Monday, April 23, 2012

Carrot Cake 2.0 --> Bouchons!

I've had a streak of bad luck with cakes as of late. As I've mentioned before, cake making is not my bag. Despite my lack of cake making mojo, I plug on. Sometimes I persevere and sometimes, not so much...

Lately, it's been more of the latter than former. For that reason, when I recently got a craving for my mother's carrot cake, I decided to go in a new direction. I broke out the popover pan I use to make Thomas Keller's chocolate bouchons and went to town.

Et voilà! I give you carrot cake bouchons!
The carrot cake batter rose like a charm and the bouchons were the perfect shape- just like the champagne cork they're named for. I topped them with piped cream cheese icing and candied carrot peel.

You'll find my mom's carrot cake and cream cheese icing recipes here. The recipe will make approximately 24 bouchons but I filled my popover pan cups to the very top of the brim to ensure that I got a nice rise and wound up with 22 bouchons.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Strawberry Cupcakes

This is my one concession to The Cute. I've now banished it from my system and vow to return to usual programming.

Cute is not in my wheelhouse. I'm not much for styled shots and props- although I enjoy others' efforts in this vein- it's just not my cup of tea. Every time I've tried to shake things up and add a little pretty in a food shot, it's an abysmal failure. To thine own self be true- even dressed up, I am a strait haired, red lips and a little mascara kind of girl. The no frills ethic fully permeates my sensibility, right down to food. 

So boy howdy, pink cupcakes with pink frosting in pink polka dot cup cake liners was a real stretch for me. Stretching and growing have been a constant in my life lately, and not in the metaphorical sense.

That's not a food baby from one too many cupcakes... there's an actual baby in there. A baby girl to be named Ruby, in fact. Hence my concession to The Cute. Even a practical-to-a-fault, non-sentimental kind of gal like me gets a little silly at such news. Not silly enough to do something like this, but still. (No offense to anyone who loves that kind of thing- see my aforementioned aversion to cutesiness.) Pink cupcakes in pink polka dotted cupcake liners? My exact reaction to such would have been "puh-leeze' with a generous eye roll a few short months ago. 

Motherhood has a funny way of changing you so we'll see how many other long cherished dogmas I drop along the way. But for now, I'm comforting myself that this nod to pink is only a momentary slip. I've already decreed that Ruby's room and wardrobe will be pink-free and am hoping that well intentioned relatives, by which I mean my mother, Mother-in-law, and Step-Mother-in-Law, specifically, abide by my wishes.  (I think it goes without saying ruffles are also out but just in case, consider it said.)

So without further ado (and anymore griping about pink), here's Ruby. I'm sure she'll continue to pop up on the blog from time to time but another of my dogmas is that I won't become a Mommy Blogger. We'll see how long that lasts....

(She was such a little wiggle worm the day of the ultrasound, you can't make out much. Thanks to the Sonographer for the helpful labels- otherwise I'd have no idea what I was looking at. Here's hoping she cooperates better at our next visit so that we can get a face shot.)

Strawberry Cupcakes 

At a recent co-worker's birthday celebration, I ate a piece of an appallingly delicious strawberry cake that was strait out of a box, canned icing to boot. It was an intriguing experience- even though I was incensed at the temerity of that box mix cake for being so good, I could barely restrain myself from having a second piece. As someone who spends a lot of time and love on scratch baking, it was particularly galling to be confronted with the fact that a cake made with so little effort and god only knows what ingredients (although I'm sure red dye was at the top of the list) could be so tempting. I'm certain pregnancy hormones were clouding my brain that day... no way could a box mix cake have been that good. When I ran across this strawberry cupcake recipe in the review copy of The Back in the Day Cookbook that I received, it seemed karma (via Cheryl and Griffith Day's adorable book) was offering me the chance to prove my pregnancy hormone addled judgement theory. These cupcakes restored my faith- scratch baking beats a box mix any old day. 

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/3 cups pureed fresh strawberries (approximately 2 cups whole strawberries)
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 large egg whites, at room temperature

Strawberry frosting:
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or fleur de sel
4 cups confectioners’ sugar (1 pound box), sifted
1/4 cup pureed fresh strawberries (approximately 1/2 cup whole strawberries)

Makes approximately 24 cup cakes

1. Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit with a rack set in the lower third of the oven. Line cupcake tins with paper liners.
2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together strawberry puree, lemon zest, milk, and vanilla and set aside.
3. With a handheld mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium-high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy. With the mixer turned to low speed, gradually start adding the sugar. After all sugar has been added, turn the mixer back up to medium speed and continue to beat for a few minutes until the sugar is homogeneously incorporated into the butter and the mixture looks light and fluffy again. Add eggs and egg whites one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Alternate between adding one-third of the dry ingredients and the strawberry puree to the butter mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. When all ingredients have been added, continue to beat the batter for another couple of minutes to ensure it is evenly mixed.
4. Scoop batter into prepared cupcake tins, filling each paper liner 2/3 full. Bake cupcakes for 20 - 25 minutes until they pass the toothpick test and are completely done (toothpick will be clean and dry) when pricked in the center. Set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes while making the frosting.
5. To make the frosting, in a large bowl with a handheld mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, lemon juice, and fleur de sel or sea salt on low speed for a few minutes until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Next add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Lastly, add the strawberry puree and continue to mix on high until the frosting is light and fluffy. Pipe (or spread with a spatula or butter knife) frosting on each cupcake. Frosting can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.