Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easy Piping Techniques for Cupcakes

Hi friends!  Today I'm doing something a little different. I'm going to show you a few of my favorite piping techniques for cupcakes. I even made a fun video tutorial, and if you're an email subscriber then you'll need to click here to view it. If you're visiting the blog, then you can just scroll down to the embedded video.

These techniques are perfect for beginners because they are so forgiving.  How forgiving? Well, in the video my frosting begins to soften considerably under the studio lighting, but even then things turn out beautifully! If you're a seasoned decorator you'll probably already know these techniques, so be aware this video is geared more toward novice decorators.

Beginners will need a few supplies to get started. First, good thick buttercream frosting. You'll find my two favorite frosting recipes at the end of this post. You'll also need the decorator piping tips featured in the video so I've linked them below. Piping bags are a must! Reusable or disposable - your choice, because either will work.

In the video you may notice that I don't use couplers, and instead I just drop the piping tips into the bags, score the end of the bag and get straight to piping. I honestly feel the couplers are not necessary when using larger tips, but I do use them for smaller tips and when I need to quickly switch out a plain tip for a star tip.

My favorite decorator piping tips!

Ateco Pastry Tube Star Size 8 - This is the first tip demonstrated in the video. It may be my very favorite piping tip of all because you can make the perfect soft serve ice cream swirl on top of a cupcake. If you've never ventured into piping, then this is a good one to consider buying first. I also demonstrate a single swirl with this tip, and you may remember it from these lucky vanilla cupcakes.

Wilton Petal Decorating Tip 125 - This is the second tip demonstrated in the video. It's a petal tip, which certainly makes pretty individual petals, but I love using it for piping a simple rose in one continuous icing spiral. This technique takes a little dexterity, so it's a good idea to set aside one or two practice cupcakes.

Wilton Decorating Petal Icing Tip #104 - or, ruffle tip. This is the third tip demonstrated in the video, and you can see that it's just a little smaller than the previous petal tip. In my opinion, it's the best size petal tip for ruffling cupcakes. When I first tried this technique I felt like I was making a real mess of things - starting and stopping rows, accidentally smearing a few ruffles with the piping tip - but when I finished, the cupcake looked picture-perfect. So remember, if you get halfway through ruffling and things are feeling a bit chaotic, keep at it and judge the end result. This petal tip can also make daisies, like the ones on these cupcakes I made for the Etsy blog last year.

Ateco Pastry Tube Plain 808 - Icing mounds are the easiest of the easy-to-make. Honestly, you don't really even have to use a piping tip to achieve the effect. You could just use a zip-top bag with the corner snipped. That said, I really like this size piping tip to make a nice fat, even heap of frosting on top of cupcakes. It's the tip I use for these champagne cupcakes, too.

Ateco Closed Star Pastry Tube 847 and 843 - I love to use these two piping tips together, as you can see demonstrated on the last cupcake in the video. The smaller one is used to make little stars around the edge of the cupcake and the larger tip makes a nice big swirl in the middle. It looks best when contrasting colors are used, like these bonbon cupcakes I made for Valentine's day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bubble Gum Frosting Cupcakes with Gelatin Bubbles

Let's not take things too seriously today.

Instead, let's make cupcakes with bubble gum frosting and use way too many sprinkles. Let's be crafty and make gelatin bubble toppers, too.  It's easy and I'll show you how!

I first saw the gelatin bubble technique weeks ago on Cake Central, and I've been dying to try it ever since. I wasn't sure exactly what kind of treat I would make to put bubbles on - something soap themed seemed a little unappetizing, but I found my inspiration in a little dram bottle of LorAnn bubble gum flavor. In my experience, bubble gum flavored treats are a bit polarizing. I'll admit that I was wary of adding the flavor to frosting, but it's surprisingly good!

Ready to see how I made the bubbles?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Italian Easter Bread

This may be the happiest-looking bread I've ever made. Sprinkles on bread? Yes times one million!

I've had Italian Easter Bread on my bake list for ages, but each year the holiday seems to pass by too quickly, or I just plain forgot about it. So, late this past Monday night, I decided to drop everything and just make it already!

Because of my late start I was babysitting rising bread until 11 pm, and then rolling it into loaves at 11:30, but it was all worth it because at midnight we were pulling apart hot, feathery bread with our fingers.  I've always thought that dessert tastes better after midnight. It feels like you're doing something secretive or getting away with something. The same goes for freshly baked bread. I mean, Italian Easter Bread makes a nice brunch, but after midnight it tastes AMAZING.

Trust me, I would never lie about something so important.

My favorite thing about this bread, besides the sprinkles of course, is the colorful egg in the center. You don't have to worry about hard boiling the eggs before adding them to the bread. They cook perfectly as the bread bakes in the oven!

I used a common drugstore brand of egg coloring to dye uncooked eggs and allowed them to dry completely on paper towels before placing them inside the dough rounds. Most loaves turned out perfect, but the eggs in two loaves speckled a little during baking, so we ate those imperfect ones first. Just a heads up that you might experience the same result.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Christian Dior's Apricot Mousse

As much as I love shiny new cookbooks (and oh, I do!) my shelf of mid-century cookbooks is my sentimental favorite.  I especially love those purchased second-hand with notes and recipe clippings tucked in the pages. I’ll admit, reading through the oddball "Tuna Surprise" and congealed salad recipes is a weird form of entertainment for me, but there are other recipes in those pages that are still relevant today.

In 1956 General Mills published the second edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book. In this revised and enlarged version, special menus and recipes were included from celebrities of the time - Jimmy Durante, Ed Sullivan and Eleanor Roosevelt to name a few. Among those esteemed contributors was French fashion designer Christian Dior. His suggested menu for "Dinner in Paris" included apricot mousse for dessert. I have a copy of this book, and when I read the recipe's simple ingredients and preparation, it struck me that it would be at home in the pages of any newly published cookbook today.  One might say it is as timeless as his design.

The original recipe calls for the mousse to be frozen, but I like it just fine chilled in the refrigerator. It's light and refreshing - not at all heavy - and "the Dior treatment" as it is referred to in the text, is the addition of Kirsch cherry liqueur. In that case, the Sprinkle Bakes treatment (heh) would be the addition of whipped cream and fresh berries. Apricots aren't quite in season here, so I reluctantly used frozen. The mousse turned out delicious and fruity nonetheless, but you can bet that I'll be making this again in summer when apricots are at their peak.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Espresso Religieuse (Caffeinated Nuns)

I'd almost forgotten how much I loved baking choux - the way they magically puff in the oven and create the perfect hiding place for rich filling. My recent obsession with them started when I made these fancy stacked Courtesan au Chocolat. I've been making successive batches ever since, and filling them with whatever yummy ingredient is close to hand.

After tasting these espresso-chocolate Religieuse, I knew it was a recipe to share. It's become one of my favorite choux incarnations. Did you know that by stacking a smaller cream puff on top of a larger cream puff you create a new dessert with a fancy new name? Truly. It's a French pastry called Religieuse, and you can read more about it here.  The name means "nun", given because they are said to resemble nuns in their habits (if I squint my eyes I think I can see it). The puffs are held together with dollops of buttercream - all the better when it's coffee buttercream, I say.

The choux recipe I use and recommend is from the SprinkleBakes book (that's it in the upper left corner picture). It never fails me. I learned how to make choux paste by hand (without a mixer) from my days as a Daring Baker, and it's still my preferred method. Yes, you can make it on a stand mixer, and it is less work, but I like the experience of working without modern gadgets when it comes to this pastry. I like that it's just me, a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl.

 photo Untitled1_zpsbd40f7a1.gif

Now, there are endless ways to make this stacked pastry look fancy. I've seen them macaron-topped, with frilled frostings, ruffles and dragees - but something about this coffee version begged for simplicity. I didn't do much more than add a buttercream star and a roasted coffee bean on top.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Strawberry Confetti Cake and Vanilla From Tahiti Giveaway!

I have two sweet things for you today! The first is this thoroughly sprinkled strawberry cake. You probably know by now that my heart beats for confetti cakes, and if you're not convinced, I urge you to look here, here, here and here. This strawberry version may be my favorite yet!

The second and possibly sweetest of the two is a generous giveaway from Vanilla from Tahiti! I mean, what would our baked goods be if not for the loving touch of vanilla? It's a necessity! And it's the star ingredient in the Swiss meringue buttercream on this cake. Tahitian vanilla is known to be of the highest quality, and it's used by the finest pastry chefs and chocolatiers in the world. I love using it in my baking, and you will too.

One grand prize winner!
The perfect collection of Tahitian vanilla goodies to surprise and delight any epicurean.

Vanille de Tahiti book
2 oz. Vanilla Extract
Ground Vanilla Bean
2 Tahitian Vanilla Beans
Vanilla Mustard

Two sampler winners!
This sampler is a convenient way to experience pure Tahitian vanilla, in it's most popular forms. Perfect for the home chef.

2 oz. Vanilla Extract
Ground Vanilla Bean
2 Tahitian Vanilla Beans

Something for everyone!

Vanilla from Tahiti is giving my readers a 10% discount on all orders! To access the discount, click here.

I have to say, the Tahitian vanilla beans they sent me to sample are some of the fattest, oiliest, most fragrant beans I've ever tried. They really made the frosting on this cake something special. Just having the split vanilla beans on the counter top made the entire kitchen smell dreamy. Another product that I loved was the vanilla bean powder. I used just a smidgen in my morning coffee, and now I'm hooked! I can't wait to use it in pie crusts and cookies.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shirley Temple Cocktail-Inspired Cupcakes

The non-alcoholic Shirley Temple cocktail has a reputation for being super sweet, so it's no surprise that it translates well into cupcake form. I also really like the grown-up Shirley Temple Black cocktail, which has all the ingredients of the original version, but with a shot of Kahlua (or Campari. Or dark rum, some would argue). So, I decided to make these cupcakes both ways.

The cute little bows on top of the cupcakes are plastic ring birthday party favors. I think they make adorable toppers for Shirley Temple cupcakes. To differentiate the two cupcake flavors, I gave the non-alcoholic cupcakes a pink bow and the Kahlua-flavored cupcakes a black bow.

Original Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple Black
Honestly, I'm not sure which version I like better. Both are distinctly different and delicious. Grenadine plays a huge role in the flavor of the beautiful pink icing that goes on both types of cupcakes. Most grenadine is flavored with pomegranate or black currant juice, so you can expect a fruity-slash-berry sweet-tart flavor. I used Sprite soda in the cupcake batter, which gives the baked cakes a really subtle flavor that's hard to put a finger on, but it all works together so very well flavor-wise. If you prefer using ginger-ale in your Shirley Temples, then you can certainly substitute it for the Sprite in the cake batter.

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