Sunday, July 29, 2007

I'll Let You Call Them Muffins If I Can Hold Your Baby

Boy, I had to give away my camera just when I go on a baking craze. I really wish you could see these cupcakes I just baked up. But more than that, I really wish somebody had already invented smell-o-vision, because you have no idea what you are missing.

July 27, 2007
Name of Cupcake: Happy Summery Cupcakes
Occasion: Meeting the Summer Babies!
Constituents: Blueberry-Lemon Cupcakes frosted with Vanilla Buttercream

Oh, people. I am telling you, you wish you were here. These suckers smell so good.

So the story is as follows:

Three years ago, a friend of mine who had just bought the cutest farmhouse out in SE Portland decided to throw a summer party in her backyard. She had also decided she was going to try her hand at baking and found online a recipe for carrot cake that she really liked. So she invited the Evil Bakers Incorporated to bake cakes as well; the idea would be that we would each make different tiers of what would be a fantastic cake. So I volunteered to bake the bottom tier.

At this time I was really interested in figuring out how to successfully incorporate fruit into cakes. RLB has practically nothing in The Book, and that was pretty much the only book I was using at the time. I decided to try a blackberry-orange cake; a combo that I know was used to great success with Marsee Baking Company.

I used the All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake as the base recipe, to which I added 4 tsp of grated orange zest, and almost 2 pints of fresh blackberries tossed in flour.

The Cake. Was. Awesome.

When I took a bite of the finished cake, the first hit was a bang of fresh, tart, sweet blackberry, then vanilla, and at the end the acidic perfume of orange. Encased in a perfectly moist, light, not too sweet yellow butter cake with a creamy vanilla finish.

--A moment, please, for the best cake I had baked to date.--

Read the blog post about my blackberry-orange cake.

Fast forward to last summer, when I went blackberry picking with my friend Brains. I went along for the company, the sheer joy of being outside on a nice summery day, and the promise of big loud trains. I baked the blackberry-orange cake as cupcakes and they were just as good. My only complaint was that I didn't put enough blackberries in each cupcake, but that's not so bad.

Read the blog post about my blackberry-orange cupcakes.

So this year, I decided to make the same cupcakes for the post partum meet up party tomorrow afternoon. It is for the brand spanking new parents that were in my last Birthing From Within class in March. There were four couples and I couldn't have asked for a livelier group. All their babies were born in the last month and so it's time to meet the kiddos, listen to them share birth stories, trade parenting secrets, and watch them set up play groups and help each other out. For me, it's like watching the kids grow up and leave the nest.

The selection at the store I chose to go to was paltry--I can't fault them, it is a little too early for blackberries. But--the blueberries! They were everywhere! And so cute and happy!

So I decided to make blueberry-lemon cupcakes instead. And I'm so pleased with my decision, I have to pat myself on the back.

Blueberry-Lemon Cupcakes
based on Rose Levy Beranbaum's All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake as found in The Cake Bible, page 39.

please have all ingredients at room temperature

6 large egg yolks, 112 grams
whole milk, 1 cup or 242 g
vanilla, 2.25 tsp or 9 g
lemon zest, 4 tsp
sifted cake flour, 3 cups or 300 g
sugar, preferably baker's or golden cane, 1.5 cups or 300 g
baking powder, 1 tbsp + 1 tsp or 19.5 g
sea salt, .75 tsp or 5 g
fresh blueberries, about 2 pints
unsalted butter, softened, 12 tbsp or 170 g

Preheat oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, combine the yolks, .25 cup or 60.5 g of the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to blend. Add the butter and remaining .75 cup or 181.5 g of milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand blender) and beat for 1.5 minutes. [This is a good time to do some clean up.] Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, mixing for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.

Fill each cupcake cup about 1/3 full and sprinkle in a handful of blueberries. Keeping in mind your want your cupcake cups to be about 2/3 full, spoon about 2-5 tablespoons of batter on top of the berries. With the back of a spoon, spread the top layer of batter over the berries. You don't need to completely cover and submerge the berries; as the cake rises it will rise past and cover the berry goodness.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when you press it and a cake tester inserted in the middle of a few cupcakes comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out and let cool completely on a rack. Store airtight.
I used the Neo-Classic Buttercream recipe right out of The Book, except that where it calls for 2-4 tbsp optional liqueur of your choice, I added 2 tbsp of vanilla extract. Heavenly.

(7/29) Well, the cupcakes were a hit, but everybody called them "muffins." Muffins! Muffins are less sweet, coarse and dry, and don't have frosting! These were delicate, cumbly, moist, and frosted!! Harumph.

Actually, I think I added too many blueberries to each cupcake and that's why they were crumbly. Just not enough cake to hold them together, I guess. But still, damn good CUPCAKES.

I can forgive them; they're brand spanking new parents, they haven't had a good night's sleep in over a month.

By the way, the babies? Adorable. Freaking adorable. I made sure to hold every one of them, and they are all perfect!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Drop It Like It's Hot

Apparently, I like to bake cookies in the middle of the summer so that my kitchen temperature practically doubles. This way the cookies stay warm for even longer.

July 24 2007
Name of cookie: Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
Occasion: High Temperatures
Constituents: chocolate chip cookies using Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips

And again, no camera, no photos. :(

I actually don't like dark chocolate much at all, and I really don't like Hershey's Special Dark as a candy bar. But, I baked these with the plan of sending some of them to the Stinky, since every time he hears I'm baking something he wistfully mumbles, "I'd like some of that too."

I could retort something like, "if we lived together you could." But that would be mean.

So instead, I decided I'd placate him with half a batch of cookies. This benefits me, too, as I get some cookies but NOT ALL. Because I would happily eat ALL of them, probably within 4 days!

But I digress. I baked these cookies with the plan of sending half to Stinky, and he LOVES dark chocolate. In fact, he loves it so much he almost couldn't understand when I told him I didn't like dark chocolate much at all. I like my chocolate creamy. I like milk chocolate.

However, since I love Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder, I thought I'd try their Special Dark chocolate chips. Although to be honest, semi sweet chips are pretty much what I would consider dark chocolate.

(By the way, yesterday wasn't really that hot, but after a nice little respite where it rained a lot and I was wearing long sleeved shirts and even once broke out a SWEATER OMG, Portland has turned its face back to summer. Yesterday was pleasantly warm with a breeze, but when I looked back to the last time I baked chocolate chip cookies, it was last June during a nasty heat wave. I thought it made a better story this way.)

I used the recipe right off the back of the package, except that I used golden baker's sugar instead of white sugar, and only 1 packed cup of dark brown sugar instead of 1.25 cups of packed light brown sugar.

I forgot how easy these cookies are to whip up. Even dropping them went really fast--I think I was really on it last night or something. I had my cookie sheets stacked right next to the bowl, I had my two spoons and I just went to town. Seriously--I don't think I've ever satisfactorily dropped cookies at such a rate!

I purposely slightly overcooked a sheet or two of cookies, which gave them that slightly overbrowned bottom and yummy caramelized taste that I love. The other two sheets I baked just until golden brown and a little mushy in the middle, and set them off to cool.

Cookies are good times. It was my mom's Sunset Cookie book that got me into baking in the first place. They have this recipe for chocolate chip cookies that is totally out of control. You use butter AND shortening, TWO bags of chips, and probably way too much sugar. You also add a little cinnamon, which I really liked. Not everybody did.

I would bake cookies for my friends at Christmas, for family functions, and in the middle of the night out of boredom. One summer, when my parents took a month's vacation, (leaving two teenagers at home with a neighbor in her early 20's--can we say party?) my friends were kind of permanently at our house (two of them even stayed with us for a week or two). The boys would be outside trying to help Brian fix his Thing, and I'd bake cookies for all of us and it felt like I was the mother hen of our little group. And that felt so great to me. I knew then how much pleasure I would have when I had kids and a family of my own that I could bake for.

Our house was the one that everyone liked to come over and hang out at--my sister's friends (the popular girls) and my friends (the freaks and geeks) would all watch Days of Our Lives and eat Cool Ranch Doritos together. My parents loved having all of our friends over and they made sure my friends knew how welcome they were. My mom was the surrogate mom to all of our friends, especially those from broken homes. They loved my mom so much, and in return she mothered us all.

That's the kind of mom I will be one day, and we'll have the kind of house that everyone wants to hang out at. And I will give them all Type 2 Diabetes from all the crazy shit I'll bake up.

But I digress. The cookies turned out awesome--who knew the recipe on the back of a chocolate chip package would turn out so well?

Friday, July 20, 2007

it's peanut butter zetta time

Zetta turned a year older not too long ago, and as always I agreed to make her her favorite birthday cake: german chocolate with the goopy goop.

I finally got around to doing it tonight so that I can bring it into work tomorrow. We work together on Fridays.

July 19, 2007
Name of Cake: Zetta's Goopy Chocolate Cake
Occasion: Zetta is one year older
Constituents: Chocolate Butter Cake filled and frosted with Coconut Pecan Goop

Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of photographs. Stinky has my camera. And he knows I was being REALLY REALLY nice to him, letting him borrow it.

So you'll all just have to use your imaginations on this one. Sorry.

I have been using Green and Black's cocoa powder for a little while now, with not so enthused results, surprisingly enough. I freaking love their chocolate bars, why wouldn't I love their cocoa powder? I haven't had great results with it--at least not as great as I've had in the past with Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. That shit rocks my world. It is so chocolatly and dark and lovely. I am shocked to say that Green and Black's just hasn't measured up.

Crazy, huh?

So for this cake, I decided to go back to my favorite cocoa powder. And I am sitting right next to the cakes as they cool and let me tell you, I want to eat them right now.

As you know, there is always cake trauma in the ECL baking experience. Tonight, nothing so bad has happened yet, but there was pre-trauma. See, I'm not so good at the coconut-pecan goop. Two years ago I made a decent goop, but there was a lot of cooked egg yolk in the frosting that I didn't sieve out. So last year, I decided to cook the condensed milk, butter and eggs really slowly for a longer time. In this way I hoped to not curdle the yolks and still get a nicely browned bowl of goop. It didn't work out so well. I got tired of constantly stirring. The frosting thickened but it never caramelized which I found unsatisfactory. VERY unsatisfactory.

So this time, I decided to keep the heat up around medium, stir like crazy, and sieve out any cooked yolk.

The recipe says to cook the goop until it bubbles. Last year, I just stopped when it thickened. This year, I persisted in stirring and stirring and stirring until it really began to bubble. The magic of food chemistry really can be experienced when you are standing over a pot, constantly stirring, looking for changes. The goop thickened before it bubbled, so that right before it began to bubble it swelled up like a balloon about to pop. It got easier to stir at this point and you could practically feel all the molecules straining their bonds as the heat pumped all this energy into them. Then, gloppy bubbles began to burst right under the spoon, and maybe 4 minutes later there were little gloppy bursts all over the top of the goop. The color steadily changed from a creamy yellow to a beige-ish brown. I realised that the foundation of the goop is really like a dulche de leche--caramelized milk that you add a bunch of shit to.

I sieved the goop, which I am glad I did as there was quite a bit of cooked yolk hanging around. I mean, nobody likes scrambled egg coconut pecan goop.

The goop was quite tasty, and I didn't hesitate to eat a spoonful of the leftover frosting after I filled and frosted the cake.

This isn't an easy frosting to frost--it's all chunky and goopy and doesn't spread all nice and smoothly. I tore at the cake a few times when I pressed a pecan chunk too deeply as I smoothed.

But that's small potatoes compared to the finished product as a whole. The cake is now resting and cooling in the refrigerator, all layered and gooped up and ready for Zetta to eat tomorrow. I hope she likes.

Happy Birthday, lovely Zetta! May your birthday year bring you happiness, abundance, and laughter!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

7 Things, ECL Style

Melinda, who has been trying to get me to blog for the last month, finally gave me an easy topic. (Don't worry, Melinda, I still plan on doing all those other things too!)

So, here goes....

7 Things You May Not Have Known About The ECL

1. I can't bake without a recipe.

2. I LOVE sugar cookies with that crispy sickly sweet american buttercream frosting.

3. Some of you may remember me talking about this, but I prefer CREAMY over DEATH BY CHOCOLATE anyday. And in order for #3 to officially count, I think most pastry chefs in Portland fuck up creme brulee royally. (It SHOULDN'T be RUBBERY, EGGY, or SHITTY, and the top should be nice and know, CARMELIZED???)

4. I don't really like pie or puff pastry at all.

5. But I love love love croissant, and I think there are too many fake (read: shitty) croissant out there confusing the masses.

6. My favorite cake is yellow butter cake layered with dark chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries. OR, now that I have fallen in love with the raspberry chocolate ganache, that would suffice. When there is a microwave around (I don't have one), I like to nuke my piece of cake for like, 2-5 seconds, just enough to warm it up but not to melt the frosting, then scoop a generous portion of vanilla ice cream. THAT, my friends, is ECL's version of culinary bliss....

7. I spent 4 months living in Simferopol, Ukraine in my very early 20's and I fell in love with their black bread. Sour, dense, wheaty, super super yummy. Then, two years later, when I was living in Munich, Germany, I fell in love with their breads. We had a bread bakery around the corner and we would buy our bread from them on a weekly/twice weekly basis. Good stuff. I also fell in love with Munich's Biergartens. (Who doesn't love to sip a crisp light beer in a park on a lovely warm summer evening? Americans, because we don't have anything like them here.) I learned to love whole milk, Wurstsalat, and Blaukraut. And I thought the idea of mixing a beer with fizzy lemonade freaking genius! (What are they called? Help me out here, people.) (11:30 pm) Radler!! It's called a Radler!!! phew.

I suppose I'm supposed to tag some people now to continue the meme, but eh, I dunno. Who reads my blog these days anyway? How about this: If you're reading my blog, then you are morally obligated to do the meme. Please report back when you post your 7 things.

I guess that could be the eighth thing you didn't know about ECL: she's really lazy.