BBBFC: Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes

I told you last time that dessert for my sister's graduation party didn't end with the epic cake, although in some people's opinions, it might as well have. This is because that raspberry and chocolate ganache cake stole the spotlight away from these subtle little gems. The dense richness of a black forest dessert can't compete with the layered perfection of that cake, and putting them up against each other wasn't fair. Over the course of the week, I gave them second, third, and fourth chances, ignoring the cake and just trying them on their own. And I have to say, these "Black Bottom" Black Forest Cupcakes are solid desserts.

That being said, I fudged up the recipe. You see, when checking my ingredients before going food shopping, I looked in my cabinet and saw a container of cocoa powder, and said, "Oh, good, I won't need to pick any up." Lesson learned: before deciding that you have an ingredient, open it up and check how much of it is left. While the recipe called for 1/2 C, I had a meager 1/4, something I did not realize until spooning it out into my measuring cup to use. Oops.

There were a few areas of these recipe in which I took chances. First, before even getting to the cocoa powder mishap, this recipe is for a cake. A big, whole cake. And as much as I would love for it to be as easy as pouring the cake batter into a muffin pan instead of a cake tin and cooking it for a shorter period of time, I'm developing the sneaking suspicion that some recipes just don't work like that. I took a chance, assuming that this would be fine. For all I know, it would have been if that were the only chance I took.

Then, there was the cocoa powder. It calls for Dutch Process, I didn't have it and neither did the store. I remember reading an article a little while back about the differences between them, but heck if I can recall exactly what it said. So I used my Hershey's powder. All 1/4 C of it. And then, I let out a groan, and had to figure out what to do with the empty space in my 1/2 C measuring cup.

I shaved chocolate down as fine as I could. So, in addition to my cocoa powder, I added 1/4 C of the best shaved 100% dark chocolate I could manage, and added it to the sifter to be double sifted. Clearly, many of my chocolate shavings did not go through. So I dumped them in after. Why not?

Finally, there is no leavening agent in this recipe. Rewind: there is no baking soda or powder (or yeast for that matter, of course). There are eggs, whipped up to be 3x their original volume. This should be enough. It should be enough, but not if you sit there and over fold them, which I presumably - though not definitely - did.

Needless to say, the combination of potentially overzealous egg mixture folding and adding denser chocolate than is called for resulted in a, well, dense little "cupcake." And by cupcake, I mean it was more of a brownie masquerading in cupcake attire. The cupcakes not only failed to rise, but fell in the center a little bit, leaving a little divet in the middle; additionally, you could see a clear division between the top 2/3 of the cupcake and the bottom 1/3, which was much darker. Three guesses as to where my 100% chocolate shavings wound up.

The original recipe is not called a Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcake. However, that is a much more accurate description of what I produced. As it turns out, I could play the layered effect off as intentional, and the well in the center of the cupcakes turned out to be a perfect holder for the poached cherry component. And, once you add a big (artistically piped) blog of homemade whipped cream on top, the fact that they're much more like brownies than light and fluffy cupcakes becomes significantly less of an issue. The verdict? I kind of liked my mess up this time. Because of this, I'm going to give you both versions of the recipe - I have the sneaking suspicion that the original is much more appetizing, in a soft, fluffy, moist, traditional-Black-Forest-flavors kind of way, but my changes didn't belly flop, either.

Black Forest Cake / Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma
Yield: 8-10 servings or roughly 15 cupcakes Ingredients - The Cake
1/2 C (2oz./60g) cake (soft wheat) flour (change: I used 1/2 C all-purpose, simply because I forgot I was supposed to use cake flour until it was too late)
1/2 C (2oz./60g) Dutch-process cocoa powder (change: 1/4 C non-Dutch process cocoa powder + 1/4 C finely shaved 100% chocolate)
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 C (5 1/2oz./155g) granulated sugar
1/2 C (4oz/110g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
Ingredients - The Filling
2 1/2 C (20fl.oz./560mL) heavy cream
2 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. Kirsch (change: Kirsch is expensive and, as I found out, pretty hard to come by around these parts - I used 2 tsp. liquid from a jar of maraschino cherries instead.)
Sugar Syrup (recipe below)
Poached Cherries (recipe below) or approx. 1 C maraschino cherries, drained (I used the maraschinos since, come on, who can find cherries at this time of the year?)
Semi-sweet (plain) chocolate curls (change: I used 100% chocolate)

The Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9x3 in. round cake pan with parchment paper, or - if making cupcakes - grease and flour or line muffin tins with paper liners (I managed to get 18 cupcakes out of the recipe, however due to its lack of rising, I should have filled each one higher, resulting in fewer cupcakes total).
2. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together onto a sheet of waxed paper and set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla, and granulated sugar with the whisk on high speed until tripled in volume, about five minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
3. Sift the dry ingredients over the egg mixture in 2 additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula.
4. Fold a large dollop into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
5. Pour onto the prepared pan or muffin tins and smooth the top(s). Bake until the cake is puffed (or, in my case, a toothpick comes out clean), 30-35 min. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
6. Meanwhile, make the filling and frosting: Whip the cream and confectioners' sugar to medium-stiff peaks. In a small bowl, combine the kirsch and sugar syrup.
7a. For a cake, run a table knife around the edge of the pan and unmold the cake onto a work surface. Turn right side up, leaving the parchment paper in place. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers. Put the the top layer, cut side up, on a serving plate. Brush with some of the syrup, then spread with about 1/4 of the whipped cream. Strew the cherries over the cream (reserve one for garnish), leaving a 1/2-in. border of cream around the edge. Position the middle layer on the cream. Brush with some of the syrup and spread with another fourth of the cream. Position the third layer, cut side down, on the cream and peel off the paper. Brush with the remaining syrup. Spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake. Press the chocolate curls onto the top of the cake. Put the reserved cherry in the middle. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
7b. For cupcakes, brush a generous amount of syrup over the tops of the cupcakes. Top with poached or maraschino cherries, leaving a small border on the outside. Pipe or dollop the whipped cream frosting on top, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sugar Syrup
1/2 C (2oz./60g) granulated sugar
1/4 C (2fl.oz./60ml) water

The Method
1. Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.
3. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. If a flavoring is indicated, stir it into the cooled syrup.

Poached Cherries
1 3/4 C (14fl.oz./390ml) water
1/3 C (2 1/2oz./70g) granulated sugar
1 C (6oz./170g) fresh pitted Bing or other dark sweet cherries

The Method
1. Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the cherries and reduce the heat to low. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and let the cherries cool, then drain; discard the syrup (reserving approx. 2tsp. if substituting for Kirsch).
Note: frozen or jarred cherries may also be used. Cook the frozen cherries as directed; jarred cherries have already been poached.

So, there you have it! The "opening act" to the star of graduation desserts, but nonetheless deserving of its own post. I will have to try these Black Bottom Black Forest Cupcakes as they were originally intended sometime - in cake form and everything - and then see if I can turn my mistakes into a fine-tuned new way of looking at this German classic.

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Taking on the Unthinkable: Part 2

Well, as you can see from the picture, taking on the unthinkable turned out to be fairly doable in the end. Saturday was a long day (8 hours just for the cake!), and I had to change my game plan several times, but I finished the cake.

Now, about this cake. You have to go bake this. It's not difficult to make - a little more expensive than your typical vanilla celebration cake, and certainly more labor intensive than Betty Crocker's mixes, but everything goes smoothly and turns out as the recipe says it should. Also, I'm sure that it would not take most people 8 hours to make this (though, be warned that there are several different chill times ranging from one to four hours).

The Vanilla Cake is my new go-to layer cake. It comes together easily, requires no fussy ingredients, baked for 10 minutes less than called for (though, to be fair, I had to use 8x1 1/2" pans instead of 8x3"), came out moist, didn't stick to the pan (very much), and did not dry out during the nerve-wracking several hour chill periods in the refrigerator. The vanilla cake was such a treat to work with, and had a distinctly homemade - but deliciously so - taste to it that it made me call into question why I would ever eat a prepared cake again.

The Raspberry Curd came out to be this stunning dusk rose color, and I really think the only other thing that needs to be said about this is that it is the product of real, fresh raspberries. Puree them, strain them, and simmer them alongside sugar and lemon juice. Add butter. Taste. Understand why, despite halving the cake recipe, I am thrilled to have so much extra raspberry curd. A dip for fresh fruit? A yogurt mix-in? A near-future baking ingredient? Yes, yes, and yes. The raspberry flavor is sweet but not too sweet, and tart but not too tart. The consistency is heavenly.

The Chocolate Ganache is what all chocolate ganaches should be: rich, creamy, and decadent, and forgiving. I say this as though I'm a ganache expert and this was, of course, my first attempt at making one myself and only one of several experiences tasting it. So, maybe it's more accurate to say that this chocolate ganache is what I would imagine all chocolate ganaches should be, because I can't really think of how it could have been better. I blended 100% chocolate with 60%, added heavy cream, and omitted the vanilla bean because, let's face it, I'm not splurging for one measly bean (I simply added 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract instead). However, if you have some lying around, I'm sure the vanilla bean would add another layer of depth to an already wonderful layer.

The White Chocolate Buttercream is what makes this layer cake. I am picky about my buttercreams - homemade, that is (as in, sans shortening, which makes my stomach turn). I don't want to bite into cake and feel as though the icing is a pureed stick of butter, which I have experienced before. This buttercream recipe? Perfection. A little pricey because of the addition of a chocolate bar, and consequently/potentially impractical for everyday use, but whip this baby out when it matters, because people notice. People who don't even usually like the icing on cakes very much notice, and love it. The white chocolate adds such a gentle sophistication to it, and really cuts the butter nicely. For as many compliments as I receive on the cake as a whole, I received a separate comment just on the frosting.

I don't want to take up any more space with the actual recipe, as I followed it (almost) to a T. I cut the cake recipe in half to make a three layer instead of a six layer cake, swapped the vanilla bean for an extra 1/2 tsp. extract in the ganache, and found that I only needed 2 cups of powdered sugar to get the buttercream to the right consistency (but added more later on - one teaspoon at a time - to pipe on the accents, since I had to refrigerate the icing between decorating sessions). So, instead of repeating word for word what this wonderful blogger said, I will simply direct you here. Also, her decorations wound up being extraordinarily more impressive than mine - and rightly so, based on our respective levels of experience and skill.

In the end, I have to recommend this recipe with all of my being. I have the testimonials of all of the party guests, many of whom do not love cake to begin with, to prove how fantastic this recipe is, and how close it comes to perfection. I don't really know who Evil Shenanigans is, and I found her blog via foodbuzz as opposed to being an avid follower of it - but after testing out this cake, I can assure you that you'll be seeing my versions of or attempts at many more of her recipes in the (very near) future.

Watch out for my posts on how the Black Forest Cupcakes and Spring Vegetable Pizza went!

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Taking on the Unthinkable: Part 1

So, I asked my sister if I could bake her graduation party cake. She agreed, and we sat down to find the right recipe. Unfortunately, there wasn't one single recipe that caught her eye! You see...there were two. Two cakes. For one day.

Cake Number One is William Sonoma's Black Forest Cake, which will be converted to cupcakes and tweaked to hollow out part of the centers for extra frosting and cherries. That one, I'm barely thinking about.

Cake Number Two, however, is this masterpiece, a recipe that I fell in love with upon first sight and have been itching for an excuse to bake it. However, for her graduation? A week after school ending? Two days before summer classes start? I'm only just starting to realize that, no matter how exciting, this is going to be quite a feat. And so I have started research!

Today was my day to practice coloring and decorating with buttercream icing. I had a little leftover from my recent foray into Sugar Cookies, so I softened it from the fridge, added 30 drops of red food dye (to roughly 1/4 C icing), and stuck it into a ziplock bag.

Here are a few things I discovered, either through research or through today's practice session:

1. Buttercream darkens food dye over time, which is why the icing in that picture is a pink. It will (hopefully) be a deep red or even burgundy on the actual cake (taking place of the white squigglies on the original cake photo), but I needed to see just how much it will darken over time. I'll get back to you on that one.

2. Consistency is beyond important - Mine was a little thin today, probably as a result of the flood of red food dye I added.

3. Decorating really isn't so difficult! Writing, on the other hand...well, there's a reason I only posted pictures of the squiggled design, and not the various attempts of "Congrats!" That will require much more practice, I fear...and I may have to abandon writing this time altogether.

4. Although irrelevant to buttercream or cake decorating, I have a sneaking suspicion that my photographs are to blame for my (presumable) rejection from Food Blogs. Look, I know they're nothing spectacular. The lighting in my kitchen is abysmal, and often times I'm either dealing with people who want to eat (and, let's face it, my own phobia of serving cold food), or a quick trip back to my less-than-ideal-for-photographing-food (former) dorm room. I tried adding some pretty props this time, though the lighting is admittedly sub-par. I will continue trying to improve and hopefully resubmit to Food Blogs. I see so many gorgeous photographs on blogs and I would love to be able to present my food so artistically; however, much like my icing writing, I think that this will take much practice.

But bear with me! If you do, you have a lot to expect from me within the next week: the cake and cupcakes (and all of the preparation that goes with those!), and - if I can handle it - a spring vegetable pizza that I'm dying to make almost as much as this cake. Almost.

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Spreading Happiness, One Sugar Cookie at a Time

Today is the first day of Finals Week. What this means is that even I, the crazy who has been preparing for much longer than necessary, has become a different kind of crazy: the stressed kind, who can be sure to explode at any given moment, towards any deserving or innocent soul who passes by. The only known cure for this ailment? Delicious, homemade dessert. So, for one of my finals tonight - my cooking lab, in fact - I decided to bake my classmates a batch of simple cookies to enjoy as we clean the lab kitchen (yes, that is our final: two hours of cleaning taking place at dinner time, lovely). I chose a recipe from a blog I tripped over as a result of signing up for daily emails from FoodBuzz. After hearing the name for them - Happy Biscuits - how could I refuse? They sounded perfect.

Using their recipe, however, got me thinking. Last week, after my tenth post, I hurried over to and filled out a form to add my blog to their website. I was so excited - finally, people would see my blog! And then I waited. And waited. I double checked their criteria. I double checked my blog. I triple and quadruple checked my email.

Is my blog too unoriginal? I know that I infrequently create my own recipes, instead borrowing from and rarely doctoring recipes from cookbooks or other blogs. Sure, I credit them, but maybe this blog doesn't really count as a food blog, in the sense that other blogs on that website do. After all, the point of this is really to chronicle my journey in learning to cook; I would love to create my own recipes or see a recipe and find ways to make it my own, but I'm just not there yet.

I will continue to post, of course, and I will continue to check and recheck my email in the hopes of getting accepted. If not, maybe this blog will give me the skills I need to create a new blog in the future - one where I can truly say that all (okay, most!) of the recipes are really mine.

In the meantime, you have to try these cookies. Biscuits. Little (no, make that big) morsels of soft, cakey, sugary deliciousness. Whatever. They melt in your mouth. They look adorable. They're ridiculously easy. Seriously, go make them.

Happy Biscuits, courtesy of Tomayto Tamaaahto (and FoodBuzz for leading me to it)
Makes roughly 2 dozen large-ish cookies
Ingredients - The Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
pinch of ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
Ingredients - The Buttercream Frosting
1/3 cup butter 

2 cups icing sugar 

1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Food coloring (note: the original recipe called for blue; I didn't use any and let the sprinkles do all the work)
Nonpareils/Hundreds-and-Thousands (multi-coloured sprinkles)

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Mix ingredients either vigorously by hand or with an electric mixer until smooth (note: I began by creaming the butter and sugar together, and then added the ingredients bit by bit; the "dough" is really more of a batter.)
3. Place in drops by the tablespoon on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart. (note: I greased two of my baking sheets, because I don't read directions. As many of you well-seasoned bakers know - and I'm sure you are sitting there tut-tutting at this rookie move - butter promotes spreading. My cookies spread like it was their job. They still taste delicious.)
4. With wet fingers, gently flatten the mounds and form them into even, circular shapes. (note: I was already afraid of them spreading, as mentioned above, so I tried to make them circular but didn't worry too much about patting them down - just in case.)
Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, or until they are starting brown on the edges. They should only get slightly golden and the tops should not brown. (note: These are spongy suckers, so be patient for them to spring back when you press the center gently. Mine took a little more than 10 minutes for the first two batches, but the third was just about 10.)
Cool on the baking sheets before removing to frost. (Again, as a result of my refusal to read directions, I pulled cooling racks out of the cabinet to have at the ready. I left the cookies on the sheet to cool for a few minutes, and then tried to get them off. They did not want to move. They came out alright, but little remnants of their bottoms were left on the sheets. That being said, the ungreased third sheet that I made came off beautifully. So much for the wonders of butter.)
7. Blend the frosting ingredients together, adding the colouring drop by drop until you have the shade you want. (note: I found that I needed to double the recipe; however, I have a very sweet tooth and if you just want a thin layer the regular might have been adequate. At least 1.5x the recipe would probably be smart, though. Also, my sister said that she could distinctly taste the vanilla, so I might tone that down next time as well.)
8. Once the biscuits are completely cooled, gently frost them generously, smoothing the frosting with a knife.
Add the sprinkles and then leave them to set (the frosting will harden slightly).

Do you see why these are so easy? You have to love a recipe whose directions consist of "mix all of the ingredients, stick them on a baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. Cool, frost, eat!"

What's there not to love?

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