Thursday, July 04, 2013

Cupcake MAGIC

Earlier this week, my friend Chris and I took advantage of a Living Social deal and attended a cupcake making class hosted by the founder of Cake Love, Warren Brown.

Come to me, my pretties....

I fancy myself an experienced baker, but I'm always looking to try new recipes and learn some tricks and tips. Especially with cupcakes, which are basically one of the most perfect food items ever invented. It's cake that fits in your hand. What's not to love?

Now I know what you are thinking. "But Maggie, I thought you were on a diet? What are you doing making and eating cupcakes." Here's what I think about that. You can't deprive yourself forever. You have to let yourself indulge every now and again or you will go crazy. Also life is not worth living without cupcakes. Oh, and I did a double workout that day so shut your cupcake hole.

Chris and I arrived at Living Social's building on 918 F Street for the class at 6:30. Turns out they have a pretty sweet kitchen set-up in there, and our baking station was all ready for our arrival with our ingredients for the first recipe (lemon cupcakes--yum!). Warren introduced himself, gave us some background about Cake Love (he quit being a lawyer back in 2000 to follow his dream of opening a bakery which is now celebrating it's 10 year anniversary) . He then did a demo of the recipe, explaining all the steps and providing some interesting information about why we do certain things in a certain order when baking. In his words, "baking is science and art." The science is how the ingredients combine, and the art comes from the baker himself.

And then it was our turn to make the cupcakes! I have to confess, it was WAY easier baking when someone has laid out all the ingredients for you in pre-measured amounts and is waiting to whisk away your dirty dishes and clean them for you. It was like baking on a tv show with assistants to do our every bidding.

As for the results....well, I can't lie. I was skeptical. Like I said, I consider myself an experienced baker. So I wasn't convinced working from the Cake Love recipe was going to make a difference. But holy moly you guys--these lemon cupcakes were possibly the best cupcakes I have ever tasted (I have a particularly strong memory of a Georgetown Cupcake chocolate peppermint cupcake one holiday season). But I am now a convert--this lemon cupcake recipe is amazing! I went ahead and put all the recipes we were provided at the end of the post.

While the lemon cupcakes were baking, it was time to turn to the frosting! Again, I was skeptical. I tend to rely on store frosting since it just seems too time consuming to make my own. And when I heard we were making buttercream I was even more unsure. I tend to go more for the light whipped frostings, and buttercream can be too heavy and too sweet for my tastes.

I was so wrong.

The buttercream recipe we used is a cooked meringue, which basically means you whip egg whites into stiff peaks, add some boiling sugar (which "cooks" the meringue) and then a ton of butter. The whipped egg whites keep the frosting super light and frothy, and the sugar and butter just make it everything delicious. The recipe itself is a bit time consuming since you need to whisk the egg white for a quite a while. And I wouldn't say it's easy--despite the few steps, things need to happen at very specific times for the it to come out correctly. But this is where the science and art come together!

Whip it good!

Now that is a lot of frosting. We made one batch for everyone at our table--which means enough to frost 8 dozen cupcakes. 

Due to the time limitations of the class, we didn't have time to whip the frosting until it had completely cooled. So we cheated a bit by pouring it into huge bowls and popping it in the refrigerator. Then it was time to turn to the chocolate cupcakes! Could they possibly compare to the lemon ones??

The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes is very simple; Warren Brown's baking philosophy is to use natural simple ingredients without any preservatives or shortcuts. And the chocolate cupcakes were total winners--very different from the lemon cupcakes, which had more of a dense texture, the chocolate ones were light and fluffy with an amazing deep chocolatey taste. The coco powder that we used was a higher percentage of coco than your typical powder which I think made a big difference. Warren Brown also recommended switching to using a food scale to measure your dry ingredients (you'll notice that the recipes below often refer to ounces rather than cups). Apparently, this makes for a more exact combination of ingredients.

All in all, the cupcake class was a complete and utter success. Though it was a bit expensive ($39), it was a super fun 3 hours, and we walked home with one dozen cupcakes and two large containers of frosting. Cupcakes like these go for over $3 a pop, so when you think about it like that, we got a good deal with the the fun and instruction added to the mix.

No whisk, bowl, or spatula was left unlicked that day.

Lemon Cupcakes
Yield: One Dozen Cupcakes

1/2 oz. Vegetable shortening (or palm kernal oil)
3 oz. Unsalted butter
10.5 oz. Super fine granulated sugar
1 Lemon (zest and segments)
1 Large egg
2 Small egg yolks
6.25 oz. All-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Cake flour
1/8 teaspoon Baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Salt
4 oz. Sour cream
2 tablespoons Whole milk
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Dark rum
1 tablespoon Canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Zest lemon and segment the fruit and combine with all wet ingredients.
3. Cream butter and sugar in the mixer on low speed.
4. Add eggs, a few at a time, until fully combined.
5. Scrape bowl.
6. On low speed, add the dry and wet ingredients alternatively.
7. Turn off the mixer and scrape bowl.
8. Mix on speed 2 for 60 seconds to thoroughly combined all ingredients.
9. Spray cupcake tins with nonstick spray and fill liners.
10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cooked Meringue Buttercream

Yield: enough for 12 cupcakes

5 eggs (large)
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) extra-fine granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Set out the ingredients and equipment. Separate the eggs and place the whites in the bowl of the standing mixer fitted with a wire whip attachment. Reserve the yolks for another use.

Measure 1 cup of the sugar into a heavy-bottomed 1-quart saucepan with 1/4 cup water. Gently stir to combine; I use the candy thermometer for this. Leave the candy thermometer in the saucepan, numbers facing down to balance the thermometer.

Measure the 1/4 cup sugar into a small bowl and set aside. Cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces and set aside in a medium bowl.

Begin making the sugar syrup. Place the saucepan with the sugar and water over medium-high heat. Partially cover with a lid to capture the evaporating water -- this helps to moisten the sides of the saucepan to prevent sugar crystals separating from the syrup.

Begin whipping the egg whites to stiff peak in a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment set to high speed. When the whites are at stiff peak you have a meringue. Keep the mixer running and pour the 1/4 cup of sugar into the meringue. Raise the heat to bring the syrup to 245 degrees if it is not there already.

When the syrup is at 245 degrees, remove the thermometer and slowly pour the syrup into the meringue. When pouring, keep your eye on the bowl. Aim for the space between the mixer bowl and the revolving wire whip. To maintain the same rate of pouring, pour slowly and raise the saucepan from your shoulder. Twisting at the wrist or elbow tends to throw off my aim.

After 1 to 2 minutes reduce the speed to medium for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the meringue is cooled. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to high for one to two minutes to fully combine the butter with the meringue.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Yield: One dozen cupcakes

3 oz. Butter
7 oz. Sugar
2 Eggs
3.5 oz. All-purpose flour
1 oz. Coco powder
3/4 teaspoon Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Milk
2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1. Combine all the wet ingredients together.
2. Combine all the dry ingredients together.
3. Cream butter and sugar.
4. Add eggs.
5. Alternatively add dry and wet ingredients into mixture.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Me, Chris, and Mr. Warren Brown!

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