Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cookie dough bliss.

"Jeez. Is there anything you can't make?"

I'd love to be able to say, "Of course there is...." but I wouldn't have anything to follow-up with after the beginning of that sentence. Ever since I can remember, when I was handed something, (whether it be a homework problem, a sport challenge, or a recipe) I could usually figure out how to make it work in the end. Frustrations would rise, tears may have fallen, but in the end I made it work. And that's how baking has always been for me.

I find a recipe, either slightly challenging from an oldy-but-goody, or extremely new and exciting, and I just have at it. I don't expect perfection, I crave it. When it comes to baking, all bets are off. I feel safe when I work the dough through my hands, adding each ingredient in its perfect amount, at just the right time. All the problems of my own personal world can be solved while the blender is on and I'm scraping the sides of the bowl.

Brown sugar makes me smile. It's sweet and mysterious. But I don't think that's why I love it. I think it's because of how many different ways it can be used. You can toss it on a peanut butter sandwich to make it a dessert. You can throw it on top of a cookie to caramelize in the oven. You can make butterscotch candies in about ten minutes. And who doesn't love butterscotch? It's such a simple ingredient, but it demands the right amount of attention. Too much and you end up getting a crunch on your cookie (is that what she said?), too little and you might as well have never added it in. Brown sugar may be subtle when baked into a recipe, but it'll kick your recipes ass if you don't watch out. Sweet, but fierce. Yeah, that's why I love it.

And cinnamon too. Man I loveeee me some cinnamon. Warm in flavor, it adds just the perfect amount of home we all crave when we bite into a cookie. Sometimes I see the questioning look in a person's eyes just before they bite into one of mine. Slightly skeptical of whether or not the cookie will hold up to their mother's old recipe from way-back-when. But it's usually the cinnamon that brings them home. There's a small change in flavor that takes place, and it starts something new with whoever is chowing down. A little affair never hurt anyone, right? Well, not really...but with finding new cookies I think it's safe to say Moms won't be hurt.

I may bake to bring smiles, but I mostly bake for myself-- for the challenge, for the relaxation, for the time to myself. It's my one time to shine, where I know I won't screw up, where there's no pressure. It's just me, a few sticks of butter and the intuition my grandmothers bestowed upon me. So here I sit, putting off my French literature paper while I dream about the butterscotch cookies I'm about to make. Maybe I'll even figure out a way to find world peace. Wouldn't that be quite the challenge?

Peace, love, and butterscotch morsels in my mouth.

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Favorite Buttercream

The art of icing is actually a lot easier than most people think. There's not much to a great icing-- butter, confectioners' sugar, maybe some milk, a dash of vanilla, a bit of salt, and of course any other flavor you want to incorporate into the mix. For years though, I've only played with the easy flavors...vanilla, chocolate, and lemon. You either make the recipe just how you're supposed to; you add a little mocha powder instead of just confectioners' sugar; or even better, you toss in a little lemon juice. And voila! You have your homemade icing.

But sometimes a girl wants to make strawberry-lemonade cupcakes, right? Right. So here's where the difficulties come into play. The recipe is the same, but now I have to add a high water content fruit. And a sometimes tart one at that. My first attempt at this icing was with chopped strawberries...and it kind of worked? The flavor was right, nice and fluffy with a bit of that syrup-y sweet strawberry taste we all love. But then you chewed a piece of strawberry and got that kick of sour. Sounds like Heaven so far, right? Kind of.

The problems settled in when the icing began to settle to room temperature. The juices in the strawberry were released and that made the icing a little watery in general. So then there were streaks of strawberry sliding down the edge of the cupcake. Not as cute.

So this time around, I was making a decadent chocolate velvet cupcake-- a light and fluffy cake that needs very little to make it any more incredible. But I would never leave a cupcake naked, that would just be cruel. Especially because I just got these awesome cupcake lingerie liners that are peeled off after cooking is complete. And while a piece of chocolate cake is incredible anyway you slice it, I just felt wrong leaving that little cake out there in the cold in it's birthday suit.

Here's what I did:

1 cup (softened) unsalted butter
a pinch of coarse salt
6 tbs. strawberry puree
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

The trick is to mix the butter with the salt right off the bat to get the creamy and salty flavors incorporated. Then I used my smoothie maker to puree about ten strawberries. Before adding in the strawberries, I slowly blended in the confectioners' sugar, one cup at a time. Then came the vanilla. (Thank goodness, because this icing was literally just butter and sugar...amazing, but not very icing-like). Once those were all tossed in, I just added the puree two tablespoons at a time until I got to my chosen flavor. Enough strawberry that covers up the insane amount of confectioners' sugar, without going over the top. And at the end of the six tablespoons, I decided to throw in three drops of red food coloring. Because you can never have too much pink or red on top of your cake, right? Right.

Yes, I just admitted to liking the color pink on my cake. I dare you to laugh at me.

Anyhow, so that's where I ended up. Now I have about twenty chocolate velvet cupcakes smothered in my strawberry puree butter-cream icing sitting on the counter of my apartment. This could end badly.