Saturday, June 21, 2014

Vanilla Cupcakes Part 2 (with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Bacon)

To the bacon lover, this cupcake is just another way to enjoy bacon.  To the non-bacon lover, this is an opportunity and/or a dare to be a little more adventurous!



The maple syrup and bacon combination is really nothing new.  However, having them both in a cupcake is not something you see everyday and can even be a repulsive idea to some. Come to think of it, this cupcake ticks all the boxes of good food - a medley of sweet, tangy, and salty, as well as a mix of different textures. Although I would not dream of eating this on a regular basis, for me, it was something I wanted to try even once.

To make these cupcakes, bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes using the recipe in the previous post or using your own favourite recipe.

To make candied bacon, you will need about 10-12 strips of streaky bacon.

1. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees C.  Line a baking tray with aluminium foil.
2. Place brown sugar on a plate.  Cover each bacon strip with brown sugar.


3.  Transfer bacon strips to your prepared baking tray.


4.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes on one side then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes.  (The baking process might take longer depending on your oven and also on the thickness of your bacon.  What you want is for the bacon to be fairly crispy and golden brown.)


5.  Transfer bacon strips to a tray lined with baking paper and let cool completely.

6.  Chop bacon into small pieces.


To make the maple cream cheese frosting, follow the recipe here, substituting the vanilla extract with one tablespoon maple syrup.  Use to frost your vanilla cupcakes.

I used a large plain round  tip to pipe the frosting.

Top frosted cupcakes with a generous amount of candied bacon.



Now don't be scared to taste...just enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Vanilla Cupcakes Part 1

Vanilla cupcakes are probably my least favourite of all cupcakes. However, in as much as I avoid making them, I believe that as a baker, it is an absolute must for me to have a delicious and foolproof vanilla cupcake recipe in my repertoire.  That and chocolate cupcakes at least.  I have tried many different recipes over the years, mostly from famous bakers and bakeries, but never was I completely happy with any of them.  Mostly, the cupcakes were too buttery and/or oily and were no good for more than a day. And almost always, no matter what recipe I used, after beautifully rising in the oven, the cupcakes sank after baking. So frustrating! Really an enigma how something supposedly so basic can be so hard to perfect.

I don't know why I didn't think of trying this before.  Yesterday, using the red velvet cupcake recipe that always gave me perfect cupcakes, I made a few adjustments and came up with my own vanilla cupcake recipe.  And what do you know, I baked my best batch ever!




The cupcakes were very light and tender (owing to the use of buttermilk), had a fine crumb, with just the right sweetness and vanilla flavour. They rose to a good height and did not sink at all :)))).  Definitely much better than any other vanilla cupcake I have ever made.

Sure, as always, I am happy to share this recipe! Before that though, let me just give you a quick insight on how I came up with the amounts of baking powder and baking soda.  For leavening, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder or 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda is usually necessary for every cup of flour.  I did not use 100% baking powder as the recipe needed even a small amount of baking soda to neutralize the acid from the buttermilk.  With this in mind, I derived the proper amounts using simple math.  Clear enough?

On to the recipe.



VANILLA CUPCAKES (makes about 20)

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Procedure:
1.  Preheat oven to 170 degrees C.  Line muffin trays with baking cups.
2.  In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Set aside.
3.  Using an electric mixer,  starting from a low speed gradually increasing to high, cream butter and sugar together until very light in colour and fluffy.
4.  With mixer turned down to medium-low speed, beat in eggs one at a time.  Add in vanilla extract.
5.  In three additions, alternately add in flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape bowl as needed to ensure that everything is incorporated well.  After the last addition,
beat at high speed for the last time for about 45-60 seconds.
6.  Using a 2" ice cream scoop, fill each baking cup with the cupcake batter.
7.  Bake for about 22-25 minutes.  Transfer each cupcake immediately to a wire rack to cool completely.

How did I finish off these cupcakes?


Looks interesting to you? Wait for Part 2.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Custaroon poppers

HOW TO TRANSFORM CUSTAROONS INTO CUSTAROON POPPERS:

1.  Bake custaroons using this recipe.  Let them cool completely.


2.  Remove the custaroons from their wrappers and in a bowl, mash them up!  Mix well so the coconut is distributed into the mixture.  Chill this briefly if it seems too soft to handle.


3.  Line a tray with baking paper, then drop teaspoonfuls of the mashed custaroons.  


4.  Place good quality (preferably Dutch-processed) cocoa powder into a shallow bowl.  Sift the cocoa powder if it is lumpy.


5.  With a spoon, transfer a mashed custaroon piece to the cocoa powder bowl.


6.  Gently cover with cocoa powder all over.  


7.  Place cocoa powder-covered custaroon in your palm and roll (gently again) until you form a nice ball.  You don't want to mix the cocoa powder into the custaroon.  You want it on the surface only.


8.  Repeat the process with the rest of the pieces.  (One custaroon recipe will make around 45-50 one-inch round poppers.) Keep everything in an airtight container and freeze until very firm, preferably overnight.


9.  Eat and enjoy!!!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Swiss Chocolate Cake


I've been trying to write this post since yesterday but couldn't come up with a decent introduction.  To start with, I don't really know for sure why this particular cake is so-called Swiss chocolate cake.  I tried a google search and strangely found no clear answers. Did it come from Switzerland?  Did it originally contain only chocolate made in Switzerland?  Now it also got me thinking, why is a rolled cake called a Swiss roll anyway? Hmmm.

My friend Mimi reckons the cake is called such because of the white frosting which reminds us of the snowy mountaintops of the Swiss Alps. Probably.  If that is the case then, to be considered a Swiss chocolate cake, the frosting has to be white always?  If someone out there knows, please enlighten me.

Well anyway, I made this cake upon the request of another friend.  It is supposedly one of the bestsellers in Becky's Kitchen in Manila.  The cake is a two-layered chocolate chiffon filled with mocha buttercream and toffee crunch pieces and frosted with marshmallow icing. Yes, it is quite labour-intensive.  Having to make four different components is enough to turn one off.  The bright side is that at least two of these components can be made ahead of time so you don't actually have to stress so much all in one day.


I made this cake twice already and my family literally devoured both cakes.  It looks really sweet but is actually not.  The cake is very light and so very easy to eat.


I've divided the recipe into four parts.  Parts I and II can be made ahead of time.  The mocha butter icing (Part III) can actually be made in advance as well but I just find it better to use it fresh rather than having to soften and beat it again before using.

SWISS CHOCOLATE CAKE (makes a two-layered 8" round cake)

I.  CHOCOLATE CHIFFON CAKE - Make one using the chocolate chiffon cake recipe here.  Wrap cake well in cling film then refrigerate or freeze until ready to assemble.

II.  TOFFEE CRUNCH - This recipe will yield more than enough for this cake.  However, I recommend that you do the full recipe because it is a little tricky to accurately measure temperature with a candy thermometer when it's in a smaller amount.  I tried halving it and my toffee crunch didn't turn out as good as when I made the full recipe.  I don't think you will have a problem finishing all the extra anyway!

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

1. Line a small baking tray with baking paper.
2. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Bring to a boil. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. Cook over medium heat to just below the hard-crack stage (310 deg F or 155 deg C).
3. Remove from heat. Sprinkle the baking soda evenly over sugar syrup. Whisk just until combined. Pour immediately onto the prepared baking sheet. Do not spread. Let stand until cool and hard, about 30 minutes.


4. Crack with a knife and break into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces.  Keep in a ziplock bag or in an airtight container.


III.  MOCHA BUTTER ICING - You can actually make whatever coffee-flavoured buttercream you want but I just find this the simplest. Follow the procedure for the old-fashioned butter icing here but use these ingredients instead:

150 grams unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder **

**dissolve with sugar in evaporated milk



IV.  MARSHMALLOW FROSTING or SEVEN MINUTE FROSTING - You can either use this recipe or a Boiled Icing recipe (one with sugar syrup, like Italian meringue), whichever you are more comfortable with.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
1/3 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggwhites
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Place sugar, cream of tartar or corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in a large heatproof bowl.  Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. Set the bowl over (but not touching) boiling water in a saucepan. (Keep the water boiling at medium heat.)  Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes.  Mixture should become glossy and hold stiff peaks. Remove from heat then beat in vanilla.  Use immediately.

See you those stiff peaks?

To assemble cake:

Make the mocha butter icing if you haven't done so already.

Cut your cake horizontally in half. Invert top layer onto your cake board.  Fill a piping bag with some mocha butter icing then pipe a dam around the cake edge.  Spread more mocha butter icing in the space inside the dam.


Fill the center neatly with toffee crunch pieces.


Cover the center with the rest of the mocha butter icing.


Top with the other cake layer, cut side down.  Set cake aside while you make your marshmallow frosting.

Cover the whole cake with marshmallow frosting.  If you want to make the swirl patterns, start at the side first.  Drag your offset spatula from bottom going up.  To do the top, drag the offset spatula from outer edge to center in a curve.

To slice the cake, you need to use a serrated knife and do a sawing motion as you slice in order to cut through the toffee crunch in the center.

That's it!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Avocado cake

When I mention avocado, would you think of it as sweet or savoury?  Would you crave for a dessert or a salad?

My fondest memories of avocado was that of my mother mashing them and mixing them with milk and sugar. She would freeze the mixture and on Sundays, that was our special after lunch dessert - homemade avocado ice cream.  That was the one and only way I knew how to eat that fruit as a child.  

Avocado in cake?  Quite unique, isn't it?  I think that's exactly the reason why this cake became a hit in Manila - it's because it's a flavour you wouldn't really imagine would work. 



The hero of this cake is actually the buttercream.  All the avocado goodness is in it.  I would have wanted to put avocado in the cake itself, but being a delicate chiffon, I observed that mixing in the fruit puree dramatically changes the cake's texture.  I tried many, many times, believe me!  Adding in a puree essentially introduces another liquid to the batter and being a fruit, it also adds acidity.  Mixing in only a small amount of avocado so as not to affect the cake balance does not actually do anything to add flavour.  On the other hand, mixing in a considerable amount to add flavour greatly affects the texture. This, despite adjusting the amounts of the other liquid ingredients.  So in saying that, I decided to put all the avocado in the buttercream.  Trust me, you will taste avocado with your first bite.

A cake of this size currently costs nearly P700 pesos in Manila so I would say, it's really worth making it yourself.  Here in Australia, avocado prices fluctuate by the week.  One week it's affordable, the next week, the price doubles.  Pistachios are quite expensive too.  Overall, this cake is not cheap to buy or make! Having said that though, I would choose homemade anytime.


AVOCADO CAKE 

For the chiffon:

{A}
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons white sugar

{B}
¼ cup corn/canola oil
4 egg yolks, from extra large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup water
about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp liquid green food colouring (add only enough to make the mixture greenish) *

*If using gel paste, you probably need only a drop.

{C}
4 eggwhites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

{D}
6 tablespoons white sugar

Procedure:
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
2. In a large bowl, combine {A} well. Add in {B}. Beat with electric mixer or by hand until smooth and well blended.
3. In a separate bowl, beat {C} on high speed until frothy. Gradually add in the sugar {D} and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Gradually and gently fold in egg whites into egg yolk mixture. Pour batter into an ungreased 8” round, 3” high pan.
4. Bake for about 50 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Invert pan into wire rack immediately and cool completely.
5. To release cake from pan, carefully run a thin knife around sides of pan and invert.  Wrap well with cling film and refrigerate or freeze until ready to assemble.

For the avocado Swiss meringue buttercream:

4 eggwhites
1 cup granulated white sugar
300 g unsalted butter, very soft
a pinch of salt
puree of 1 ripe avocado mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice (about 120 grams)

In a large, clean heatproof bowl, combine the eggwhites and sugar. Set the bowl over (but not touching) simmering water in a saucepan and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is very warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the saucepan. 

Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the eggwhite mixture until it is fluffy, cooled to room temperature, and holds stiff peaks.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the salt and the butter, a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. If the frosting appears to separate or is very liquid after all the butter has been added, continue to beat on high speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the avocado puree gradually and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

To assemble cake:

**You will also need about 70 grams coarsely chopped shelled pistachios for topping.

Cut your cake horizontally in half. Invert top layer onto your cake board. Spread a layer of buttercream over your cake half, then top with other cake layer, cut side down. Cover the whole cake with more buttercream. If desired, use a cake comb on the cake sides.  Pipe out a reverse 'S' border around the cake top and a shell border on the bottom.  Top with pistachios.


My cake is more yellowish than light green as I only put a few drops of green liquid food colouring.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Flower pot cakes

I'm really sorry I didn't get to greet you mums out there on Mother's day.  I hope you all had a wonderful day and that you were truly spoiled by your loved ones! 

What extraordinary thing did your kids do for you? It's usually the girl(s) in the family who's the thoughful one, isn't it?  With boys, what can you really expect? My sons greeted me as soon as they woke up in the morning then off they went about their own business for the rest of the day.  My daughter, on the other hand, really went all out to make the day special for me.  She bought me flowers and sour lollies (which I love).  And she cooked for the family from breakfast till dinner!  She couldn't get the older boys to do anything but managed to "coerce" her (not so) little brother to somehow help her.

As for me, I made some flower pot cakes for a few of my mum friends.



I've been thinking about buying those silicone flower pots I've been seeing online lately but they seem to only come from the UK or US and are very, very expensive.  So instead, I went to our local home improvement store and bought real terracotta flower pots!  I bought twelve 9cm pots for only 74 cents each!

After cleaning with soap and hot water, I seasoned the pots by greasing each inside and out with oil, and then I put them in a 190 deg C oven for 30 minutes.  When they cooled, I repeated the process one more time. I read that seasoning seals the pores in the pot, prevents future cracking and somehow creates a non-stick surface for the pots as well.

Before baking, I greased and floured the pots first.  Then I filled them about 3/4 full with my chocolate cake batter. I baked the cakes at 180 deg C for about 40 minutes.  One cake was about 2 1/2 times bigger than a standard cupcake.


After they had cooled, I tapped the cakes out of the pots.  They cooked beautifully and came out really easily.  I trimmed the tops so I would have a level surface to put my frosting on, after which I placed them back in their pot.



I covered each cake top with chocolate frosting just enough to have a flat surface to pipe my flowers on.  I whipped up a batch of  Swiss meringue buttercream, made small portions of different colours, and then I was ready for the fun part!

First flower: chrysanthemum.  Used tip #81 for the petals, tip #3 for the center and tip #352 for the leaves.


Second flower: sunflower. Used tip#352 for both petals and leaves, tip#4 for the center.


Third flower: hydrangeas.  Used tip#103 for the petals, tip#3 for the dots, tip#352 for the leaves.


And lastly, roses. Used tip#104 for the petals, tip#352 for the leaves.


Here they are all together. Gorgeous, aren't they?


Sadly, I gave them all away!  I didn't leave even one for myself.

But that's ok.  I had a lot of fun and I know I made some friends pretty happy :).



PS.  I have a new recipe to share! It is for a really unique kind of cake. I'm just super busy till the end of this week but will do my best to do so really soon. Watch this space!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Custaroons

I often hear my daughter complaining about Math. While doing homework on quadratic equations, for instance, she would ask, "What do we need this for in real life?????"  It is hard to explain to her where and how she will actually use that knowledge in the future but what I do tell her is that studying Math doesn't only involve doing formulas and equations. At the very least, it sharpens your mind but more importantly, it teaches you virtues like patience and perseverance.

Even to this day, I find that what I learned in Math at school is a big part of my existence.  I may sound like a complete nerd but this is how I truly come up with cake recipes and even sewing patterns.  I see something I like to recreate, I dissect it in my mind, I analyze, I identify the variables and I figure out their proper values. In the end, when it all balances out and the equations are complete, I have something I am happy with.

What is my point actually?  Well, I've been asked by a few people to experiment on this little treat called the 'custaroons'. (I am pretty sure many of you who do not live in Manila, are not familiar with this. If you are interested, just google it and you will find tons of blog posts and rave reviews about it.)  To make something I have not seen or tasted is absolutely no joke. I am not just referring to the sickening portion of having to do all the taste-tasting as I had mentioned in my previous post. The whole process of experimentation comes with a lot of detective-like work which basically means scouring the internet for information and clues, staring at photos upon photos, and even asking people who've actually tasted the thing for any possible input.

For the custaroons, the key information I found is that it was actually an accidental discovery by its maker. She was initially intending to bake coconut macaroons but made a mistake with an ingredient (or ingredients) which resulted in a different but pleasant outcome.  That information alone narrowed down my research greatly.  Find a suitable coconut macaroon recipe then adjust it to get the desired result.

Was it easy? Certainly not. It wasn't cheap either.  BUT I didn't want to be defeated by something so simple as a custard and macaroon hybrid!  So I was patient and I persevered.

Yes, I have a recipe.  And yes, I can confidently say I can give the custaroon maker a run for her money. So can you.








CUSTAROON (makes 10-12 cupcake-sized pieces)

Ingredients:

1 can (395g) sweetened condensed milk
2 whole eggs
4 eggyolks *
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 - 2/3 cup fine dessicated coconut **

* If you want a whole egg flan, replace the 4 eggyolks with 2 whole eggs for a total of 4 in the recipe.  The flan will be even firmer, a bit more eggy in taste and a little less yellow in colour but still great.

** Results may vary depending on the kind and quality of the dessicated coconut you will use.  If you want a thicker macaroon layer than seen in the photos above, use 2/3 cup.

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 160 deg C (325 deg F). If you have a fan-forced oven, it may be best to turn off the fan or you can lower the temperature to 150 deg C.  As all ovens behave differently, you may have to test out what will work best for you.  Baked custaroons should show no or very minimal browning.

Line a 12-cup muffin pan with baking cups.

In a bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly.  As mixture is quite thin, transferring it to a jug with a spout will make pouring much easier.

Fill each baking cup to about 3/4 full.  Mix the batter with a spoon in between pouring to ensure a more or less even distribution of the coconut for each custaroon.

Position your muffin pan on top of a larger baking tray. Place in the oven then carefully add enough boiling water to reach at least halfway up the side of the muffin pan.

Bake custaroons for about 35 - 45 minutes.  I suggest you check the custaroons at 30 minutes.  Insert a toothpick into the center of a custaroon.  If it comes out clean, then it is already cooked.  If it does not, give it another 5 minutes then check again.

Cool slightly then remove from pan.

THE TEXTURE OF THE CUSTAROONS IMPROVE OVER TIME.  When newly-baked, the top layer is a little crusty and the custard just a tad soft.  If you try to remove it from the paper right away, some of it will stay stuck to the paper.  However, after several hours of cooling (next day is even better!), the macaroon layer will be more moist and chewy and the custard will be firmer. You will also be able to peel off the paper cleanly. So be patient and wait.


As always, I hope you get to enjoy this recipe!  I will never know if you don't bother to tell me, so please leave a kind comment below if you ever get the chance to try it.  It will make my day and inspire me to work even harder :).

Have a great week!