It’s one of those terribly “basic” things to admit, but my heart beats a little faster when pumpkin spice latte season rolls around (it must be all that extra caffeine).  In my defense, my infatuation is strictly with the latte, and not the hundreds of other pumpkin spice-inspired items available.  I’ve carefully researched the coffee options, so you don’t have to.  From worst to best:

4. McDonald’s Caramel Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Their pumpkin spice latte used to be good, but the current iteration is far too sweet.  Add to that the general chaos and lousy service, and this is a hard pass.

3. Starbucks.  I think this might have been the original one, but it’s also really sweet and something else – I almost want to use the word “sludgy”, which is something your coffee should never, ever be.

2. Tim Horton’s.  This is saying something.  I’m not a fan of Tim’s overall, but their allegedly handcrafted latte is not wretched.  It doesn’t have a terribly strong pumpkin or spicy flavour, but it’s not gag-inducingly sweet, either.  If you want something warm, creamy, and soothing, this will take the chill off.  (Bonus: The Pumpkin Spice Iced Capp is surprisingly decent, if you can get past the idea of a cold pumpkin drink.  Just stay away from the whipped topping; that stuff could probably survive a nuclear bomb.)

1. Second Cup.  The ne plus ultra of pumpkin spice lattes.  I only wish there were more locations so that I didn’t have to brave the mall every time I want a fix.  These are flavourful and not too sweet, and if you haven’t tried one, you must.  You’ll never drink Starbucks again.

Ahem.  Given that kind of attention to these drinks, it’s probably not surprising that the recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes from the Brown Eyed Baker called to me.  I cheated just a little bit and used my pumpkin cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as the base, only with the coffee and spices recommended by the BEB.

I used instant coffee instead of instant espresso powder because that’s what I had on hand.  I also used a bit more than the 4 1/2 teaspoons called for, because it’s not as strong as the espresso.  And although you certainly can dissolve 7 or so teaspoons of instant coffee in 1/4 cup of milk, you certainly should not taste it unless you want to never touch coffee again.  Bleh.  Luckily, by the time it’s mixed in with all the other ingredients, it just lends a nice coffee-ish flavour to the cupcakes without overpowering them.

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I topped them with the cream cheese whipped cream as suggested in the recipe, and oh: you can’t go wrong with that stuff.  It’s light and fluffy, but doesn’t deflate if it’s out of the fridge for longer than a few minutes.  I’ve probably mentioned this before, but if you have leftover whipped cream, it’s also excellent on toast or gingerbread, or eaten straight out of the container with a spoon.  I don’t judge.  Some caramel sauce and Saigon cinnamon sprinkled on top sealed the deal.

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They also release really nicely from their liners and stay moist.  Dry cupcakes are the worst!

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I made these over Thanksgiving weekend, and although I associate with a band of cookie fans, I have never seen a batch of cupcakes disappear so quickly.  This is one recipe that stays in the roster for next year – or, you know, next weekend. 🙂

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

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They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

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And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

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This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

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(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

 

I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.”  However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.

Well, then.

I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar.  It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.

I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla.  Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring.  Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.

(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch.  Shocking, I know!  Schools used to allow peanut products on their property.  We were made of tougher stuff then.)

While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!

Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker.  It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.

What’s that?  Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?

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Cue the striptease music…

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Lemon Cupcakes 3

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The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days.  And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise).  I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

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Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

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(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂

I haven’t done a ton of baking lately (including a “gee-but-I-really-wanted-to” Halloween treat), fixated as I have been on Christmas crafting, but a dear friend celebrated his birthday last week and I thought it was time to get off my heinie and get baking!  This is somebody who, if you ask him, will request vanilla over chocolate every (every, every) time – and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s been done.  There’s just not a lot you can do with that.  I still didn’t want to do the rather obvious chocolate option, however, so I put my thinking cap on.  And, inspired by the best! freaking! donut! I have ever eaten, I came up with…drumroll….root beer float cupcakes.

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In a nod to his usual preference, I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and substituted in root beer extract instead of vanilla.  Shocking, right?  I had initially planned on a vanilla buttercream frosting to mimic the ice cream found in a float, but I was worried the root beer flavour wouldn’t carry through, so that is root beer buttercream gracing those beauties.

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…because he is!

Waiting for a wish:

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De-papered and -candled, and ready to eat:

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I like that these are kind of like stealth cupcakes…to the casual observer, they could almost pass for an unassuming vanilla – they’re only oh-so-slightly less white – but pack a flavour wallop when you bite in!  In fact, the birthday boy didn’t even question what they were when I first dished one up.  It wasn’t until he was about halfway through that he looked up and asked, “What is this?  It tastes almost fizzy!”  I don’t know about fizzy, but like a favourite soda?  Absolutely!

Thanks for looking!

Did everybody have a great Mother’s Day?  It took me longer than usual this year to come up with a cohesive gift/meal plan, but luckily that all fell into place within the last week or so.

My original intention had been to make the Tiramisu Pancakes from Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, but then I saw the IHOP commercial touting their new Cupcake Pancakes and Red Velvet Crepes, and darn it, I was moved.  The nearest location to me that doesn’t require a passport still requires an overnight bag, so it was time to take matters into my own hands:

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Behold: Confetti Pancakes, courtesy of the plain pancake recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance plus a handful of sprinkles thrown into the batter.  (Note that “plain” is a bit of a misnomer; the batter has cinnamon and maple syrup and vanilla in it for flavour before my own addition, and is wickedly delicious.)  And yes, that’s blueberry syrup drizzled on top.

My Birthday Cake Theory extends to Mother’s Day as well, so I whipped up a batch of chocolate cupcakes from VCTOTW last night and decorated them this morning.  Now, as I’ve gotten older and less cute, I’ve been replaced by a furry, four-legged little sibling, and he provided me with decoration-inspiration.

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It’s like looking into a decorating gel-covered mirror.

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He’s really quite impressed by this homage.

Also:

Thanks for looking!

Because it’s 2016

April 21, 2016

I should preface this by saying that back before the federal election last October, I had had visions of baking cupcakes inspired by each of the three major parties, and holding an informal “election” at work.  Life and stuff got in the way, and it never happened.  (That’s okay; I think this was fueled primarily by a latent desire of mine to make Harvey Wallbanger cupcakes, dubious motivation at best.)  Fast-forward six months, and with the victor clearly apparent, I had my work cut by 2/3.  Score one for procrastination!

Some time ago, I had tried the Black Velvet Cupcake recipe in Hannah Kaminsky’s Vegan Desserts.  It was a neat idea, using blackberry puree for colour and flavour not normally found in pedestrian red velvet recipes, but didn’t work so well in its execution.  The blackberries commercially available in grocery stores taste like absolutely nothing, yielding black-ish, flavourless cakes.

For whatever reason, a thought had been brewing for the past few weeks: why not substitute raspberries for the blackberries, and have an all-natural red velvet without all the Red #40?

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Clearly, Red #40 exists for a reason, because these don’t quite rock the vivid crimson I was hoping for.  However (and this is a big however), the raspberry puree pairs wonderfully with the hint of cocoa for a chocolate-raspberry dessert that doesn’t taste like sugary Torani syrup.

It just goes to show: Better is always possible.

I’m still alive – and still baking – but really, there are only so many times one can photograph and blog about chocolate cupcakes (which get made more often than not, as they appear to be a perennial favourite).  I needed to break out of my routine!

When I first saw the recipe for Spumoni Cake in Kris Holechek’s Have Your Cake and Vegan, Too!, I was immediately drawn to it.  Spumoni is one of those things…just mmmm…I don’t crave it that often, but there is nothing quite like it, and substitutes (such as plain chocolate) will not be accepted.  I had dragged my heels in making it, though, because although I don’t mind making full-blown cakes for birthdays and other occasions, I find that cakes beget terrible portion control.  Say what?

See, anyone who’s baked a cake or even whipped up a Duncan Hines mix knows that a standard two 8-inch layer cake uses 24 cupcakes’ worth of batter.  Not a problem, except truthfully, when’s the last time you got 24 servings out of a cake like that?  Unless you’re feeding the masses or are hyper-heath conscious, no one cuts slices that thin.

The really obvious solution was to halve the recipe and turn it into cupcakes.  Tah-dah!

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The original recipe makes a 9-by-13 sheet cake, and instructs the baker to randomly drop blobs of all three batters, then marble.  Because I was working small-scale, I contented myself with layering a spoonful of each in the cup, knowing full well that they’ll heave and bake up in random patterns.  See?

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I did alter the recipe a bit: instead of puréeing cherries for the pink batter, I diced up a few maraschino cherries, and added a bit of raspberry-flavoured Torani syrup for flavour and colour.  I added the syrup to the frosting, too, for a chocolate-raspberry topper that helps bring out flavours in the cake.

When I fed these to my test group, I was told the flavours “kind of play together – it’s hard to pick out each individual flavour without tasting each part separately”.  Hmmm…just like the ice cream!

Thanks for looking!

Last week, I decided that I hadn’t baked cupcakes in a while, and it was high time to change that.  And just in case I needed a reason, it was my cat’s birthday – according to the official Humane Society paperwork, which may or may not be all that accurate.

In any case, I brought out my trusty chocolate cake recipe from VCTOTW, and gave then a kitty-centric decorating job, since I had some fondant left over from my dad’s birthday cake.  As one of my professional-baker friends noted, fondant lasts practically forever, and with a little kneading is good as new.  Suddenly, buying a whole box of the stuff for a few little cutouts doesn’t sting so much.

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That’s blue raspberry frosting, by the way.  I can’t resist anything blue raspberry.  And, as my mother noticed, if you turn the cupcake 90° to the left (or your head 90° to the right), the cat turns into a bunny of sorts, like one of those bizarre optical illusions.

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The birthday girl was mildly intrigued, until she determined they were non-fishy in nature.  “Thanks a lot, Ma.”

(Re: Subject Line – I think I might have just dated myself…)

A month or so ago, my accounting instructor was explaining the importance of determining cost of goods sold, using one of three main costing methods.  Our cost, she reminded us, doesn’t remain constant, and used limes as an example.  Normally inexpensive, the price has skyrocketed recently due to a combination of poor growing weather in Mexico and the interference of drug cartels.  “So you might want to skip the margaritas this weekend,” she concluded, “since the cost will be passed along to the consumer.”  I didn’t question what she was saying at the time – produce really was an excellent example, because there’s always something to get in the way – but a few days later I read the same thing in the newspaper.  The newspaper article, however, added that many restaurants are pushing other varieties of margaritas, such as peach or strawberry.

And that’s when it hit me: I’m not likely to head to the bar for a pitcher of margaritas, but darn it, what about my cupcakes?

So last weekend, instead of in between studying really hard for my accounting final, I tweaked my margarita cupcake recipe to come up with fuzzy navel cupcakes.

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This is basically the Mucho Margarita Cupcakes recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but I used peach schnapps instead of tequila, omitted the lime zest and juice, and added a box of peach Jell-o for flavour.  (If you want to keep this vegan, and live somewhere with better animal-free options available, I believe that Simply Delish makes a peach “jel”.  I do not, so I used the rather more pedestrian option available to me.)  I made a simple orange-vanilla buttercream, and topped each one off with a Fuzzy Peach candy.  One of my testers claimed he liked these better than the original, limey-salty version.

If these make me rich, my instructor is absolutely getting a cut of the profits. 😉