Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Tale of Two Cupcakes

First things first. The trip to Australia was great. My favorite part by far was simply hanging out with my brothers and seeing family and friends, although sitting on the beach and gallivanting around Sydney weren't too shabby either.
Plus I got to meet Geoffrey Zakarian in the lounge at the Sydney Airport on the way home! Very exciting for this Chopped and Iron Chef fan.

Happy siblings
Even happier siblings...not sure what was said here, but obviously it was hilarious.
I love love love the birds there.
We went to the Harry Potter great!
One of my favorite views of Sydney...from the back of the Manly Ferry.

My brother and his girlfriend threw a great little barbecue get-together the first weekend we were in Canberra; this was the perfect excuse to bake in their new kitchen. I wanted to do something totally kitschy along the America/Australia lines, because that's how I roll. I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to do cupcakes (easy to serve, easy to eat, good for a crowd). I also decided pretty quickly that the "Australian" cupcakes would be Lamington-inspired. Lamingtons are a traditional popular Australian treat, and the flavors would be easy to translate into cupcake form. As for the "American" cupcakes, at first I was thinking...lemonade, pink lemonade (not sure why)...and then it came to me. Apple pie. Duh! I mean seriously, you probably could actually have seen the light bulb over my head. Soooo obvious. And then I was like...caramel apple pie. Even better.

The next hurdle was the fact that I would be baking in a kitchen that is not mine (albeit a literally brand new one. Seriously. They finished the renovation the morning we arrived). Now let me tell you that I am a creature of habit. But no worries y'all (a little Australian/American humor for you there. I know, it was lame, but I'm sticking to it). I borrowed a mixer from a friend, and completely tore apart poor Ben and Natalie's kitchen scrounging for ingredients and tools.

I did hit a couple snags, which I will blame on the weather mostly. More on that in a jiffy. Let's get to it, because food is the reason you're here, probably.

First, the Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes. These were positively scrumptious. They didn't turn out half as pretty as I would have liked, but I will be making these over and over again. Whatever they looked like, they were definitely a hit, taste-wise. And that, folks, is the reason for cupcakes in the first place. I will try them again soon, and see if I can bring the looks up to the standard of the mouth-watering deliciousness.
Oh, and this is where I blame the weather. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream was very thin. I attempted a couple fixes, but with little success. In the end, I had to pipe as-is, since guests were beginning to arrive. The good news is that it still tasted good.
The second issue was the caramel that I put on top. Issue one: I didn't have any handy-dandy squeeze bottles that I use for tasks like this at home, so I spooned it over. This resulted in a little too much caramel on each cupcake (although I'm not altogether sure there is such a thing). Issue two: The caramel had thickened too much to pour, so I zapped it for a few seconds in the microwave. Rookie mistake. Now it was too hot, and it melted the already thin buttercream. That one I can't blame on weather or equipment. That one was all me. Rushing and not thinking it through. Oops. But again, taste did not suffer, so no harm done in the long run.

Now the lamington cupcakes. These were simple, no-frills goodness. Simple white cake that I added a little fresh lemon to for freshness and lamington-ness, with a chocolate buttercream frosting, and topped with desiccated coconut. There really weren't any issues here, although I would have preferred to use one of my jumbo piping tips instead of a little plastic one (the only one I could find at the grocery store the day before the BBQ).

As I said, both were a hit at the party, and I would make both again, especially those to-die-for Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes.

Caramel Apple Pie Cupcakes 
(adapted from The Craving Chronicles)

Cinnamon Cupcakes 
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes
*Note: I would use these again and again, even without the apples and caramel. So good.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.
Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted. Don't boil! Remove from heat.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a separate bowl.
Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat eggs and sugar until thick ribbons form. This should take a few minutes, up to 5 or so.
Add flour mixture to egg/sugar mixture and beat on low until just incorporated. Add milk mixture and vanilla, and beat gently until combined.
Divide evenly among the baking cups. Bake at 350° for 16-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in pans for 5 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Apple Filling
Makes about 2 cups. This is a little more than you need (or a little more than I needed anyway). You could save the rest and use it on ice cream or in yogurt. In my case, my brothers, my sister, and Natalie were more than willing to scavenge over any scraps from my baking, these extra apples included.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
about 1 1/2 pounds Honeycrisp apples (about 4 medium apples), peeled, cored, and finely diced
(I couldn't find Honeycrisp in Australia, so I used half Granny Smith, and half Jonathan)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (I added a little extra)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add the diced apples, sugars, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
Cook until apples are tender and release their juices. This takes about ten minutes. And it smells absolutely delicious.
In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water to make a slurry. Add the cornstarch slurry to the apples and stir, cooking until mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
If you make this a day ahead, it can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.


Caramel Swiss Buttercream Frosting
(This was relatively unsuccessful for me. The humidity is probably to blame. It was quite muggy that day, and raining off and on. And the fact that I was seriously rushing. I would still try it again, as the taste was there.)
Makes plenty for 24 cupcakes.

6 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
pinch of coarse salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup caramel sauce, cooled (it must be cooled, at least to room temperature, or it will melt the frosting)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place a saucepan with about 2 inches of water over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer.
In the metal bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt. Place the bowl over the simmering water, and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160°F on an instant-read thermometer (the sugar will be dissolved, and the mixture will resemble marshmallow fluff).
Remove bowl from heat and attach to stand mixer.
Beat with whisk attachment until stiff meringue peaks form and the outside of the bowl no longer feels warm (about ten minutes).
Switch to paddle attachment.
On low speed, add one cube of butter at a time, waiting until incorporated before adding the next one.
Once all the butter is added, slowly pour in the caramel with the mixer on low speed.
Add vanilla and continue beating until smooth.

*If your frosting curdles, keep beating! If it is soupy, put it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes and then beat until smooth.


Caramel Sauce
Makes...a lot.

OK, so here's the deal with the caramel. You can make your own. It's not super tricky, and there is a recipe here, as well as about a gazillion and a half other websites with easy to follow recipes and tutorials.
But remember when I said how I was in a rush and stuff? Yeah, so I did the cheater's caramel sauce, which is still very yummy.

Here it is:
Melt about 30 caramel chews and 5-6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream in a double boiler. Cool to room temperature. Yes, it's that easy. You might have to play with the caramel to cream ratio depending on the size of the caramels you buy.


Working with completely cooled cupcakes, scoop out a small hole for the filling. You can use a small paring knife, the end of a metal piping tip, or anything else that will allow you to cut a cone-shaped wedge from the middle of each cake. Be careful not to make it too large, or your cupcakes will fall apart. You want to make it big enough to add a small scoop of apple filling, about half a tablespoon or so.

Some people save the "lids" and put them back on top of the filling, but I fed mine to the ravenous (or so they claimed) spectators, and just frosted directly on top of the apples. It's your call.
Depending on whether or not you are replacing the lids, fill the holes not quite to the top (if you're using lids), or all the way to the top (if you're not replacing the lids).

Pipe the frosting on top of the cupcakes and drizzle with caramel sauce (make sure your caramel is at room temperature, or else your cupcakes will end up all melty looking like mine).
I also added a little extra apple filling to the top.

Lamington Cupcakes
Adapted from here.
Makes 24 cupcakes


Vanilla Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about a teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6-8 ounces unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate, melted
Desiccated (shredded dried) coconut to top (As far as I know, you can't find desiccated coconut in the States. At least I've never seen it. I'm sure shredded dried coconut would work fine, it will just be bigger pieces. You could even try giving it a pulse or two in a food processor or blender to make the pieces finer.)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
In a small bowl, combine the flours with a whisk and set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter until smooth. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with milk and vanilla, and beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Do not over-mix here. After each addition, beat gently until just incorporated, scraping bowl in between.
Spoon the batter into liners filling 2/3 to 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in tins for 5-10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

In the large bowl of a mixer, beat butter for about 3 minutes.
Gradually add sugar a cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Take your time here and the frosting will be smooth. If you rush, it will be grainy.
Add the salt during one of the sugar additions.
Add two tablespoons heavy cream and beat for 3-4 minutes. If the frosting is too thick, add more cream.
Add vanilla and melted chocolate and beat until combined.
Spread or pipe onto cupcakes.
Top with coconut.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Irish Girl Who Didn't Make Anything for St. Patrick's Day

Top o' the morning to ye!

Alas, I have let you down. In the battle between jet lag and making something for St. Patrick's Day, jet lag won. I got home from Australia last night, and I slept really late this morning, so the kitchen has remained empty. I had many great ideas, and I think I might just save them for a random day. After all, I'm not only Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

So happy St. Patrick's Day! Enjoy your corned beef, your beer, and your Irish Car Bombs, if that's your kind of thing.

(And the rest of the day to you, sir!)