Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Roses

A beloved person in my life is going through a very hard ordeal right now. Sometimes when a person gets bad news about their health, the people close to them feel like nothing they can say or do will help them through.

This person I made these vanilla cupcakes for is a wonderfully funny and caring woman. She's also a huge supporter of my baking, which I've always appreciated. She requested vanilla cupcakes because they're her favorite. When you feel powerless in life, it's always nice to be able to do something that's within your means. I probably feel that way even more because I have deep seated control issues, but that's another story!

To my wonderful co-worker- I love you and look forward to fulfilling more cupcake requests!

For the Vanilla Cupcakes: (makes 20 cupcakes)

1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 stick butter, plus 2 tbsp canola oil
1 cup, plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 white
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Seeds from one vanilla bean (you can sub vanilla extract)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard cupcake tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter, oil and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium. Add vanilla bean seeds. Add whole eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add egg white, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until combined after each.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cupcakes spring back when lightly touched and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

For the Vanilla Bean Buttercream:
3 sticks butter, unsalted
1/4 block cream cheese
1 vanilla bean (or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla bean seeds. Add confectioner's sugar and mix on low. Add heavy whipping cream and increase speed to medium.

To decorate:

I piped buttercream onto each cupcake using a french pastry tip. The roses were made by piping onto a pastry nail with swiss meringue buttercream dyed pink. Since swiss meringue buttercream has an egg white and butter base, it's a lot stiffer and easier to decorate with.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Croquembouche (gluten free)

I was feeling very uninspired last week. Work has been tougher to get through lately, traffic has been terrible, and I think I've been letting the small things in life get to me and have been seeing the world through gray-tinted glasses.

Working an 8-5 office job is really hard for me. I just feel like a number crunching/chipper phone answering/filing robot after a while. Poor Mr. Pixie Crust has to deal with me coming home extremely grumpy after a full day of work and evening of traffic. We just watched all of the seasons of "The Wonder Years" on Netflix and sometimes I feel like Kevin Arnold's dad when he would come home to his chipper wife and grunt in response to her "Work's work!" after she asks how his day was.

Anyway, I started to feel kind of uninspired with baking because I let that "what's the point?" feeling get to me. Luckily, I came out of it and decided to make some cream puffs because they are my new absolute favorite baked thing to make. To take it to another level, I tried my hand at a small version of a "Croquembouche," which is a tower of cream puffs "glued" together with caramelized sugar.

For the Pâte à Choux: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp super fine sweet white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tbsp sorghum flour
1 cup water
2 tsp sugar
1 stick butter, unsalted
4 large eggs

*For non-gluten free readers, replace flours/starch with 1 cup AP flour

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place butter, water, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until batter come together. Allow batter to cool for 2 minutes and transfer to bowl of stand mixture. With paddle attachment on and mixer running, add eggs one at a time. Once batter is fully combined, place batter in a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe evenly sized rounds (about 2 tsp-1 tbsp worth of batter) 1-inch apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

With a wet finger, smooth pointy tops. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until puffs are golden brown and feel light and hollow inside, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

For the Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream: (Adapted from Sprinkle Bakes)
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup milk. Combine the remaining milk and cream with the sugar in a saucepan, scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add to milk. Place empty vanilla bean pod in sauce pan and bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking. Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla. Pour pastry cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use. To fill pastry puffs, make a small slit in the sides of the choux and pipe in pastry creme. Gently press back together and set aside.

For the Caramelized Sugar:

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

To Assemble:

Carefully dip the top of each filled puff into hot caramelized sugar and gradually stack upon each other until a tower is formed. For best results, try out a sample tower before making and using the caramelized sugar. You can use a cake board, goblet-like cup, or styrofoam cone to construct your tower.

All photos by the wonderful Mr. Pixie Crust

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vanilla French Macarons

Happy Valentine's Day!

*Photo by my awesome brother-in-law

A lot of times I lean towards creating new recipes and concepts for special days, but today is one of those days where I chose to make an "oldie but goodie."

French Macarons filled with a rich vanilla french buttercream, styled in a lovely, festive shade of pink.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Valentine's Day! Not only did my sweet husband surprise me with some wonderful gifts, but I took a half day off of work, so as not to get stuck in traffic like last year. It took me three miserable hours to go less than 10 miles, people- despite appearances, Los Angeles is not a fun place to be on a day like today.

For the Macaron Shells (makes 32-35 shells):

2 large egg whites, aged at room temperature at least 24 hours
3/4 cup almond meal
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup superfine/castor sugar (whirl regular sugar in a food processor for a similar result)
pinch of cream of tartar

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you're like me and have difficulty with spatial awareness and piping cookies to be the same size, make sure to draw 1 to 1 1/2 inch circles on the back side of the parchment paper prior to piping.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium round tip.

Pulse almond flour and confectioner's sugar together in a food processor for 2-3 minutes, until fine. Sift through a mesh sieve. Re-process remaining large pieces and sift.

Whip egg whites in bowl using hand mixer, or in bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. When mixture is foamy, add cream of tartar. Once whites begin to stiffen, slowly add granulated sugar with mixer running. Egg whites are done when stiff peaks have formed.

Add food coloring, almond meal, and confectioner's sugar to egg whites. Using a plastic offset spatula, fold mixture until batter is the texture of slow moving lava and it "ribbons" off of the spatula. Scoop batter into pastry bag and pipe onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Hit baking sheets against the counter to remove air bubbles. Allow to sit on countertops for at least 30 minutes to form a "skin." Bake cookies one sheet at a time at 275 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

For the Vanilla French Buttercream:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
3 sticks butter, unsalted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in small saucepan and place over medium heat. Place eggs in bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Mix eggs until creamy. Cook sugar until it reaches soft ball stage- 240 degrees. With mixer still running on medium-low, slowly pour hot sugar syrup into eggs. Once incorporated, turn mixer up and mix until fully cooled. With mixer still running, cut up butter into small pieces and add little by little. Once buttercream has come together, switch to paddle attachment, add vanilla extract, and continue to mix for another 2-3 minutes. Pipe buttercream onto one half of each macaron and gently sandwich together.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cream Puffs and Mini Chocolate Donuts

Yesterday Mr. Pixie Crust and I hosted a "weekend before Valentine's Day" brunch for some of our family members and close friends. It was a lot of fun! We had a variety of breakfast foods, cream puffs, miniature donuts, and a mimosa bar. Even though my dear husband isn't one to naturally incline towards hosting large parties, he was very sweet to indulge my idea of having some special people over for a pre-Valentine's day affair.

A few weeks ago I made Pate a Choux for the first time, or, as it's more commonly known, the pastry part of a cream puff or eclair. Let me tell you- cream puffs are SO incredibly easy to convert into a gluten free recipe. Since there is so little flour in the recipe, I easily substituted AP flour for a mixture of rice flour, potato starch, and sorghum flour. Not only was the recipe easy to convert, but whether they're made the traditional way or the gluten free way, cream puffs are an example of a fancy, extra special dessert that are deceptively simple to make.

For our brunch, I made two versions: Strawberry mousse filled cream puffs topped with pink white chocolate glaze and traditional cream puffs filled with vanilla bean whipped cream and glazed with dark chocolate.

I've also included the recipe for these mini donuts below, which are also exceptionally simple to make. You can even use the same glaze for the chocolate cream puffs as you use on the donuts!

For the Pate a Choux (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp white rice flour
2 tbsp sorghum flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tsp sugar
1 cup water
1 stick butter
4 large eggs
*For non-gluten free readers, replace flours/starch with 1 cup AP flour

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Place butter, water, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until batter come together. Allow batter to cool for 2 minutes and transfer to bowl of stand mixture. With paddle attachment on and mixer running, add eggs one at a time. Once batter is fully combined, place batter in a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe evenly sized rounds (about 2 tsp-1 tbsp worth of batter) 1-inch apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

With a wet finger, smooth pointy tops. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until puffs are golden brown and feel light and hollow inside, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

For the Strawberry Mousse filling:
1 1/4 cups fresh strawberry puree
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp fresh orange juice
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Wash and slice 16 oz of fresh strawberries. Puree in blender. Pour mixture through sieve to filter pulp and seeds. Combine puree, cornstarch, lemon and orange juice, yolks and sugar in small sauce pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously until mixture thickens (about 5-7 minutes). Remove from heat. Add butter and stir in until combined. Pour mixture through sieve and into a tupperware or mixing bowl. Place saran wrap directly over curd and place into the fridge to cool.

Once mixture has cooled, place whipping cream in bowl of stand mixture and whip with whisk attachment until thickened. Carefully fold strawberry curd into whipped cream until fully incorporated.

To assemble:

Once puffs are cooled, poke a small hole in the side of each one. Fit pastry bag with medium/small round tip and fill with mousse. Fill each puff with mousse.

For the white chocolate coating:

Scant 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp corn syrup
6 oz white chocolate
a few drops of red or pink food coloring

Heat cream and corn syrup over medium heat until sides are bubbly and hot (but not boiling). Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and food coloring until smooth and combined. Dip cream puffs immediately.

For the mini chocolate donuts: (makes about 30 donuts)

2 tbsp potato starch
2 tbsp sorghum flour
1/2 cup, plus 2 tbsp white rice flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and generously spray or butter mini donut pan.

Combine the flours, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in bowl of stand mixer. Add brown sugar, sour cream, warm water, vanilla, 1 egg and canola oil. Mix until well combined.

Fill a pastry bag with batter and pipe into cavities of mini donut pan, filling each about 1/2 way full. Bake donuts for 7-9 minutes. Allow to cool in pan before removing and baking next batch.

For the Chocolate Glaze:

1/3 cup, plus 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp corn syrup
4 oz dark chocolate

Combine cream and corn syrup in a small sauce pan and heat over low-medium heat until sides are bubbly and hot. Remove from heat and add chocolate, stirring until smooth. Use immediately after making to glaze cooled donuts.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mini Chocolate Cheesecake Ruffle Cakes (GF)

I'm a sucker for anything "mini" and ruffle cakes are one of my new favorite things to make. This weekend I decided why not combine the two?

I'm not sure if you've ever made a big batch of mini layer cakes, but it's no walk in the park. I once made mini heart layer cakes, frosted with an offset spatula and what a pain in the butt those were! Not only were they very time consuming because mini cakes aren't as stable as larger cakes to frost individually (they're tiny and weigh almost nothing, so it's hard to get a grip), but I don't own any cake rings, so I baked 3 regular sized round cakes and cut out heart shapes with cookie cutters, layered them together, and frosted them.

Icing these mini ruffle cakes with a pastry bag is actually much easier than creating a smooth layer with an offset spatula. Especially if you don't bother with sticking a layer of cheesecake in between the cake layers like I did. My main excuse for making these mini cakes is that I'm determined to find as many ways of using my new mini-cheesecake pan as possible. Since each cake comes out of the pan with a narrow, evenly sized height, unlike a cupcake, you can create mini individualized cakes by using this pan without as much fuss.

For the Chocolate Cakes: Makes 12

1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp white rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tbsp sorghum flour
2 tbsp cup almond meal
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp warm water
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

PS: If you're not Gluten Free, replace the flours and starches with 1 1/2 cups AP flour

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease each cup of mini-cheesecake pan. Set aside.

Place flours, starch, almond meal, and cocoa powder in food processor and whirl until fully combined. Place in large bowl. Add sugar, salt, eggs, water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract. Stir with large spoon until fully combined, scraping the sides of bowl as you mix.

Fill each cup about 1/2-2/3 way full. Bake at 325 degrees until cakes spring back to the touch (about 18-20 minutes).

For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

4 egg whites (from large eggs)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 sticks butter, unsalted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Fill a saucepan with water and heat on stovetop until simmering. Place egg whites and sugar in bowl of stand mixer. Place bowl over simmering water and whisk continuously until sugar is dissolved and whites are foamy (or until mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Place bowl onto mix and beat with whisk attachment on medium-high until fully cooled. Cut butter into pieces. While mixer is running, add butter piece by piece, mixing well after each addition. Continuing mixing until all butter is added and fully combined. Take off whisk attachment, add vanilla extract and food coloring. Beat with paddle attachment for 2-3 minutes.

For the Cheesecake filling: (recommended- make these the night before, if using)

1 8-oz package of cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cheesecake pan and set aside.
Combine cream cheese, sugar, and egg. Add vanilla extract. Once mixture is fluffy and has come together, scoop out evenly sized portions and add to each cup of mini-cheesecake pan (do not fill more than 1/2 full).

Bake for about 14-18 minutes. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes prior to removing from pan.

To assemble:

Cut each cake in half. Place cheese cake layer in the middle of the cake. Once each cake is assembled, pop in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Frost the tops of each cakes gently, using an offset spatula. To create the ruffled sides of each cake, fit pastry bag with a #103 Ateco tip.

Hold bag vertically, slot of tip perpendicular to cake. Use a swift back-and-forth motion to make each ruffle column.

Top each cake with a fondant heart cut-out.