Friday, April 21, 2006

It's the thought that counts, or why I don't cook and bake often

a lovely little disasterit's the thought that counts

Last night I made cupcakes for a co-worker's birthday. Had I been thinking correctly, I would have just bought a box of cake mix and then spent the bulk of my efforts just getting the icing right. But I wasn't thinking--I was being overly ambitious, inspired by the lovely creations of rakka, chotda and all the fabulous cupcake bakers of the world, so I foolishly though it would be fun to just whip up a little something from scratch. I couldn't just choose a nice vanilla cupcake recipe either--no sirree, I just had to make mine special. I saw a recipe for "sweet potato cupcakes" somewhere on the 'nets and I couldn't resist. I love making sweet potato stuff, and I live in a sweet potato state (North Carolina is the top sweet potato-producing state in the US, producing almost forty percent of total U.S. production), so I figured it would be appropriate.

Had I any real cake-baking experience, I would have realized that sweet potatoes are not an appropriate cake ingredient. Cakes are supposed to be light and airy, and sweet potatoes are rather dense--even when they are whipped smooth, as mine were. Upon adding the flour to the recipe I was quite dismayed to see that it was closer to a dough than a batter--perfect perhaps for making sweet potato bread, but not at all suitable for cupcakes.

More baking experience may have prevented me from trying to fix the problem. I should have just tossed the batter out and made some nice vanilla cupcakes instead, but I stupidly thought I could fix the problem by thinning the batter with something. I used milk--not a lot, but enough to render the batter a bit more spoonable so I could more easily get it into the cups. I was apparently breaking some fundamental law of baking chemistry, because the resulting concoction was like a cross between a bread and a pudding--moist, heavy and slightly doughy.

But dammit, I'd gone this far, I was going to put some pretty poufs of pastel-colored icing on something! And speaking of the icing, it was my first time making buttercream icing from scratch. It was fun, but I think I should buy a proper sifter if I'm ever going to do it again. I was sifting the confectioner's sugar through a little wire mesh strainer with a spoon, and it took forever. It was fun to make colors--I made a baby blue, a yellow, a sherbet orange and a minty green-- but I definitely need more icing-application experience. For example, I should have used a heavier bag to pipe the icing on the ... things. I used baggies but I think freezer bags would have worked better. I also wasn't sure how to put the icing in the bag to get a stripy, multi-colored effect. I did OK, but I'm sure there's a better way.

At any rate, I'm probably done with baking for a while--at least long enough for me to forget why "Hey, it would be fun to make some cupcakes," is a very stupid and wrong thought.


Newness said...

but they sure are pretty :)

Lisa B. said...

Why thank you!

r4kk4 said...

chotda is a rocking baker! i'm still kind of new at it. but thank you! :D!

while i think that your cupcakes were probably awesomely delicious, if it makes you feel any better, when i experiment with baking, (like the kiwi muffins of the other day) it usually tastes off. or gross. or just plain sucks.

but, for some reason, leff still eats it. HAHAHAHA!! (leff's like mikey. he'll eat anything. (as long as it's not meat.) ;D)

i guess what i'm trying to say is, don't get discouraged! when i make something that i didn't enjoy, i go back to vanilla the next time and it works out! :D!

lisa said...

i have a proper sifter that you're welcome to borrow any time. but sifters are pretty cheap, and obviously key to creating icing.

lisa said...

i have a proper sifter that you're welcome to borrow any time. but sifters are pretty cheap, and obviously key to creating icing.

Julie said...

Hello -- I rarely read my rss feed now that my hand is no longer broken but I noticed the pretty cupcake picture in my reader and I wanted to pass along my faithful recipe for cupcakes. I usually bake them in ice cream cones instead of paper cups, which makes people very very happy.
And it still has a southern tinge, what with the use of "carbonated cola beverage"

Velvet Cola Cake
2 oz. chocolate - melted
Sift together and set aside:
1 3/4 C sifted flour
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
Cream until softened:
1/2 C butter
Add gradually, creaming well after each addition:
1 1/4 C sugar
Add in thirds, beating thoroughly after each addition:
2 eggs, well beaten
Blend in the cooled chocolate
1 C "carbonated cola beverage"
Beating only until smooth after each addition, alternately add the dry ingredients in fourths, liquid in thirds, to creamed mixture. Finally, beat JUST UNTIL SMOOTH.
Pour into pans (or cones) and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes (or until it passes the toothpick test -- I usually start checking after 20 minutes of baking.)

From "Sunday Night Suppers" -- Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago (1965)

Modernist illustrated cookbook pamphlets: Pretty and informative!

Lisa B. said...

Thanks Julie--I could make that a truly North Carolina cupcake recipe by using Cheerwine instead of the carbonated cola beverage!

I've admired the ice-cream-cone cupcakes others have made--I'll have to try it sometime myself!

Tie-dyed Sappho said...

They look yummy, though. Actually, my mom makes alot of wedding cakes for family and stuff. If you want the frosting to have color stripes, the easiest way to do it is to use a waxed pastry bag and just paint food coloring in widely spaced, short lines near the tip before you put the frosting in. It looks really cool for petals.