Sunday, December 30, 2007

In search of perfect cupcake recipes

I'm considering a cupcake tower for my wedding this summer. I know -- it's so 2005, but I still like the idea. No one has to cut the cake, and you can theoretically have as many different flavors as guests. I'm thinking about making the up to 200 cupcakes (and the stand) myself. You say crazy cheapskate; I say DIY bride. Tomayto, tomahto. Let's call the whole thing off. Please.

Just kidding. The prospect of cheating the Marital Industrial Complex while learning to make new things (paper, cupcakes, lanterns) is what finally made me enjoy this wedding planning dealie.

I'm especially enjoying trying out sometimes two new cupcake recipes a week. (Did I mention I wouldn't mind losing fifty pounds before the wedding?) The main drawback is that I don't want to waste them, so a batch of cupcakes may be all I eat for two days. I wish there were at least more nutritional value in the yummiest-looking recipes. The groom-to-be, usually delighted by the prospect of any food at all, already seems to inwardly groan at the mention of cupcakes.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on, discovering three absolutely foolproof recipes for delicious, beautiful cupcakes: Bubbly Pear Cupcakes, Filled Rich Chocolate Cupcakes, and Red Velvet Cupcakes.

Three Perfect (And Foolproof) Cupcake Recipes
Bubbly Pear Cupcakes

I love that the ingredients in these cupcakes are all simple. No cake flour. No prune mush. Nothing you have to go to a specialty store to acquire, like amaretto.

As I mixed the various ingredients, I thought to myself that at least if I managed to screw up the baking, the batter had tasted good at every stage.

And I didn't screw up the baking, despite the wonderful smell luring an otherwise-mum housemate into a long conversation right as I needed to check them every thirty seconds.

These cupcakes were perfect: they look great, the buttery taste is oh-so-subtly complemented by both pear and champagne, and the texture is moist but not gooey. Everyone who ate one ate at least two. The only flaw was lumps in the frosting, which are a result of the fact that I'm too cheap to buy a $15 hand-mixer.

Filled Rich Chocolate Cupcakes

These cupcakes taste delicious, the filling is just right, they look great, and you don't have to hassle with frosting. They held up well overnight. The only flaw is a little stickiness wrapper-wise.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I love the shocking red color, and the chocolate flavor added a much-needed extra something to usually plain velvet cupcakes.

Non-Perfect (Or Non-Foolproof) Cupcake Recipes
The other cupcake recipes I tried probably would be fine under exactly the right conditions. But the way I cook (hellooo substitutions), the other recipes were all edible, but nothing to impress guests who've traveled hundreds of miles to eat them. Here are those recipes, in the order I'd try making them again.

Velvet Cupcakes

My grandma contributed this recipe to a book compiled from families in the Okanogan Highlands, where my mom grew up with her fifteen brothers and sisters. I'd made these as a kid and messed them up -- despite my mother's warnings, I occasionally still confused baking soda and baking powder. And my, what a lot of baking powder! Making these as an adult, I noticed the 3 Tablespoons of baking powder, and I realized why I'd grown up thinking hamburger patties should have oatmeal in them. Sixteen is a lot of kids to feed!

This time around, grandma's giant velvet cupcake recipe turned out moist and delicious, for what they are. But what velvet cupcakes are is a little plain, and green food coloring gave me a psychosomatic sense that I was eating something mint-flavored that wasn't doing a very good job being mint-flavored. My mom volunteered to contribute some of these to the cupcake tower, which was great, except that some catastrophe or other (I was too pre-wedding frazzled to absorb the details) led to the arrival of a bowl o' cupcake crumbs. This is not a foolproof recipe by any means, but it's really quite good if you want something simple and you get it right.

Purple Hazelnut Cupcakes With Coconut

These cupcakes are fun-looking and got lots of compliments from everyone who tried them. My housemate even suggested after this batch that I should sell cupcakes. I don't think I'm ready to take on Saint Cupcake any time soon. After the cupcakes sat overnight (an absolute requirement for this project), the coconut was crusty and it had a sort of cardboard flavor. Probably completely my fault and completely solvable, but by the time I tried these, I was running out of troubleshooting time.

Blueberry Hill Cupcakes

I'd been hoping for a recipe with at least marginally healthy ingredients, the Groom likes fruity more than chocolate-y desserts (apostasy, I know), and I ended up with blueberries. These blueberry cupcakes were delicious... muffins, and they looked lovely. But it just didn't feel right to frost a muffin. (That's what she said.)

Pineapple Upside-Down Cupcakes
These cupcakes tasted great. In fact, this photo is so bad because I had to snap it fast before the last cupcake vanished off the plate within hours of their availability. But the cupcakes were sort of stubby and had a sort of crispy taste (I used regular flour instead of cake flour). They don't really look right for a fancy-ish festive occasion, but if I wanted pineapple-upside down cake again, I'd look for a recipe similar to this one (hopefully with regular flour).

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cheese Frosting

These cupcakes were good, but nothing thrilling. My fiance didn't like the frosting, which, of course, I loved. The tartness of the cream cheese surprised him, he said. They held up well overnight. They look acceptable, but I'm gonna keep looking for a simple frosted cupcake.

Black-Bottomed Cupcakes
In the online photo, these look very similar to the best recipe, but in my hands, they didn't look pretty, and the filling stuck to they cupcake wrapper quite a bit when you opened them up.

Fudge Filled Cupcakes

These cupcakes were very similar to the Filled Rich Cupcakes, with only a few variations. The main difference, I think, is using a whole egg rather than egg whites in the filling. This gave the filling a less appealing orange-y color.

Carrot Cake
I was excited to make cupcakes with so many healthy ingredients in them: carrots, pineapple, walnuts and coconuts -- at least there's more nutritional value than flour and sugar. The fiance also likes carrot cake quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the cake had a wrong taste to it, though my housemate says he and his sister both liked it. The possible culprit was the walnuts, which I'd had in the freezer for at least a year. But the wrong taste was cake-wide, not just in walnut-containing bites. Another possibility is that using a cake pan instead of cupcake liners (I was out) made a difference. Seems unlikely. I also thought the frosting was boring, but the Groom liked the frosting the best.

Update: I made two five-tier cupcake towers for about 100 cupcakes, using these directions. We had a party to decorate cupcakes and hang out with our guests the night before the wedding.

Here are the finished cupcake towers:

Stylewest Photography

In the end, a DIY cupcake tower was tons of work, but I enjoyed doing it, and people really loved the Bubbly Pear and Filled Rich cupcakes here, as well as the carrot cake cupcakes my mom contributed.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My favorite ten albums of 2007

First non-jet-lagged day back from Puerto Rico, I recalled that 'tis the season to make best-of lists. Here are my favorite ten CDs of the year.

1. Bridging the Distance, Various Artists
[Buy Album]
Blitzen Trapper - Crazy On You
Viva Voce - Eye in the Sky [Buy mp3!!!]
Britt Daniel - Bring It On Home To Me [Buy mp3!!!]

2. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire [Buy Album]
Arcade Fire - Black Mirror
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible []
Arcade Fire - Intervention 9 []
Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running []
Arcade Fire - The Well And The Lighthouse [Lyrics]

3. The Light Divides, Winterpills [Buy Album]
Winterpills - Broken Arm []
Winterpills - Handkerchiefs []

4. Friend and Foe, Menomena [Buy Album]
Menomena - Wet And Rusting [YouTube]
Menomena - Rotten Hell []
Menomena - Air Aid []

5. Hair Guitar, Copy [Buy Album]
Copy - Zipper Problems [Buy mp3!!!]
Copy - Closet Face [Buy mp3!!!]

6. Spiderman Of The Rings, Dan Deacon [Buy Album]
Dan Deacon - Snake Mistakes
Dan Deacon - The Crystal Cat
Dan Deacon - Pink Batman

7. These Friends Of Mine, Rosie Thomas [Buy Album]
Rosie Thomas - Say Hello
Rosie Thomas - The One I Love
Rosie Thomas - If This City Never Sleeps []

8. In Our Bedroom After The War, Stars [Buy Album]
Stars - Today Will Be Better, I Swear!
Stars The Night Starts Here
Stars - Take Me To The Riot []

9. Whats The Time Mr Wolf, Noisettes [Buy Album]
Noisettes - Don't Give Up

10. Ash Wednesday, Elvis Perkins
Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping
Elvis Perkins - All The Night Without Love
Elvis Perkins - May Day

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Why I hate Republicans, part two

If you follow the bouncing ball, the insane anti-Clinton jihad by Republicans led directly to the rape and murder of two women.

That is: Republicans, including Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, were so filled with their insane hatred of Bill Clinton that they became rabid supporters of Wayne DuMond, convicted of raping Clinton's distant cousin. Arkansas Republicans decided that DuMond was railroaded by the eeeevil Clintons. Huckabee pressured a parole board to release convicted rapist DuMond, DuMond was released, and DuMond raped and murdered two more women.

Before I got to the Clinton angle, I wondered why Huckabee pushed so hard for DuMond's release. Then I saw the Clinton angle and it all made sense.

Republicans hated Bill Clinton so much that two women died.

Hat tips: HuffPo, Digby, Atrios.

(Here was Part One of what looks to be a long and ugly series.)