Friday, August 3, 2012

Cupcakin' It Old School - Jell-O Poke Cupcakes!

Back in the day there was not a dessert I loved more than Jell-O Poke Cake!  Seriously, this combo of jello and cake could not be beat.  :)  In an effort to make them more portable and eater friendly I wanted to make a cupcake version.  This recipe has been around, as far as I can tell, since the dawn of time.  Is there anyone who hasn't had this cake?!  If you haven't I urge you to make this summertime staple.  It couldn't be easier and it's just delicious!!

Begin by baking up some cupcakes.  There are so many combinations you make.  The standard while growing up in my family was white cake with fruit jello, usually strawberry.  I made a vanilla cake with Blackberry Jell-O.  Yum.  Prepare the cake batter as directed (you can use a box mix or your favorite recipe). After baking, remove from oven and let cool for around 15 minutes, give or take.  In the meantime, dissolve one package of Jell-O in one cup of boiling water.  Using a fork, poke holes in the top of each cupcake.

Once the Jell-O is dissolved completely, spoon or brush it over the tops of the cupcakes.  I poured one spoonful at a time on each of 24 cupcakes until the Jell-O mixture was gone.

Place cupcakes in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill.  Next, prepare the topping.  I've had this two ways: either Whipped Topping or Pudding Topping.  I do have a preference for the whipped version.  You can either use Cool Whip or make your own.

Homemade Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl (large to prevent spray of cream flying everywhere!).  Using an electric mixer, beat on medium until mixture thickens, at which time increase speed up to high.  Beat about 4-5 minutes until peaks form.  To see photos of this process in one minute intervals, click here.

If the Pudding Topping sounds more appetizing to you, try this recipe:

Dream Whip Frosting

1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 envelope vanilla instant pudding
1 envelope Dream Whip

Beat milk and Dream Whip on medium speed until mixture thickens enough to beat on high speed.  Beat until peaks form.  Add pudding and beat until well combined.

Pipe or spread your desired topping onto the cupcakes and refrigerate immediately.  Store any remaining cupcakes in the fridge.  These cupcakes are best eaten chilled.  Look at the pop of color when you take a big bite:  

I hope you have a chance to make these before summer's end.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Treat "Fore" The Golf Lovers In Your Life!

The one year anniversary of my blog is coming up next month and one of my first projects was a golf course made out of cupcakes.  At the time I thought it was a bit sad looking and had wanted to give it another go with the proper tools, namely a grass piping tip.  Finally, I had a reason to do it when I was asked to create a cupcake golf course for a birthday party.

As with any cupcake project, I baked up the cakes!  Once they cooled, I arranged them on a cake board.  Without giving it much thought I designed the shape the same way I've noticed the courses on google - random and askew:

The order was for 20 chocolate and 20 vanilla cupcakes.  I purposely placed the chocolate on the outside so it would resemble earth beneath the grass.  I'm not sure it made a real difference.  Vanilla would have been just fine.  Next, I mixed up three batches of buttercream icing.

Vanilla Buttercream Icing

2 sticks of butter
4 cups of confectioner's sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-5 tablespoons half and half

Using a mixer, beat butter until it is fluffy.  Add 3 cups of sugar - one cup at a time - mixing until it's completely incorporated.  Add vanilla and half and half along with last cup of sugar and mix, adding more half and half until the icing is the desired consistency.

I wanted to make enough to cover the entire golf course.  Since I was dying the "grass" green, I needed enough to be sure I wouldn't need to mix more icing.  If I needed to make more I couldn't guarantee the greens would match and that there wouldn't be a darker or lighter patch on the course.  For 40 cupcakes three batches of icing was perfect.  I didn't have much left over at all by the end!

So, I combined the three batches (I mixed them up separately to ensure it turned out okay.  Recipes are funny like that; some you can double or triple with no consequences, some you have to make adjustments in the measurements.  I was under a time crunch, so I played it safe mixing the buttercream in three separate batches.  I spooned out a nice sized scoop for the water and another spoonful of white for the sand trap.  I spread the blue and white over the areas I designated for the water and sand.  On top of the white I sprinkled brown sugar.  I thought it had a nice, sand-like texture.  I've seen other courses where crushed Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers were used for the sand and I think next time I will do that just to cut down on the sweetness factor.

Once the "water" and "sand" were applied, I filled a piping bag with some of the green icing fitted with a Wilton #233 grass tip.  Using the green, I filled in the remaining surfaces of the cupcakes.  My client asked me to make it look like a smooth course, not like separate cupcakes arranged as a course.  To that end, I filled in the spaces between cupcakes with some icing for a surface to pipe the "grass" on top.  Once I made some decent progress with the rough, I designated an area for the green.  Using the same frosting/smoothing technique as for the "water" and "sand", I added green icing and topped it with some light green sanding sugar to mimic the short grass of the green.  Then I continued piping the rough.

To finish the "water" I added some small chocolate rocks:

Lastly, for the golf course, was the flag and hole in the green.  I used a wooden skewer (next time will use a lollipop stick) for the post and white fondant for the flag.  The hole was an upside down chocolate chip and the golf ball a white dragee:

That's it!  A bit time consuming to pipe all of the "grass", but EASY.  As always, however, I have a few ideas to improve the design.

So, the order was for 40 cupcakes, but I was only able to fit 30 onto the cake board.  For the remaining 10 cupcakes I made cupcakes designed to be a golf course "green".

Picture quality is not so great, but you get idea.  I have a new macro lens and camera I'm still trying to figure out, which means some photos will be better than others until I work it all out.  :)

In elementary school one of my teachers had each of us students write a paragraph on the first day of school.  On the last day of the year she handed them back to us so we could see how our writing improved and how much we'd progressed during the course of the year.  This golf course is kind of like that for me.  When I see where I was a year ago and what I can do now, all just because I keep trying, it feels pretty good!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Using Stickers In A Pinch (Or Using Them Just Because You Can!)

I don't know about the rest of you cake pop makers out there, but I can't even begin to imagine how people make such intricate, detailed, perfect shapes, animals, etc.  Chocolate is a fussy thing to work with.  It's too liquidity, it's too thick, it's just not my preferred medium (fancy word there, huh?  ;) for baking.  Therefore, I haven't gone too far into the realm of cake pop options, apart from different colorings.  The thing is, though, I'm getting kinda bored of the plain, old round cake pop.

Which brings me to my recent cake pop order.  The theme was "Noah's Arc" (for clever!) and I was given an invitation for a color guide.  I spent days thinking of what I could do to make them a bit more special without getting into making actual animal shapes I would have to add details to.  As far as skills go, I just don't think I'm there yet.

I went to the craft store to pick up sticks, wrappers and ribbon the day of the project and resigned myself to playing it safe with the ball shape, matching colors as best I could.  As I walked to the register past the scrapbook sticker aisles I thought, "Why not look for some animals to add to the packaging."  It's such a simple, easy addition, but I LOVE the way they turned out!!

Here is a photo of the group with the invitation:

Aren't they CUTE?  I may be a bit more enthusiastic than is warranted, but the amount of time and stress it saved me while, at the same time, playing up the theme makes me want to sing and dance!  ;)

I definitely will only use scrapbooking stickers, rather than flat, one dimensional versions, because they're more visually interesting and polished.  I'm totally going to capitalize on all of the adorable stickers out there and save myself some headaches when I can.  The possibilities are endless!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tattoos for Treats?! Sure, I'll give it a try! :)

Well, hello there!!  This summer has been so crazy....I've really missed baking!  We've hosted lots of visiting family and friends at our home and did some traveling.  I was even able to spend some time on the set of Royal Pains during the filming of an episode!  However, things have settled down and it's time to get back to blogging. 

Over the last months I've worked on orders people have asked me to do.  So, now that I've found a few minutes to myself for blog baking I am having difficulty decided where to begin.  I've been trying to come up with something a little different.  Something original.  I'm still trying to come up with it.  Everything is a variation on a theme, you know?  So, in the meantime of coming up with a unique and amazing product (lol), I decided to experiment with the zebra stripe brownie tattoos I picked up at Michaels some time ago.

The photo above is the picture perfect look I was going for.  It's by Duff Goldman, some big time baking guy.  I think he has a show.  Anyway, mine didn't turn out quite as lovely, but I think they're cute!

First I baked up some brownies.  For fun I baked them in a cupcake pan.  

I was in a "round" kind of mood, but the shape of the tattoos wasn't ideal for round brownies.  They are designed for square items since they have a border, so the pattern isn't big enough for a cupcake sized brownie.  If you make brownie bites it will definitely fit nicely.  After reading the instructions I discovered I would need a brownie icing to create an adhesive for the tattoo.  Here's what I whipped up:

Brownie Frosting
recipe from Allrecipes

6 tablespoons milk
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
1 dash vanilla extract

Combine milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a rolling boil for 30 seconds and immediately remove from heat.  Add chocolate chips and vanilla, stirring until melted.  Pour immediately onto warm brownies

I removed the cooled, but warm brownies from the pan and then frosted them with the brownie frosting.  Initially, when you make the icing it is liquidy.  It will harden, though, and not stick to the brownie very well.  It's definitely best to frost them immediately before they cool completely and let the frosting set after applying it.

Once the icing was on, I applied a square of tattoo on top of the brownie.  The tattoos come in a rectangular shape, so I cut them into squares myself.

Using the flat side of a knife, I ran it over the top of the tattoo to secure and smooth it to the frosting.  After it set for about 20 minutes, I cut the edges to make rounds.

Looking at the picture above you can see what I mean about the edge of the pattern not fitting on top of the round brownie surface.  Making the brownies a bit smaller would easily take care of this problem.  I think these are cute, and for something themed these would be a great dessert.  You cannot taste the tattoo at all and brownies, of course, are always DELICIOUS!  This is a pretty quick and easy way to whip up something simple with that extra pizzazz!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moooooo-ve Over Other Sweet Treats, The Cows Are Coming Home!

I have been having a crazy-busy spring/summer season!  Lots of travelling and hosting guests who've come to tour NYC.  I've also been filling baking orders, but have been on such a time crunch I was never able to photograph and blog about them.  This time, however, I tried something new and decided to share my experience:  Fondant.

I have been afraid of fondant and dreading the day I had to use it.  Finally, that day came and I reluctantly purchased the necessary tools to make these cow cupcakes.  I have no idea when or how I developed the idea that fondant was a messy, sticky, difficult substance to work with, but I could not have been more wrong!  It's pliable, not terribly sticky, and FUN!!

These cutie cows were favors for a birthday party.  I was shown a picture to work from, and it was clear that the only way to accomplish this design was to use (in my opinion) the F-word.  Fondant.

Unfortunately, since I have family visiting from Buffalo, I was not able to photograph each step involved in putting these together.  I wanted to be efficient and still spend time with my guests.

To that end, I bought pre-made white, black and pink fondant from Michaels.  I also used candy eyes and black decorating gel for the snouts.

To begin, I rolled out the white fondant.  I made pretty thick discs and next time will make them thinner, since there's really no reason to use so much when topping a cupcake.

These are the tools I used to cut the shapes:

I used my graduated circle cookie cutters and matched the size of the head to the size of a cupcake.  Next, I used a smaller circle for the pink "snout" area.  After cutting the snout I used my fingers to press it onto the white head, forming it into an oval shape.  I used the smallest cutter from a "Fondant Flower" set from Michaels Craft Store to make the spots on the cow.  Certainly, you can make all kinds of different spot shapes, but I decided to be a little more uniform in the design, though I randomly placed them on the head so no two cows would be the same.  :)  The smallest circle cutter was for the ears.  I cut circles and then pinched the bottom of the circle together for a 3D ear effect.

I assembled them in this order:

  • Large circle head
  • Pink circle snout pressed onto the head
  • Black spots randomly placed on the head
  • Pressed in the eyes (which didn't stick very well, so I dabbed some black gel underneath them to act as a "glue".
  • I rolled bits of white fondant to make a "snake" sort of shape for the horns.  I placed them underneath the head and pressed the "forehead" area down into the horns to make them stick.
  • I rolled pink fondant on top of black fondant and then cut circle shapes with a cutter.  I pinched them into an ear shape and used the same "sticking" method as the horns to make them stick to the head.
  • Random smiles, smirks, and nose dots on the snout using the black gel.
  • I left them on a cookie sheet overnight to dry.

The next day I made vanilla cupcakes and vanilla buttercream icing.

I placed a dollop of buttercream on top of the cupcake and then pressed a cow on top:

And that's it!  The process took about 2 hours of rolling, cutting, shaping and placement.  I had fun doing it and can't wait to try some more new designs with my new friend, fondant!!  :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pretty In Pink: Chocolate Desserts

I had an order for a baby shower with the request to use browns and pinks.  This was a fun assignment and I was excited.  However, it was also a little overwhelming coming up with designs with so much inspiration and ideas from research.  Also, if you follow me on Facebook, you know I had some issues with humidity, as in it's E-V-I-L, which upped the ante in completing this order.  For five days straight it was foggy 24/7 and without air conditioning I had to have the windows open in order to prevent suffocation.  I have either a) never experienced weather like this in my life or b) never noticed because I was baking all the time.  I'm just not sure.

Since I had this order why not just put in the air conditioners you ask?  Well, my husband was working 14 hour days and they are too heavy for me to install myself.  So that was that.

For instance, I was asked to make sugar cookies in a flower shape with pink icing.  I had to call and say I wasn't able.  The icing was NOT drying.  I had an idea to make chocolate cut-outs and to use melted pink chocolate for the flower outline.  I baked the cookies for an extra minute to dry them out a bit more and the pink chocolate worked just fine, so they turned out okay in the end.  For the incredible recipe for these cookies, click here.

The second part of the order was cake pops.  I had no issue making these, thankfully.  As for the design, I was going to use a squeeze bottle to decorate them with pink chocolate, but since I used some for the cookies it seemed too redundant.  I was asked to keep the design very clean and simple, so I used some brightly colored flower sugar candies I'd picked up at Michaels Craft Store.  I separated enough pink ones and used a toothpick to apply a bit of melted chocolate to the tops of the pops.  Then, using tweezers, I added the pink candy.  I actually really liked the final result!  For instructions to make cake pops, click here.

The next part of the order was chocolate cupcakes with raspberry filling.  I had a hard time making a filling that wasn't too runny, which made the cupcakes soggy.  Finally, I came up with something.  For directions detailing how to add filling to a cupcake, click here.  Next, I made some buttercream icing and on several I piled fluffy, pink frosting.

I decided to experiment with hand-rolled gum paste roses.  They kinda turned out okay.  I definitely need more practice making them.  Some looked more like roses than others.  The good news is I enjoyed making them.  It was a zen kind of project.

Lastly, for the chocolate cupcakes, I attempted to smooth the buttercream icing and make pink buttercream flowers with a dragee center.  As you can see, the concept was a good enough one, but, clearly, I need to work on this design.  With the moisture that permeated my house, the buttercream was acting fussy, too.  Yes, even the icing was in misery!!  ;)  To see a much prettier version of this flower design, click here.

And then there were the stars of the show...the Tiramisu Cupcakes.  I had to make a second batch after throwing out the first.  The idea is to poke holes on the top of each cupcake and then dip them in espresso.  The first batch was beyond soggy.  I was worried about the second batch, but they turned out just fine.  They were topped with an amazing Mascarpone Icing, finished with a dusting of cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.  Oh, they were beautiful.  I mean, I really loved them and felt proud of how they turned out.  So it was really too, too bad that they tipped over during the delivery and were a complete mess of icing and powder.  At least I have this pretty picture to remember them by:

*Sigh*  The good news is, they were (barely) able to be salvaged and everyone LOVED them.  All was forgiven and I didn't completely ruin the poor Woman's Baby Shower as I feared.  These cupcakes are so awesome they will be getting their own post soon.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let's Play Ball For Father's Day! - Red Velvet Baseball Cupcakes

I've made many orders of cupcakes the last few weeks, but they were all variations on a theme of what I've done before.  Yesterday, however, I made some baseball cupcakes for a boys' birthday party at Yankee Stadium.  How FUN does that sound?!!  This was new design for me.  Pretty simple, and, of course, I had ideas how to improve on them them while I was in the process of putting them together so this will be a fun project to do again.

I've made (and posted about) Red Velvet Cupcakes...and I still SWEAR by the recipe I use.  It's absolutely delicious and has been an overwhelming success every time.  The color is such a lovely, deep red which an amazing hint-of-chocolate taste.  The Cream Cheese Frosting I usually top it off with is incredible, too.  In fact, it's often the star of the Red Velvet Cupcakes - such a winning combination (you can find the recipe here).  However, in this case I was asked to make a barely sweet icing so I decided to go with something a little different - Mascarpone Frosting.  I made the Mascarpone version for Tiramisu Cupcakes I baked a few weeks ago.  With only 1/2 cup of sugar I thought it could be a wonderful compliment to red velvet.  Turns out, I was right!

Okay, so here's how you make the cupcakes:

Sprinkles Copycat Red Velvet Cupcakes
Followed to a "T" from Carrot Top Mom

2 1/2 cups flour (I used all-purpose)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk with 2 teaspoons lemon juice)
1 ounce red food coloring
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare baking pans with cupcake liners.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In separate bowl, beat butter and sugar using electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add sour cream and milk, beating until well combined.  Lastly, add vanilla extract and red food coloring.

In three increments, add flour mixture.  Beat until just combined, do not overbeat.  Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick come out clean.  Let cool for 15 minutes and remove from pan.  Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

Adding red dye to creamed ingredients

Red color of creamed ingredients with red dye

Slightly brownish red color of combined creamed and dry ingredients

The Mascarpone Frosting could NOT be easier to make:

Mascarpone Frosting

1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz.  Mascarpone Cheese
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Using an electric mixer, whip heavy cream until if forms stiff peaks (about 5 minutes).

Add cream to the bowl

After 1 minute of mixing

After 2 minutes of mixing

After 3 minutes of mixing

After 4 minutes of mixing

After 5 minutes of mixing

Consistency thick enough to not fall off of spatula

In a separate bowl, beat together mascarpone cheese and sugar.  Once they are completely combined, add whipped cream incrementally:

Add in increments - I added in three

Finished Frosting

I frosted the cupcakes as smoothly as I could, letting them set a few minutes after the initial icing to "crust" a little bit.  Then I went over the rough spots once more.  It's not a silky smooth icing.  It's really ideal for piping rather than smoothing, so it's not going to look perfect.  Once they were all frosted I used the red buttercream icing and piped half moons on each side of the cupcake with a #3 piping tip.

Next, I piped a "stitching" effect on the half circles.  This was a bit challenging, as the buttercream did not want to stick to the mascarpone icing.  I used a toothpick to coax everything into place.

They are playful and fun, but I am planning to experiment a bit more.  One thing I'd like to do is making the "stitching" "V's" a bit smaller.  I will use a smaller piping tip and make the buttercream icing a little less stiff so it will cooperate more.  I had some leftover cucpakes, which I piped some Mascarpone Icing onto and decorated with some red M&M Minis:

And then, like all good bakers do, I sampled one to make sure they were okay:

SSOOOOOO GOOD!!!!  A word of caution - if you use the Mascarpone Cheese icing, place the M&M's on at the very last minute.  The icing drained the candy color of it's red and by the next day they looked a stained mess!  Otherwise, the M&M's add a nice effect and a bit of sweetness to compliment the icing.  Anyway you make them you will love them!