Sunday, January 30, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I didn’t grow up a Southerner, not can I even say that I can remember eating red velvet cake growing up at all, so I can’t claim to be an expert on them.  However, this recipe from the Joy of Baking produces some excellent red velvet cake.  It’s got a very mild chocolate and vanilla flavor and is certainly bright red.

I used a milder flavored cream cheese icing to frost it.  Its recipe was:

8oz Cream Cheese

8oz Unsalted Butter

12oz Powdered Sugar

Mise en place for the cake

As always, here’s the mise en place for the cupcakes.

Lined cupcake tin

The cupcake papers go into their tins.

Dry ingredients

The dry ingredients get measured out.

Sifted dry ingredients

And then sifted together to mix and also make them light and airy.

Creamed butter and sugar

Then the butter and sugar cream together in the mixer.

The wet ingredients

The eggs and vanilla go in next.

Dyed buttermilk

Buttermilk gets mixed with red food color.

Cake batter

Then, the flour mixture and the buttermilk get mixed in, alternating between the two so that no lumps can form.

Once all the dry ingredients and buttermilk are mixed in, then the vinegar and baking soda get quickly mixed together and then folded into the cake batter.

Portioned cupcakes

The batter gets portioned out into the cupcake tins.

Baked cupcakes

The cupcakes bake at 350 Fahrenheit for about 20 to 30 minutes.  They are then removed from the tins and cooled on wire racks.

Mise en place for the frosting

Here is the mise en place for the cream cheese icing.

Finished frosting

Not much to do here, the butter and cream cheese mix together, then the powdered sugar goes in and everything mixes until its fluffy.

The red velvet cupcake army

Here is the small army of frosted cupcakes.

Red velvet cupcake

This one came out just about perfect and so it gets a solo portrait.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Everyone has their perfect bagel, unfortunately these aren’t them.  Don’t get me wrong, they are a great bagel.  They just aren’t perfect.  They do, however, probably come as close to the perfect bagel as you can make a home and outside of New York City.

This recipe comes from one of my newly favorite bread books, Artisan Breads at Home by the Culinary Institute of America.  This books is arranged a little oddly, but makes great bread.  And, as any good bread book should, includes measurements by weight and bakers percentage.  It’s big contribution is the addition of malt syrup to breads to give them a better rise and better flavor.

The key pieces to making good bagels at home are using malt syrup and a good quality high protein flour.  You want a flour with a higher protein content than normal bread flour.  I’ve chosen to use Sir Lancelot Flour from King Arthur Flour.

 Mise en place for the bagels

Here is the mise en place for the bagels.  As you can see there are only three ingredients, other than water and salt.

Wet ingredients for the sponge

These bagels start with a sponge.  Sponges are just a type of quick preferment to give the bread a better flavor.  This sponge starts with water and malt syrup.

Dry ingredients for the sponge

The sponge also has some flour and yeast.

The sponge

Here is the sponge.  It sits out in a covered bowl for an hour.

Wet ingredients for the dough

Next up is the main dough.  Again, it starts with some water and malt syrup.

The sponge and wet ingredients

The finished sponge gets added to the water mixture.

The sponge and wet ingredients mixed together

The sponge and wet ingredients get all mixed together with the dough hook.

The dry ingredients get mixed in

Then the remaining flour, yeast, and salt get mixed in.

The final dough

Once the dough is mixed and the gluten has fully developed, it gets turned out onto the counter.  Since the flour has a higher protein content, it will actually take longer to fully develop the gluten.  The dough is also very stiff.  These two things together make it so that your stand mixer can overheat.  If it does, then you’ll need to revert to kneading by hand.

Measured out pieces

The dough should then be measured out into roughly 5 ounce pieces and shaped into an oblong.

Starting to shape the bagel

After a quick rest on the counter, the dough is ready to be shaped into a bagel.  The first step was to flatten it out into a rectangle.

Snake of bagel dough

Then shape it into a long snake by constantly folding down in thirds.

Shaped bagels

One end of the dough can then be wet and attached to the other end to make a circle.  To fully seal the shape, it should be rolled around your fingers, gently pressing on the dough.

Ready for the fridge

The bagels then need to retard in the refrigerator over night.

Boiling bagels in water and malt syrup

The next day, after the bagels have been removed and brought to room temperature, a large pot of water and malt syrup should be brought to a boil.

Boiled bagels

Each bagel should be boiled for 20 seconds, then placed on a baking sheet.  At this point various toppings can be added to the bagels.  I opted for plain and a few with salt.

Baked bagels

The bagels then bake at 475 degrees Fahrenheit for about 14 minutes.

A finished bagel

They come out nice and golden brown with a slightly blistered crust.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Russian Cargo Threadcake

In our now second annual tradition, my wife and I made another Threadcake.  Threadcakes is an awesome online competition where you make a cake based on a shirt by Threadless.  Last year we made a walrus and ice cream truck cake and I wrote about it here.

This year’s cake is based on the shirt “Russian Cargo.”  It’s inspired by Tetris.  The Cyrillic text on the side of the cargo ship is the first name of the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov.

Unlike last years entry, this year we made the entire piece out of nothing but cake, fondant, and gum paste.  There are also a few pieces of structural support where necessary, such as the crane arm, the wire to hold the floating Tetris piece, support in the Tetris piece itself, and some wooden dowels.

The cake is again made out of vanilla chiffon cake from Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft from the Culinary Institute of America. This cake is rather firm, which makes it easier to carve and stack, but still moist and tasty.  The frosting is a simple vanilla buttercream frosting.

Mise en place for the cake

Here is the mise en place for the cake itself.

Dry ingredients for the cake

All the dry ingredients get sifted together.  I actually sifted this year rather than just mixing them as I normally would.  I’m not sure it made a difference since the batter gets mixed so much anyway.

A lot of egg yolks

Here are all the eggs yolks required to make this cake.  This is enough for one half-sheet cake (13x18”).  I ended up needing two half-sheet cakes to make this cake.

Egg whites

And here are the egg whites separated out and saved for later.

Wet ingredients

The wet ingredients all get mixed together.

Slowly mixing together

The wet ingredients get slowly mixed into the dry.

Batter mixed

It all gets mixed for a few minute and everything is smooth and well incorporated.

Meringue for the cake

The egg whites get turned into a meringue.

Meringue mixed in

The meringue then gets gently folded into the cake batter.

Prepared pan

A half-sheet pan is prepared by lining it with some parchment paper and then coating it with a flour and oil spray.

Batter in the pan

The batter goes into the pan and then immediately into the oven.

Baked cake

After baking for about 40-50 minutes, the cake is done.

Cake cooling on a wire rack

Then, after cooling for a few minutes in the pan, the cake is turned out onto a wire rack and allowed to cool completely.

Left over meringue to pipe into clouds

The cake recipe ends up with extra egg whites.  We turned them into a slightly over mixed meringue to make clouds.  Over mixing them gave it a more uneven and “cloudy” texture.

Baked meringue clouds

Here are the clouds after drying in the oven for a while.  Unfortunately we forgot to attach them to the smoke stack on the ship.

Butter for frosting

Now it was time to make the buttercream frosting.  It was a simple mixture of butter, milk, and powdered sugar.  While not my favorite frosting, it does make excellent frosting for carved cakes.  It also takes substantially less time than a “real” buttercream frosting.

Simple buttercream frosting

Here is the completed frosting.  We ended up needing about twice this amount to ice and fill the whole cake.

Cut cake

Next up was stacking and carving the cake.  Each cake was cut to just about the right size, then the rounded top was removed with a sharp bread knife.

Filled cake

Frosting was then added to the top of the pieces.

Stacked cake

And another piece was laid upside down on top.  The second piece is upside down so that the top can be perfectly flat.  The bottom of the cake is always going to be flatter than anything you can carve.

Triple stacked cake

Here is a three piece high stack.

All the cakes stacked

And here is all the cake stacked for all pieces of the ship and cargo.

Metal Tetris form

The hanging tetris piece would never last as just cake.  It needed some structural support.  For that support a one inch wide strip of aluminum was bent and cut into shape.

Filled Tetris form

The shape was then filled with cake.

Creative cake carving

All the cake pieces then needed carving.  Cereal boxes make for excellent impromptu guides to make sure that you carve perfectly vertically.

Carved Tetris cargo

Here is a carved piece that will end up being one of the two Tetris cargos on the ship.

Carved ship

The form of the cargo ship itself also gets carved.

Iced crane tower

All the pieces then need to be iced.  The icing here shouldn’t be very thick.  It is basically just there to allow the fondant to adhere to the cake.

Iced ship

The ship itself also gets iced.

Hole for crane anchor

The ship, then, needed to have a hole carved out of the rear section.

Sculpy crane anchor

This was to allow us to put a block of baked Sculpy to serve as an anchor for the crane arm.  Without this, the crane arm wouldn’t have been able to support the weight and would have fell over.

Covered crane anchor

The hole was covered up with cake and re-iced.  A wooden skewer marks the point where the crane arm will anchor.

Chilling iced cake

Everything then goes into the fridge so that the icing can harden up a bit to make it easier to cover with fondant.

Coloring fondant

Then we hade to make all the colors of the fondant we needed, except black.  It’s really hard to make a good black color at home without making the fondant too liquid.  Instead, we just purchased a small amount of black fondant.

Mixing the color in

You can wear gloves to mix the gel color into the fondant if you are worried about dying your hands.

Cutting out Tetris squares

The Tetris square were cut out using a clean Exacto knife.

Cut Tetris squares

This made for perfect and uniform squares.

Drying the Tetris squares out

The squares were laid out to dry over night.

Cutting out the lettering

The lettering for the ship name also was cut out of fondant.

Fondant covered Tetris cargo

The next day, each of the cake pieces was covered with white fondant to form a base.

Adding the Tetris squares

Then the Tetris squares were adhered to the piece with just a light brushing of water.

Finished small Tetris cargo

Here is the completed smaller Tetris cargo.

Finished large Tetris cargo

And the larger Tetris cargo.

Front ship building under construction

This is the front tower of the ship with the smoke stack in front.  Unfortunately we ended up having to cut this piece in half.  We had planned to make a larger cargo ship, but shrank the ship since we ran out of cake.  So, to get everything to fit on the ship, this piece made the ultimate sacrifice and was cut in half.

Ship under construction

The ship also got covered with fondant.  The crane is also coming together here as is the lettering on the side of the ship.

Finished cake

And here is the completed cake.  The crane arm is a metal rod to help support the weight.  The Tetris piece is suspended with some wire.

Finished cake, three quarter shot 

Here is the cake again at a different angle.

Eaten cake

This is some of the aftermath of eating the cake.  It was a fun cake to make, but we’re certainly glad to not have had to eat it all ourselves.  It was taken over to a friends house to share and then to work with me where it was finally finished.