Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cupcakes: from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Everyone can agree that cupcakes are one thing:  Delicious.  Whether you make them in the kitchen from scratch, or from your favorite box mix, cupcakes are sure to put a smile on your family's face and a happy feeling in their belly!  Growing up with my Grammy, I spent many hours frosting cupcakes 'the old fashioned way' with her in the kitchen.  We used a butter knife to swirl the frosting on top of each one.  While I will always have a special place for these 'Granny Swirl' cupcakes in my heart and still enjoy making them from time to time, it has been fun to discover new and exciting ways to frost and decorate cupcakes...like these little gentlemen!   
To create a variety of fun and beautiful cupcake looks, I used a few simple things:
1. A large Star Tip to pipe frosting
The large tip gives a touch of elegance and neatness to the cupcake that takes it up a few notches from a cupcake frosted with a knife!
2. Colorful Cupcake Wrappers
The color and style of your wrappers completely changes the look of your cupcake. If you are using colored batter, stick with white wrappers to let the color shine through
3. Fondant
Simple shapes can be cut out with cookie cutters to add TONS of whimsy and style to your cupcake
4. Luster Dust, Edible Glitter, Lemon Extract and a Small Paintbrush
Luster Dust and Glitter can be used wet or dry. When mixed with a clear extract they turn into the perfect paint for fondant. The alcohol in the extract evaporates fast so that the fondant doesn't get overly wet when painted.

To prep my cupcake decorations I cut out some Fondant and used simple shapes (circles, rectangles, stars) to make simple and straightforward decorations that you can make at home! You can buy fondant at any cake supply or craft store (like Michael's). Fondant can be colored with gel food coloring. You knead it like dough and then roll it out and cut it into shapes as if you are making cookies! I also had a butterfly cutter on hand and propped them against a container to let them dry with some dimension. I hand cut out the mustache shapes....you could use a cookie cutter if you can find one small enough to put on the cupcake.
Here's how I made the Minnie Mouse decoration.  I rolled black fondant out to 1/8 " thickness and cut out circles with a round cookie cutter.
To make the bow: roll your fondant out to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut 2 rectangles, 1 for the main part of the bow, 1 for the center.
Swipe a small amount of lemon extract down the center of the large rectangle and then fold each end towards the middle.  The extract helps it stick without getting too wet because the alcohol evaporates faster than just water. 
Give the bow a pinch in the center to give it a slightly gathered look.  Swipe the extract over the center and wrap the smaller rectangle around the pinched section to create the center of the bow.
Let the bow dry for a few minutes.  Press 2 ears into the cupcakes frosting and press the pink bow in front of the ears....voila!  You have an adorable Minnie Mouse cupcake.  If you don't like working with fondant, you can find some candies or cookies that can represent the ears and bows and make a unique version of Minnie Mouse all your own!
To make these girlishly adorable mini cupcakes, I simply added purple gel coloring to the batter to make it bake up a rich purple hue.  I only added a small amount of purple to the buttercream to soften the look of the cupcake.  If you match the color of the frosting to the cupcake exactly it often is a bit over-powering.  The lilac hue of the frosting complimented the cupcake perfectly and gave it a soft and girly feel.  I mixed small amount of pink petal dust and edible purple glitter with a small amount of lemon extract and painted the dried fondant butterflies with it.  After the paint dried, I simply perched them atop the lilac frosting swirls.
 A very simple and easy way to change a cupcake from boring to special, is by changing the color of the batter.  For a St. Patrick's Day cupcake, stir some green food coloring into the batter before filling the wrappers.  I made these all one shade of green, and then kept the frosting simple with the natural color of the buttercream.  To add interest to the cupcake presentation you could mix up several different shades of green, or make the cupcakes all the colors of the rainbow.  The gold coin decoration is made from gold luster dust painted fondant circles.  You could also use chocolate gold coins instead of the fondant to create a similar effect.
 The color of the wrapper can greatly affect the look of a cupcake.  I wanted to make these cupcakes representative of Beauty and the Beast.  The base of the cupcake and the frosting being reflective of Belle's shining gold and yellow dress.  I chose a wrapper with a scalloped edge to represent the scalloped detailing at the bottom of her ball gown.   The royal icing decoration is a nod to the magical rose from the Beast.  To make the royal icing rose, I slipped a rose drawing under a piece of parchment and piped over the lines with the icing.  After letting the first layer set for a few minutes, I piped another layer of the outline to give it more strength.  I piped 3 layers for the stem in green, and 2 in pink for the rose.  Let dry overnight, and it should be easy to peel off and place on your cupcake the next day!
Switch the color of the wrapper and the frosting and take off the edible glitter dust, and you have a cupcake fit for a Spring themed party.  See how a few simple changes can completely change the look of a cupcake?!
 I hope you have fun baking up some yummy cupcakes and trying some of these techniques to make some amazing decorative cupcakes to wow people at your next family party.  Never be afraid to try your hand at cake decorating...simple touches can take your delicious cupcakes from ordinary to extraordinary, you just have to try! (=

Monday, February 18, 2013

Buttercream Rose Tutorial

After making these cupcakes for a bridal shower, I decided it would be a good piping technique to share with the masses!  Piping buttercream roses can seem intimidating, but it's actually a fairly simple technique that just requires a little practice and patience.  Below is my video tutorial so you can see how the magic happens!  Scroll down further, and there is complete picture tutorial for you to reference while you try it out yourself!
To get started, pipe a base on the pastry nail tso you have something to start forming your rose on.  You can pipe the base with the same tip that you use for the petals.
Using a piping bag, fit with Tip 104 petal tip, pipe the center of the rose.   Make sure to hold the bag with the fatter end of the tip down.  Tilt in slightly so that a small curled cone is created as you spin the nail and squeeze the buttercream out of the bag.  This forms the tight bud in the center of the rose.
Using an arched or rounded motion as you pipe, pipe 3 petals around the center of your flower for the first round.  Hold your tip straight up and down as you pipe the 3 overlapping petals.  The top of the petals should line up with the top of the center of the rose.
Pipe another round of 3 petals.  I like to pipe two rows of 3 petals, and then add other rounds of petals as they fit in naturally.  A general rule to follow is to pipe odd amounts of petals for each round(3,5,7).  You can do this if it works for you, but sometimes counting the petals ends up giving you more of a headache and awkward rose than if you just let yourself pipe around it naturally.  I'm more of a free spirit and like to see it form organically! (=
Once you have the desired fullness of rose, you need to move it to your cupcake!  With a pair of scissors slightly open,carefully slide them under the buttercream rose. Glide the rose off of the pastry nail and onto the cupcake.  The scissors should slide right out from underneath it, but if you have trouble you can use a chopstick to gently hold the rose onto the cupcake as you pull the scissors away.
If you want to cover the entire cupcake with the rose, pipe a few petals around the rose until you acheive the look you want.  For a simple and sophisticated look, keep the basic rose, and maybe add a sprinkle of edible luster dust on top.
Use a star tip to add some details in a complimentary color around the roses for a more shabby chic look.
Add a thin line of a complimentary color food coloring down the inside of a pastry bag (leading to the thin point on the 104 petal tip), before you fill the bag with your butterceram.  The result is a rose with more dimension and interest.  The extra punch of color along the edges of the flower really make it pop!
There are lots of 'rules' to piping buttercream roses.  I think that all flowers are unique, and so are all people.  Once you know the basics of the technique, you can find how to make the style of rose that fits you.  Don't be afraid to scrape off your frosting and start over again, that's part of the process!  I like to pipe my roses directly on my cupcakes now, because I have more control of the size of the rose and sometime the roses on the pastry nail end up being too much frosting for the small cupcake.  The cupcake is harder to spin than the pastry nail as you pipe, so make sure to practice on the pastry nail first to avoid getting frustrated. (=  Also, don't stress about doing it 'right', have fun, practice, and please share your beautiful rose creations with me!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I grew up in a tight knit family (we also like to knit...the house is filled with yarn).  Ever since I can remember its been my mom, my siblings, my grandparents, and my uncle's family forging through this zig zag of life together.  Growing up in such a close family, I knew that someday things would start to change, grandparents would grow older, siblings would get married, new families would blossom.  Its funny how you always think about it happening, but never realize how soon. Recently, as my grandparents have fought with the stubbornness of the Stickney name to shine in their golden years, changes such as the addition of my mom's fiance Clyde, as well as the upcoming nuptials of my sister Danielle have shed a bright light over the family.  Excited to celebrate this radiant occasion, my sisters and I teamed up to tackle the first bridal shower of the family, and to make it a party to remember!
Led by my youngest sister Giselle, my sisters and I created the perfect party for the bride to be.  This is what Danielle experienced once she kicked off her boots!
Silverware was tuckled into blue linen napkins and wrapped in doilies.  The serving table was piled high with a collection of the wedding china of my Grandma, Mom, and Aunt.  Wine glasses for mimosas and bellinis were hand painted with hydrangea blossoms by a family friend.
Of course, I took a moment to Vanna White the beautiful table. 
My younger sister Giselle exercised her florist skills, turning simple white teapots into centerpieces with blue hydrangeas and sprays of tea roses and other hints of pink.  Each table was also adorned with various candles and childhood pictures in silver frames for the guests to giggle over.
The effect was simple and effective.  The lace fabric draped over the blue linens brought a vintage vibe to the room.  Old, new, borrowed, and blue, the tables truly reflected the style of the bride to be.
A wandering kitty completed the homey elegance of the room.
Wedding pictures of the women of my family were tuckled amongst the family heirlooms on the mantle to remind everyone of the bridal tradtion all women get to experience and share.
I created sugar cookie buttons in all shades of teal and blue as a nod to the thread of sewing talent that has been stitched from my grandma, through my mom, to my sister Danielle.  They were super tasty and looked cute as a button as a decorative touch on the serving table.
I baked up my Grandma's chocolate cake recipe and decorated them with hydrangea piped buttercream frosting.  Coconut cupcakes were decorated with piped roses and white ruffles.  Tutorials for making both will be in my next blog post!
Sugar cubes were decorated with hydrangeas and girly frills so the ladies could add a touch of flair to their coffee.
The sweet treats were nestled amongst fruit salad, muffins, mini quiche, and lots lots more!
 For as long as I can remember, my grandma had her 'What not' shelf in her house, filled with the random 'what nots' she had collected.  It would have everything from buttons, candies, and small antiques, to tiny vases filled with the flowers we picked for her from the yard.  My Grammy could not be at the party, but decorating the what not with our own 'what nots' was a special way to feel and appreciate her continued presence in our lives.  Giselle created little shoes out of patterned paper for the guests to take home as favors.  Bowls of the old fashioned candies my Grammy always had in her candy dish (spice drops, necco wafers, candy hearts, and nonpareils) were available for guests to scoop into little nylon baggies to take home with them.
My sister Gill made sure to include some fun new traditions of toilet paper wedding gowns, bride trivia, and memory games...
 as well as continue an old tradition of creating the wedding bow bouquet!
The bridal shower was a great success! Spending time with family, and seeing my sister's joy in celebrating her upcoming marriage with all her friends, family, and family to be was well worth all the effort. It was so special to see my sister sharing a moment with my grandpa, laughing with my mom, and sharing special moments with her Mother in Law to be.
  Looking back, I can see that her shower rang true to the popular Old English wedding rhyme. It was a beautiful blend of the comfort of old, the excitement of new, borrowed antiques, all sprinkled with blue! 
It was such a special day and I am so happy that I was able to share those moments with my family.  I consider baking, decorating, and eating sweets to be one of the greatest passions of mine; however, I will tell you one thing.....my family; I love them more than cupcakes! Happy Valentines Day, I hope you share it with those you love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Be Mine....and Let us Eat Cake!

My relationship with the love of my life, Francisco, has worked for a few main reasons.

1.  We are head over heels for each other and are best friends. 
2.  He LOVES cake. 
3.  I make cake.
With our anniversary and Valentine's Day right around the corner, I felt the need to show him I was already thinking about him, and decided to show my love in the way I do best, baking!

I sketched some ideas for the cake and after thinking of several fancy, modern interpretations of Valentines, I decided that this was a moment for a sweet home style cake that could show our relationship in the simplest of ways. We always joke about when I give him cake, he gives me his heart in return, so black fondant silhouettes of us in our 'roles' seemed perfectly adorable for this occasion.
 I drew the silhouettes out on a piece of paper and then used an Xacto knife to trace around it on a rolled out piece of fondant.  I then colored fondant a few shades of pink and cut out my own hearts in a variety of sizes and shapes.  You could easily use heart cutters for a more uniform look, but when doing a cake like this, I like to stick with doing everything by hand to match the home style base of the cake.
With the decorations taken care of, I needed to decide on the flavor of the cake.  I took a look in my kitchen and decided I would make an American cream cheese buttercream since I had boxes and boxes of odd amounts confectioner's sugar in my cabinet and a container of cream cheese in the fridge.
I walk through the market at the corner of my block several times a week and always notice the haphazard stack of delicious nutella near the register.  My hand reaches out to  grab a tub of the hazelnut delight, and I quickly pull my hand back, knowing that if I don't have a project lined up to use it for, it will all end up in my belly within 24 hours...three spoonfuls at a time.  You can imagine my delight when I realized that I had the PERFECT reason to buy nutella!  A red velvet cake with a nutella buttercream filling and cream cheese frosting was the perfect flavor my (and Francisco's) belly would fall in love with.  Of course, when I went to buy it they were out of Nutella and buttermilk and I had to find another store to buy it at, BUT it all ended well. (=
I haven't created a red velvet recipe that I am completely happy with yet, so I decided to try out a new base recipe to start playing with.  I started with this red velvet recipe from Sweetopolita, and made a few adjustments to start making it my own.  I added more cocoa because I enjoy the stronger chocolate flavor in red velvet, left out the red velvet flavoring because the flavor of red velvet is from the cocoa and buttermilk and it shouldn't need any extra.  I also left out the cake flour, because I find that it makes red velvet too fragile and light for layered cakes. 
Below is the recipe I came up with:
I used 2 times this recipe for 4 thick layers, but ended up only using three layers because I could see I did not have enough frosting to frost a taller cake!
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons red food coloring
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 1/8 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, warm
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare cake pans by buttering, lining with parchment rounds, and dusting with flour (making sure to tap out the excess).  Use 2,  8inch round pans for thick layers, or divide between 3 8inch round pans for slightly thinner layers.
2. Beat the butter, sugars, and food coloring on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. The mixture should be lighter in color and increased in volume.  Lower the speed to add the eggs, one at a time, until all our fully incorporated into the butter mixture.
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the salt.  With mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternating between the two just until incorporated.  I like to stop the mixer before it is entirely combined and finish it myself with a spatula making sure nothing is stuck to the bottom of the bowl. 
4. Add mayonnaise and gently fold into mixture.
5.  Create a small dent in the batter and add the baking soda inside the dent.  Pour the vinegar over the baking soda so you hear it fizz and then quickly mix it into the rest of the batter until fully incorporated. 
6.  Divide batter evenly between the pans, smoothing the top so it bakes evenly.  Weighing the amount of batter for each pan can help you if you don't trust your eye-balling skills!  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the comes out clean (Approx 25-30min)  Keep an eye on it and check frequently after 20min to avoid over baking the cake.
7.  Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 20 to 25 minutes.  This is important because trying to un-mold right away can cause the cake to fall apart (and may cause burns!).  Invert cakes onto racks, peeling off the parchment from the bottoms.  Let sit on wire racks until cooled completely.
8. Fill and decorate!
I hope you enjoy this recipe and find way to tweak it to make it an even more delicious red velvet cake.  I will post the recipe again if I find some changes that make it more delectable!