rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
On Saturday, I baked a double layer chocolate cake for a friend's birthday party, thereby using up all of the canola oil and almost all of the cocoa powder:

Double chocolate layer cake batter

I believe this recipe came from my Cafe Farmer roommate, RH. The next challenge was, how to transport it by bicycle to the birthday party? I strapped a picnic basket onto the back of Froinlavin (the Jolly Roger is STILL awaiting the arrival of new tires), and stuck the cake inside, with a bowl over the top to protect it.

It survived well enough to still have a cake shape upon my arrival:
Partial success

Not the most cosmetic cake, but it made up for that in its utter deliciousness. Richly chocolatey. I'm still liking the cooked-flour frosting recipe I found, after hearing [livejournal.com profile] sytharin talk about it.

Here's the freshly repotted satsuma tree, plus its (droopy) poblano pepper companion:
Repotting the satsuma
You can probably tell why I was eager to transplant it out of the plastic pot. The whiskey barrel is sitting on a plant stand I constructed from a piece of plywood and some caster wheels capable of supporting 500 pounds. Seemed like a wise idea.

And, the compost project:
Compost extraction

I filled all three of the pictured containers with excellent compost. I hope the sight of the heap pleases my mom, who helped me put it together in the first place. Stuff has been decomposing nicely, although I wasn't able to get in and turn it as much as I would have liked, due to the (now gone) fencing put up to keep out Luna, who also really liked compost, as it turned out.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
A short while back, I posted about this cake and its frosting failure. Upon some reflection, I don't think I will attempt to make an Italian Buttercream frosting again anytime soon (that was the seven-minute frosting with butter added at the end). It wasn't even so much the failure as the amount of butter that made me decide this - the whole thing is really mostly butter, pounds of it. I'd be happy with either the seven-minute frosting or the standard buttercream.

However! The cake itself was delicious, and we gobbled it all up. And the photos from the cake-making process look lovely as well.


Creaming butter and sugar. Creaming butter and sugar.
David Leibovitz recommended saving vanilla bean pods after using them to make ice cream and sauces, rinsing them and leaving them out to dry for a day or two. You can then put the used pods in with your sugar supply, and you will be quite happy every time you add sugar to things.
Sugar + butter close-up Sugar + butter close-up
Castor sugar makes for a really nice cake crumb.
Grinding allspice and cloves Grinding allspice and cloves
Put them in the oven, out comes cake! Put them in the oven, out comes cake!
Mixing egg whites and sugar syrup Mixing egg whites and sugar syrup
Lovely seven-minute frosting, before I added the butter Lovely seven-minute frosting, before I added the butter
After adding the butter - a grainy, watery mess. After adding the butter - a grainy, watery mess.

rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, I managed to make up a bunch of krumkake last night, with D and L's assistance. We also ate a bunch of them, and they were delicious.

For some reason, I have developed a tremendously strong urge to teach myself how to make whole-wheat croissants. I think part of this obsession started with a conversation that wasn't really a conversation with my family. My younger sister [livejournal.com profile] sytharin wanted to know more about my dad's obsession with whole-wheat pastries (as evidenced here). I think she was perhaps more interested in defending the position that there are occasions when white flour is just plain better.

I don't know if I can verbalize a counterargument. I won't even pretend to verbalize a counterargument for my father, because he can speak for himself. But I can declare that whole wheat flour has somehow crept into my subconscious, as a standard for something that is truly satisfactory. My father and I had a brief conversation some time after this initial discussion about a coffeeshop that was a block from our house while I was growing up. It was called The Daily Grind, and was run by two European women. It featured pastries, sandwiches, and coffee, and the pastries were made both with whole-wheat flour and white flour. Their version of scones differed from all the other scones I've ever had, and were delicious. So were their whole-wheat cinnamon rolls.

Sometime when I was in middle school or thereabouts, the owners sold the business. The new owners just didn't have quite the same magical touch for baking, and eventually the business was engulfed by the neighboring Italian restaurant.

Anyway, as with cupcakes, it's pretty darned difficult to find decent croissants in Arizona. I know of a few places closer to downtown Phoenix that sell oversized croissants that are too fluffy. They taste pretty good, but they can't hold a candle to some of the best croissants available in Seattle. So I might as well try to learn what's involved in the process, and start making my own.

The whole-wheat aspect will mean that my end product will be in its own qualitative category, as it won't compare to the ones I've eaten most recently (which were made with white flour). My family used to get whole-wheat croissants to eat for breakfast one morning a week, though, so I will have some personal basis for comparison.

We shall see how this goes.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Yesterday was one of those days that was busy enough that I kept waking up in the morning before my alarm clock went off. I had organized and advertised a bike ride for the morning, to check out the Scottsdale Farmer's Market and then over to Sprinkles for some cupcakes. Turnout for the ride was pleasantly higher than I had anticipated, given the 8 am starting time, and sometime thereafter, we set out up the greenbelt towards Old Town Scottsdale.

In case you have never been there before, I must tell you that my impression is that Old Town Scottsdale is a chintzy Old-West tourist trap area for the super-rich who have more money than sense. It's a great place to buy a life-size Indian Spirit Guide statue, if you're into that kind of thing. So I didn't set my expectations too high for the market. But as it turned out, the Market was surprisingly good. There were a couple of representative bakeries (including one selling sourdough chocolate bread and another that a couple of my friends were working for), and several of the vendors who sell at the Downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market had booths in Scottsdale as well. Only two things aroused any suspicions.

First, at one point I found K's sister LA chatting with vendor who sells jewelry at various markets across the country, not just in Scottsdale (he was telling her that he puts different kinds of items on display depending on the audience, and that Scottsdale customers mostly get to see his conservative jewelry pieces, not his nose-rings and toe-rings). To me, that suggests that standards for the Scottsdale Market are different than standards for the Phoenix market, which is restricted to AZ vendors only. A minor distinction, yes, but I feel that people should be aware of differences/biases in philosophical approaches because the competitive fields for businesses are not the same in these two contexts.

The second thing that aroused some suspicion was that the largest (organic) vegetable vendor at the market was selling produce from other states, for example, apples from Washington. While it was quite nice to be able to buy avocados right there at the market, I have to wonder if this kind of system is really any better than shopping carefully at a local grocery store. Or is this market simply a reaction to the general trend of increasing numbers of farmers markets popping up nationwide?

But don't take my suspicions too seriously--I'm just generally suspicious of Scottsdale because of its large population of wealthy residents who pretty much live in an alternate version of reality where there is no poverty and the most important decision of the day is which doggie stroller to use for taking one's dog to the market.

Also, there were a lot of bicycles parked around the market. After the fashion of Stuff White People Like.

The cupcakes followed suit: Sprinkles is a cupcake chain based out of Los Angeles. They tasted pretty good, though.

Once that was all said and done, we rode back to Tempe, and on the ride home we fell to talking about composting and gardening, so I gave B a quick tour of our yard and got to check out hers as well.

In no time at all, it was time to get materials together for an event over at Changing Hands Bookstore, our local new/used book-seller. The event was titled "Bugs, Butterflies, and Beyond," and we had been asked to bring over some ant colonies for an ant activity. We showed up armed and ready to do some Speed Science experiments, but things were such a zoo and the kids and parents had so many questions that we ended up sticking with just showing the ants to everyone and answering questions as best we could. It was super-fun (I love how enthusiastic kids get), but by the end I was exhausted and had a head-ache and so I spent a quiet evening trying to undo its effects.

Today I'm procrastinating from grading by putting together a research presentation for Friday. What a nerd.

Glazing

Apr. 19th, 2008 02:53 pm
rebeccmeister: (Iheartcoffee)
Today I learned a thing or two about decorating with chocolate.

Thing one: It's delicious.

Thing two: It's not quite as difficult as it might seem, though it is quite messy.

I wish I'd been taking pictures as I went along, but oh well. I'll have some awesome ones to post sometime soon.

Meanwhile, it's time to keep eating the, um, "scraps."

What a day. As usual.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
So. As you well know, I'm a bit obsessed with cupcakes, both the eating of them and the making (because that permits even more eating). I've been reluctant, however, to purchase books devoted exclusively to that subject because on occasions when I've had a chance to glance through some of them, they have been universally terrible: unimaginative and full of fluffy, overly-complicated recipes, and with glossy pages that lend themselves to looking but not cooking.

On the other hand, I've been tempted by The Cupcake Deck, which is available from BuyOlympia.com, for quite a while. I finally had a chance to take a look at its contents in a shop in Seattle, and found it to contain substantive, interesting recipes in an easy-to-use form (each card is its own recipe). So I broke down and ordered it.

All of which is to say, I'm really looking forward to trying out some of these recipes. I mean, Orange-Glazed Cranberry-Spice Tea Cakes? Or how about Sticky Fig Cupcakes With Brown Sugar Glaze? Mmm. These are recipes crafted by someone who knows what she's doing--Kilvans combines innovative ingredients in interesting ways without requiring a trip to the Super Exotic Supreme-O-Market. My only complaint so far is the inclusion of recipes for "extra-large" cupcakes. Such things do not exist, or are called muffins. Altogether, that's a minor complaint for a promising resource.

Also, I'll be substituting my own chocolate cupcake recipe for hers, since mine will produce more deliciousness.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
A recipe reminder for [livejournal.com profile] hiding_in_here. This recipe describes some of what I've learned about butter and sugar and flour and frosting deliciousness. (PS hih - your most recent cookies look scrumptious. I forsee a future as baking buddies).

And that's why cupcake bike rides are awesomesauce. Also, the cupcakes were delicious. Thanks, Lulu's, and thanks, pals, for making it fun! I actually had cupcakes last night as well, from Tammie Coe Cakes, which gives me a chance to do some comparing and contrasting.

TCC cupcakes are about richness and about frosting: pure, unadulterated buttery, creamy goodness. They pack a mighty wallop, if that's your sort of thing. I find it enjoyable, but perhaps a little bit too intense. Lulu's has actually been getting better in the times I've visited--the cake was the best yet, this time, and they top their cupcakes with a light, fluffy frosting. I was tempted by their cupcake of the day, chocolate chip with black cherry frosting, but eventually decided to go with some old favorites, the Landscaper (chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and coconut) and the Raven (chocolate on chocolate).

After I got home, I cooked up a big mess of turnip greens, which will hopefully convince my body that it doesn't need a continued, constant sugar supply, as it often decides after such moments of deliciousness.

It is an altogether lovely day for bike-riding.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
In a shameless act of self-promotion, consider:

rebeccmeister: (Default)
I am composing blog entries in my head, which is never a good way to blog because then what actually comes out when I have a chance to sit in front of a keyboard never even remotely resembles the long, rambling train of thought that passed through my mind and I set myself up for disappointment.

Oh well. On the other hand, that means there's plenty to write about, which may or may not be read by anyone (on NPR they have been talking about how many blogs now exist, and how the vast majority are read only by the writer's mother--though at least in my case we think it's my father more than my mother and I have a vague idea that the rest of you are out there as well). But I jest and thus digress.

I'll ruin punchlining opportunities by starting at the end of yesterday, coming home on the bus at midnight after a wonderful evening with two of my lifelong best friends, CD and AKW. As [livejournal.com profile] annikusrex knows, when I'm away, I often get to fretting about the meaning of our friendship because it cannot be about day-to-day contact (or sometimes even month-to-month contact). [hell's bells--I overanalyze most things anyway] It's just a part of my nature, but at least I know of it. The beauty of the thing is that this worry becomes inconsequential in the light of a moment standing in the cold at a bus stop, slightly tipsy, saying what comes to mind without fear of judgment or self-censoring and yet managing to have a meaningful conversation as well, about those things that seem to matter in the long run, about our easy and difficult relationships with others.
Ah, my soul says, this is the thing I crave.

But you might also know my yesterday through action; the day prior I pulled out my mother's baby-blue bicycle (I refer to it as the Blue Devil), filled the tires with air, and rode down Boyer and Eastlake to South Lake Union (where I witnessed a SLUT-car--South Lake Union Transit--we have no idea how the acronym became public for it was briskly changed to Seattle Streetcar). Then yesterday I rode over to Fremont (ah, the freedom of a bicycle!), at the north end of Lake Union (ah, geography in orientation to lakes!), to visit a few shops.

The first shop, a rowing clothing store (such a place exists!), was closed for the New Year, so I pressed onwards to Theo Chocolates, where some chocolate sampling occurred (as mentioned yesterday). Now I know perhaps too much about the subtle differences of different chocolates. From there, I rode the Devil up Fremont Avenue and discovered at the top that I was on the wrong side of Aurora for the purposes of heading east, so I circled around and decided to head back down to find a different route.

As I waited at the light at the top of the hill, a car behind me honked and the driver gestured frantically. I couldn't understand his gestures, so I waved flippantly and headed down the hill. Halfway down or so, I discovered why: I had taken off my super-nice biking gloves as I went up because I got overheated so I put them in the basket on the rear rack. Apparently this was disagreeable to the gloves and they were in the midst of hopping out and committing glove suicide when the driver tried and failed to alert me to the situation. So then I had to head all the way back up the hill and retrace my most roundabout route in search of the glove that got away. Fortunately I found it again, and so then I was able to make my way over to check out Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford (CD says she prefers it to Cupcake Royale and so of course I had to make my own comparison).

What I realized was this: after a certain point, there's no point in deciding who makes the better cupcake--the one at Trophy was perfectly acceptable and delicious, as are the ones at Cupcake Royale (though both shops had run out of cupcakes by the end of the day yesterday). I have other words for the differences in interior decorating (Trophy=too much baby blue, whereas CR=pleasantly brown with pink accents), but it's nice to know that it isn't necessary to distinguish the one and only best of the best.

And as one of my favorite storytellers would say (Johnny Moses), and that is all.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
This morning I took a group of biking enthusiasts on a short ride up to Lulu's Cupcakes for (wait for it..) cupcakes. 'twas splendid weather for a ride, and a splendid group appeared. The whole thing put me in one of those "people are awesome" kinds of moods. I could really get into this whole "building a biking community" business, and this area definitely has a lot of untapped potential in that respect.

The group that rode was pretty diverse--a couple of parents with kids, a fair number of us young adults, and my adviser and her husband and son. Probably one of the more interesting aspects was figuring out what kind of pace to maintain--my tendency is to want to go really, really fast, but of course that doesn't work so well with a large and diverse group of riders and that definitely wasn't the point of the ride.

Going at a slower, controlled pace is a bit more challenging, and makes me REALLY appreciate my father's patience with us kids when we were growing up (also his persistence when we pushed his speed during the STP). I'm sure there were times when he felt like we traveled at a snail's pace, but he was never impatient with us. We ended up going a bit too fast for my adviser, but she gamely stuck with it and had a good time.

I like these sort of things, where encouraging other people to get out and do something good is rewarding in and of itself and is accompanied by a delicious pastry.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Oh Miranda July. I should buy your book just because you give me so many refreshing laughs. (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] purpurin, for the link)

I am baking miniature cupcakes for the very first time. They are a stroke of genius, because it's hard to eat lots of regular cupcakes without feeling a bit greedy. But each miniature cupcake, it is so miniature! How could it hurt to eat another?

Now I want to lounge about and draw arabesques and seahorses. But I'm tired, so I think I'll go to bed instead.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Oh happy livejournalers,

I have updated my cupcake recipe, which can be found here, to include a frosting recipe as well as a slight change in the order of events. Killer cupcakes can be yours. Yum!
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I went home early today because I was super-tired (perhaps 7 straight days of rowing/etc. caught up with me?), and just when I got to the driveway a USPS truck pulled up and the mail carrier asked, "Are you Rebecca?" Then he held out a package from my parents! So of course I immediately abandoned all plans of getting grading done and set to work on opening the newly-arrived birthday package. I am now the proud owner of my very own drill (and bits), as well as the recipient of a beautiful necklace. My parents are awesome and gave me just the right balance of cute girly item and manly power tool. Emma, of course, enjoyed the unwrapping as well, although she wasn't as interested in the gifts as in their wrappings. Oh yeah--I also post here, for your viewing pleasure, a photograph of Cupcake Nirvana and of my new coffee mill, which I use pretty much every day now. And now, back to grading. Or maybe a stiff drink. Or maybe both, depending on how the papers look.
Coffee Mill Coffee Mill
Mmmmm...Cupcake Nirvana Mmmmm...Cupcake Nirvana
Even Emma likes the new drill Even Emma likes the new drill
or at least the packaging
Drill Power! (or is that Power Drill?) Drill Power! (or is that Power Drill?)
rebeccmeister: (Iheartcoffee)
Well, folks, I've decided to share my perfected cupcake recipe with you. I feel like I should mention that this recipe has been developed from research on baking ingredients and lots of experimentation on different cake recipes. It produces a heartbreakingly tender chocolate cupcake with a delicate crumb and a smooth but intense chocolate flavor. I won't talk it up any more beyond that except to say that I feel like I have finally succeeded in making something good enough to assuage my cravings for Cupcake Royale cupcakes.

With no further ado, here you go:

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes (makes 12)
* 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
* 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Valrhona or Scharffen Berger; the richer the better)
* 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa (Scharffen Berger; the Dutch-process is important)
* 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) cake flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
* 2 large eggs, at room temperature
* 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) fine or superfine (caster) sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/2 teaspoon table salt
* 1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream, at room temperature

1-Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Get your muffin tins lined with cupcake liners. Have all ingredients at room temperature (this is pretty important, so don't cheat).

2-Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and then set it aside to cool for a bit.

3-Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine, and set to the other side.

4-Take the butter and cream it with the sugar. Devote a good couple of minutes to creaming; this is the step that will give your little bundles of deliciousness their tender crumb. Watch the butter and sugar as you cream to see how they transform into a fluffy, smooth blend. Then add in the eggs, sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder, and salt and continue to cream. Add in the cooled chocolate mixture and mix until combined--it might take a little while, but you want a nice, smooth batter.

5-Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and mix until just combined; then mix in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and mix until batter is homogeneous and thick. Take heed: when baking, your goal is to prevent the flour from getting glutinous, the opposite of when you are making bread. So for tender baked goods, the flour is added at the end and barely stirred in. This batter is really thick and fluffy when it's ready to go and it doesn't take much mixing at all to blend in the flour. I'd recommend staying away from electric mixers when doing the final mix because they tend to overmix.

6-Use an ice cream scoop or similar device to divide the batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean (for me, that's aproximately 17 minutes). Special note: do not open the oven during the first 12 minutes or so of baking. The cupcakes need to be in a really evenly heated environment while they bake, or else they will overflow or collapse or other disasters of a horrific scale may occur. After that point it's okay to open the oven and check on them.

7-Cool cupcakes in pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes. (To frost: Mound about 2 tablespoons icing on center of each cupcake. Using icing spatula or butter knife, spread icing to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.)

And now, frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Note: Be sure to beat the icing for the amount of time called for in the recipe to achieve the desired creamy texture. Also, a quarter-recipe makes a good amount of frosting for 12 cupcakes. You could make a 1/2 recipe if you want to eat it straight out of the bowl. Again, having the butter nice and squishy is important.

Ingredients:
-1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
-6 to 8 cups confectioners' sugar
-1/2 cup milk
-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. Beat this stuff on medium speed (if you're using a mixer) until it's smooth and creamy, which will take 3-5 minutes. Gradually add in the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture has the desired consistency. Beat well for a few more moments. Use and store the icing at room temperature--it will set if chilled. It can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.

Bon appetit.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have an important announcement to make:

I have achieved cupcake nirvana again, this time with a recipe I reengineered myself. Perhaps someday I'll share my secrets to success. You really have no idea how exciting this was.

Altogether, today was a lovely day--I spent the middle part of it with A, baking both chocolate and coconut cupcakes and concocting four different frostings: almond, Bailey's, lemon, and maple. All were delectable. For the evening, a bunch of folks came over to help eat aforementioned cupcakes and drink various sorts of drinks. It was a kind of random assortment of friends, but that made it fun for me to watch what conversation developed (lots of talk about food, of course).

And now to bed.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Tomorrow I believe I am going to try this recipe. I wasn't completely happy with last week's results. It might have been that the recipe said to bake the cupcakes for too long, but I don't think that was the entire problem. They just weren't quite right. I might just have to go pick up a copy of the mentioned magazine as well. We shall see.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, wow.

No volcanoes this time.

I did end up cooking dinner for a bunch of friends in the middle of baking cupcakes.

They turned out pretty well this time. I used a different recipe, though, which produced a pretty different texture (it used bar chocolate instead of Dutch-process cocoa powder and had a ton of eggs in it). I had to bike to a couple of different grocery stores before I finally found some cake flour. I'm pretty sure it was worth it.

I'm not there yet, but I think I'm learning. Maybe. D has a copy of the American Test Kitchen cookbook and says it might be useful for troubleshooting once I find a base recipe that I like. It helped her perfect her scone recipe, and now she makes some killer scones.

Meh. These ones will do for this week.

Cup cake.

Oct. 7th, 2006 05:30 pm
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Tomorrow I shall experiment further with cupcake recipes. My first step is going to be to try out cake flour. I will also be switching to unsalted butter and will be trying out a new recipe. So this is not a very scientifically rigorous experiment.

But it will be a DELICIOUS one.
rebeccmeister: (Wha?)
Well. Overall, this was a mixed success. I'm not completely happy with the cupcakes' crumb. Oh well. And yes, the frosting is a bit busy. DID YOU EXPECT PERFECTION STRAIGHTAWAY? I'd like to see your frosting supplies first.

On to the cupcake photos. UNH!



Oh, now you're hungry, aren't you??



Yeah, just look at that gorgeous frosting.


You can see some of the collapsed volcanoes in this picture. BUT WE WILL EAT THEM ANYWAY.

Many, many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] figment80 for lots of last-minute borrowed kitchen supplies...
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Okay, the second dozen came through okay. We figured out that it was probably putting those cute little silicone cupcake baker things on an insulated cookie sheet. What a dumb mistake! I did the second dozen in a muffin tin and they are better at least visually.

Gustatorily, the frosting recipe is great. I'm still a bit disappointed by the cake recipe. The crumb is a bit too tough. That could have to do with the fact that they are pretty heavily mixed after the addition of the flour. I'm going to have to do some serious experimenting to perfect them. But not bad for a first attempt.

Cupcake porn to follow.

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