Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Institute of Culinary Education - Cupcake Workshop 1

I just took the most amazing cupcake workshop ever! Well, I've never taken any cupcake workshops before so by default, this is the best I've ever taken. But even if I had, I still think this would have been the best.

I took the class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) which is just across the river from Hoboken, in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. Chef Melanie Underwood was our instructor for the Cupcake Workshop 1 class. She was so knowledgeable and it was such a pleasant experience to get all my cupcake-related questions addressed in one location on one day.

I showed up at ICE for the 5 hour long course on Sunday morning (it lasted from 10am to 3pm) and met 15 other people who were also interested in developing their cupcake-making prowess. After Chef Melanie and all the students introduced themselves, we broke out into groups of 2 and we chose a particular type of cupcake to make. The options were Vanilla, Chocolate, or Lemon. My partner, Rich, and I chose to make the lemon cupcakes. I primarily wanted to make the lemon cupcakes because it's rapidly becoming my favorite cupcake flavor. This decision was seriously questioned later on, as I painstakingly zested 8-10 lemons for the cupcake batter.

After the cupcakes were baking in the oven, Rich and I then made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting. We opted to use Passion Fruit puree in our buttercream as a flavor. It was so good I considered just sitting down with a bowl of that and a spoon. This might not have gone over well though. We were also given the task of making Whipped Cream as a second frosting option, but somehow we forgot all about that, so, um...yeah.

Some of the other frosting options the class made were Dark Chocolate Glaze, White Chocolate Glaze, and Swiss Meringue (which is different from Swiss Meringue Buttercream). Each group put their own flavorings in their frostings, so we we ended up with Praline Swiss Meringue, Grand Marnier Swiss Meringue, Vanilla Swiss Meringue, Raspberry Swiss Meringue, and Passion Fruit Swiss Meringue Buttercream. To be honest, I don't actually know which of the other frostings were buttercream or not, but it doesn't matter. They still looked and smelled amazing.

The cupcakes were portioned out so that each student had an assortment of cupcake flavors to frost. I ended up with 14 cupcakes. The next step was to begin the frosting process. Chef Melanie showed us how to pipe with different tips and make different shapes. We learned how to make chocolate shavings and chocolate curls, as well as how to incorporate lemon curd into the cupcake itself and/or the frosting.

I'll let you be the judge of my cupcake frosting experience. Some of the cupcakes turned out better than others, but I'm proud of every one of them. The entire experience was great. I would recommend it to everyone. It was my first time in a professional kitchen, which was a little daunting, but Chef Melanie and the assistants were very responsive to any questions that we had and were there to help us complete a task if necessary. Rich was a great partner. He's trying to determine if he should make a career shift from a graphic designer to a cupcake-making connoisseur. That's just awesome. And I can't wait to take the Cupcake Workshop 2 class.

Here are my photos of the finished products! The first few photos were taken at ICE with my point and shoot camera, so they aren't as nice as the ones later in this post. I just figured there was a high probability that I would topple the cupcakes during transit from the kitchen back to my apartment.

Cupcakes on my decorating tray

First box of cupcakes

Second box of cupcakes

These cupcakes belong to a fellow cupcake maker. I just thought they were gorgeous so I had to take a picture of them.

OK, back to my cupcakes...I was going to create a collage for this, but I think I'll just give each cupcake it's own time to shine. Because I can.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

* 4th of July * Strawberry Blueberry Cupcakes

Voila, my first ever set of 4th of July cupcakes!

I'm not American, but I can still show my American spirit. I decided that I would make a Red, White, and Blue cupcake in honor of the upcoming holiday!

Since I don't like red velvet cake, I thought about what kind of red cupcake I wanted to make instead. Since it's strawberry season, I figured a strawberry cake would be pretty appropriate. The color could be helped along by a little red dye. And the frosting? Blueberry, of course, since they're just about in season as well. The white could be fudged by making a marble swirl pattern with the strawberry cake.

Now let's cut to several hours later, when I realized that the cupcakes had kind of turned out to be Pink, Off-white, and Lavender . It's the thought that counts, right? I admit that a part of this cupcake's off-kilter color scheme was my fault, but practice makes perfect. At least I can tell you where I went wrong.

But first, the recipes...

Strawberry Swirl Cupcakes
(slightly adapted from Recipe Girl's Pink Strawberry Cupcakes)
makes ~18 cupcakes
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup pureed frozen strawberries (about ¼ of a 1 lb. bag)
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • several drops of red food coloring
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3) In a large bowl with electric mixer, blend butter with strawberry puree. Add flour mixture and blend until light and fluffy. The batter will be very thick.
4) In another bowl, whisk together egg whites and milk. Add this mixture in three parts to the batter mixture, mixing only until incorporated after each addition.
5) Transfer ~1/4 of the batter into a separate bowl. Add the red dye to this bowl. Make it as pink or as red as you like, although this IS supposed to be a "Red White & Blue" cupcake.
6) Fill cupcake liners ~1/2 full of the un-dyed batter.
7) Top with the dyed batter. Fill the cupcake tins until ~3/4 full. Use a toothpick or knife to make a swirl pattern so that the cupcakes are marbled.

8) Bake ~22 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
9) Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
I found a blueberry frosting recipe on the Cupcake Project website. The blueberry frosting calls for some blueberry syrup, which can be easily made at home.

Blueberry Syrup

slightly adapted from Cupcake Project
  • 6oz blueberries
  • 1/4 C sugar
1) Blend the blueberries in a food processor or blender so that they are in small pieces. I used frozen blueberries, but I'm sure you could use fresh blueberries as well.

2) Toss the blueberry pulp into a pot with the sugar and bring to a boil.

3) Reduce the heat so that the blueberry syrup is simmering. Simmer for ~10 minutes.

4) Let the syrup cool before using it in the frosting.

Blueberry Buttercream Frosting
recipe from Cupcake Project
  • 3 C confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 C butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream ( I used milk because I didn't have heavy whipping cream)
  • 6 T blueberry syrup
1) Mix together sugar and butter until they are blended and creamy.

2) Add vanilla extract and milk and continue to beat for another minute. If desired, add more confectioners' sugar to make it stiffer.

3) Stir in the blueberry syrup and frost cupcakes.

OK, so now that I've given you the recipe, let me tell you about a few "areas for improvement".

1. I know I've said it countless times in this post, but I really wanted red and white cupcakes. So why, then, did I only use enough red dye to grant me a hot pink hue? The answer is that I don't know. I think I was mesmerized by the color (it is pretty, even though I'm not a huge fan of the color pink) and I kinda just stopped there. I also have an issue with eating red food. Maybe that's why I unconsciously stopped short of getting that red color. Don't let this happen to you.

2. I confess that I didn't exactly use 6T of blueberry syrup in my frosting, so it could have been "blueberry-er" for me. The original Cupcake Project recipe makes a larger batch of syrup because it's also used in the cupcake. For my purposes, I only needed it for the frosting and my measuring was a bit inaccurate on the day that I made these cupcakes. I ended up with less than 6oz of blueberries, so of course I ended up with less than 6T of blueberry syrup to add to the frosting. This oopsie makes for a lavender frosting, instead of a blue frosting.

On the bright side, the cupcakes themselves were great! They were moist, but still airy. The strawberry flavor that was blended into the cupcake was a nice summery change from most of the cupcakes that I make. The frosting, as already mentioned, could have been a bit stiffer and could have used some more blueberries, but it was OK. Not my favorite, though. I'm gonna have to work on it some more.

FYI...I got these festive cupcake lines from Bake It Pretty! I'm in love!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Asparagus Portabella Zucchini Quiche

After my last trip to the farmer's market, I still had a relatively large bunch of asparagus. Let's face it: there are only so many asparagus grilled cheeses and asparagus omelettes that I can make before I go batty. So I decided to convert some of the asparagus into a quiche inspired by the Asparagus, Morel and Ramp Quiche with Brown Rice Crust that Closet Cooking, my new favorite food blogger, had made.

Of course, when I went to pick up some mushrooms (portabellas for me!), I sidled past some zucchinis and nabbed one of those too. I figured a zucchini would be a nice little addition to the quiche as well. So now, the name of my little dish was transformed to an Asparagus Portabella Zucchini Quiche. OK, I know that's a mouthful. If it makes you feel better, you can call it "Vegetable Quiche". Then you won't have to worry about all those pesky words. And let's not talk about using the word portabella vs. portabello. The Mushroom Council uses "portabella", so that's good enough for me.

Asparagus Portabella Zucchini Quiche
heavily adapted from Closet Cooking's Asparagus, Morel and Ramp Quiche with Brown Rice Crust
  • 1 pie crust (homemade or store bought - I opted for store bought)
  • 3 ramps, diced
  • 1 green garlic stalk, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp butter/extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup asparagus (about 10 thin stalks)
  • 1 portabella mushroom, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into rounds
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 3/4 cup fontina & parmesan cheese, grated
  • dash of habanero sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

1) Blind bake the pie crust:

- Use a fork to prick the bottom and sides of the pie crust.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

2) Steam or boil the asparagus for 2 minutes.
* Note: You can also saute the asparagus with the portabella and zucchini if you prefer.

3) Meanwhile, saute the ramps and green garlic in a pan with 1Tbsp butter until softened. You could also use extra-virgin olive oil in addition to or instead of the butter.

4) Add the portabella and zucchini. Saute for a few minutes, until softened. Add salt and pepper.

5) Chop the asparagus in thirds and add the asparagus to the portabella and zucchini. Mix to combine.

6) Mix the eggs, milk, 1/4 cup of the cheese, dill, and habanero sauce in a bowl. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

7) Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and top with the remaining cheese.

8) Bake in a preheated 350F oven until golden brown and set in the center, about 45 minutes.

After I let the quiche cool a bit, I cut into it and it was scrumptious. The vegetables complimented each other and the eggs and cheese were so deliciously creamy. To be honest, I would have liked to have more asparagus in the quiche, but other than that, I think this experiment turned out really well!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta

I cannot tell a lie. I didn't actually come up with this recipe. It was "borrowed" from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. I've actually made this dish before, in my pre-blog days, when I was trying to figure out exactly what a blog was.

I love cauliflower, whether it's raw, roasted, cooked, pureed, etc... I'll take it. Did I mention that I also like walnuts and feta cheese? So the first time I saw this recipe, I knew it was for me. After I made it, I knew I had to hold on to this recipe so I could make it again. And now that I have duplicated it with amazing results once again, I wanted to share (or "re-share", since it's already been posted on another blog) it with you guys.

Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta
from SmittenKitchen
  • 1 pound pasta (whole wheat or regular - I chose regular)
  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 1 medium onion
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • White wine vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 4 ounces feta cheese (or ricotta salata)

1) Add the pasta to a pot of boiling water. Cook according to instructions.
2) Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, using mostly the flowerets and not the thick woody stalks.

3) Thinly slice the onion.

4) Mince the garlic.
5) In a large pan, saute the cauliflower in a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then toss in the onion and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook the cauliflower and onion until they are fork-tender. (At this point, you can choose to saute the cauliflower for as little or as much time as you like. It all depends on how you like your vegetables.)

6) Stir in the garlic and remove the pan from the burner. You can add a little splash of water if you find that the pan is still too hot for the garlic.
7) Add a splash of the vinegar and lemon juice.

8) Toss in the toasted walnuts. Add salt and pepper according to your taste.
9) Add the cooked pasta to the saute pan. Add olive oil to coat the pasta and cauliflower, then toss to combine.
10) Place in a serving bowl and top with the feta cheese.
I love the salty-sweet combination of the walnuts, feta, and carmelized onions. I also liked the crunchy texture of the cauliflower. Although it was crunchier than I would have liked it to be, my roommate Kimmy preferred it that way. If you're like me, you can choose to saute the cauliflower for a bit longer. Obviously, it will softer the longer it is cooked.

Try this out for yourselves and let me (and Smitten Kitchen) know how it turns out!

Friday, June 4, 2010

S'mores Cheesecake Cupcakes

I recently had a discussion with a coworker about the next type of cupcake I would make. After a few minutes, we stumbled upon the idea of a S'mores cupcake. Sure, why not? But how about a S'mores Cheesecake Cupcake?

Uh-oh. Wait a minute. I had never made cheesecake before. There are all these horror stories out there about making cheesecake, so why did I just stuff my foot in my mouth and mention the dreaded "C" word? Of course, I could have cheated and baked a regular cake cupcake instead, making tweaks to keep it in the spirit of a S'more. But why not embrace the challenge?

The first thing I thought of was the crust. A graham cracker crust would make the perfect base for this cupcake. Kudos to me for that cheesecake idea! Then of course, the chocolate cheesecake would follow. And then for the marshmallow part of the S'more. Hmmm...I do have that amazing Marshmallow Frosting that I used on my Chocolate Fluffernutter Cupcakes. That would be perfect! I finally set about making the cupcakes.

Graham Cracker Crust
(slightly adapted from
  • 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (or ~7 graham cracker sheets)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
1) Crush the graham crackers into crumbs (the finer the better!).

2) Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until incorporated.

3) Press into the bottom of 18 cupcake liners.

4) Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

While the crusts are baking, make the filling:

Chocolate Cheesecake Filling
(slightly adapted from Food Network Kitchens)
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used chocolate chips, so I didn't do any chopping)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
Note: I made this batter in a stand mixer, but you can use a food processor, as directed in the original recipe.

1) Put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir, and continue to microwave until completely melted, up to 2 minutes more. (Alternatively put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with an inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water, and stir occasionally until melted and smooth.)
2) Blend the cream cheese, sugar, and sour cream together in a mixer until smooth. Scrape down the sides, as needed.
3) Add the eggs and beat until just incorporated.
4) Gently fold the chocolate into the wet ingredients until smooth.
5) Pour the filling over the cooled crusts in the cupcake liners. Bake at 350 degrees until fthe illing puffs slightly around the edges, but is still a bit wobbly in the center, about 30 minutes.
And beautiful cupcakes will emerge from the oven!

Frost with Marshmallow Frosting. Note that I used a little more than 1/4 lb of powdered sugar, instead of the 1/2lb of powdered sugar that is called for in the recipe. This is because the graham cracker crust and chocolate filling are pretty sweet as well.

The first time I tried to make these cupcakes, it was an epic fail. Why the heck did i want to "embrace the challenge" anyway? I'm not exactly sure which of my cheesecake-making blunders caused it. It could have been that I used ingredients which were not at room temperature (which made my cupcakes puff up and then sink into craters) or it could have been that little thing where I kinda sorta undercooked the cupcakes. I vainly tried to save them from undercooking by throwing them back in the oven for a few more minutes, but alas, it was not to be.

So this time, I did my cheesecake homework and revisited this recipe armed with some research tidbits. Here are some important things you can do so that your cheesecakes -- or cheesecake cupcakes -- turn out beautifully:

1) Make sure that all your ingredients are at room temperature. When I typically see the phrase "room temperature" in a recipe, I ignore it. Yes, I'm a rebel baker. Usually, I'm too busy trying to find my camera and make sure I have all my ingredients to figure out if any of the ingredients need to be at room temperature or not. In the case of cheesecake, it's best to let everything sit out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before mixing the batter. The reason behind this is that you want to have a really smooth batter and it's difficult to make cold cream cheese smooth. Also, if the cream cheese isn't soft, you could end up overbeating the batter.

2) Eggs hold air, so once the eggs are added to the batter, mix only to incorporate. Otherwise, your batter will contain a lot of air which will try to get out while your cupcakes are baking. This allows for cracks in your cheesecake as the air tries to escape.

3) To help prevent overbeating, fold the melted chocolate into the batter. This step is related to Step #2 above. Doing this will prevent your cheesecake cupcakes from looking like souffles.

4) Use a water bath while baking. I find it's easiest to place your cupcake tins on a cookie sheet with some water in it. This will allow the cheesecake to bake more slowly and evenly.

So what was the verdict? Well, despite my efforts, the cupcakes cracked a little, but since the frosting covered that up pretty well, I didn't worry about it. Thankfully, the cupcakes didn't form craters in their centers once they were done baking. Whew!

Here is some of the feedback from cupcake taste-testing escapades:

- Double the graham cracker crust in the cupcake. It tastes much better when there is more graham in each bite. I agree with this comment. In my defense, the reason I didn't do this was because I pulled this recipe together from various sources. I didn't know how many cupcakes it would make, or how thick the graham cracker crust would be. I ended up making almost twice as many cheesecake crusts as needed, but if I had made only 18 crusts with the graham cracker mix, they would have been thicker.

- The cupcake was too sweet. I agree, yet disagree. The cupcakes were pretty sweet, but since I like sweet things, this wasn't a problem for me. The first time I tried to make these cupcakes, I didn't realize how sweet they would have turned out, so I guess having to redo them worked in my favor in the end. On my second attempt, I tried to minimize the sweetness by reducing the sugar in the crust, the chocolate filling, and the frosting. If you think this cupcake will be too sweet for you, then feel free to reduce the sugar even more.

- The frosting looks like crap. OK, this comment was mine. I've been really lazy about piping frosting lately and I really wanted to pipe these so they would look more appetizing. Unfortunately for my good intentions, I ran out of steam and I reached for the butter knife instead of a piping bag.

Overall, I thought the S'mores cheesecake cupcakes were smooth and creamy. The marshmallow frosting was pretty light, so I didn't feel as if it weighed down the cupcakes at all. I also really liked the flavor mixture of the graham cracker, chocolate, and marshmallow. Of course I also like S'mores, so that makes this dessert very easy for me to love. I can't wait to make it again. Maybe I'll get around to piping that frosting next time.