A Little Note:
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So today I parted ways with my first post-college job at Wind Ridge Publishing. I have chosen to take a position with Cloud 9 Caterers and pursue a career in events: a longtime dream of mine. The ladies (and Greg) of Wind Ridge Publishing have not only been there as co-workers, they have been an excellent support system; my own personal army of stand-in Moms…almost. Working in such a small company has afforded me a number of opportunities in terms of gaining working experience and a vast knowledge of the publishing industry, but these women have become my friends and have taught me many valuable life lessons, of which I will never forget.
It was only proper to bring in a parting gift of cupcakes – a signature dish of mine. With new beginnings in sight in my personal life, a scattering of above 40 degree days and the promise of spring, I decided to make a sunshiney cupcake that fit the occasion. Of course leaving my ladies at Wind Ridge is bittersweet – these cupcakes however, are not.
Yields 28 cupcakes
3 cups unbleached flour
2 cups sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp.
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest and juice from two lemons
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add butter, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and incorporate until smooth. Scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as necessary.
3.Divide batter into lined cups and bake- rotating once halfway through- for 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool.
Blueberry Pie Cupcake Filling
1 15 oz package Wyman’s Frozen Blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 tbs Cornstarch
½ tsp cinnamon
Juice from ½ lemon
A pinch of salt
1. Put all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and stir. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar has dissolved and mixture has thickened.
2. With a paring knife cut cylinders out of the center of each cake and set aside. Fill with blueberry pie filling and “re-cap” with cut out cake. Frost and enjoy!
6 Tbs all purpose flour
1 Cup whole milk
2 sticks Salted butter
1 Cup sugar (granulated)
2 table spoons fresh lemon juice
Zest from one lemon
1. In a skillet whisk together flour and milk and heat over medium-low heat. Continue to stir until mixture thickens but remains liquid(ish). If you allow to thicken too much it will turn into a paste. Set mixture in the fridge and allow to cool.
2. Cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Slowly add flour and milk mixture, beating on medium speed. Allow to beat together for 7-10 minutes. Mixture may look curdled, but keep beating and it will even out.
3. Add lemon juice and zest and stir in. Put frosting in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe in circles onto cupcake and enjoy!
So thank you, ladies of Wind Ridge (and Greg). You all mean a lot to me and I promise to drop in and bring you goodies!
A Friend of mine and fellow book-clubber, Carolyn Fox, is a writer at one of Burlington’s most popular newspapers. I featured one of her previous articles on the trials and tribulations of baking with booze. This time she embarks on a journey through the world of Fondant. See how it turned out in this article featured in the latest Seven Days. Also be sure to check out her foodblog at Whisk.Write.Repeat.
Slice of Life
Is foraying into fondant really a piece of cake?
I tell myself not to expect anything like Charm City Cakes . Surely there can be no comparison between the colorful, sprawling “Ace of Cakes” work space I watch on the Food Network and the shop where I am headed in Waterbury Center. But both bakeries turn out such enticing, sugar-packed creations that I can’t help but feel an excited thrill as I trudge through the snow to the door of Vermont Cake Studio, which specializes in custom wedding cakes.
Once inside, I see the studio scarcely allows more standing room than my own narrow kitchen. Instead of whimsical cakes lining the tables, the place is packed with stainless-steel appliances, including the largest stand mixers and whisks I’ve ever seen. The unmistakable scent of sugar and butter wafts from a massive oven, evidence that owner and pastry chef Perrin Williams has already been busy before my 10 a.m. arrival on a recent Sunday. She’s agreed to let me spend the day under her wing as something of an apprentice baker. I’m just glad she didn’t enforce her usual 5 a.m. wake-up call.
Ever since sitting in on a cupcake tasting last summer (such is the difficult life of a maid of honor), I’ve been fascinated with frosting and fondant. I’ve never had the patience for pastry bags in my own kitchen projects, and fondant seems insurmountably fussy, but I can’t argue with the results: pretty cakes. From frosting pearls to sugar flowers, these fancy concoctions seem like the glamorous older cousins to my single-layer chocolate-pear or one-bowl strawberry pound cakes. In short, it’s become painfully obvious that my baked goods need a serious makeover.
Before I’ve even tied on my apron, Williams has cut out circles of parchment paper to line the bottoms of two small cake pans, and divided vanilla-butter-cake batter between them. The next minute, she’s giving a quick chop to a hunk of bittersweet chocolate the size of a cutting board, then popping the pieces in the microwave to form the basis of her chocolate ganache.
A bride and groom will arrive shortly for a tasting, she tells me, pouring the now-melted chocolate through a fine-mesh strainer. Though their wedding at Stowe Mountain Lodge is about half a year away, they’re right on schedule — unlike some couples who call wanting a cake made that day, Williams says. That’s a tall order, considering she and her assistant pastry chef, Kirsten Stetler, work on no more than two cakes per weekend.
It takes three days to make a fancy cake, I learn: Williams bakes on Wednesday, fills on Thursday, frosts on Friday and delivers on Saturday. “Anyone who tells you they do it differently is probably not telling you the truth,” she says. “You obviously can’t do it all in one day.” As Williams pipes frostings and fillings into different swirls on tasting plates, she tells me about a wedding order she once took for 300 individual Trinidadian fruitcakes. Each one took three hours to make.
After all that, do sweets still hold their appeal?
“I definitely love cake,” Williams says. “My test for recipes is: Do I want to wake up at three in the morning and … crave this? If not, it’s back to the drawing board. But at the end of the day, I want to go home and have steak. Or salad. You know, nothing with sugar in it.”
We exit at the back of the kitchen through a hallway, which leads into the Center Bakery and General Store . Williams, who opened VCS in 2005 and lives in an apartment upstairs, bought and remodeled the adjacent general store three years ago, adding a café for soups, salads, pastries and more. It’s here that cake tastings take place — and, before Williams can even turn on the coffeepot, the bride and groom arrive, with one set of parents in tow.
They’re set up around a table bearing photo albums of Williams’ previous work. The bride remarks on one elaborate Lake Champlain-themed cake; the landscape includes fabled lake monster Champ, underwater shipwrecks and snowkiting.
Williams, who slipped back to the kitchen for a few minutes, emerges with the perfect little layer cake I watched her stack and frost earlier. Now it miraculously sports elegant piping and shaved chocolate curls.
The clients tuck into the sweets. There are fluffy vanilla and chocolate cake wedges, chocolate mousse, Bavarian buttercream, truffle cream, chocolate ganache, chocolate chiffon, Chambord buttercream and white-chocolate buttercream. After a few bites, the bride — apparently sugared out — puts down her fork.
“I don’t eat dessert a lot,” she remarks. “I’ve never eaten the cake at weddings, anyway.”
But if there’s a wedding, there must be cake — or so it seems. “This is cake-tasting season,” Williams told me earlier. Countless lovebirds have become engaged over the holidays, and still others are knee-deep in planning summer nuptials.
After admiring photos of the bride’s gown — a stunning Spanish number with unusual hem and waist details — Williams announces, “I’m all done, artistically.” This seems to surprise the wedding party, who have only just decided to do a half-vanilla, half-chocolate cake, and are still considering whether they’d like to incorporate the teal of the bridesmaids’ frocks.
But Williams has her inspiration: She wants to translate the wedding-dress details to fondant, and perhaps enhance the cake layers with fresh hydrangea blooms. It fits the bride’s request for a simple yet sophisticated piece. The party exits, promising to follow up with fabric swatches.
“Sometimes people are very forthcoming and know exactly what they want. Other times, they’re looking at you to direct them,” Williams explains. I can see why she took the reins on this design — more than an hour into the tasting.
Turns out, many brides are looking for the same theme, anyway. “In the ‘city,’ you’d call it ‘shabby chic,’” Williams says, “but here it’s called ‘rustic elegance’” — probably because most Vermont vows take place in barns. Clients want to incorporate natural elements into their cakes, and that’s one reason Williams has become rather good at creating a birchbark effect with buttercream and chocolate shavings. Along with red velvet cake, it’s one of the most popular requests she’s had for the upcoming year.
The rest of the afternoon, however, is devoted to cake design with a winter theme. Williams is working on a display cake for a Vermont Wedding Salon  photo shoot, and she’s already rolled narrow strips of white gum paste into small spirals, creating snowflakes with a quilling effect. It looks stunning, but even she admits it’s a tedious process.
Under Williams’ instruction, I try to wrap strips of the gum paste — a stiffer form of fondant that dries hard — around a tiny dowel, but the stuff quickly becomes brittle and cracks. My clumsy attempts to smooth it back together yield misshapen little curlicues. After 10 minutes with no improvement, I give up.
“One of the weird things about what we do is that it’s art, but it’s edible,” Williams says. “Dessert seems to be one of those things everybody thinks they can make.”
It appears I’m just such a person. A few days later, I wander through a craft store, my heart still set on making a beautiful, two-tiered, fondant-covered cake. I wonder if I’m being fearless or simply foolish by testing Williams’ theory that complicated cakes should be left to the professionals … but whatever. Even though all I did was play around with some gum paste, I’m hoping I’ve absorbed some handy tricks of the trade from my day at VCS.
It feels wrong to be grocery shopping at Michael’s. While I’ll be making my own buttercream, I decide to shell out for some white fondant (seriously, the stuff is $17 for two pounds). Composed of gelatin, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup and glycerin, it’s still a mystery to me.
At home, I open the bucket, only to be bowled over by an artificially sweet smell. I hesitantly nibble a small pinch. The fondant is like Pillsbury frosting out of a can with the texture of Play-Doh. The very last thing I want to do is put it on my homemade cake.
In fact, I have high hopes that this is the best vanilla cake I’ve ever made. It’s moist, delicately sweet and dense enough to stack well. And my vanilla buttercream is silky perfection. For extra creaminess, I whisked flour, vanilla and milk over medium heat until they thickened, before beating them into whipped butter and sugar. I’m tempted to eat it by the spoonful, but instead I take a tip from Williams and pipe a frosting border around the edges of two layers. I fill the well inside the border with a semisweet chocolate ganache before stacking and frosting.
I have two 9-inch and two 4-inch rounds, essentially ready to eat … but they look as vanilla as they’re going to taste. I sigh and reach for the fondant. After rolling it out, I enlist my boyfriend’s help in lifting and draping the sheet over the cake. Then I work quickly, trying to smooth it.
But I’ve put on too much buttercream. As I fruitlessly try to pat out the many wrinkles in the fondant, the frosting starts to ooze out the bottom, giving my cake a bulbous shape.
I’ve certainly nailed the “rustic” part of “rustic elegance.”
Disheartened, I shove it all in the fridge and leave it overnight.
The next day, with newfound resolution or perhaps wild abandon, I decide to cover the wrinkles with a wide fondant ribbon around the bottom of each layer. Now that the cake is cold and hard, applying the fondant is much easier. I slap it on.
At some point, I realize I’ve exited the realm of baking, and am just doing arts and crafts. The thing I’m working on doesn’t even seem edible. I fill two pastry bags with decorative icing, tinted kelly green and aqua, and begin to embellish the white surface with the vine-like spirals and flourishes that I usually doodle on scrap paper. That … doesn’t look bad, actually. In fact, I do so much intricate piping that it essentially hides my fondant flaws. I end up with a slightly lopsided work of art — nothing as lovely or polished as you’d find in a cake shop, but I’m proud nonetheless.
Eating it is a total afterthought. Once my coworkers have ravaged the cake’s top layer the next day, I cut a slice and peel off the fondant. The chocolate ganache nicely accents all the sweet vanilla, but, honestly? I’m not in the mood for cake. I could really go for a salad.
My brownies are number #90318 on www.FoodGawker.com. Exciting! I am loving all of these new food sites that I am learning about. Know of any more? Leave a comment and send them my way! Thanks for reading!
I had the first snowday yesterday since I was in highschool.
My boss called me early in the morning to let me know the office was closed. It was so nice – and for just a minute I felt like I used to when I was little.
Close your eyes and just remember – curled up in just the right position, so comfortable you almost have tingles. Your clock is just rounding 6:00 am and you can hear the murmur of the Winter Stormwatch on the News Channel. Mom and Dad are scanning the school closings scrolling along the bottom of their TV screen. Your bedroom door creaks open and you squeeze your eyes shut, hoping and wishing that your mom will be the bearer of good news; “Honey – You can stay in bed, it’s a snowday today”. The excitement rushes through your warm bones and you peek just long enough to see the snow blowing outside and your mom’s smile. You fall back into your dreamy state while vision of sugarplums dance through your head. Or brownies – whatever your preference.
2 Sticks unslated butter, melted
3 cups white sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
2 tbs Bourbon
4 eggs room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 pkg Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish. I used a glass dish.
2. Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and burbon in a the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beat until incorporated.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture into the chocolate mixture in batches until smooth. Stir in one cup of the chocolate chips.
4. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared baking dish.
5. In a glass bowl fitted over a pot of simmering water, melt remaining chocolate chips stirring until smooth and satiny. Pour over top of the brownie batter and swirl in with wooden skewer (or knife).
6. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.
Fudgy, chocolatey perfection. What a way to spend a snow day.
I submitted a photo of my maple bacon cupcakes, and the folks from FPD chose it for their photo of the day for February 3rd, 2011. Head over to check them out: www.FoodPornDaily.com
It is a rare find to come across a woman that does not appreciate and have a deep affection for Chocolate. Chocolate is like that steadfast friend, always there when you need them. Remember those lonely Valentine’s Days in high school spent at home watching Sleepless in Seattle? Kleenex box in hand and undoubtedly accompanied by a box of Russell Stover’s your mom bought you. What about that time that boy from College – you know, the one with the long brown hair and plaid shirt who plays the guitar barefoot in the grass – remember when you thought everything was going right and you found him kissing that other girl in the courtyard. Who was there for you? Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie, that’s who.
Being a woman, I know how chocolate has that effect over us. It’s a comfort, it’s a joy, and it’s just plain delicious. Keeping this in mind, I decided to make a dense, rich, flourless chocolate cake. And let me tell you – This one ain’t nothin’ to cry about.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Adapted from AllRecipes.com
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
18 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter (room temp) cubed
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease one 10 inch Spring Form pan and dust with cocoa powder. Wrap outside of spring form pan with tinfoil and set into a roasting pan for water bath. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.
3. In a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water melt the bittersweet chocolate. (make sure no moisture gets into the chocolate or it will seize) Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.
4. Beat butter into chocolate one piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared spring form pan. Fill roasting pan with about ½ inch of water
6. Bake cake in the water bath for 45 minutes. Chill cake overnight in the pan. Unhinge spring form and turn cake onto a plate. Slide a knife under the cake if you need help. Dust with cocoa powder.
Slice and serve. This cake is rich and fudgy, so a small slice will do. But I won’t judge you if you eat half the cake. This would be a great dessert for Valentine’s Day – after all, Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. You can cut the sweetness of the cake by making a raspberry sauce and drizzle a little over each slice. YUM!
You heard right. Maple Bacon cupcakes.
Don’t be so quick to turn up your nose at this one. “Maple BACON cupcakes?!” Yes, maple bacon cupcakes.
Think about it. You get a side of bacon with your pancakes, inevitably you slather your pancakes with a
unhealthy dose of Pure Vermont Maple Syrup (get your Aunt Jemima out of my life) and the syrup mixes with the Bacon and that salty sweetness hits your lips and- BANG! – an idea is born. So, my friends, don’t knock it ‘till you try it. And always remember – everything tastes better with bacon.
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¾ cup flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp applewood smoked salt
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
4 oz. melted Ghirardelli dark baking chocolate (1 bar)
1 cup boiling water
1 small pkg pieces Vermont Smoke & Cure Maple Cured Bacon
1. Preheat oven to 350°F, line muffin tins with cupcake liners.*
2. Fry all of the bacon, reserve drippings and allow them to harden. In a food processor pulse 5-6 strips into a fine crumble. Reserve remaining strips to candy and use as garnish.
3. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt into mixing bowl add brown sugar. Stir to incorporate.
4. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. With a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix on medium/low speed until incorporated. Be careful not to over beat so that the finished cupcake consistency does not turn out bread-like.
5. In a double boiler melt chocolate. Add to cupcake batter along with 1 cup boiling water. Fold in bacon “bits”.
6. Ladle mixture into cupcake liners. Sprinkle each cupcake with a little smoked salt. Bake for 20 minutes (or until toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean)
7. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting
*Instead of traditional cupcake liners, I cut 5”x5” squares of parchment paper and pressed each square into the muffin cups to make more rustic looking liners.
Maple Bacon Buttercream
*as with all my frostings I eyeball my measurements so these are fairly accurate “guesstimates” I like my buttercream smooth, so I didn’t add any actual bacon. If you like textured frostings, by all means, add bacon “bits”.
1 ½ sticks butter
4 tbs reserved bacon drippings (cooled)
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tbs milk
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs maple syrup
1. In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat butter and bacon fat until light and fluffy.
2. Add confectioners’ sugar alternately with milk, stirring constantly. Add salt, vanilla, maple syrup and whip until light a fluffy, about 5 minutes.
3. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star attachment. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes in a circular motion.
In a medium frying pan, bring 1 cup of maple syrup to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Reduce by half.
Allow to cool slightly. Using a spoon, drizzle over cupcakes in a pattern of your choosing.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Bring ½ cup of maple syrup to a boil in a medium fry pan. Boil 3 minutes. Toss remaining bacon strips in the maple syrup to coat.
Line strips on parchments covered cookie sheet and sprinkle with maple sugar. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool then break into pieces to top the cupcakes.