Posted in baking, emulsion, foam

Yellow cupcakes with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream frosting

Two of the professors in my department just emailed me saying they have a KitchenAid stand mixer they never use and would I be able to give it a home and make it feel used?

Just take a minute to absorb that.

Within 48 hours, it was in my kitchen making cupcakes for them.

Yellow Cupcakes

cake batter in the mixer
The batter after mixing.

I’ve made yellow cake once before, and as I remember it was good, but it took an awful lot of egg yolks.  Instead of going back to that recipe, I just foodgawked yellow cake and found four recipes that looked good and came from reputable sources.  I ran these through my baker’s percentage program to make them easier to compare and then picked Smitten Kitchen’s, because it looked like an especially moist recipe, and not one that contained egg whites.  (Who puts egg whites in a yellow cake?  The Culinary Institute of America, apparently.  Shrug.)

I won’t copy the recipe here, but I will tell you that I used lowfat milk instead of buttermilk because that way I didn’t have to go shopping, and since I wasn’t going to have the acid of the buttermilk in the recipe to react with the baking soda, I replaced the baking soda with baking powder (the internets say amount of baking powder = amount of baking soda divided by three).  Baking powder contains both baking soda and an acid for it to react with – gotta remember to balance your acids and bases, or your cake won’t rise and will have a metallic taste.  Then I halved the recipe.  It made 48 mini cupcakes, exactly two pans’ worth.  I seem to have underfilled the cups, because most of them didn’t rise enough to make little tops for themselves, so maybe it should actually make less than that.

You’re supposed to bake the cake for 35-45 minutes, but the mini cupcakes baked in about 18 minutes at the same temperature, 350F.

The review: Wow.  First of all, making a cake with a scale and a stand mixer is a lovely experience.  Everything was so easy and fast.  Secondly, this is a great cake recipe.  Soft (cake flour is a good thing), moist, fluffy.  The tops are flat; I have no opinion on the optimal shape of the top of a cupcake, but now you know what you’ll get out of this recipe.  They’re losing moisture fast, though, so if you make them, eat them forthwith.

cupcakes
Some baked mini cupcakes.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream

meringue in mixer
The meringue just after whipping.

Buttercream frosting and I have a shady past.  I tried to make it three times in a row to no avail.  First, a whole egg buttercream that fell flat.  Then, an egg yolk buttercream that was unacceptably salty because I used salted butter (normally you can get away with salted butter; not in buttercream!) and that really had too much butter in it, anyway (it got so hard in the fridge that I was able to pick up the entire mass by one edge and throw it away).  Finally, another whole egg buttercream that just never came together, no matter how long I beat it with my hand mixer.  It seemed to me that buttercream frosting was one of the few things that I couldn’t figure out how to make without a stand mixer.  So it was the perfect recipe to welcome my new toy to my kitchen.  But this time, I decided to make an egg white buttercream, because I imagined the meringue would be better at balancing out all that butter than the egg yolks had been.

I used a recipe from My Buttery Fingers which is based on a vanilla buttercream from Smitten Kitchen (whence all good things come, apparently!) and a chocolate espresso buttercream from Use Real Butter.  The only changes I made were to beat the egg whites to fairly stiff peaks before adding the butter, rather than adding it as soon as the meringue was cool, and to use 150g of butter rather than 180g, which Wendy suggested.  I think it was absolutely the right choice.

The recipe worked perfectly.  It’s normal for buttercream to separate into a chunky solid phase and a liquid phase before coming together again, but mine never even did that.  It was just perfect the whole entire time.  My hand mixer couldn’t quite get Swiss meringue to stiff peaks; I tried once for long enough that I ended up moving the bowl and mixer to a table so I could sit down, and all I got was an overheated mixer and soft peaks.  So expect to see some piped meringues in the future.

As for the flavor of the frosting, I think it was a nice amount of chocolate.  You could go chocolatier, but only if you want to really make a statement.  This was a nice, classic yellow cake-chocolate frosting combo.

finished cupcakes
Thanks, John and Ellen!
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Posted in baking, foam, freezing, infusion, thickening

Daring Baker Challenge: Swiss Roll Ice Cream Cake

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

A slice
My guests thought it was just chocolate and vanilla, but you know me better than that.

The recipe is available here.
I’ll be honest, I thought this dessert was going to be too much.  I had to pick flavors for four components, plus have a fudge sauce.  But I tried to pick things that wouldn’t clash, and I think it turned out really well.  The subtleties probably didn’t come through, because you tend to eat it all together, but it tasted good together, and that’s what matters, right?

So, this dessert had five parts.

1. Sponge cake – I tried making it first by whipping the egg yolks and egg whites separately, folding the flour and water into the yolks, folding part of the whites into the yolks, and then adding all of the yolk mixture to the whites.  This worked well and it worked FAST, especially because my eggs were pretty old.  Then I tried it with brand new eggs, whipping whole eggs.  I can’t say whether it was the fact that they were whole or the fact that they were new or both, but they definitely took a lot longer to whip.  Eventually, though, they did, and although I had the impression they didn’t end up as airy as the first batch, the cakes were basically identical in the end.  It is important to grease your parchment paper – something I’ve never had to do before – because this cake will stick to everything, and it’s too thin (thin enough to bake in a jellyroll pan, that’s the kind with short sides) to afford losing a layer to the parchment. Because it’s so thin, it cooks fast.  In my overzealous oven, I consistently cooked them for 8 minutes each.

I flavored my cake by using brown sugar instead of white (actually I kept a little white sugar in there, but I doubt it matters).  When it came out of the oven, it smelled like French toast.  Yummmm.  I substituted cake flour for the cocoa powder in the recipe – all the flour I used was cake flour.

By the way, does anyone know why the recipe says to have the water boiling?  I don’t see why that matters, but I did it just to be safe.

2. Filling – I made whipped cream with brown sugar instead of white, and added some ground cassia/Saigon cinnamon.  I once impatiently put the filling on the cake before letting the cake cool, and the cake soaked it all up.  You really do have to let the cake cool first.  I don’t know how important it is to roll the cake while it’s warm to make it roll without breaking later, but I always did.  I didn’t use a towel, since my kitchen towels are of questionable cleanliness. I never had any trouble with the cake breaking from rolling or unrolling it, but I did have trouble getting the cake to roll tightly enough to be pretty but not so tightly as to squeeze out the filling.  I ended up rolling as best I could, slicing, and then unrolling and rerolling each slice.  Messy, annoying, but got the job done.  I think the trick, if there is one, has to do with getting an even layer of the filling on the cake.  Mine seemed to have more towards the middle, which made my outer slices badly shaped.

The slices of the resulting Swiss roll were pressed into a bowl (which was covered in plastic wrap) to line the sides, and this was put in the freezer.

Cake and Ice Cream #1
About halfway there.

3. Ice Cream #1 – I made Mexican Hot Chocolate ice cream, loosely based on David Lebovitz’s Aztec Hot Chocolate recipe from The Perfect Scoop.  I believe in making dairy-based ice creams with light cream, around 18% fat (I calculated that this makes an ice cream with the same fat, solid, and water content as a formula I found for premium ice cream), so I did that, and the recipe went like this:

Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

3 cups light cream

5 Tbsp cocoa powder

3/4 cup sugar

2 oz chile flavored chocolate, chocolate

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

1 Tbsp cognac

1 small dried red chile pepper, chopped and with seeds removed (I got this from my farmshare and don’t know what it should be called, but it is HOT)

Heat cream, sugar, pepper, and cocoa powder until boiling.  Remove from heat and add everything else.  Strain.  Chill.  Churn.  Freeze.

I didn’t know if it would be too hot or not hot enough, but I think it turned out just right if you like it mild.  You could tell something interesting was going on, but it wasn’t at all bothersome.  People who like spicy food would want more heat, though.  I think having it cold and with all that dairy definitely tones it down – I got more spice out of it when I tasted it pre-churning.I thought it was delicious.  In any case, I think it’s one of my new favorite flavors.

Out of the bowl
If I were more into crafty baking, I would totally make one of these to look like a turtle.

4. Ice Cream #2 – I chose hazelnut for this one.  I bought some hazelnuts, skinned them – I found out through on OChef that boiling them in a quart of water with 4 Tbsp of baking powder for about 3 minutes makes this really easy, I was so thankful – baked them at about 200F for about 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and then tried to grind them into butter.  That failed, so I infused my light cream (actually, this time I used half heavy cream and half whole milk, which is approximately the same) with the ground hazelnuts (and sugar) and then strained it.  This time, since I wasn’t adding alcohol, which makes ice cream softer, I added gelatin, which also keeps ice cream from freezing too solid, though in its own, gelatiny way.  In the past I’ve used a whole packet of gelatin for this much ice cream, and half a packet for 2/3 this much ice cream, and both times thought it was a little much.  So I tried half a packet, but I forgot to bloom it in some of the liquid kept cold, so I just stirred it into the hot liquid, and I don’t know if that keeps it from working, but it didn’t seem to have any effect.  The texture of the ice cream was great, but gelatin keeps ice cream from melting into a puddle and this ice cream melted like crazy, so I’m skeptical that it was really doing its job. I also used a little more sugar because my lower-gelatin batch before seemed not quite soft enough and perhaps not quite sweet enough.  I looked at Lebovitz’s Gianduja Gelato recipe to see about infusing the cream with the nuts, but other than that this is my own recipe.  If I can figure out how to make hazelnut butter I’ll have an even more original one for you – I’ve done the math to match that premium ice cream formula again, but alas, my grinders just aren’t cooperating.

Hazelnut Ice Cream

3 cups light cream

7/8 cup sugar (that’s 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp)

150 g ground hazelnuts

1 pinch salt

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 envelope of gelatin (about 4g)

Bloom gelatin in some of the cream.  Heat the rest of the cream, sugar, salt, and hazelnuts.  Remove from heat and add gelatin and vanilla, whisking well.  Strain.  Chill.  Churn.  Freeze.

These ice creams were poured into the bowl on top of the frozen Swiss rolls.  I let the first freeze before churning and adding the second.

Complete
At first I was just drizzling the sauce on top, but then I said what the hell.

5. Fudge Sauce – I cheated.  I’m sorry.  Please let me stay in the club.  I was supposed to put the fudge sauce in between the layers of ice cream, but I’m sorry, that is not the purpose of fudge sauce.  Fudge sauce it to be added hot on top of cold ice cream.  So that’s what I did.  I poured it on top of the whole ice cream cake.

I also wasn’t very excited about a fudge sauce based on water thickened with cornstarch.  I found a recipe on Allrecipes that was simply sweetened condensed milk and unsweetened chocolate, with a little salt and vanilla.  (It also had water, but I omitted that – I wanted it nice and thick.)  That sounded more like it me, so that’s what I made.  It was thoroughly enjoyed.