny grab their weapons,
stand up and rob the restaurant....

(yelling to all)
Everybody be cool this is a

HONEY BUNNY (I'm deleting the line cause it's fraught with expletives and really not appropriate for a cupcake blog!)

(okay, cue music: Misirlou by Dick Dale)

I Love You Honey Bunny Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Makes 14-16 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups carrots (about 3 medium-sized)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

- Mix the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla in a bowl.
- Add flour that has been pre-sifted with salt, cinnamon, ginger, salt and baking soda.
- Mix in one at a time, carrots, nuts, coconut and raisins until well-incorporated.
- Fill cupcake papers about 2-3rds full and bake for 20 minutes in a 350/180 degree oven. Cupcakes may take up to 35 minutes to bake but you want to start checking for doneness around 20 minutes by inserting a toothpick in the center of the cupcakes. They are ready when the toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from tins and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting (this should be enough to frost @18 cupcakes):
4 ozs. Philadelphia cream cheese (or a "fromage frais a tartiner" that is low in salt - I like the Monoprix brand for its taste and consistency)
1 oz. unsalted butter
3 cups powdered sugar
half a vanilla bean

- Let the butter and cream cheese warm to room temperature (this is important - otherwise, the frosting will not be smooth.
- Whip with an electric mixer and add in the vanilla (separate the bean using a sharp knife and then lift them out with the point).
- Mix in sugar 1/2 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency and taste.
- Frost and enjoy!

L'EXPRESS: Cupcakes : dévorez-les tous!
I Love You Honey Bunny, une recette adaptée par Little Miss Cupcake

**Update March 4** I had such good feedback on these cupcakes from my client that I decided to enter the recipe in the March IC:E Nuts & Seeds challenge. Voting will begin no later than Sunday, March 29 at 8 p.m. at NO ONE PUTS CUPCAKE IN A CORNER, and will be open through Friday, April 3 at 12 noon. I am competing to win:
Our March ETSY PRIZE-PACK is from artists:

* A Bunnycake Easter Plushie by DOGBONEART,
* A whimsical piece by CAKEASAURUS
* as well as a pair of cupcake earrings from LOTS OF SPRINKLES
* a collection of all new printed cupcake liners, 200 in all from Sweet Cuppin' Cakes Cupcakery,
* PLUS, IronCupcake:Earth can not forget our good friend, CAKESPY, who is now going to be doing a piece for our winner each month until further notice - sweet!

Last and certainly not least, don’t forget our corporate prize providers: HEAD CHEFS by FIESTA PRODUCTS, HELLO CUPCAKE by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, JESSIE STEELE APRONS ; TASTE OF HOME books, a t-shirt from UPWITHCUPCAKES.COM. Iron Cupcake:Earth is sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers. And as a special thank you, we would like to once again thank DIANAEVANS.

16 February 2009

Dress You Up In My Love

Truth be told my husband doesn't do too much cooking around here but whenever he or I cook up something delicious to eat, we joke that it tastes so good "because it was made with love." This is how I feel about my cupcakes and Valentine's Day was no exception as I baked up about 120 cupcakes between Thursday and Saturday.

Red Velvet, strawberries, vanilla, chocolate, pink champagne, raspberries, white chocolate, cherry and lemon....these are just some of the delicious ingredients I was working with. It was a smorgasbord of colors and flavors.

Best of all, I was delighted to know I (and my cupcakes) would be spreading the love all over Paris on such a romantic day! Hope you all had a Happy one!

11 February 2009

The Postman Never Rings Twice

I have never seen a postal service as schizophrenic as the one we have here in France. Most days, pop a letter in the mail in the morning, and it is likely to reach its destination that afternoon (even if you are sending it across the country). Put a package into the mix, get international involved, and say sayonara to that baby (1,5 million objects lost last year!). I can't even begin to recount the number of boxes that my mom has sent me that have gone missing, and so many of my friends have experienced the same. A little tip for you international senders: soft packs -- they seem to survive the trip and avoid getting lost in that big, gaping postal black hole.

My customer for today seems to have suffered the curse of La Poste. Apparently all her gifts for her 21st birthday have gone missing and her good friend in the UK wanted to send a little something to make up for it.

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake. These: A Way to Get Sweet Revenge on La Poste!

And while you all are gearing up for Valentine's Day, I wanted to share these sweeties (above) that went out for a kid's party yesterday.

09 February 2009

You Say Pistachio, I Say Pistache

The last NYC apartment my husband and I lived in was on the corner of Jane Street & Hudson. In an area known as the Meatpacking District. When we first moved down there, we practically were giving out maps to friends and family showing our exact location cause so many of them never ventured below 14th Street, much less even knew that there were actually unnumbered streets in NYC. "Jane Street? Where the heck is Jane Street? Are you still in Manhattan or did you guys move out to Brooklyn?"

I haven't been back to the old 'hood in about 4 years now, but the last time I did, boy, had it changed. High-end designer fashion; hip boutiquey hotels; a Starbuck's where one of the local bodegas used to be and even a celebrity chef had opened a joint where there used to exist a popular um, uh, "gentleman's club," to put it politely. Ever see that Sex & the City episode where Samantha is arguing with the tranny hookers out her window? Well, we lived that...honest!

We thrived on the local flavor, not to mention the awesome dessert places we had to choose from. Brownies from the Fat Witch Bakery and beautifully decorated sugar cookies from Eleni's in Chelsea Market. On 14th, the Little Pie Company for some of the best New York Cheesecake and Sour Cream Apple Walnut pies around. Of course, Magnolia Bakery, grand-daddy of all the cupcake shops, was just around the corner -- and in those days, you could just walk right in and take a cupcake or two. No 30 minute waits and no 15$ order minimum.

One of our favorite eating holes back then was Keith McNally's French-style brasserie Pastis which thanks to my husband's French roots, was where we could be found 2-3 nights a week. They made some great bistro favorites and their desserts - crepes suzette, a molten chocolate cake, creme brulée - one better than the other. Our all-time favorite though was their ice cream. Now I know what you are thinking -- why ice cream when you have all those delicious choices? Well, they got their ice cream from none other than il laboratorio del gelato which is IMHO, the best gelato you will eat outside of Italy. Period. We were addicted to this stuff, especially the heavenly pistachio and could easily finish off a bowl of said pistachio, chocolate and vanilla in minutes. Both of us jockeying our spoons for the last creamy morsel. I am actually salivating while I write this.

Suffice it to say, I came across a surplus of pistachios in my kitchen cabinet the other day and it made me think of this to-die-for gelato. I used them to bake up some vanilla cupcakes (next time I will make lemon) with pistachio buttercream and a dollop of pistachio-infused white chocolate ganache on the top. They are a very, very humble tribute to my long-lost pistachio gelato. It has been too long since I tasted this stuff! I don't know if Pastis still gets their gelato from il laboratorio di gelato but if they do, and you happen to be in NYC while reading this, trust me....run down there ASAP to Little W. 12th Street and order up a bowl. It's the best!

By the way, since I am totally this loving pistachio buttercream -- I honestly think it is one of the better toppings to come out of my home kitchen -- I wanted to share. I'll soon be adding it to the Little Miss Cupcake menu. Enjoy!

Pistachio Buttercream:

4 ozs. (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 Tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup shelled pistachios

1) Place pistachios in a ziploc bag and beat with a rolling pin until they are well pulverized. Alternatively, you can put them in a food processor but I find the rolling pin method easier to clean up after and a great way to let off some steam!
2) Beat butter until creamy.
3) Add sugar a 1/2 cup at a time. As the mixture stiffens, add the cream and vanilla. You want it to reach a spreading consistency. I don't like my buttercream to have an overly buttery taste, so I usually add all the sugar called for but you may not want to add all.
4) Whip in powdered pistachios and mix until well-incorporated. If the mixture is too stiff, add a little more cream. If too soft, add some more sugar.

I topped these with a dollop of ganache made from white chocolate, cream and powdered pistachio.

05 February 2009

Danke Schoen, Darling, Danke Schoen

The title of this post is dedicated to a friend out in LA named Brian a/k/a THE "movie expert." Most conversations you'll have with him are peppered with random movie quotes (many undoubtedly going over my head) and I am pretty sure he can recite the movie Ferris Beuller's Day Off from start to finish...word for word...perfectly. For those of us from a certain generation, this was a seminal movie -- I actually remember cutting school to go see it - sorry, mom -- and probably where many of us got our first taste of this fine song covered by Wayne Newton.

The cupcakes featured today are for a customer's husband who wanted to say thank you (or I guess it is "Merci" in this case) to a colleague. Said colleague is male but since he has two young daughters at home, the cupcake order was for something pretty and girly. I was delighted to oblige, especially for this occasion as it's such a kind and simple gesture.

I spend many hours a week doing PR for a not-for-profit organization here in Paris. There are over 160 volunteers and none of us get paid a single centime for our time. I am constantly reminding myself to thank the members on my team. A thank you...an acknowledgment for the long hours...recognition for work well done...a thoughtful gift...all can go such a long way. I speak from experience and I don't know why people don't do it more often.

For Every Occasion, A Cupcake. Mark this one a very sweet way to show your gratitude!