baking

Good Vanilla Hunting

Although I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional baker, I’m a relatively experienced one. I understand how to not overmix, how to check for doneness, and how to fold in the cheese. And while I accept that there are some things I will likely never have the inclination to attempt (croquembouche, anyone?), my Moby Dick white whale continues to be vanilla cupcakes.

It should be such a simple thing, right? But nearly every recipe I’ve tried has left me underwhelmed: they’re either dense, or dry, or some combination of the two. Maybe it’s because my chocolate cupcakes are fail-proof and so moist-moist-moist that vanilla pales (and fails) by comparison, but it still drives me nuts. My go-to cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, has a vanilla recipe that’s really similar to the chocolate, but with two tablespoons of cornstarch (and no cocoa, obviously). Was that what made it not-perfect? I’ve tried varieties that call for cake flour rather than all-purpose, to no avail. (I’ve also since read tips that recommend adding cornstarch to your A.P. if cake flour is unavailable, which really makes me think there’s a connection there somehow.)

Recently I came across this recipe, and was hopeful. Straight-up all-purpose flour, no separating of eggs (not that I inherently dislike separating eggs, but anything that calls for just the yolk or just the white invariably leads to wasting the unwanted part, unless you have an excellent recipe-stacking strategy to use up those leftover yolks or whites, which I do not), nothing funny.

And…they weren’t bad.

They came out a little browner around the edges than I would have liked, but all things considered…not bad. The batter was thicker than pretty much all of my other scratch recipes, and I think I overfilled them a bit because of this, which in turn necessitated baking them a minute or two longer than might otherwise be prudent. Whether because of bake time or simple batter composition, they were just a wee bit on the dry side, too. I could see making them again, but filling the cups less full – and mayyyybe adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the batter for moisture?

I topped them with a root beer buttercream icing, which paired so perfectly with the vanilla cake, like having a root beer float. Oh, and because you’ve probably noticed the liners by now…

Yep, those are absolutely Christmas liners. Everyone’s socially distancing – who was going to see these anyway? But look how pretty they are!

After my underwhelming success with vanilla, I went back to my old standby – chocolate – for a Father’s Day treat. There was pretty much no doubt in my mind that they had to be topped with peanut butter frosting.

To add a bit of texture and interest, I put a few Reese’s Pieces in a baggie and smashed them with a rolling pin before sprinkling the aftermath on top of the frosting.

This is the best combination…

They’re practically moist enough for themselves and the vanilla cupcakes, if cupcakes worked that way.

Light and moist and perfect, no crumbling at all.

Has anyone had tremendous success with light, moist vanilla cupcakes? Or am I better off box-mixing it?

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

How do you solve a problem like vanilla?

How do you stop the cake from being dry?*

*In my case, I used a schmancy boxed cupcake mix (schmancy in the sense that it cost nearly five bucks, and came with some prepackaged frosting that I ultimately threw away, while the usual Betty or Duncan extravaganza will set you back about $1.29 on sale and yields twice as many cupcakes) and kitbashed it into something much more party-worthy.

The birthday boy in question will always choose vanilla over chocolate, and although I don’t have issues with vanilla per se, I don’t have much luck baking it at home. Even the vanilla recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, whose chocolate cupcakes have garnered rapturous eye-rolling, gives me a finished product that is dense and drier that just about anything else I’ve made. Vanilla might be my new red velvet: vegan or not, that perfect version eludes me. Even the Minion cupcakes I made using VCTOTW’s recipe a couple of years ago were…okay, but not that light, melt-in-your-mouth moist WOW that the chocolate ones are. With that in mind, I didn’t feel exceptionally guilty starting with a mix, and felt even better when Alton Brown said that it’s hard for home bakers to compete with the various commercial ingredients in the boxed mix. I decided this was going to be a gummi bear cake, after seeing one in a magazine and deciding I wanted to try it.

My local Bulk Barn doesn’t carry straight-up quins anymore that aren’t (when I was looking) Halloween or (right about now) Christmas-themed, so I picked up these pastel starts to Funfetti the heck out of the cake.

They do, however, carry the best gummi bears ever. Despite the zoom in the photo, these guys are mini, and come in 11 different flavours. I’m kind of a sucker for proper ordering of colours, so…

Instead of cupcakes, I poured my batter into two six-inch pans. During baking, these things developed a bit of a crazy-high dome, and while leveling your cake before assembling it is the traditional method of handling this kind of baking topography, mine didn’t rise terribly high when baking and completely eliminating the domes would have left me with ridiculously thin layers. I spread a thick layer of almond-flavoured buttercream on the bottom layer, and…

…built up the edge using gummi bears. You won’t find that trick at fine French baking schools, kids. I then set my second layer, dome-down, on top of it, frosted the whole shebang, and added rows upon rainbow-ordered rows of gummi bears.

I staggered the colours in each row, but make no mistake: the order never changes. It was a bit fiddly positioning them in four iterations of twenty-two reasonably even intervals, but that’s the kind of weirdo I am. My original plan was to tint part of my buttercream a different colour and write a message of birthday goodwill on top, but the teeny letters were too cute to pass up. (It doesn’t hurt that they match the aesthetic pretty much perfectly and made that part so much easier and faster.)

You can see a slight fault in the icing in what I’ve come to think of affectionately as the “dome crack”, but it held up really well and the gummi bears between the layers were a fun surprise.

The birthday boy loved his highly customized (*snerk*) dessert, and now I have almost another year to crack the secret to homemade.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

Rainbow Rah-Rah (Lisa Frank would be proud)

At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady, Saturday was my cat’s birthday.  I’m not the best cat-mom when it comes to remembering stuff like that; in the eight years that I’ve had her, I think I’ve only remembered once before this.  But hey, my bad parenting/sieve-like memory doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have a fabulous celebratory cake, right?  The stars were aligned: it was a long weekend and I had icing sugar in the house.  And truthfully, I had been looking for an excuse to do up something like this, and what better reason than a birthday?

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Say, that looks tall.  How many layers did you say it was, again?

I didn’t, but: six.

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Proof that “vegan” ≠ “healthy”.  I used the basic vanilla cupcake recipe from VCTOTW, doubled it, and divided it amongst six bowls to tint each one separately.  You definitely don’t want to attempt this if you have a serious aversion to artificial colours – but my theory is, as long as the majority of my diet isn’t neon-coloured, a piece of cake now and then isn’t going to kill me.  I made a huge batch of the fluffy buttercream frosting recipe from the same book, and barely had enough to finish the cake.  Even though each layer is only 6″ across, it still used a lot!

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The birthday girl was somewhat intrigued by this candy-coloured confection, but quickly lost interest and resumed the nap from which she had been so rudely awakened.  Hey, more for me!

I’m not sure if I’d try this again.  It’s not difficult, just a bit fiddly, and is a bear to store as none of my cake-takers are tall enough to house it.  But I can cross “rainbow layer cake” off my baking bucket list.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking, Cross-stitch and Embroidery, Other Crafts

Pink cake and orange cat

Hello there!

My mom had her birthday at the end of January, but due to work scheduling, I wound up having to make her cake the weekend before.  I saw the basic idea in an old issue of Woman’s World, which is a magazine that I would generally never, ever buy – except that this issue had featured adorable Hello Kitty cupcakes on the front cover, and I had been unable to resist it.  They also had a layer-cake version of the cupcakes inside, but their recipe used something like four egg whites in the batter and another two in the icing, with no mention of what to do with the yolks, so I quickly dispensed with that idea and instead used my trusty vanilla cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as well as the fluffy buttercream icing from the same.  I also thought I might leave the kawaii characters off the cake, and maybe give it a more mature vibe.  Because nothing says “mature” like pink cake, right?

Ombre Cake 1

I, of course, did not think to get a picture of it while it was intact and free from candle holes.

Ombre Cake 2

Holy ombre, Batman!  I used varying ratios of gel food colours to get the different shades, and they worked like a charm.

Ombre Cake 3

That’s a chocolate-cream cheese filling between layers.  Since the cake itself is just vanilla and not overly sweet, it provided a nice balance and helped keep it moist for the next few days until we could get it all eaten.

She had to wait a couple more days to get the rest of her birthday goodies.  I always try to make a handmade card of some sort:

Surprised Hedgehog

And when I first saw this design on Urban Threads, I knew it had to be made into a t-shirt:

Meow Shirt

I did him in orange to look like her big ol’ furbaby.  He’s painted on – not embroidered – and I think the blue really makes him pop!

Thanks for looking – have a wonderful weekend!

baking

Flowers for…spring?

Sure…”spring”.  There are still snowdrifts up to my head in some places, but hey, I firmly believe that one day it will melt.  Until that happens, I’ll have to content myself with a garden of cupcake roses.

Cupcake Roses

These are the vanilla cupcakes from (of course) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and I jazzed up vanilla buttercream icing by adding a package of cherry Kool-Aid to the mix.  Fun fact: it’s more tart than you might expect, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  It keeps the finished product from being too sweet.  And instead of my usual outside-in piping, ending in a peak of frosting in the centre, I piped from the inside out, creating a vaguely rose-y look.

It almost makes me forget about the snow…