Sunday, 17 February 2008

Strike a pose, cupcake

Apparently my blog contains sensitive material: Kiwi Bro got reported by his school system when trying to check it! I can only conclude that 'Lamington' is too Aussie a word to get past the firewall or something. So, apologies Kiwi Bro. I realise that's not a great way to start your association with an employer, and I will do my best to avoid any ambiguous language in future. Koala koala koala koala.

I haven't posted for a week or so as I've been a bit crazy busy preparing for a research paper which I gave on Friday. Fortunately I got enough work done that I felt happy with it, and it seemed to go down ok with the audience. So now I'm back to blogging without the judgement of more senior peers hanging over me (can you have senior peers, or is that a tautology?) I've been very keen to write this post, though, as I have much prettier pictures than usual. I can't take any credit for this - it's all our friend Paul's doing - he's a keen photographer and I asked him for some tips when he and his wife Vicki came round for dinner earlier in the week. He took all the photos in this post, but I listened keenly to all his advice, and hope that I can do some of it justice in the future...

Vicki and Paul are both veggie, so I always like cooking for them, and they are also friends dear to our hearts as Vicki was the one who introduced me to The Scientist. We've even been literally half way round the world to visit them when they lived in Hawaii (this was pre such extreme concern for global warming on our part....). I didn't have too much time for cooking this week, so I made some quick but tasty curried potato and cabbage tortillas from good old Moosewood Low Fat favourites. We ate them with brown basmati rice, Scientist re-fried beans, Greek yogurt and salsa. Dessert was cupcakes - a new preoccupation of mine. I have an ongoing ambition to make cupcakes that look beautiful. I imagine little exquisite gems of piped icing, swirls of ganache, and flower-topped glossy layers of frosting. So far, I have not managed to achieve anything like this, but armed with a new piping bag and a cupcake event to aim for - Cupcake Hero's liquor cupcake roundup, I set to with renewed confidence.

I actually made two different cupcakes, such was my enthusiasm. The first was to showcase some ginger liqueur which I used very successfully in our early-December family gathering this year (I'm still eating this Christmas cake, mouse-sized portion eater that I am, and it's still beautifully moist and gingery). The cupcakes themselves were made from a family favourite recipe: Queenie's chocolate cake. This cake (made by my great aunt Queenie, though she has long since discarded that nickname in favour of something more dignified) was used for all of our birthday cakes in childhood, and had the honour of being one of the cakes at Kiwi Sis and Kiwi Bro's wedding a few years ago. Oy, how it's blossomed! It's just a simple chocolate sponge, but it's much moister than some, and in this case I substituted some of the hot water for ginger liqueur (please forgive me for meddling with the recipe, Munchkin Granny). The icing was a simple buttercream one based on a template from my new Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World book (with enormous apologies to the author since my version used non-vegan margarine, which seems to miss the point of the book slightly. I will make it vegan next time. I added lots of chopped stem ginger and a little of its syrup, too). Verdict: really good - cake nice and moist and chocolatey; icing soft, sweet and gingery. I'm not sure if the ginger liqueur added too much as I'd deliberately gingered up the icing just in case, but let's say it did.

The second cupcake was really a muffin, but I'm hoping that with frosting on the top, baked in a cupcake pan and called a cupcake (by me) it will count as one. It was an apple cider muffin recipe from Cooking done Light, as a concession to The Scientist's ongoing attempt to eating healthily, which keeps being scuppered by my desire to bake things. Needless to say, he chose the chocolate one.... I wanted to try it out anyway; after the success of the beer cakes I wanted to see if cider could hold its own as a cupcake ingredient. I left off the streusel topping in the recipe, and iced these ones with the same vanilla frosting I used for the sandwiched cookies I made for my undergrads a week or two ago, but added a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of ground cloves, and a heftier shake of cinnamon, plus some chopped walnuts. Note to self: even chopped up walnuts do not pass easily through piping bag nozzle. Otherwise, both cakes were a dream to ice - I could imagine myself something of a pro (until I looked at the mess that the nutty frosting made!). The cider cupcakes were much denser than the chocolate ones, and not as sweet, but were still really nice and appley, and in this case the frosting added more than enough sweetness if that's what you're after. For a lightened muffin though, I was happy.

So, we moved to the photography. The cupcakes struck their poses, the lighting was adjusted, and Paul found more settings on my camera than I'd used in two years. As you can see, he did them proud - doesn't the icing look lush, and that's not a word I use often - and taught me a lot, too. If there's anyone else reading this interested in photography advice, here's some of what I learned:

Use the camera close-up pre-sets

Experiment with not using the flash (I'd already started on this one, but was having hit and miss troubles with colour trueness)

Use a tripod - Paul had a really nifty small one which certainly won't break the bank. He also told me about a gorillapod one which can be wound round anything you fancy.

Take A LOT of shots so that you can discard the duff ones

Don't stop when the photo is taken - experiment with close-ups and colour and lighting shifts once you've got it on your computer. It's ridiculous I hadn't done this before - I just hadn't really known where to start, but it's so easy and fun to do! Paul showed me Picasa, a free software package from google which is great. I haven't really done anything to the photos I've put up here, except for the black and white one, because I thought they were so good already, but in future, I'll be doctoring with the best of them (well, among the more incompetent of them anyway)

So, great boozy Hero cupcakes, great pictures, great advice. I've just baked some brownies, so am keen to try out my new-learnt skills alone. If it all goes wrong, there will be another dinner invite in the post to Vicki and Paul forthwith! In the meantime, I seem to be living with a crazed woodpecker - The Scientist is breaking in his new cricket bat, by whacking the living daylights out of it. You've got to admire his enthuasism at any rate.

Queenie's chocolate cake
150g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
175g soft margarine
3 eggs
150g drinking chocolate
3tbsp boiling water

Add the sugar and margarine to the flour and drinking chocolate. Mix
Add the water
Bake at 180 degrees C. I didn't have written down how long for, so I started checking the cupcakes at about 22 mins.
I halved this and it made about 9 cupcakes, I think

Ginger Buttercream frosting (with apologies to Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World!)

1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup margarine, softened
2 cups icing sugar
2 tbsps orange juice (I used part ginger syrup from the stem ginger jar)
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (I missed this out)
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl cream the shortening and margarine until well combined. Add the icing sugar in roughly 1/2-cup additions. After each addition of sugar, add a splash of orange juice and beat well with a handheld mixer on medium speed. Add vanilla nad beat for another 3-4 mins until smooth, creamy and fluffy. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: do not transport leftover iced cupcakes in a box in a bag slung from your bike handlebars and expect them to reach their destination looking at all attractive.


LisaRene said...

I have concluded that the difference between a cupcake and a muffin is that a cupcake is iced :)

I'm a bit disappointed that you don't have a valentine post as I've been curious to learn what you and the Scientist prepared for each-other.

Tempered Woman said...

Very fun~ and being a booze fanatic I am excited to hear of a ginger liqueur! That's a new one for me. Great Hero entry