Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's Crunch Time!

There's all kinds of fun to be had with iron-on letters...

The Cupcake Armageddon counter on this site says only 48 days until our wedding weekend. Is that possible?!?! Where has my summer gone? Back in the innocent hopeful days of spring, I had all these visions in my head of a summer full of cakes, recipes and fondant, and weekends of nonchalant and relaxed wedding preparations. As it turns out, I have spent 6 of the last 10 weeks on the road traveling for my job and have had little time to do much of anything except squeeze a few wedding details in here and there between flights out of town. In fact, I was supposed to be on the road again today headed back to Atlanta to teach a week of classes, but my Monday and Tuesday class was cancelled and so I'm not leaving until Tuesday night. My groom is playing golf this afternoon so I found myself with a couple of free hours to pick up where I left off with cake making.

I feel at this point like I have the whole cupcake thing down pat, but I still need work on the 6" round cake that is going to top the cupcake tree and will be used as our cutting cake for the reception. I want to get the frosting picture perfect and see if my homemade cake topper is going to work the way I want it to. I need to cover the cake tiers in the burgundy foil I bought in Atlanta, add some ribbon and some silk leaves and see how the whole thing is going to look put together. If I don't do it this weekend, my next opportunity will be the week of September 8 and that's a bit too close to the reception date for comfort. So this afternoon's adventure was to make a practice cutting cake, mess around with the cake stand, and enjoy some yummy new flavors.

Hmmmm, what kind of cake to make? This week I was in Manhattan working with a client and they took me to a cute little cupcake shop called Crumbs to try out their recipes. Being in New York City, I expected the cupcakes to be off the hook, but I must admit I was a little disappointed. Our group tried 4 different cupcakes: Key Lime, Pistachio, Cookie Dough and Chocolate Espresso. I found all the cupcakes were moist and had great texture, but on each one the frosting was way too sweet and the flavors too subtle. When I bit into the Pistachio cupcake, the faint hint of pistachio goodness was quickly overwhelmed by sugar and the shortening used in the frosting. I think I was spoiled by the key lime cupcake in Atlanta where the lime flavor knocked my socks off and that's set my expectations for all other bake shops too darn high. As an aside, I know, I know, I have yet to blog my cupcake safaris in Phoenix and more recently in Washington DC. Someday I hope to have the time...

After the underwhelming chocolate espresso cupcake in NYC, I thought maybe I could give that flavor profile a go and see where it took me. I have been thinking lately that a mocha cupcake with hazelnut frosting might be tasty... this sounds like a plan. I googled Nutella frosting a couple weeks ago and ran across a simple recipe that might work...

If you have never experienced Nutella before, let me just say I could eat the stuff right out of the jar with my fingers, no spoon required! Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut spread about the consistency of thin peanut butter and is a very popular breakfast and dessert spread in the UK and Europe.

I've eaten it before on bagels and things but never used it in a recipe and was quite excited to give it a try. It is very sweet, and combined with powdered sugar in a frosting recipe I knew I would need to make a bittersweet cake to balance out the flavors. I wondered what would happen if I took a boxed (you know me!) dark chocolate cake mix and simply replaced the water with strong brewed coffee? The dark chocolate and the bitterness of the coffee should complement the Nutella frosting, right?

Well, this came out better than I could have imagined, folks. The cake is moist and savory and the frosting simply dreamy. If you make this recipe, you'd better be ready to lick the bowl and forget about your supper, because this is one amazing cuppycake!

Here's the recipe:

Dark chocolate mocha cupcakes:
1 box dark chocolate moist cake mix
eggs and oil as called for on the box
replace the water with very strong brewed coffee, cooled

(I didn't wait for the coffee to cool because I was too excited about making the cake. If you're impatient like me, be sure to add the eggs and oil to the cake mix first, then add in the coffee slowly in small parts so that you don't accidentally cook the eggs with the hot coffee! For best results, just be patient!)

My cake mix made my 6"x3" round plus 9 cupcakes. Bake according to box directions.

Nutella Frosting (borrowed from Recipezaar):
3/4 c. butter, softened
3 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/3 c. milk
1/2 c. Nutella, at room temperature

Beat together.

The Nutella and the room temperature butter make this a very soft frosting, not great for piping. Next time I make this I will probably add a bit more powdered sugar to stiffen it up because I found myself putting the whole bowl of frosting in the fridge between the crumb coat and top coat on the cake and also storing all the finished goods in the fridge. The one good thing about the soft frosting is how easy it melts in your mouth... yummmmmmmm (extra mmmm's for emphasis).

Here's a finished frosted cuppy:

Just for good measure and a little bling, I threw some small silver dragees on the top of the cupcake and I loved how they stood out against the tan frosting. I'm considering adding dragees to the wedding cupcakes too.

While the cupcakes baked and cooled, I played around with my cupcake tree, adding burgundy cake foil to the top 2 layers and gluing ribbon around the edges. I also added skewers to the bottom of what will become my cake topper. I really like the cake toppers I've seen that are metal initials with crystals on them, but they are outrageously expensive if you buy them from any of the online wedding retailers or from a catalog. Back in December, I ran across some gold "N" Christmas ornaments with rhinestones on super clearance for about $1 a piece, so I picked up 4 thinking I could make them work as a cake topper. Here's how my improvised topper came out:

Not too shabby! Lenox and Swarovski, eat your heart out.

Some pics of the finished cupcake and (very imperfect!) cutting cake on the mocked up cupcake tree:

So we're not quite there, but we're making progress. My playing around definitely helped today. I'll be icing the sides of the cake flat with my offest spatula instead of trying to use the icing comb because I didn't like how the comb pulled up some of the crumb coat and I can get the sides perfect with the offset. I know the consistency of the maple buttercream frosting will be much more shelf-stable at room temp and therefore more conducive to icing and piping than the soft Nutella frosting. I kind of gave up on piping the Nutella frosting after a few go-rounds. It definitely tastes much better than it looks here! I will be doing small piped stars around the top and bottom of the cutting cake, and I will be looking for another ribbon to use on the edges of the cake tree because the sheer ribbon just doesn't cover the cardboard the way I want. These are good things to know now instead of 2 days before the wedding, right?! Practice makes perfect.

Suggestions or comments for me? Let me know. 48 days and counting!

Love, CaraCakes