Sunday, June 3, 2012

What's New, Cupcake?

If you read my last post, you know that I'm working my way through the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. Food is a big deal in Stephanie's world from her mother's home cooked meals and fantastic desserts to Stephanie's pizza and doughnut binges. It only seemed natural to draw this focus into this week's recipe post. Stephanie is frequently called Cupcake by her nemesis/love interest Morelli (also, they're tasty).

I love creating new recipes, too. I had a basic recipe for cupcakes that I got out of the back of a magazine as a teen. I always thought it was a bit heavy (called for sour cream among other things), so first I adjusted for that until I had a plain vanilla cupcake.  Then I started brainstorming on flavors.  And so, I give you Orange Cream Cupcakes.

What You'll Need
Small mixing bowl                                                  Cupcake liners
Whisk                                                                     Spoon
Small bowl                                                              Medium mixing bowl
Grater                                                                     Silicone spatula
Large mixing bowl                                                 Piping bag
Mixing spoon                                                          Large star decorating tip
Liquid and dry measuring cups                             Knife for chopping
Measuring spoons                                                   Cutting board
Cupcake tin
Ingredients for Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour                                   2 large eggs
1 tsp baking powder                                               1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda                                                Zest of 1 large naval orange*
1/4 tsp salt                                                             1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter                                            1/8 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
Ingredients for Buttercream Icing
2 sticks unsalted butter                                          1/4 orange zest reserved from above*
3 cups confectioner's sugar                                    2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Now Let's Make Orange Cream Cupcakes!
Click to enlarge for slideshow
Start by preheating your oven to 350F.

Measure out 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt and put each into your small mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together until they are well blended and have a somewhat fine texture. (translation: no lumps please!) Set aside.

Take your small bowl (I use an ice cream bowl) and, holding your grater over the bowl, begin zesting your orange.  What is zest you ask? It's the peel of citrus fruits. You can create zest with a variety of tools: a peeler, followed by fine dicing; a zester, or a grater. I find the grater to be the easiest, especially since you need to a very fine quality to the zest. Select a fine gauge grater and go to town. Just watch your orange carefully and only grate the skin.  Once you get to pith you need to stop. Pith is the white part of the orange and is very bitter (and will totally ruin the flavor of your cupcakes).  See photo two for an example. Once you've zested your entire orange, set aside bowl of zest. (Eat the orange).

Zesting                                                        Pith

Mmmm... butter
Unwrap and place 1 stick of butter into your large mixing bowl. If you didn't set the butter out to reach room temperature, go ahead and soften in the microwave. Watch it carefully; you do not want it to melt. The softness of the butter is very important. Add 3/4 cup of sugar to the bowl. Using your wooden mixing spoon (for us poor gals who don't own stand mixers yet), beat the butter and sugar together until they are thoroughly mixed and have a nice fluffy texture.

Crack your first egg and add it to the butter/sugar mixture. Beat it in, making sure that it gets mixed in well; the whites will resist a bit initially.  Once the first egg is mixed, do the same with the second egg.

After 1st egg                                          After 2nd egg

Now, take your bowl of zest and scoop out 1/4 cup. Set this aside for use in the buttercream later on.  Add the remaining orange zest (which should definitely be the bulk of it. Did you zest your orange well?) to the large mixing bowl. Measure out 1 tsp of vanilla over the large bowl, allowing it to run over a tad and add it to the bowl.  Mix the zest and vanilla in well.

Using your liquid measuring cup, pour 1 cup of milk.  You're going to add the flour and the milk to the batter, alternating between the flour and the milk.  Start and end with flour. I did 3 additions of flour and 2 of milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour).  It's going to be really runny after you add the milk.  At the end of the flour additions you want a very thick liquid. I found that it ran a little thin, so I add an additional 1/8 cup flour. This got the consistency just about perfect.  Make sure you mix the flour in very well, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. You don't want any flour pockets or lumps in your batter.

 After 1st milk addition                           After last flour addition

Take your cupcake tin and line it with cupcake liners. Use your regular spoon to spoon batter into each cup evenly. This recipe makes 12 cupcakes filled up to the very top of the liner. I hate cupcakes that stop short of the liner even after baking. Patooie! Bake the cupcakes for 25 minutes at 325F. After the 20 minute mark, watch the cupcakes carefully to avoid burning as all ovens differ.  Remove cupcakes from the pan to another place to cool.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing.

Now Let's Make Buttercream and Decorate!

While the cupcakes are cooling, start making your buttercream icing.  Take the medium mixing bowl and place your two sticks of butter in it. Make sure to use unsalted butter or you might affect the flavor of the icing.  If the butter is not already soft, microwave it for a bit. Again, be very careful not to melt the butter at all or your buttercream won't go so well. Beat the butter until it's nice and creamy.

Begin adding the 3 cups of confectioner's sugar one cup at a time, whisking the sugar into the butter after each addition.  Beat until well blended. The sugar and butter will be very thick and gunk up the whisk.  Tap the stem of the whisk gently against bowl to shake it loose and continue mixing.

 After 1 cup                                              After last cup

Add 1 tsp vanilla, the 1/4 cup orange zest you set aside earlier, and 2 Tbsp milk (you can also use whipping cream, either will work).  Begin slowly beating into the butter and sugar to avoid sloshing the liquid. Once the liquid is mixed, beat more vigorously until light and fluffy. We'll be piping the buttercream onto the cupcakes so you want the icing to be thick enough to hold shape but thin enough to pipe with ease. If you need to thin it add a little more milk, but do this gradually and carefully.

Chances are your cupcakes aren't cool just yet, so place a damp towel over the bowl of icing and set it in the fridge to thicken (butter melts). If you do have to put it in the fridge, make sure to whip it up again before you begin icing. While you're still waiting, take some candied or crystalized ginger and place it on your cutting board. Using your knife, chop and dice the ginger until it's nice and small. Set aside.

Place your decorator's tip in you piping bag and move it into position at the base of the bag. Spoon the icing into the bag. Roll the end of the bag closed. As you pipe, remember that you want to gather the bag at the top and squeeze from there (kinda like a toothpaste tube, if you squeeze in the middle people get grumpy).  Pipe a large dot into the center of the cupcake, then pipe around dot, gradually moving inwards to create an icing pyramid. When you reach the top, pull the piping bag up and away from the cupcake to create a peak.

Sprinkle the top of each cupcake with a little candied ginger. Serve and enjoy! (If you're like me, you need a cupcake after that. Decorating makes me grumpy)


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