Monday, February 27, 2012

Take a chance on chai!

Despite a very busy weekend, I still found a bit of time to hang out in the kitchen. I haven't had a chai latte for many, many months but a few weeks ago, I indulged in one from a very popular coffee store chain. I was instantly reminded of how much I enjoy the combination of spices in masala chai and was inspired to incorporate it into a cupcake. I haven't done a lot of tinkering with recipes in the past. I tend to find a few really good recipes that work well for me and stand by them. Since this wasn't for any particular occasion or event, I decided to 'take a chance on chai' and make my own creation. 

There are a number of spices that can be used in masala chai. The main 'base' spice is typically cardamom. From there, you can add really whatever you want: ginger, cloves, peppercorn, star anise, or cinnamon.  I decided to go with a combination of cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. In addition to the blend of spices, I took it a step further and steeped a Tetley Chai Tea bag (the name is really redundant being translated to "Tea Tea") in milk for 15 minutes. 

For the frosting I decided to use a cream cheese frosting because it tends to go so well with other spice cakes like carrot, pumpkin or ginger. I decided to put a hint of orange flavour in the frosting since I enjoyed it so much when I made citrus carrot cake.

The results were delicious. I felt the cupcake was moist enough though still a tad bit more dry than I would like it to be. I may have over baked them a bit since I was trying to work out the optimal timing and opened the oven several times, checking them before they were done.

I decorated these cupcakes with orange fondant gerbera daisies (or some flower creation of my own that remotely resembles a gerbera daisy).  I have posted the recipe below (for the first time ever). I hope you enjoy it!

Chai Cupcakes with Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 12 standard cupcakes

Chai Cupcakes:
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 bag "Chai" flavoured black tea
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange essence

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners. 
  2. In a small saucepan, heat milk to a simmer, remove from heat and add tea bag. Cover allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bag, squeezing out all the milk into the pot, and allow to cool. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine flours and spices and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add both sugars gradually and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. 
  5. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk and vanilla, beginning and ending with flour until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  6. Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the cupcake comes out clean. 
  1. In a medium bowl and using an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. 
  2. Add the icing sugar gradually and mix on low speed until smooth.
  3. Add vanilla and orange essence and mix on low until combined.
  4. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes or spread onto cupcakes with a small offset spatula.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Humble Beginnings - April and May 2010

Although I technically did not take a baking break this weekend (I made plain, lemon and chocolate meringues and Chinese egg tarts), I decided to continue my "Humble Beginnings" series of posts about some of my earlier projects.

My second decorated cake was for my nephew's 1st birthday in April 2010. Although I like the cleaner look of fondant on a cake, it was requested that the cake be covered in frosting and to have chocolate frosting in order to maximize the opportunity for chocolate-covered-face photos.

I had a really difficult time getting the frosting smooth on this cake despite numerous attempts at using a spatula with hot water. I have since learned to make my frosting a bit thinner when covering a cake and to use a pastry scraper to get my sides straight. Also making a higher edge on the sides of the cake allows you to sort of tuck the edges neatly onto the top of the cake making a straighter edge. Swiss meringue buttercream is also much easier to work with but it's not as tasty for a kid's cake.

This was my second attempt at figure modelling and I think it was a bit more successful as the characters did not end up looking obese. My favourite character is the zebra. The colours and theme of the cake were chosen to coordinate with the birthday party invitations.

In May 2010, my other nephew had his 5th birthday. The birthday cake was Super Mario.

I teamed up with my sister to make all of the figures for this cake. We made a plan by taping rough paper cutouts of all the characters, bushes, stars, clouds, doors and boxes to the cake tins and took photographs for reference. My sister, having never worked with fondant before, did an amazing job making Yoshi and the Koopa Paratroopa.

My favourite character was Lakitu. Apparently my photography skills were also not as good back in the day - I think the plate is in focus rather than Lakitu.

I also thought the Goombas were pretty cute. I remember working on Mario and thinking that it wasn't going to look anything like the character but it somehow all came together, especially once I got that moustache on. I opted to skip Luigi for two reasons 1) I thought that it would be enough trying to get one of the Mario Bros. looking correct and 2) I thought it would look weird with a big Mario on the top and a smaller Luigi on the side.

I was very proud of this cake. It was the first cake that I did where the figures actually had to resemble existing characters rather than random animals which could be more forgiving.

The cake itself was vanilla with vanilla frosting.

My nephew's reaction? "Where's Luigi?". Oops...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Velvety Valentine's

My husband and I do not typically celebrate Valentine's Day. How would we celebrate? My husband could cook me a lovely dinner, but he does that every night. I could make a special treat, but I do that almost every weekend. It was really nice to celebrate when we had a long distance relationship during university - I always looked forward to coming home and finding some sort of parcel waiting for me. Now that we're married I don't feel that we need a special day to show our love and appreciation for each other. I hope that we do that every day. Is Valentine's Day a great excuse to bake something pretty? Most certainly!

I've noticed that leading up to Valentine's Day this year, there has been a flurry of red velvet-themed desserts on bakery menus and food blogs. Why is red velvet cake so popular? It could be the soft, moist crumb created from the use of buttermilk, the subtle taste of cocoa, the vibrant red colour (from food colouring) which goes so well with Valentine's themes, or the fact that it is simply a vehicle for cream cheese frosting. For me, I think it is the latter as I equally enjoy a good carrot cake or ginger cake with cream cheese frosting.

Did I really want to jump on the red velvet bandwagon for Valentine's Day? The decision to make these was based solely on the fact that this was the cupcake flavour that was requested by my co-workers. That and I'm not much of a baking anarchist.

The recipe that I used was from my Magnolia Bakery cookbook. There hasn't been a recipe from this book that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. You can find the recipe online here. Rather than pairing it with vanilla icing, I used cream cheese frosting. Yum.

To decorate them, I cut out a variety of sizes of hearts and some X's and O's from fondant. What's Valentine's without a few sweet hugs and kisses?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Pearly Pops

Cake pops. Popular and tasty as they are, I have never had much of an interest in making them. As much as I love chocolate, I find the process of dipping things in chocolate to be both tedious and messy. I admire those who have popularized and mastered these tasty morsels of cake mixed with icing.

I had some leftover chocolate cake scraps and vanilla frosting and rather than letting these sweet commodities go to waste, I decided to make cake pops. There is a cake from Mich Turner's The Art of Cake that I have been looking forward to trying. The cake design was inspired by a Chanel clustered pearl necklace. I thought I would try this design on a smaller scale on the cake pops.

For the inside of the cake pops, I used leftover devil's food cake and mixed it with vanilla frosting. I did not measure anything. I added cake and frosting until I achieved a texture that seemed easy to work with.
I rolled the cake mixture into loonie-sized balls. I dipped the lollipop sticks in melted white chocolate wafers before sticking them into the cake balls and put them in the freezer to set.

I melted more white chocolate wafers in the microwave and re-warmed as needed throughout the dipping process. The first few cake pops cracked as the chocolate set. After a quick search on the internet, I found out that there are a few theories as to how this can happen. One theory is that this happens due to the cake pops being too cold therefore it is advised not to dip them directly from the freezer. Another theory is that if you compress the cake pops too much when rolling that they may expand once they've been warmed and dipped in chocolate causing the coating to crack. I took them out of the freezer and as they warmed to room temperature, they did not have cracks as the chocolate coating dried. The only problem was that by the time I got to the last two cake pops, they were too warm to stay securely on the lollipop stick. I suppose the best compromise would have been to keep them in the fridge. I found the chocolate a bit thick to work with, so thinned it with a few drops of grape seed oil. The chocolate cake was unfortunately too dark for a white chocolate coating which led to a grey-ish hue.

To decorate the cake pops, I made a small batch of royal icing and tinted 1/3 of the icing gold, 1/3 ivory and left 1/3 white. I piped the balls using a no. 1, 2, 3 and 4 tips. Unfortunately I had only one no. 1 tip as I think the pearls were better with smaller tips and left less of a peak. You could brush the peaks down with a damp brush but the process was already quite long and it was really just a practice run for a full-sized cake. After I finished covering the cake pops, I used gold lustre dust and a white-ish lustre dust mixed with a little vodka to paint the gold and ivory pearls. The effect was not quite what I had hoped to achieve but I think it will be easier on a larger surface to get a higher proportion of smaller-sized pearls and it will look much better on a white background then then a grey-looking background.

The most important thing was that they were delicious! I do not think that these will become a staple of my cake decorating ventures but was happy to have tried them.