27 May 2009

You Don't Bring Me Flours Anymore

Okay, sorry for this cheap play on words for the second time this month. It just seemed so fitting for this post.

I get asked A LOT if I have a store in Paris or if there is somewhere that my cupcakes can be tried before ordering. The short answer for the moment is "no." I am working on this (hopefully in time for the rentree) but it'll take some time. In the meantime, if you are thinking of placing a large order, get in touch and I'll arrange a tasting for you. 9 times out of 10, I can accommodate a small sampling and the upside is that you'll obtain the confidence of knowing I make a darn tasty cupcake!

The second question that comes up a lot is whether I deliver. Let me start by saying, I have two young kids and no childcare. It makes finding the time to bake tricky, and finding the time to deliver even trickier. I've currently reached a level of order volume where making deliveries is extremely difficult because it means time spent away from my kitchen. I have looked into courier services and the like but it's expensive. (If you happen to know of a cost-efficient one that is good with handling fragile perishables, please let me know).

So I am sorry to say that 9 times out of 10, I am going to have to ask that you come get your cupcakes when they are ready (unless you are real close by). Sure I'll make exceptions, especially for very large orders, and deliver when there is no other solution but until the day when you can find cupcakes on every corner in Paris, I have the luxury of knowing that you can either schlep to one of the few bakeries that is making them, or schlep to me (where you'll be 100% assured that your cupcakes were baked fresh from scratch for you, decorated exactly as requested, and darn tasty too!)

Today was an exception and I did make a cupcake delivery for Lea's birthday. It's Wednesday so I had both my kids home and pushing a stroller while trying to keep two cupcake boxes level is no easy feat, let me tell you! These are all Rogue cupcakes dressed up with marshmallow fondant flowers and butterflies, and white chocolate "nests." Oh, I'll continue to sing you love songs and quote bad '80's music lyrics here on my blog, but for now, sorry to say that I won't be able to bring you flours (as frequently as I have been) anymore.

Apple Strudel - A Daring Bakers' Challenge

When I worked in advertising, I spent a lot of time on the road traveling. Travel to meet our customers, travel to see our Clients, travel to shoot the ads, travel to get feedback on the ads, etc., etc. It's kind of ironic cause if you know me, you're aware I have a pretty serious fear of flying. And even more ironic, I worked for some time on the international side of the United Airlines and Star Alliance accounts, which meant LOTS of flying!

A great perk of the job was that we were usually able to travel first-class, except for that one time when the flight to Buenos Aires was full and the Client I was traveling with spent the entire 16 hour flight in the jump seat used by the attendants on take-off and landing. Did I mention we had to make an emergency stop in Jamaica to let off a sick passenger? Did I mention I hate flying?

One of the most memorable places I visited during this time was Vienna. I was only able to see a bit of the city in between our meetings but it certainly is a beautiful place and one I have always wanted to return to. While there, we ate lots of wiener schnitzel and apple strudel so I was excited when I learned of this Daring Bakers' challenge. The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I was a bit intimidated when I read about the dough-making process - the dough needs to be rolled so thin you can see through it, but it all worked out pretty well in the end. I reduced the recipe down to cupcake form and was happy enough with the results; I made a simple apple-cherry version. The end-product is a light, slightly sweet dessert (okay, not sweet enough to my tastes) that would pair nicely with some vanilla ice cream or maybe caramel sauce. The hubby and I enjoyed it as an accompaniment to our usual pre-bed tisane.

Here's the recipe for those of you who want to try this at home (Note: for the cupcake version, once the dough had rested and was ready to go, I cut it into approximately 36 5-inch squares. I layered these in 3s in the individual cupcake tins being sure to brush each layer with melted butter - see pic below. Then I filled them and put a small pat of butter on top of each. They baked for 24 minutes).

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum (I substituted vanilla bean infused vodka)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins (I left out the raisins and instead added 1/4 cup of chopped, pitted cherries)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking) (I cut mine in small cubes since the baking time would be reduced and I wanted them to cook through)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Check out more Daring Bakers' apple strudel creations here.

26 May 2009

Whodunit? A Caper & Cupcakes...

If you happen to be in Paris and have any amateur crime sleuths or fans of CSI at home, you may want to check out the Crim'Expo at Parc de la Villette. My kids are too young for it but it sure does sound like fun. The crime? Someone has murdered the director of the museum and it's up to you to solve the mystery before the end of the visit.

These cupcakes were ordered for a lucky 9 year-old and his friends who will be visiting the exhibit this week. He is a big crime buff and I hope these make his visit even sweeter. They are a mix of flavors off the Black & Whites menu decorated with marshmallow fondant magnifying glasses, footprints, crime scene tape and question marks.

As for me, well, I'll just have to content myself with an Agatha Christie novel (Hercule Poirot of course, not Miss Marple) or a rerun of Murder by Death, one of my favorite mystery movies until I can sneak away without the kids to la Villette. For those of you who do make it over, happy sleuthing!

RELATED POSTS : Cupcakes Take the Cake - Crime scene cupcakes

24 May 2009

Well She Was an Amercian Girl

Yeah, I'll admit I've always been a Tom Petty fan. And by far one of the greatest moments in my personal rock 'n' roll history was when Tom took the stage with Axl Rose at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards for a duet of Free Faliing. I was a big GnR fan back in the day - heck, Paradise City and Welcome to the Jungle are on the Ipod playlist I run to - and sheepishly admit to following Axl on Twitter. I have no idea if it's really him but some of his updates certainly make me laugh. Oh how the mighty have fallen so far. Which brings me to the subject of today's post....

Last week I had an order from a French woman who frequently does parties and workshops with kids. She had contacted me cause she buys cupcakes for these events from a local cupcakery. She told me she wanted to explore some new options; I heard through the grapevine that the guy at her current cupcakery is a real jerk and that she felt his products were not up to par. But that's another story.

When she came to pick them up, we got to talking and I mentioned that my cupcakes were real American-style cupcakes which I believe set them apart from the other Parisian cupcakes. What is a real American-style cupcake you may ask? Well, in my mind, it's the cupcake I grew up on in the good ol' US of A. Real moist and flavorful with a rich, creamy buttercream. Is it sugary? Hell, yeah! But not like the tooth-hurting sweet that you can barely get through. I'm talking yummy, melt in your mouth sweet where you can't wait to get to the next bite...or the next cupcake.

IMHO, this is a pretty stark contrast to the cupcakes made by French people for French tastes. I'm not a hater. Just trying to explain the cultural differences. The French cupcakes I've tried (and there are only a handful of bakeries making them) are by and large made like a quatre quart - which is close in consistency and taste to an American poundcake - and frosted with a buttery flavored cream. They tend to be drier and less sweet. I'll be diplomatic and say they are not better or worse, just different.

So getting back to my customer, she told me that she really wasn't a cupcake fan, she thought they were a passing fad and she only got them for the kids. So why was I surprised and very disappointed when she wrote to tell me that the cupcakes were cute and the kids adored the decorations but in her opinion, they were too heavy and she would have preferred something a little less sugary? It was the first time a customer had taken the time to write me with negative feedback and I hate knowing that someone ate one of my cupcakes and wasn't satisfied with it. For me, the joy comes not only from baking and creating but from the joy I give other people who eat my cupcakes.

I thought of writing her an apology but decided to sleep on it. Then I read a post on Retro Bakery's blog written by its owner Kari Haskell out in Las Vegas. Kari is spunky and sassy and she gets my vote cause she always incorporates lyrics/songs into her blog posts. The cold hard truth is you can't please all the people all of the time; as Kari says you need a thick skin to work in this biz. "You have to keep going and trust in your product." Which I do!

So you know what? I'm taking this to heart and moving forward (Thanks Kari for the words of wisdom!). And to everyone out there in Paris tonight, you like all-American, filled with sugary goodness, sink your teeth into cupcakes that will leave you craving for more? Look no further than Little Miss Cupcake! Oh yeah, all right!

19 May 2009

Say It With Flours

**Spoiler Alert** This post is dedicated to my husband on our 8th year wedding anniversary. It may contain some sappy sentimental gunk so if you don't want to hear it, point your web browser elsewhere....

Upon meeting me, a lot of people wonder how on earth a born and bred New York City gal like me wound up in Paris. Which inevitably leads me to tell the story of how I met my husband. So for once and for all, here goes:

I used to date a really cool guy named Tom. At one point in our relationship it became pretty clear that we would be better off as friends versus boyfriend and girlfriend. Did I happen to mention we worked at the same ad agency? So we still saw a lot of each other and I think did (and still do when he's not too busy with work to talk with me) a pretty good job on the post-breakup friends part. Which is how I came to accompany him to a party one night as his "wingman." You see, Tom was quite smitten with a coat check girl he had met one day while lunching with some Clients. He had returned to the restaurant the very next day to ask her out and she invited him (and he me) to a house-warming party she and her roommate, newly arrived from Paris, were having.

So, we headed on down to her pad - it was a Sunday night (I remember because we always watched X-Files together and that night was no exception) - so not a serious partying night. We walked into the party and while Tom left me to go woo Mademoiselle French Fry, I gravitated towards a group of people at the center of the room who were discussing some such club they had been to the night before. A very tall guy in a beige linen suit immediately caught my eye. He reminded of a cross between Crispin Glover (you know the Thin Man from Charlie's Angels) and Ralph Fiennes, and just exuded elegance and charm. He had a girl on his arm who was regaling everyone with a story about how drunk he had been the night before and that the poor dear was so sick, he had barely slept and was now suffering with a terrible hangover. I of course reckoned she was his girlfriend and didn't think much of it as little by little, I found myself talking with him alone about French literature and culture. His English was so perfect, I didn't at first realize he too was French until he mentioned something about growing up in Paris.

From time to time, his girlfriend strolled over to chat; I was surprised that she wasn't bothered at all by the fact that we had been talking so long - it had been hours - and I mentioned this to him. He started laughing and seemed very amused by my comment. Because you see, she wasn't his girlfriend at all but the other hostess of the party and Mademoiselle French Fry's roommate. Well, that certainly explained a lot and so when he told me he was leaving for a short trip to Paris the next day, but said he'd like to call me when he came back, I didn't hesitate for a moment. For you see, somewhere in that space of our conversation, underneath a horribly colored hand-made patchwork blanket hung on the wall, something had happened to me. Something I had never felt before and couldn't quite explain. When I got home that night, I called up my best friend Jen and inexplicably blurted out : "I just met the man I am going to marry."

We were engaged a few years later during a truly romantic trip to the South of France. We had arrived at a beautiful chateau near Lyon and as we were getting ready to go down for dinner, he said to me, "You look beautiful but I think your outfit is missing something" and got down on hand and knee as he proposed and pulled an engagement ring from his pocket. It was a magical trip and one I will never forget.

We've been through thick and thin, ups and downs, laughter and tears over the years and we're two kids heavier than when we met. A more opposite couple you will likely never meet : he's practically never without a suit (even on a cross-Atlantic flight) while I prefer jeans and my Pumas. He's into opera and classical music, I can spend days watching MTV. He's a whiz with numbers, anything scientific and can speak intelligently for hours on any topic from Nietzsche to the Neolithic Revolution. I'll be the one helping our kids with their English homework...and did I mention I like MTV? Yet we somehow manage to make it work and have fun doing so. Well, except for that time when we were both unemployed and expecting our first child. That was certainly no fun but we got through it!

So to you dear husband I say, Happy Anniversary! I love you and look forward to another 8 to the power of 2 years with you (or 64 years if I am not mistaken -- I learned that the other night while he was teaching something to our 6 year-old!). And for this occasion, I baked up some of his favorites - 1 dozen mini cheesecakes in 3 varieties: lemon, raspberry swirl and pistachio/white chocolate. I think it makes a pretty cool flour arrangement (as my friend Elizabeth would say!) and a sweet way to mark our 8 year anniversary.

18 May 2009

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?

I first heard this song when I was working for Burger's King's ad agency. We were using it as part of a campaign for the Whopper highlighting the many different ways you could order it (cause after all, "at Burger King, you can always have it your way." Yes, after working for them for 10 years, the brainwashing still works!). This is a pretty groovy cover of the song by Thao; it was originally recorded by The Lovin' Spoonful. I'm not sure what is going on with the sock puppets in the video but they're kind of cute and I just like 'em!

This song really struck a chord with me as I am one of the most indecisive people you will ever meet. I think it's due to the fact that I was born between signs; that is, my birthday is on the cusp of when Cancer goes into Leo.

The thing you should know about me is that because I never can make up my mind, it is very easy to influence my decisions. Present me with a good argument and I'll buy it. So much so, that I often find myself arguing other people's point of view convinced that it is my own.

Now that's not to say that I am a pushover because I will definitely stand my ground til the end of time. I just have a really hard time deciding what to do...this weekend, for dinner, with my life, etc.

Which brings me to the receiver of today's cupcakes. A 3 year-old named Sienna. She saw a picture of the cupcakes I made last week for the Agence Ludique and decided on the spot all she really wanted for her birthday was some green mice cupcakes (or so says her mom. I'm sure her wish list must include a Dora DVD, maybe a princess costume, or a new ball for the park. Well, that's what my daughter wants anyway!).

I really admire Sienna's ability to make up her mind and hope that I one day grow up to be as decisive as she is!

To go along with the green mice, I put together some other four-legged, no-legged and winged beasties for a garden animal party theme. These are a mix of cupcakes from the Black & Whites menu: Rogue, Storm, Vanilla Lovers and Chocolate Squared cupcakes topped with marzipan and marshmallow fondant designs.

13 May 2009

Coucou Hibou and Other French Songs...Cupcakes

I had a call the other day from an event space here looking to try out my cupcakes for a special art exhibit they are doing on the theme of French children's songs. Now, my English song repertoire can't be beat thanks to this fabulous music teacher both of my kids have taken classes with named Ginny. We know all the American classics as well as several British, Scottish, etc. tunes as Ginny has incorporated songs native to the parents taking her classes over the years.

When it comes to the French songs, I of course know all the common ones like Frere Jacques, Au Clair de la Lune and Voulez-Vous Coucher avec Moi Ce Soir. What's that? That last one's not a children's classic!?! Well, excusez-moi! :)

So, I found a French website that covered a lot of the standards and of course then had to check in with my husband and son to inquire if they knew the songs. There was a great one about a two-headed snake but they looked at me as if I had two heads when I said "You don't know that one? C'mon, everyone knows that one!" So, my two-headed snake design was vetoed.

What did I come up with? Well, let's see....you must know about Frere Jacques and the morning bells that ring to wake him. And for those who live here in France with kids, I am sure you have heard the song "Coucou Hibou" which is about an owl in the woods who calls back to a coucou (bird) from his great tree.

The other songs represented here are the crown of "le Bon Roi Dagobert," a song about a ladybug called "Coccinelle," the famous cabbages of "Savez-Vous Planter les Choux?," and the even more famous "Souris Verte."

There are also 2 snails that are sung about in "L'Escargot," 2 rabbits which made me think of "P'tit Lapin Plein Poil" (which means the very hairy rabbit), 2 clowns from "J'ai Un Gros Nez Rouge" (I have a big red nose -- that's the song title not a statement about myself!) and a reaping tool from a song my husband seemed to know which I can't remember the name of.

If you're interested in learning some new French songs, or just finding out what on earth this post is all about, you can find all the songs mentioned and more here.

And if you'd like to check out the French Children's Song art exhibit, le vernissage happens today 13 May at 5PM. It goes on through 7 July at Agence Ludique.

* UPDATE: After several inquiries about the faucille/reaping tool cupcake, I looked up the song via google and learned it is from a quite racy song called "Jeanneton Prend Sa Faucille" about a girl who encounters 4 boys en route to cut back some bushes and the a-hem "harvesting" they do together. I told my husband he was quite cheeky to suggest that design and completely took advantage of my naivete. Much like Jeanneton in the song..... ;)

RELATED POSTS: Cupcakes Take the Cake - Chansons Pour Enfants

10 May 2009

Bringing Home the Bacon (Cupcakes) for Mother's Day

A few months back, my mom sent me a cut-out from the NY Times of a bacon-topped cupcake recipe by Pichet Ong, owner of Batch bakery in Manhattan. Yes, you heard right. I said "bacon." At the time, I personally couldn't think of anything more disgusting than a bacon-topped cupcake. Though I had been seeing a lot of these in the blogosphere as more and more bakers offered up their version of this savory cupcake. If my mom had heard about them, then I figured they must really be mainstream.

Since then, my mom inquired on a fairly frequent basis if I had tried the recipe. Each time, my response was "Ick, no!" But recently I saw this video tasting done by Keavy Landreth, owner of Kumquat Bakery in Brooklyn. She and her friend taped themselves while trying several variations on the bacon cupcake theme and whether it was their pairing of the cupcakes with a "strong" cup of coffee, or their giggles and charm, I was sold hook, line and sinker.

Since my mom is in-town visiting this week, I figured I would bake a batch of bacon-topped cupcakes for Mother's Day. Which is celebrated in the US today but not in France...or the UK for that matter, but it's a complicated story. I wasn't too hot on Pichet's recipe - the oatmeal muffin base seemed a little too healthy for me -- so I whipped up a cinnamon pecan cupcake and topped that with a frosting made from a mix of caramel buttercream I had left-over from this morning's order for Dylan's 2nd birthday....

and pure maple syrup. Yum, yum, yum! I topped them with large pieces of bacon (the Herta Nature brand we get here in France.).

The verdict? I could take or leave the bacon. I almost felt like the contrast wasn't salty enough but the buttercream was divine! (Luckily I have some frosted ones without bacon left for later!). I noticed my mom ate half the cupcake with the bacon and she scraped it off of the second half. But I wasn't too offended. We ate them on the heels of a BIG French-style lunch that included a starter of prosciutto and melon, a beef roast with potatoes and salad, several pieces of comte cheese, wedges of country-style bread, and a bottle of red wine.

Okay, gotta go now and veg out while I digest all this food. Here's the recipe for my bacon-topped cupcakes if you are interested. Give them a whirl if you are looking for something a little different and savory. Though perhaps it's best if you pig out on these (pun intended) on an empty stomach! :) Happy Mother's Day, all!

Little Miss Cupcake Pecan Cinnamon Cupcakes:
Makes 14-16 cupcakes

4 ozs. unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
¼ cup hot water
1 cup crushed pecans

- Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Grease or place cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
- To make cupcakes, cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add egg, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and mix until well-combined. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk in 3 batches, mix well until smooth. Add hot water last and mix to combine.
- Stir in pecans and fill cupcake pans 2/3rds full.
- Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin and let cool on wire rack.

Caramel/Maple Syrup Buttercream:
4 ozs. unsalted butter
3 tbsps. milk
4-6 cups powdered sugar
4 tsps. maple syrup
2 tbsps. caramel

- Beat butter, milk and 4 cups sugar until creamy and soft. Slowly add maple syrup and caramel and continue beating until frosting is of good spreading consistency. If too thin, progressively add more sugar. If too thick, add more milk.
- Frost cupcakes and top with 200g. cooked and drained bacon pieces. Serve while bacon is still lukewarm.

06 May 2009

Shopping & Bubbles Cupcakes

Here is a little avant-première of some of the cupcakes I made for this evening's private sale: Shopping & Bubbles at Gloss'Up, organized by MARIEluvPINK. These are raspberry pink velvet with a rose petal buttercream. See you later....