Learning to bake fearlessly <3

Archive for June, 2012

A milestone: Chocolate layer cake with mocha fudge filling and kahlua espresso swiss meringue buttercream

My birthday’s coming up fast! I’m about to turn 21, the last of the “Oh boy! Now I can do things!” birthdays. It’s a milestone I’ve been looking forward to for a while, truth be told. There’s a kind of chocolate wine at the grocery store I’ve been eyeing up for ages. ;) And another milestone is coming with it! I’m making my own birthday cake this year. It’s kind of intimidating, but I think I can do it. And if I can’t, not a huge deal! That’s part of what this blog is about–learning to get past my mistakes and keep on baking fearlessly.

My original idea was to make a boozy cake, but I knew my little sister wouldn’t want to eat it then. So it became the practice cake. Funnily enough, I found the perfect filling recipe only about an hour before I decided to start baking! It was like it was meant just for me, decadent fudge with just a little bit of coffee to it. And the swiss meringue buttercream was an absolute must. I haven’t made it in ages, and it was high time to start again with it. I played with the recipe a little because I didn’t have quite enough eggs for my usual one, and I ended up liking it a lot! Note: the black flecks you see in the frosting are ground coffee. I threw some in, but I would omit it next time since it gave some bites a weird gritty texture. I’ve omitted it in the recipe. It comes out gorgeous, light and fluffy and deliciously tasting of kahlua. The chocolate cake is the first recipe I posted on the blog. The character on top is Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, done in homemade marshmallow fondant (recipe to follow in another post). I’m on a huuuuuge Legend of Korra kick after the finale, so I’ve been rewatching both series lately. :D All together, it’s heavenly. And while it’s not perfect-looking, it’s pretty good for a first try! I’m completely satisfied. And I can only get better from here!

Dark chocolate cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 4.3 oz box chocolate pudding mix
2 eggs
1 cup black coffee
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Makes enough for two thick 8″ layers or three regular ones

Adapted from Sweetapolita

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease or butter&flour your cake pans. Whisk together the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the wet ingredients and mix on lowest setting with the paddle attachment until just combined, then at medium speed (around 6 on a Kitchenaid mixer) for two minutes. The batter will be thin, that’s fine. Pour into your pans and bake around 37 minutes for a thick layer or 28 minutes for a thin one. Stick these in the freezer (if you plan to stack them, wrap in plastic wrap first) while you make the frosting and filling.

Kahlua espresso swiss meringue buttercream
8 large egg whites (set one yolk aside for the mocha fudge filling)
2 cups granulated sugar
6 sticks (2 pounds) unsalted butter, not cold, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tbsp kahlua coffee liqueur
1 tbsp instant espresso (I used mocha flavor)
Makes enough to frost and fill an 8″ layer cake

I always cube and set out my butter on a plate first thing, and let it warm up while I work on the rest. Wipe out your mixer bowl and mixer attachments VERY well, making sure there’s no trace of grease. The first thing you’re going to do is make a meringue, and any grease could cause it to fail. Heat a large pot with an inch or so of water on the stove until it’s just simmering—we don’t want to cook our egg whites. Add the egg whites and sugar to your mixer bowl and whisk constantly until the sugar is melted and the egg whites are warm.

Stick your bowl on your mixer with whisk attachment and whip the egg/sugar mixture on medium-low (say 3 on a Kitchenaid) for a couple minutes, then switch to medium-high (say 7 or so on a Kitchenaid) until they’re white and fluffy, and the bowl is neutral to the touch. For me, it takes around 7-8 minutes. Voila! You made meringue. But it’s going to get even better still.

When the bowl feels room-temperature, switch to the paddle attachment on low speed and add your cubed butter one or two cubes at a time. This is the tricky part, and where it may look like everything’s gone wrong. At this stage, it is totally okay if your buttercream looks grainy, more like scrambled eggs. Trust me! Just keep whipping it, scraping the paddle clean if need be. Eventually, it will turn into creamy, smooth loveliness. Add your kahlua, espresso powder, vanilla, and salt, and whip it a bit longer, until they’re evenly incorporated. Transfer to a separate bowl and clean out your mixer for the next step!

Mocha fudge filling
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso (again, I used mocha flavor)
Makes enough to fill between three layers of an 8″ cake

From Ina Garten

Chop and melt your chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, then set aside to cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip your butter on medium high til it’s light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and keep beating until they’re completely mixed in, about three minutes. Slow your mixer to low speed and gradually add your powdered sugar until it’s completely incorporated and creamy. Then make sure your chocolate has cooled to room temperature, and add it and the espresso (dissolved in two tsp of hot but not boiling water) to the filling, and mix on low speed.

Assembling the cake
Remove your cake layers from the freezer and slap a ring of frosting on the cake board to keep the cake in place, then place the first layer in the middle of the board. Pipe a ring of kahlua frosting around the very edge, then fill the middle with mocha filling, smoothing it. Stack the next layer on top (if you plan on doing three layers, repeat the filling step and place the top layer on), and smooth a very thin layer of frosting over the cake, making sure to cover it all. It’s all right if you get some crumbs in it. This is called crumb coating, and it’s important if you want a pretty, crumb-free finish. Stick it in the fridge for about half an hour to an hour to set up. Once it’s set, smooth the final layer of frosting over, decorate with fondant or frosting as desired, then pipe borders around the top and bottom. I used a small closed star tip for the top (and the flame in Azula’s hand) and a round tip for the bottom, with frosting tinted blue.


Perfect vanilla cupcakes with chocolate meringue

I had a strange dream last night. I usually do, vivid dreams that are almost more movie than imagination. Part of last night’s entertainment was, a kid visited me at my house and wanted to make vanilla cupcakes with chocolate meringue filling in a heart shape. Always up for a baking challenge, I attempted it–only to make a silly rookie mistake with the meringue and fail.

I woke up full of purpose, ready to redeem myself by excelling in reality. The vanilla cupcakes came out amazingly, the recipe’s definitely a keeper. The first batch of meringue…less so. But that was 100% because of a faulty recipe. It called for 1/16th the required amount of cream of tartar. I hate that. But it tasted good at least! Undaunted, I googled around and more or less came up with my own approximation of a recipe. And it turned out great! I filled the cupcakes, stuck the failed meringue in the freezer (hey…it tasted like chocolate popsicles, maybe it’ll turn out like a chocolate sorbet?), and the unused successful meringue got turned into cookies. All in all, a very successful day of baking. And if there’s a kid out there that dreamed of meringue cupcakes–this one’s for you!

Perfect vanilla cupcakes
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk, at room temperature, separated into 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup
2 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted (I used a conversion, 1 cup of cake flour = 3/4 cup all purpose flour plus 2 tbsp cornstarch)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
12 tbsp unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature and cut into cubes

From Sweetapolita

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

Preheat your oven to 350 F and line your cupcake pan with cute liners.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Grab your stand mixer and stir together the flour (or substitute), sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl. Add the butter and remaining milk and mix together on medium til well combined, about a minute and a half. Add the egg mixture in three batches, scraping down the mixer bowl and mixing until just combined. Scoop your batter into your baking cups and bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake! This is a delicate recipe.

Chocolate meringue
6 egg whites
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

Original recipe

In the wiped-down clean bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar, and whip on medium-high til the egg whites begin to build. In a separate medium bowl, mix the sugar and cocoa powder together, then add it to the egg whites in three batches, continuing to whip, scraping down the sides between additions, and mixing until completely combined. Let the meringue build to stiff fluffy peaks, then use to fill cupcakes. Take a heart-shaped (or any shape, really!) cookie or fondant cutter and make a well in the top of the cupcake, then fill liberally with meringue.

Leftover meringue can be spooned onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and baked for roughly an hour at 200 F to make meringue cookies!

Konpeito cupcakes

This week was rough on the baking front. I started out full of enthusiasm, ready to tackle a cupcake idea I’d had for weeks, and excited. I put on Stargate (mmmmmm Jaye Davidson, the perfect baking companion) and set out to make cupcakes.

It did not go as planned. We all make mistakes, and I saw this exact one on Cupcake Champions not long after–putting in baking soda when baking powder was called for. And of course I didn’t realize it til after the cupcakes were baked. So when I bit into them to find a confection that tasted more like my vanilla hand soap (protip: too much baking soda makes cupcakes that taste like bitter soap), I was discouraged. I may have pouted at the boytoy for a bit.

But, gotta get back on the horse! I tried again this morning and was met with sweet vanilla success! This cupcake is a bit dense and thick, but tasty nonetheless, and if you’re after a more dense, moist crumb, this recipe will serve admirably. I only changed the frosting a bit, to make it less sugary sweet.

As for the pretty little candies on top? They’re these!

Little Japanese candies called konpeito. They’re essentially rock candy balls, sometimes flavored, but I like them best plain. I was introduced to them through Sailor Moon when I was a kid! But the more famous anime association with them comes from Spirited Away, where the soot spirits loved the little candies.

I order them online and I love them. And they look great as cupcake decorations!

Vanilla Cupcakes
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
From Annie’s Eats

Makes about 12 cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350F and line your cupcake pan with cute liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together your butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, scraping down the mixer bowl after each one, and then the vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, add together the flour, baking powder (NOT soda!) and salt, and whisk together. Add half of it to the butter mixture, mix it up on low, and then the milk and the other half of the flour. The batter should be thick. Scoop it into the cupcake liners–bear in mind it rises only a little–and bake for 18 to 20 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp heavy cream
Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Makes more than enough for a dozen cupcakes

Once your butter is nice and soft, cut it into cubes and whip it on medium in the bowl of a stand mixer til smooth. Add the powdered sugar and salt and whip til the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape down the bowl and keep going until the ingredients are all combined. Then add the vanilla and cream, keep whipping on medium until it’s incorporated, then add coloring if desired, increase speed to medium-high, and keep whipping until the buttercream is light and fluffy.

I used a large closed-star tip to pipe the frosting on, and this was my first time using an actual frosting bag instead of my mechanical one! I felt very accomplished. Enjoy!