29 March 2009

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

It's been a C-R-A-Z-Y month here in the Little Miss Cupcake kitchen. But I am not complaining, keep those orders coming! I had to sit out this month from the Daring Bakers' challenge due to time constraints thought it really tempted me; the posts I have read from those who did participate mention it took anywhere from 6-10 hours to complete the recipe! I'll get around to it one of these days when I have a free moment.....

A few weeks back I was contacted by Helen Jackson, one of the creators of an online book called "The Lost Book" which is a collaborative adventure in storytelling. It’s taking place on the world wide web and anyone who visits the website can help decide where the story goes. At its heart is an animated web series. You can learn more about it by clicking here.

The main character of the series is a gal named Aileen who is accompanied by her canine sidekick named Watson. In Episode 3, which is currently in development, Aileen is headed to a place called Copper Beeches Cafe where she will eat a cupcake. The gang behind The Lost Book decided to make a competition open to bakers everywhere. The winning cupcake will be immortalised in the animation: they’ll create a computer model of it for Aileen to purchase in Copper Beeches Café. How cool is that?

Based on the storyline so far, I decided to submit 5 cupcakes for the challenge. Two were cupcakes I had made previously but I thought were fitting given a subplot involving Aileen and a police officer named Kyle who seem to be headed for romance one of these days.

The other three you see above need a bit of an explanation. The bone cupcake is for Watson who will certainly need to keep his energy up as he tracks criminal mastermind Otto Dafé. The wizard hat is symbolic of Aileen's next destination: Christchurch, NZ. A friend of mine who hails from there (Hi, Sarah!) tells me there is a local celebrity known as the Christchurch wizard and so this cupcake hides a clue. The colors are in sync with the NZ national flag too. Finally, as Christchurch is known for its botanic garden and sometimes called The Garden City, I figured a pretty flower cupcake, again hiding a clue, couldn't hurt!

**UPDATE** I'm pleased to announce that my Wizard Hat cupcake won as the runner-up. There's a chance it may be animated and included in Episode 3 alongside the winning cupcake from acupcakery!

It's also that time of the month when I humbly ask you to go and vote for me in Iron Cupcake : Earth at No One Puts Cupcake in a Corner. This month's challenge was Nuts & Seeds. I came up with 4 entrants for this one and to refresh your memory, here they are:

The Macadamia Nut Brittle Cupcake pop - vanilla cupcakes mashed with lots of caramel, vanilla buttercream and big morsels of Macadamia nuts. Dipped in bittersweet chocolate and drizzled with more chopped Macadamia nuts.

I Love You Honey Bunny carrot cake cupcake - a moist, rich cake stuffed with grated carrot, cinnamon, walnuts and ginger topped with a luscious cream cheese topping.

The Almond Joy : a coconut and almond cupcake topped with a rich milk chocolate buttercream, sprinkled with shredded coconut and a grilled almond.

And last but not least, a modification of one of my most popular cupcakes, the 4H Gouter : a Nutella-swirled vanilla cupcakes with a cocoa-hazelnut buttercream.

The Lost Book competition is being judged by London Cupcake Specialists, Crumbs & Doilies.
Iron Cupcake voting is open to the public until 12 noon central time on Friday, April 3rd, so get on over there and vote for me!


28 March 2009

Unusual Names & A Nod to the X-men

When I was just out of college, I dated a guy with a friend who had a younger sister named Bega (you still with me?). The story goes that when she was born, her very eccentric parents decided not to name her but to let her come to that decision herself. And apparently, one day when she was about 3 years old, she was in an elevator with her father and suddenly proclaimed "I wish I was bigger so that I could push the button myself." But as kids often mispronounce words, her "bigger" came out as "bega" (pronounced "beaga") and the rest was history. I often wondered however what they called her in those interim years..."She whose name must not be spoken" or something to that effect? :)

In starting this little cupcake adventure, I very much put the cart before the horse in that I just started baking for people and didn't give much thought to anything else such as the cupcake names. I personally find many of the names on my menu to be accurately descriptive yet uninspired -- After Eight, Chocobutter, Cookies & Cream, etc. For my vanilla on vanilla, I chose Vanilla Lovers, and for chocolate on chocolate, Chocolate Squared. And then the reverse of these I called Mixed-Up Vanilla Lovers (chocolate cake/vanilla buttercream) and Mixed-Up Chocolate Squared (vanilla cake/chocolate buttercream). Or was it vice versa? I could never remember when I had to tag a photo or confirm an order with someone, and I found my customers to be just as mixed up as I was. So I got to thinking how to name these so they had some character and at the same time were easily recognized?

I started looking around at some other cupcake bakers and saw names like Birthday Cake, Tuxedo, Vanilla Loves Chocolate or Kids Cone. Fun and creative, but same problem...is it the cake that is chocolate and the frosting vanilla, or the other way around?

As I set about finding some distinguishable names my mind drifted as it often does to movies. For whatever reason, I immediately landed on the Angelina for the vanilla cake and chocolate buttercream combo (and if you don't catch that reference, you've been living under a rock for too long!). But this reminded me too much of a song a friend's brother hit paydirt with once upon a time, and it often gets stuck in my head for days at a time so the Angelina was a no-go. We recently re-watched X-Men 3 and it was then that I had my epiphany. For the chocolate with vanilla buttercream, I rechristened the Little Miss Cupcake version as Storm (after Halle Berry's character) and the vanilla with chocolate buttercream as Rogue (after Anna Paquin's character). A silly mnemonic but you know what? Problem solved on my end and since the change-over, every customer has actually asked for them by name!

Speaking of unusual names, I baked up some Rogue and Storm cupcakes this morning for a little girl named Cleofee, sister to Calypso and Lancelot (cool names, hunh?). Her mom is French but looks like a California surfer girl (she in fact studied at UCLA). She told me a story about how she had been to a party in the US once and they brought out a bright blue frosted cake -- she thought it was one of the grossest things she had ever seen and refused to eat it! So, I figured I would stay with a very sedate but nice and girly look for Cleofee's cuppies! Plus, a few oursons guimauve and mikado as requested by the California girl herself!

25 March 2009

A Velvety Smooth & Crimson Post

Flashback to my senior year in college. I had just come back from a year abroad in Paris and was arbitrarily assigned to the "French House," one in a cluster of chalet-type houses on the outskirts of the campus. You see, my friend Julie and I had been tardy in getting our housing selection mailed in (we were in Paris, after all!) and so the people who decide these things, well, I guess they thought it would make sense for us to live...in the French House since we were just arriving back on campus from...France.

So, we were in this house with an oddball mix of characters. It was one of the few houses in which students of all years were grouped together. It kind of reminded me of the Breakfast Club: we had the freshman blonde field hockey player and her Doogie Howser look-alike boyfriend; the sophomore Southern Belle who spent more time flipping through the Neiman Marcus catalogue than her schoolbooks; my next door neighbor was from the islands and burned incense night and day - I didn't see much of her but feared that she might be practicing voodoo behind her perennially closed door in her free time. There was the space cadet and the cheerleader; there was me, the Native New Yorker; and my friend Julie, who hailed from the mean streets of Boston. And then there was the random French guy. I told you it was the French House. Though I don't recall much about what made it French, except for the night when the random French guy showed us how to make crepes. It was a disaster, as was any event that got us all in the same room together. There wasn't much harmony happening in the French House. We all did our best to survive the year and co-exist but it wasn't pretty.

Now the Southern Belle and I often clashed over who left the dirty dishes in the sink (her!), who used up the last of the toilet paper and didn't replace it (again her!) or who drank the last can of Dr. Pepper from the fridge when it was clearly marked with her name (okay, I confess, I did it!) but the one thing we absolutely agreed on was the undeniable deliciousness of the Red Velvet Cake her mother brought with her when she came one week for a visit. It was moist, and tender, and just the right shade of red. The cream cheese frosting was sweet, yet tangy, like the Colonel says: it's finger-licking good! She bragged it had taken first-place at the State Fair not once, not twice, but three times! I had to have the recipe! For those of you who know me, you know I have no shame....I plastered a big smile on my face and simply asked. And, you know what? As the saying goes ask and you shall receive.

This week, I made red velvets three times using the Southern Belle's mama's recipe and they are one of my favorites. If you want to bake some at home, I can highly recommend Chockylit's version, which is very close to the Southern Belle's mama's. Though be sure to double or triple the amount of chocolate called for if you like it chocolatey. And while the Southern Belle's mama made a darn fine frosting, I actually prefer Chockylit's which uses vanilla straight from the bean and is oh so creamy; you will want to eat this right from the bowl so don't say you haven't been warned.

As an end note, I came to understand the Southern Belle a little bit better after her mama's visit. It wasn't a lack of respect that caused her to leave her stuff all over the house or never put things back where she found them... I saw that she in fact had been raised in an environment where she never had to do a thing for herself and didn't think twice about leaving her mess for others. You see, the Southern Belle's mama traveled with her own personal assistant, one of several household employees, who did everything for them, all week long, without a single word or sigh of aggravation or discontent. I wouldn't exactly say we rounded out the year as best buddies but we did reach a state of detente -- I got her mama's blessing and thus her approval, and the Southern Belle got a few lessons from me on how to work the washing machine and the best way to remove burned food from the bottom of a stockpot. For Every Occasion, a Cupcake. For me, red velvets will always be about finding a new friend in the most unlikely of places.

PS This post features an assortment of red velvets I've made over the past few weeks - my Kiss Kiss Bang Bang cupcakes, as well as a new item on the Little Miss Cupcake menu: Little Miss Morsels, or Cupcake Pops as they are better known when made by the infamous Bakerella.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(from Chockylit)
makes 36 cupcakes - 350/180 degree oven

3-3/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cups cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder or 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
3/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3 teaspoons vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 ounce red food coloring paste
2-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter
3 eggs

1. preheat oven to 350°F
2. sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder (or cream of tarter), and salt into medium bowl
3. whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring in small bowl to blend
4. beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well fluffy, 3 minutes
5. add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition, about 30 seconds
6. beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions
7. scoop into cupcake tins
8. bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes
9. cool in pans 10 minutes
10. cool completely on racks

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
(from Chockylit)

12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
2. sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
3. beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
4. add 4 cups of the sugar and beat until combined
5. add vanillas and beat until combined
6. add more sugar until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like

21 March 2009

I Love Cupcakes in the Springtime...

I love cupcakes in the springtime.
I love cupcakes in the fall.
I love cupcakes in the winter when it drizzles,
I love cupcakes in the summer when it sizzles.

I love cupcakes every moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love cupcakes, why, oh why do I love cupcakes?
Because my love is near.

I love cupcakes every moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love cupcakes, why, oh why do I love cupcakes?
Because my love is near.

These cupcakes are for celebrating Sandrine's 22nd birthday. She asked for a Spring theme, and what's more perect than blooming roses, butterflies in flight and early Easter bunnies hopping through the field? Broadway Blueberry Swirl and Caramel Dolce cupcakes topped with MMF, marzipan and chocolate decorations (butterfly idea from "Hello, Cupcake!").

Note: I LOVE PARIS LYRICS are the property of the respective authors, artists and labels and Little Miss Cupcake in no way takes copyright, or claims the lyrics belong to her. Paroles: Fr : Jacques Larue. Musique: Cole Porter 1953 "On The Moon" Titre original: "I love Paris" ©

15 March 2009

A Nod to Dual Nationalities and Why Cupcakes Are Better

My son and I were born in NYC. My husband and daughter in Paris. A little over 30 years apart on both counts.

Raising dual nationality kids in a foreign country comes with surprising tiwsts. I often feel a little sad that my kids won't experience an American childhood like I did and I find weird Frenchisms invading our daily life at frequent intervals. Like when my son starts counting with his thumb as the "one" (the common French way of doing it) vs. the index finger as we do it in the US. Like when he tells me he drew with the "pencil blue" or asks if he can wear his "sneakers black." Last night I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he said "saucisson" (a hard sausage), Comte (a cheese) and olives. The kid is 6. Shouldn't he be asking for mac and cheese or PB&J? And speaking of food, ask my kid what a bagel is or a slice and he will look at you like you just landed from Mars.

At 18 months, my daughter says about 30 words - it's a weird mix of French and English. For water, it's "de l'eau," hello and goodbye are not in her vocabulary but she says "bonjour" and "au revoir" to every person we pass on the street. And while my husband is "papa" to both of them, I am called "mom" by my son and "maman" by my daughter.

Not surprisingly, a lot of my long-term friends here are partnered with or married to Frenchmen. This means our kids all have dual nationality. A very cool thing, I think. I love the fact that both of my kids have two passports. It's so James Bond or Jason Bourne-ish!

A friend ordered some cupcakes for her son's 6th birthday and in honor of his Franco-American heritage, I made some Le 16H Gouter cupcakes (in this case, they were Nutella-swirled vanilla cupcakes with a cocoa-hazelnut buttercream) and some Butterscotch Chip cupcakes topped with vanilla buttercream. The latter was made with my secret stash of Nestle Butterscotch Morsels (if you don't read David Lebovitz already, you should read his very funny post about these here). The birthday boy is a natural-born entertainer so I decorated them with colorful fondant stars for his show (party). I love the way these turned out. So simple yet festive. And after yesterday's disappointing order (more about that below), I needed proof that I could still make a good-looking cupcake.

As a final note on these, I am entering the cocoa-hazelnut ones in this month's Iron Cupcake: Nuts & Seeds. You can read about what I am competing for here. The Le 16H Gouter is one of my most requested cupcakes and the combo of Nutella and cocoa-hazelnut buttercream is just heavenly. 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.

Yesterday, I made cupcakes for a 3 year-old boy's birthday party and I used an image transfer technique I have used dozens of times on layer cakes without any problem. These did not work out like I planned due to the cupcake's relatively smaller surface and I was really unhappy. While I know the cupcake taste itself lived up to my standards, the overall look of them did not and it's something I need to work on as themed cakes/cupcakes are pretty popular with the under 7 set.

It did get me to thinking that there are so many reasons why cupcakes are better and here is one of them: there is no need to choose between Hello Kitty or Dora, or between Elmo or Cookie Monster, or whatever else floats your boat. With cupcakes, you can have all your favorites at your birthday party and eat them too! That's all for now, folks, I've got a boeuf bourguignon on the stove per my son's request and it needs stirring.....

12 March 2009

A Week of Firsts

First word, first tooth, first day of school, first sleepover, first crush, first kiss and so on - there are so many firsts each of us will experience. Precious moments and milestones that leave their mark on us as we travel through this amazing journey called life.

I witnessed two firsts this week. First was my daughter's first steps. She's 18 months old and so a little behind compared to her older brother's progress. For weeks, she's been practicing standing up and sitting down; many of her "peers" have graduated to running at this point though I'd just figured she'd get there in her own sweet time. So, when she finally stood up, looked around and took those first tentative steps, it was a heart-warming moment and I actually did tear up. She was so proud of herself, as I was, though convincing her to do it again so her Papa and big brother can see has been a lost cause.

On Thursday, my son came bounding out of school and told me to close my eyes as he handed me something in a paper envelope. I flipped it over and written across the front was "Tres Important - la Dent de S" (Very Important - S's Tooth). His first baby tooth had finally fallen out and he was so excited, he ran around the entire playground showing the envelope to anyone who gave him even the slightest hint of attention. That night, the "petite souris" or "little mouse" as it is known here paid a visit (though I'll always call her the tooth fairy), leaving some euro behind.

(Here's a question for your parents out there, just how much does the tooth fairy leave in your house? Husband and I had a lengthy debate about this with the conversation finishing with the conclusion that I am cheap!!!). Anyway, my son was pleased as punch with the tooth fairy's offering as it meant he could buy some Bakugan, which is all the rage now, supplanting the Gormiti, of which we have amassed quite a collection. Ebay anyone?

Which brings me to this post which celebrates another first. Today's cupcake occasion is Owen's first birthday. Owen is a friend's son and one of the cutest munchkins I've seen with these big chipmunk cheeks you just want to give a little squeeze to. I figured something with duckies and elephants were in order as well as these cute lion cupcakes I saw in my new-favorite cupcake cookbook: Hello Cupcake! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson. Happy Birthday, Owen!

RELATED POSTS: Cupcakes Take The Cake

09 March 2009

Haagen Dazs Aint Got Nothing on Me!

Okay Batman, riddle me this....
Is the picture you are looking at:

a) A Haagen Dazs ice cream bar
b) Little Miss Cupcake's third entry in Iron Cupcake:Earth Nuts & Seeds
c) A cupcake
d) None of the above

If you answered "b" or "c," you are correct. This is in fact a cupcake...pop. Everyone else, thank you for playing. You'll find some lovely parting gifts waiting for you at the door.

So, here it is, my third entry in IC:E for the March challenge. The Macadamia Nut Brittle Cupcake pop - vanilla cupcakes mashed with lots of caramel, vanilla buttercream and big morsels of Macadamia nuts. Dipped in bittersweet chocolate and drizzled with more chopped Macadamia nuts. When I first heard of the challenge ingredient, my mind immediately went to the Haagen Dazs ice cream bars my husband used to eat like they were going out of style...you know the Macadamia Nut Brittle ones. I just wasn't sure how to execute this in cupcake form. But I put my thinking cap on (and borrowed a page from the book of Bakerella) and well, here you have it.

Let me walk you through the steps.....

Take about a dozen cupcakes and put them in a large bowl(I used my standard recipe which if I told you how I made them, I'd have to kill you so here is an easy vanilla cupcake recipe from Amy Sedaris) and crumble them.

Mix in 1/2 cup - 1 cup vanilla buttercream (and here's an easy one from Amy Sedaris again!).

And then 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts.

Add in about 6 tbsps. caramel (so easy to make yourself, click here for a recipe. I use the stovetop method.) and mix together.

Using your hands, shape mixture into ice cream shaped bars and stick a popsicle stick in one end.

Place on a greased sheet of wax paper and freeze overnight.

Melt 2 bars of chocolate.

Coat bars and sprinkle with nuts. Voilà!


Here are the details again of what I am competing for in this month's Iron Cupcake. 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.

07 March 2009

Shhh! Can You Keep a Secret?

These cupcakes have a secret. Wanna know what it is? Are you good at keeping secrets? How do I know I can trust you? Alright, alright, first a bit of background.....I made these for my sister-in-law's birthday which is Monday but she's having a part-ay tonight. She doesn't know I am bringing them so that is part of the secret. I wanted to make something special since most of the people there will be French and they don't really know much about cupcakes. Yet.

The big secret though is that hidden behind these humble-looking chocolate frosted cupcakes are a bunch of wild, crazy, "Dazed & Confused" inspired party animals. Or "freaks" as my husband put it so delicately.

Here's a hint:

Here's another one:

Have you guessed it?


Now the bit about my husband. When I was bandying about ideas for these cupcakes, I said, "Maybe I'll whip up a batch of those matcha cocoa cupcakes. Your sister likes tea." His response was that people will be coming to the party after dinner, they will be drinking wine and other adult beverages, the subtleties of the matcha cocoa cupcake will be lost on them. He said better to stick to more traditional flavors. So I did, just not traditional colors. He thinks these cupcakes are going to freak them out. So I made a batch of chocolate ones with vanilla icing.

I just colored the buttercream really loud. I couldn't help it; they were calling out to me to be dressed up for this evening's festivities. I wish you could see them in person cause the colors on your screen just don't do them justice. The purples are really deep violet like you see on pansies, and the pink is like a day-glo tint any 80's-loving' Madonna wannabe would be proud to bite into. Maybe you can see the color better here (I took this shot with a flash).

Before I go any further, a big thank you to thefrostedcakencookie for the awesome tutorial on how to make these cool fondant candles.

Here's a special one I made for my sister-in-law with little MMF roses.

And lastly, I HAVE to give a shout-out to my mom whose birthday really is today. She's in Palm Beach, land of crocodiles and the original preppy which is why I decorated this cupcake in pink and green. Happy Birthday, Ma!

I just ate it. It was really yummy! Oh, and it begged me to let it show its true colors too!