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Thursday, November 25, 2010

For the love of cheesecake!

Happy Thanksgiving!

We were invited to Victor's cousin's house for dinner. We are very fortunate that they invited us because our oven is still not fixed! We had volunteered to bring some dessert and since the tabletop convection oven can handle cupcakes, I made some mini cheesecakes. My mom got this recipe from my aunt who made these for many a family gathering. They are always popular not matter what the event...A few things I have learned over the years about this recipe:
  • Do not substitute low fat cream cheese for regular cream cheese. The texture is not the same.
  • Try to use foil cupcake liners if you have them as the cake is really moist and bleeds through the paper liners (but if you only have paper, bake them and then add a second liner before serving).
  • In my opinion, topping with cherry pie filling is the most eye catching and compliments the cakes perfectly.
3- 8 oz packages of cream cheese (1 1/2 cups) softened
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Jelly/Jam or pie filling of your choice

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Line cupcake tin with liners.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese while gradually adding sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth. Pour into the cupcake liners.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

While cakes are cooking, mix together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla for the topping.

After the cakes are done, let them sit in the cupcake tin until they sink in the center (approx. 5 minutes). Add 1 tsp sour cream mixture and 1 tsp of jelly or pie filling to top.

Bake for 5 minutes more.

After cakes are cool, store in refridgerator until serving time.
Make 24 mini cakes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chocolatey goodness with a coconut center..

This interesting recipe was found on That's My Home. Like the Chocolate Guinness cupcake listed below, this one also had no butter (or eggs for that matter) in the chocolate cake part of the cupcake. The filling was simply cream cheese, egg and coconut. I am sure if you took a phone call or left the house you could accidentally make these cupcakes dry...but it would be pretty hard.

In regards to the baking time: A lot of times, I cut a few minutes off of a recipe's baking time to make sure I don't dry the cake out. For this recipe, the coconut filling seems to take the full 25 minutes to really become set. The middle of the cakes collapsed on any of the ones I took out of the oven before 25 minutes.

I served them with a classic confectioners' sugar frosting (same recipe as the Molasses Buttercream listed with the Chocolate Guinness Cupcake, just without the molasses).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Coconut Filling
8 oz (1 package) of cream cheese softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Chocolate Batter:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil (I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil but original recipe called for vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon white vinegar (I used Trader Joe's White Balsamic Vinegar)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin with liners.

For the filling: Beat together cream cheese and sugar.
When smooth, beat in egg.
Stir in coconut and set aside.

For the chocolate batter: Stir together flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
Add water, oil, white vinegar and vanilla. (I used an electric beater...the recipe didn't specify...)

Fill cupcake liners about 1/3 of the way with chocolate batter. Top with a spoonful of coconut filling (see top photo) and then cover filling with a little more chocolate batter.

Bake 25 minutes or until done.

Makin' lemonade out of lemons

....or cake balls out of cupcakes if you want to be literal.

A few of my chocolate coconut cupcakes were not perfect....shocking, I know. Not one to waste food, I mashed up the imperfect cakes, mixed the cake crumbs with some frosting and threw the concoction in the freezer. About an hour later, I took the mess out and rolled it into 1 inch balls...back into the freezer for about another hour.

I melted/tempered some Scharffen Berger dark chocolate and then dipped the cake balls into the chocolate. Since the balls were in the freezer, the chocolate hardened up almost immediately.

While tasty, these were a little wetter on the inside than I had intended. I think will use a little less frosting in the ball mixture next time....but still a better thing to do with your less than stellar cupcakes than trashing them!

Guinness and Grandma's

Over the course of cupcake experimentation these past few weeks, it become clear that cupcakes made with a butter base have a greater chance of becoming dry in my table top convection oven. In a search for a butter-less cupcake, this recipe popped up on Chow. The author had topped the cupcake with a cream cheese frosting, but I felt a molasses buttercream would be a better pairing.

Be warned: Although Chow states this will make 24 cupcakes, this recipe made over average sized 30 cupcakes for me. The cake itself is not overly sweet, so it's o.k. to be generous with the frosting (which means you may want to make at least 1 1/2 batches of the frosting recipe below).

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
1 - 12 oz Guinness Stout
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil (CHOW listed vegetable oil, but I used extra virgin olive oil)
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Mix and sift the dry ingredients together (cocoa, sugar, flour and baking soda) and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine Guinness, milk, oil, and vanilla.
  • Beat in one egg at a time.
  • Mix in sour cream.
  • Gradually mix dry mixture into the wet mixture.
  • Pour into lined or greased cupcake tin.
  • Bake for 25 minutes (I actually cut the baking time down to 20-22 minutes for my little convection oven) or until cake tester comes out with a few crumbs.
  • Cool on baking rack.
Molasses Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
4 cups (or more if you want a thicker frosting) confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk, room temp
1 tablespoon Grandma's Dark Molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes or so.
  • Add 1 cup of sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar and half the milk. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar, remaining milk and the molasses. Beat until smooth and creamy.
  • Add 1 more cup of sugar and the vanilla. Beat on high until light and creamy, about 5 minutes.
  • If frosting is too soft, gradually add more sugar until desired consistency is achieved.

Left over frosting can be stored in the fridge typically for up to 2 weeks (or until the expiration date on your milk!!)

That's a whole lotta cake my friend...

The Event
Victor and I took part in Cupcake Camp LA yesterday. It was held at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in LA. There were 56 different bakers, some professional, some amateur (I fell into the amateur category). Attendees were given 5 tickets for their admission price which they traded for cupcakes. To avoid lines and overcrowding, the event was broken up into 2 tastings (noon to 2 pm and 3 pm to 5 pm). Proceeds from the event benefited three different charities:
It was a really great event. So many great flavors and displays, so much culinary creativity under one roof...and finally, so many wonderful people.

  • We were fortunate enough to have our table next to Sugar Babies who won honors in both the first and second tastings. They had an amazing, eye catching display and provided a "swag" bag to everyone who came to their table. Check out their website and look for their cupcake truck in the LA area.
  • We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Amy Jurist at the event. I had read about her famous underground dinners in LA Magazine and was excited to see that she was going to be a baker as well. It was great chatting with her about some of the unusual dinners she has done and we are looking forward to attending one in the near future.
  • There was a wonderful Harry Potter themed table....not sure the name of the baker(s) but I will post as soon as I find out.
  • Half Baked had a great spicy pumpkin cupcake, Shweet had an amazing strawberry cupcake, Jackie Brubabaker had a Jack Daniels cupcake...check out Cupcake Camp LA for a complete list of the bakers with their respective websites.
The Backstory
Victor had read about this event on Digital LA. I thought he was suggesting it just as an event to attend, but then he mentioned that maybe I participate as a baker. An intriguing suggestion indeed! I signed up and started experimenting with recipes. Our oven promptly died about 3 days later. Just when I was getting caught up in the excitement of selecting and experimenting with flavors, a roadblock of such magnitude! To say I was bummed is an understatement... I started thinking, maybe this happened to up the stakes? Maybe making 100 cupcakes in a regular oven is too easy for me...

After doing to some research, I found out in some countries many folks don't have ovens (Korea for example) and make cakes by steaming them. I also found some online forums where people were discussing baking in a table top convection/toaster oven which was probably a more realistic alternative...steaming 100 mini cakes might a bigger challenge than I could handle. That night we went out and got a Black and Decker model at Target which fit my 12 cup cupcake pan. Perfect....

It took a few more baking experiments to get a feel for how long to leave the cakes in the oven without drying them out, but basically I was back on track. This actually felt appropriate, like I was returning to my Easy Bake Oven roots...except I wasn't cooking with beer when I was a kid.

The Cakes
My cakes, starting from lower left and headed clockwise: Chocolate Guinness with a Molasses Buttercream, Chocolate Cake with a Cream cheese and coconut filling and vanilla buttercream, Chocolate Coconut Cake Balls made with Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cupcake tweaking..

I have signed up to be part of Cupcake Camp LA on Nov 20th at the Henry Fonda Music Box. As an amateur baker, I am only obligated to bring 100 cupcakes. I am going to try to make 200....maybe. Bakers have to be at the venue at 10 am on Saturday morning, which means I am going to have to do all my baking and decorating after work on Friday night...pretty ambitious given that I typically fall asleep around 10 pm on Fridays.

Chocolate coconut is the flavor I selected, so I have been trying out some recipes. I made 2 different versions which I frosted with a confectioners sugar frosting and various toppings:
  • toasted coconut: not bad but apparently coconut toasts very quickly. I sent the timer for 10 minutes but it started to burn after 5!
  • cocoa covered coconut: eh..just ok. On it's own, it was underwhelming but tasted ok with the sweet icing.
  • fresh coconut: tasted ok...
  • chopped up Mounds bar: too sweet combined with the icing.
It's safe to say the winning combination has not yet been experimentation continues!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Baby, It's You

We recently celebrated our anniversary at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. It is a beautiful and relaxing place. They have a champagne breakfast every Sunday as well as a daily Afternoon High Tea. There is also a spa and tennis courts on the grounds.

We had drinks and appetizers in the Tap Room which boasts "an upscale twist on traditional bar favorites". Our Lobster Corn Dogs, pictured above, arrived sticking out of salt block. Just like the name implies, they were pieces of lobster rolled in a slightly sweet corn batter and gently fried to perfection. They were served not with ketchup but rather a zesty mango chutney.

My wonderful husband arranged to have this lovely plate of chocolate covered strawberries waiting for us in the room when we got back after our night out. You can see the upper left corner is missing from the Happy Anniversary chocolate card. That's because I had to break a piece off while exclaiming, "Is it all chocolate!!?!!?" (it was) before we took the picture. The strawberries were dipped in a generous, thick layer of semi-sweet chocolate and then rolled in rice krispie-like balls or finely crushed peanuts. We ate it all....the strawberries, the chocolate card and even the piece of chocolate affixed to the plate to prop up the card...simply divine!