Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Okay, I lied.

I didn't get you any update a couple weeks ago. But I'm here now! Finally. I've been wrapped up in graduation stuff, finals, etc. I've also had little sleep. But, I've brought cupcakes. So that's good. :)

These are actually my entry to Cupcake Hero this month.

Well. This past year was the first year my high school had its Culinary Arts class. Since we had planned on making it into a restaurant, we needed a name. So we had a contest. Whomever's name was picked for the restaurant won a free dinner for two. They got to plan the meal, everything. Within reason, of course. Well. The French teacher won. She asked for cake with "real buttercream frosting." Crap.

Buttercream had always been my enemy. Actually. I just had never attempted it. It seemed scary. Whipped egg whites. Cooking sugar without cooking it too far. Preventing crystallization. Not letting the butter melt and it all turning into a soupy, melted disaster. Ack. I have an active imagination. But I knew I had to do it. I plan on making wedding cakes for a living. I have to do it sometime. But I could get out of it! She continued on, "But anything chocolate is fine." That could work. Or, I decided, I could combine the two. Chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream. Genius. And better yet. Chocolate cupcakes. Because the theme ingredient for Cupcake Hero is cocoa powder. So I did it.

The buttercream was amazing. I loved it so much, I made it again a week later. Double-batch. >.> It's now sitting in my freezer. I plan on baking some kind of cake this weekend since all my family is out for my graduation.

Chocolate Buttercream

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (I used chips.)
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) salted butter
6 tablespoons water
3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Chop the butter into about 1/2-inch cubes. You want to let it soften, but not too much. I just chopped it, put it in the fridge, then took it out when I was whipping the egg whites with the sugar syrup.

In a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 245 °F.

While syrup is boiling, beat the whites until foamy, then beat in the cream of tartar in your mixer using the whisk attachment. Beat the whites until they just hold stiff peaks and beat in hot syrup in a stream (try to avoid pouring onto beaters and side of bowl). (I tried to get it in time, but I wound up stiffening my egg whites before the sugar syrup was hot enough. I just turned it off, then turned it back on when the sugar syrup was about 240°F.) Beat mixture at medium speed until completely cool, about 10 minutes. (At this point I took the butter out. It was still a little firm. It worked fine.) Change out your whisk for your paddle attachment. Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, beating until mixture is thickened and smooth. (I've been told that the buttercream may start to look curdled at some point. When I made the single batch, it didn't happen. When I made the double batch, it happened. I'm guessing the difference in volume. Don't worry. As soon as all the butter was in, it was thick again.) Beat in the cocoa powder and melted chocolate, beating until smooth.

You can make the buttercream ahead of time, just make sure you bring it to room temperature first. Apparently some people beat it in their mixer once it's to temperature. I just handmixed it with a rubber spatula. It worked fine. And I didn't have to get out my mixer.
(Adapted from Epicurious.)

Chocolate Cake (actually adapted from a recipe I found on Laurie's blog.)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (I made this at school. If it was at home, I would have used salted butter and cut the salt down to 1/4 tsp or so.)
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup really hot water. Or just hot water.

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line two muffin pans with liners. (Which I didn't do. >.> That's what Pam for Baking is for!)

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until well mixed, trying to get some sort of volume (it will lighten a bit in colour... and it took me a while to get it to do that. I think part of it had to do with such a small batch in an industrial-size mixer). Add eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla and oil. Add 1/2 the sour cream and then 1/2 the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until well blended.

Add the remaining sour cream and dry ingredients to the batter. Stir in water.

Fill cups about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely before frosting.

In the end, the chocolate buttercream didn't kick my ass. It liked me. And I liked it. And I found out the "real buttercream" she asked for was a butter and powdered sugar one. Last I knew, that was mock buttercream.

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