Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

I have come to the realization that I am no longer cool.  (This statement presupposes that once, I actually was cool, but whatever.)  I am like the queen of the nerds these days...and yet I am strangely OK with this.  Do you need examples?  I speak Old English.  Like, the language that Beowulf was written in.  I love teaching my AP English class-- so much so that I spend a week every summer reading and scoring the exams.  I listened to MxPx in high school-- and I am still listening to them, which is basically the definition of uncool.  I geek out over new books.  I watch historical programs on TV (on Showtime, but still).  I would rather stay home and watch bad TV (like One Tree Hill) on a Saturday night than go out.  I bake for fun.  I have a blog. All of this is fine with me. 

I guess the baking part really isn't too uncool-- people love baked goods and are actually pretty impressed by them, so this hobby doesn't really add to my geek-dom.  These cupcakes are actually a request from little miss, who wanted something strawberry-- so these are also dairy-free, not that you can tell.  The cupcakes are cool-- even if their creator is not. :)

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Lemonade Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature*
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup lemonade powder mix (Country Time or similar)
1 cup milk**
3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp lemon zest (zest of 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract

*I used Willow Run soy margarine
**I used unsweetened almond milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans with liners.  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, lemon zest and lemonade powder-- whisk together. 

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, being sure to scrape the bowl after each addition.  Add the lemon juice and vanilla and mix until combined.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Fill the cupcake liners approximately 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

Strawberry Filling
(From Wilton)
Makes about 2 cups of filling

1 16-oz package of frozen sliced strawberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp lemon juice

Thaw and drain strawberries, reserving liquid.  (I do this by letting the strawberries thaw in a strainer over a large liquid measuring cup.)  Add enough water to the strawberry liquid to equal 1 1/4 cup.  In a medium saucepan, combine liquid, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice; mix well.  Heat over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and boils.  Cool completely, then stir in sliced strawberries.

The icing for these cupcakes is swirled strawberry and lemon buttercream (recipes for each below), which was much easier to do than I expected.  I used the tutorial on Good Life Eats (access through the link) to do this-- there are step-by-step instructions and pictures, all of which are much clearer than I could provide.  If you want to try the swirled icing, I highly suggest you take a look at the tutorial provided-- it's really good. :)

Lemon Buttercream
(From Wilton)

1/4 cup vegetable shortening (I used Crisco, but you can use all butter)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2-3/4 tsp lemon zest
2-3 cups powdered sugar

Cream together the butter and vegetable shortening in a large bowl or the bowl of stand mixer until light and fluffy.  Add lemon juice and zest and beat well.  Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition.  Beat well on edium speed until fluffy.  Add extra sugar or lemon juice until icing has reached desired consistency.

Strawberry Buttercream
(Adapted from Wilton)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (I used Crisco)
1/2 tsp clear vanilla extract
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup strawberry preserves

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and shortening until light and fluffy.  (Again, you can use all butter if you'd like.)  Add the vanilla and mix until combined.  Add sugar one cup at at a time-- beat well on medium speed, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often.  (At this point, the icing will look dry.)  Add the strawberry preserves and beat until incorporated.  Add extra sugar or preserves until icing is the correct consistency.

To Assemble Cupcakes:
Core the cupcakes using the cone method.  Fill each cupcake with the cooled strawberry filling.  Frost the cupcakes-- see above for the swirled method and link to the tutorial.  Eat and enjoy!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Monograms

This spring has been crazy busy-- even crazier than usual.  I expect a certain level of insanity this time of year-- prepping my students for the AP, doing my own final papers for my spring class, chaperoning prom, all accompanied by a general desire to start the summer, which means I stay up way too late reading or doing something slightly less productive, like watching The Borgias with Ana.  This year I've added the unenviable task of being in charge admitting the 8th graders to the AP program in my high school, along with various other AP tasks. Also, little miss has started her first season of soccer, which means practice and games twice a week, which is SO. CUTE-- but it adds up. So, needless to say (although I just did), I am swamped.  "Psychotically busy" is probably the best way to describe it. 

Because of this, I have developed a bad habit of thinking that doing any activity that isn't immediately associated with school (either the school I teach at or my graduate work) is wasting my time.  So all the things I enjoy doing, like reading, spending time with family and friends, catching up on bad TV, going to the beach, taking a nap, baking, blogging, listening to music, idly looking at Pinterest, etc-- all those things that keep me sane-- all those things have become unproductive in my brain and I feel guilty for doing them.  So my resolution for the rest of this spring is, at the end of the day, to review all the things I did accomplish, not the things I left undone.  For example, today my school bag stayed in my car.  However, I did watch cartoons with little miss this morning.  I got to go to lunch with my husband and little miss.  We all went grocery shopping together.  I took a nap (which was amazing).  I finished reading The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.  I read more of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to little miss.  And now I am (finally) updating this blog.

Looking at my life this way makes me much happier.  You should try it.  :)

How to Make Cupcake Monograms
From ohcupcakes! via Pinterest

4-6 blocks of Candy-Quik (I used vanilla)
Round multi-colored nonpareil sprinkles

These are actually very easy-- I was shocked.  I don't have a very steady hand, and any attempts I have made at decorations prior to this have been disastrous.  But these turned out great!  One of the things that helped was the fact that I printed guide sheets to trace for all the decorations I wanted to create-- letters and flowers in this case. 

Prep the tracing area-- place your printed guide sheets on cookie sheets, then cover the guide sheets/cookie sheets with waxed paper.

Melt the Candy-Quik in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave according to the directions on the package.  When warm and smooth, transfer the Candy-Quik to a pastry bag with a round tip (I used a Wilton #7 tip) or a baggie with a small part of a corner cut off.  Trace the printed guide sheets with the melted Candy-Quik.  While the Candy-Quik is still soft, sprinkle the letters/shapes with the round non-pareil sprinkles.  Let the monograms harden-- you can speed this process by refrigerating them. 

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
(From Annie's Eats)
Makes 24+ cupcakes

3 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
16 Tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs (room temperature)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (I made my own-- directions here)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans.  In a medium bowl, combine and whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the same bowl.  Beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds on medium-high until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  (I know, I know-- this part is annoying, but it makes a difference.  Just take the time to do it.)  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated.  Scrape the sides after each addition of egg.  Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.  With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry-- be sure to mix each addition only until just incorporated.  When finished, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for an additional 15 seconds.

Fill each liner approximately 2/3 of the way full.  You will probably have extra batter-- I made about 12 mini cupcakes to go along with the 24 full-size cupcakes.  Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool the cupcakes in the pans for about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
(Adapted from Wilton)

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use the clear, artificial stuff for this-- it keeps the color very white, and there's something about the taste of it in this frosting...(
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter.  Add the vanilla to the butter, mixing until incorporated.  Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, scraping the sides after each addition.  Add milk and beat until frosting achieves desired consistency-- you may end up using more or less milk, depending on your frosting.  Frost cupcakes.

My cupcakes were for a girl's baby shower, soI tinted my icing pink with Wilton icing gel color and then frosted them using a pastry bag and a Wilton 1M tip.  I added the monograms at the end.