Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Props to Vanilla

Some things in life are sadly underappreciated. Bowls, for instance. Never, ever have I heard anyone gush, "Man...bowls...that was such a good idea!" or "That's the best thing since bowls!" Huh.

Also, vanilla.

Vanilla gets a raw deal with the whole "just vanilla" and "plain old vanilla" thing. It's sort of gotten the reputation for being more the absence of other flavor(s) than a flavor itself, I think. Which is unfortunate.

Now, I realize I may sound just a taaaad hypocritical right now. Chocoholism and all. So I'd like to publicly acknowledge my usual avoidance-of-things-merely-vanilla on this blog and the fact that chocolate (especially in Reese's cup form) gets a lot more love around here. To somewhat even things up, I'd like to devote this post to showing you how stinking good vanilla alone can be. (Yes, this was also motivated by the fact that I had an $8 jar of vanilla beans sitting in the pantry needing to be used. Whatever.)

So. This recipe is modified from this site. And it is soooo good. Here you go:

Vanilla Bean Loaf with Lemon Glaze

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal (I got mine at Trader Joe's)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, insides scraped, pod discarded
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt
2 large eggs, 2 egg whites
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or you could use orange juice, or just milk, if you want)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, applesauce, eggs, egg whites, vanilla beans, and vanilla. When well blended, gently whisk in dry ingredients, then oil. Batter will be thick and shiny.

Spoon into pan. Bake about 45 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

To make glaze, whisk together powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle over top and let set before serving.


Friday, August 6, 2010

One cake, two cake, red cake, blue…well, you know

I made the mistake a while back of buying a buttercream-scented air freshener for my car. Those durned Yankee Candle people are too good at their job; the thing smelled so real it made me ravenous for cupcakes every time I went anywhere. (I wonder if this would work with bacon-scented air freshener?)

Once the buttercream smell wore off, I went with a safer option: “Ocean Breeze” or something like that. It’s nice. Except that I’ve been baking and transporting so many cupcakes the last few weeks, the car STILL smells like frosting—the real thing this time. Oy. Seriously, I think the interior may just about be permanently infused with the scent by now. (Want to come ride with me? Ha.)

It’s been quite the variety, too—cupcakes in every shape and color and size: baseball team cupcakes, wedding cupcakes, birthday party cupcakes. I admit, I enjoy the diversity; it’s fun putting my “creative” hat.

Anyway, because it’s been a while since my last post, and because I’ve got quite a few pictures to show you, I’ll get to it. Thus (drumroll, please), I present to you…cupcakes. A lot of them.

This first set was something new for me: cupcakes for a baseball team. They requested the team logo in edible form, so I busted out the fondant and went to work hand-cutting the little suckers. See?

The cupcakes were basic: yellow cake, classic buttercream. It was the hand-cutting that really took a while. But I was happy with the outcome, and so were the boys (though I have to say, I think their team logo looks oddly like the starship Enterprise…but that could just be me).

Okay, moving on. Cupcake job #2 was also a first: an entire cupcake tower for my friend Marissa’s wedding. I had so much fun with these. (And my dad did an EXCELLENT job building the cupcake tower for me. Thanks, Dad!)

There were all different designs, and both regular and miniature-sized cupcakes (as well as the small cake at the top of the tower). Plus, I made four different flavor combos: butter rum cake with rum frosting, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate/chocolate, and vanilla bean cake with almond frosting. Mm.

Aaand, last but not least, job #3 (from just yesterday, actually): mini cake plus cupcakes for a little girl’s first birthday party. Cute stuff. Bright pink, purple, yellow, polka dots…yep, I like it.

There was a classic white cake with white buttercream—a small sized one just for the birthday girl. There also were two dozen miniature white cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, for the kids.

AND for the adults (this is my favorite part): two dozen white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream and raspberry filling, and a dozen lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream and whipped cream and fresh berries inside.

Oh. Man. {{ heart eyes for filled cupcakes}}

I mean, look at this:

I don’t usually eat too much of my own baking (I prefer to force them on give them to my neighbors and/or family members). But this is my exception. Here’s evidence.

And Mom helped.

And, because I haven’t offered any recipes in a while, here’s one of my favorites for you:

Classic Yellow Cupcakes
 1¼ cups sifted cake flour
 ½ teaspoon baking powder
 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
 ¼ teaspoon salt
 ¾ cup + 2 tablespoons white sugar, divided
 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
 ½ cup buttermilk, room temperature
 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
 3 teaspoons vegetable oil
 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
 2 large egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

2. Whisk dry ingredients and ¾ cup sugar together in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg yolks.

3. In a third bowl, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; continue to beat until peaks just form, 30 to 60 seconds. (Whites should hold peak but should still appear moist.) Set aside.

4. On low speed, gradually pour butter mixture into flour mixture; mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. On medium-low speed, beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds. Stir 1/3 of whites into batter; then gently fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain.

5. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 18 minutes. (Cake may still appear damp.) Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes; then cool completely on rack, about 1 hour.

Note: Makes about a dozen cupcakes.

Bakery-Style Buttercream
 ½ cup Crisco
 ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 ½ teaspoon butter-flavor extract
 ½ teaspoon rum or almond extract
 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
 milk

Beat Crisco and butter until very smooth and creamy. Gradually add sugar and extracts. Beat well until light and fluffy, adding milk (by the half-teaspoon) and/or more sugar as needed to reach desired consistency.