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DJ’s Summer Birthday Cake

11 Jun

DJCake1I am so competitive. Sometimes, it’s an admirable quality, pushing me to try a little harder or work a little longer . But a lot of times, it’s just plain dumb.

For instance, this past weekend I was riding in the car with my boyfriend and his parents. We were on our way home from an early birthday celebration for DJ. He and I are having another small celebration to commemorate the actual day, so as we were riding along, I asked him what kind of a cake he would prefer. Because, you know, I make cakes. Professionally. And it’s his birthday, so of course I would be making him a cake. Makes sense, right? Are you with me?

OK.

Without enthusiasm or humor, he requested an ice cream cake.

AN ICE CREAM CAKE.

I won Cupcake Wars, for Christ’s sake. And he wants to squander that kind of talent on an ice cream cake? Ouch, man!

Now, I love ice cream as much as the next guy. Probably more, actually. I’ve often fantasized about opening an ice cream business. I even put together half of a business plan for an ice cream truck before I realized that here in the Chicago,  I’d have only four solid months of sunshine and sales and eight long months of frigid destitution. Not my best get-rich-quick scheme, but you get the idea. I love ice cream.

But I’m great at cake. And this is the first year that we’ll celebrate his birthday together. I want to make him a damn cake! A real cake! CAKE cake. With ice cream alongside, if he wants.

DJ proceeded to say that he prefers ice cream cakes to regular cakes because regular cakes are all the same to him. They’re usually not bad, but they never “wow” him. And that’s fair, except that I’ve seen him happily horse down several pieces of cake now, some made by me.

DJ is a humor writer. His indifference to cakes is akin to me thinking that that all fart jokes are the same, and not only the same, but mediocre, to boot. (Just kidding though, baby. Your fart jokes are classic.)

So my nutty, competitive mind kicks into the spin cycle, and all I can think is, “I’ll show you! I’ll make you the best g*ddamn cake you’ve ever tasted or will ever taste again! And then I will never make you a cake ever again for doubting me!

Birthdays are for birthday cakes, so DJ is getting a true birthday cake this year, with simple flavors that I think he’ll enjoy. It’s not overly sweet, with a little nuttiness from ground almonds and almond extract. Fresh strawberries and whipped cream will glue it all together and keep it light and summery. It’s finished with a sprinkling of crushed almond tuile cookies for a bit of crunch. Maybe it won’t be the best cake he’s ever had, but even if it’s not, it will be a great memory of the first time we spent his birthday together.

This weekend, he gets his ice cream cake.  You better believe that it will be the best damn ice cream cake to ever come out of a freezer!

DJCake4

Summer Birthday Cake

Almond Chiffon · Whipped Cream · Strawberries · Almond Cookie Crunch

For the cake:
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut rounds of parchment paper and place in the bottom of two 6 inch round pans. Do not spray the pans.

In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tarter with an electric mixer on high speed until foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar, and continue whipping until it is glossy and holds stiff peaks.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt, discarding any large pieces of almond flour that won’t make it through the sifter.

In small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and almond extract. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture to loosen. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently, until the mixture is well combined and there are no pockets of whipped egg whites left. Divide evenly into prepared pans.

Bake for 22-25 minutes or the tops of the cakes spring back to the touch. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes on cooling rack. Run a knife around the sides to loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before filling.

For the cookie crunch:
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl using a fork or a pastry blender, mix all of the ingredients together until the butter is in pea-sized chunks and the mixture is very crumbly. Spread into an even layer on the parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the cookie looks lacy and the edges are very brown. Cool completely. Crumble into small pieces.

For the stabilized whipped cream:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, cut into small pieces + additional whole strawberries for garnish

In a small saucepan, stir together the gelatin and water until the gelatin is evenly moistened. Let it sit until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Cook over very low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, to melt the mixture and dissolve the gelatin. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the cooled gelatin. Continue whipping until the cream forms stiff peaks. Remove ¼ of the whipped cream and set aside. Fold the cut strawberries into the remaining whipped cream.

To assemble the cake, cut each layer horizontally into two. Fill each layer with 1/3 of the strawberry whipped cream. Run your spatula gently around the sides of the cake to clean up any whipped cream that crept out from inside the cake, and to very lightly coat the sides. the last cake with the plain whipped cream. Sprinkle the top generously with the almond cookie crunch and garnish with additional whole strawberries and a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.

 

 

 

 

2012 – The Year of the Cupcake

30 Dec

In the future, when I look back at 2012, I’ll remember it as my personal year of the cupcake. Because Milette and I dominated Cupcake Wars, Cupcake Wars in turn dominated several months of my life, and many of the conversations I had after our win. It was truly an awesome experience and I am unbelievably grateful to all of the people who cheered us on. You make a girl feel really loved!

Tomorrow night I’m ringing in the new year with some great friends. Really great friends. The kind of friends who come to your Cupcake Wars viewing party in a bar on a stormy night, and when the satellite television at the bar craps out, don’t hesitate to invite the whole lot of the party (half of whom they’ve never met) over to their place to catch the second half of the show. Great friends, indeed!

Since we’re busting into 2013 in the same place where we watched Cupcake Wars thanks to their generosity, what could be more appropriate than the champagne cupcakes from the competition?  Mexicans and Spaniards eat grapes for good luck in the new year, so the cupcakes are filled with a homemade grape and champagne compote. To gussy them to New Year’s Eve standards, I topped each one with a rosette of the winning champagne frosting, added a few sugar-crusted grapes and hit them with just a bit of gold pearl dust. If there is such a thing as a shabby-chic cupcake, this is it!

These are perfect celebration cupcakes. Make them for New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day, or bookmark this and come back to it for all of your 2013 celebrations – let’s hope that there are many!

Champagne Cupcakes

3 cups sifted cake flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup champagne or sparkling wine
1/4 cup whole milk
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with baking cups.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder; stir in salt and set aside. In another bowl, combine wine and milk. Mixture may curdle, but that that is okay.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl after each. Alternately add the flour mixture and the wine mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Fill baking cups 2/3 full. Bake for 19-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan; remove to a cooling rack to cool completely before filling.

Champagne Buttercream

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 – 2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
Pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup champagne or sparkling wine
3-4 drops champagne flavoring (optional)

In a large bowl, beat butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar and a pinch of kosher salt, and beat on low speed until nearly incorporated. With the mixer still running, slowly stream in half of the evaporated milk. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Repeat, alternating confectioners’ sugar with sparkling wine and remaining evaporated milk. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Add champagne flavoring and beat until well combined.

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Easy Holiday Cupcake Ideas

19 Dec

Last Saturday was National Cupcake Day, and I spent a few minutes at NBC showing some fun and easy cupcake decorating tricks. There are a few holiday ideas, including a two-tiered Christmas tree cupcake topped with a sparkling star cookie and some gorgeous poinsettia cupcakes that you’ll never believe were made with store-bought red gumdrops. Happy baking and happy holidays!

National Cupcake Day on NBC

Tropical Honeymoon Cupcakes

8 Sep
Coconut Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Icing

Tropical Honeymoon Cupcakes

Ever since our episode of Cupcake Wars aired, people have been asking me for cupcake recipes. Someone on Twitter asked me for the BEST cupcake recipe. That’s a hard one! If your favorite cake is chocolate, but my favorite cake is lemon, then my BEST cupcake recipe is going to differ from yours.

I can confidently say that our recipe for Honeymoon Cupcakes that Milette and I did on Cupcake Wars uses the best coconut cake I have ever tasted. The recipe is unique because it incorporates cream of coconut (the stuff that you use to make pina coladas), sweetened shredded coconut, and coconut flavoring together for a super robust, tropical flavor. Coconut extracts are not all created equal. The imitation stuff you’ll find in the red-labeled bottles tastes just like tanning lotion smells, and that’s just downright nasty. I like Frontier Coconut Flavor. It’s all-natural, so it tastes natural. You can buy it directly from Frontier or at Whole Foods.

We filled the coconut cupcakes with a homemade mango curd, which is easily made with a thick natural mango juice, like Naked Juice Mighty Mango. Top it all off with a tangy cream cheese icing flavored with orange zest and a piece of fresh pineapple for an overall flavor that will transport you on an island vacation…well, not literally, but you get what I’m saying!

Here’s the recipe. You can also get a sweet, printable version at FoodNetwork.com.

Tropical Honeymoon Cupcakes

©Beth Somers, 2012

Coconut Cupcakes

1 egg + 2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cream of coconut (Cook’s note: Stir cream of coconut before measuring it, as it tends to settle as it sits)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, coarsely ground in food processor
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with baking cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, cream of coconut, water, coconut extract, and vanilla extract until well combined.

In a large bowl, mix flour, ground coconut, sugar, baking powder, and salt with electric mixer on low speed until combined, about 15 seconds. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat on low speed until mixture looks dry and crumbly and the largest chunks of butter are about ¼ in. in diameter, about 2 minutes.

Stop the mixer and add half of the liquid mixture. Beat on low speed until the flour mixture is moistened, about 15 seconds. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With the mixer still running, slowly stream in the remaining liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium speed for an additional 30 seconds.

Fill baking cups 2/3 full with cake batter. Bake 19-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centers of cupcakes comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Mango Filling

2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon corn starch
1-1/4 cups thick mango juice, divided
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Pinch kosher salt

In a small bowl, whisk together  egg yolks, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup of mango juice until smooth. In a saucepan, combine remaining mango juice, sugar, and salt. Cook over medium-high heat until boiling. Slowly stream half of the hot liquid into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Add egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cool before filling cupcakes.

Orange Cream Cheese Icing

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2-3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary. Add orange zest and vanilla extract and beat until fully incorporated.

Makes 13 Cupcakes

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