Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bonjour, mon petit oiseau.

Hello darlings,

It's been a while, hasn't it? I keep abandoning you for months at a time, and i feel terrible about it. But don't worry. The baking has continued during my blogging black out, and I have much to update.

Where did we leave off? Ah, yes. Nikkie's wedding was the party of the year and I got into pastry school! In fact, I'm now a pastry school graduate. Crazy, huh? School was probably the best/busiest 6 months of my life. I made amazing friends, learned more than I ever could have imagined, watched some amazing chefs work their magic, and baked like it was going out of style. I promise that I'll get around to posting some pics of our pastry school creations eventually, but I have yet to find the time to sort through them all.

As of now, I'm working at a fabulous new restaurant/bakery, and loving it. We opened in November and have been baking up a storm ever since. Pies, tarts, french macarons, cookies, and cupcakes galore! It's sort of my dream job. Listen to the misfits and make tasty treats all day? Sure! It's also been an amazing learning experience, sort of like sugary sweet grad school.

In the meantime, I've been baking some treats of my own. My two current obsessions: french macarons and hummingbird cake. I plan on tackling french macarons sometime in the next week. For anyone who hasn't experienced one of these little treats, you're missing out. Beautiful, delicious, and portable - they're going to be the next cupcake. I'd be very happy opening a tiny storefront in Boston and filling it with pretty macarons. Here are a few examples:

I'm smitten.

Anyways, that's for another post. Here's what I've been up to this week:

Hummingbird cake! It's currently tied with macarons for my favorite thing to make & eat. I'm slightly obsessed. A traditional southern treat, hummingbird cake has the texture of a spice cake filled with pineapple, mashed banana, and toasted pecans. The uber sweet cake is then covered in tangy cream cheese frosting and coated with a generous helping of toasted pecans. Delicious? Most definitely.

Here's my favorite recipe, taken from the joy of baking website:

1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
8 oz crushed pineapple (do not drain)
2 cups mashed ripe banana (3-4 medium)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 9" cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment.

Bake the pecans for about 8 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Let cool and chop. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, pineapple, mashed bananas, and pecans. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined. Evenly divide batter between pans and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting and garnish with toasted pecans.

Now, before you slip into that impending sugar coma (and in honor of the lower states that blessed us with this deliciousness), I'll leave you with a clip from my favorite southern belle. If Beth Ditto can't get you moving again, nothing can.

This post brought to you by southern hospitality, little birds, sugar highs, and Gossip. Dedicated to all you fellow internet lurkers.

Friday, August 7, 2009

White Wedding

Hello my little cupcakes,

Can I start by saying that it's been an insane summer? My best friend got married, I spent a month back in Massachusetts, came back to Chicago and moved into a new apartment. Oh...and since July 6th, I have officially been enrolled in pastry school! Pretty amazing experience, if I do say so. I'll be posting some pictures of the tasty treats we've whipped up so far. But first, I'm sure some of you are wondering how that wedding turned out. The one where I was a bridesmaid and also catering over 150 cupcakes + mini cake + creating a cake tower?

I was a bit nervous as the day approached. I made the mistake of googling search threads such as "making your best friends wedding cake while being a bridesmaid at a remote location" and came up with a few very frightening/intense message boards telling my co-bridesmaid wedding cake caterers that it was the worst idea ever. Luckily, however, that was a whole lot of nonsense. And I mean, come on, I had a timeline printed up like a month in advance. How bad could it be?

I started by decorating the cupcake tree, which I got from They get all of my love - this product worked wonders and was so much more cost efficient than the alternatives. It comes disassembled in white corrugated cardboard, so I started by painting the whole thing in two coats of black acrylic paint. I then used a hot glue gun to attach some super cute black/white polka dot ribbon to the edges which almost gave it the illusion of being made of wood. It was great, inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to transport to the venue.

Next, I got started on the cupcakes. After realizing just how much I would have to do in the days before the wedding (including the rehearsal dinner 2 hours away and a bridesmaid sleepover Friday night) I decided to start baking the cakes on Wednesday night. I had both layers of the 6" mini cake baked and ready to go on Wednesday night, and then baked all of the cupcakes and made half of the frosting on Thursday. On Thursday night, I frosted the mini cake and then cut out/assembled white and black polka dots to match the bride's dress. Friday morning, I frosted and refrigerated the mint chocolate cupcakes, picked up my rental car, filled and refrigerated the chocolate raspberry cupcakes, and then left for the rehearsal by noon. The rest of the frosting happened after the rehearsal dinner, then everything went into [someone's] fridge and I made it back to Nikkie's place for the bridesmaid sleepover party. Then the next morning we picked up the cuppers post hair appointments, drove to New Hampshire, and assembled everything. No biggie, right?

The cake was margarita flavored with lime swiss buttercream and fondant polka dots. The cupcakes were chocolate raspberry, mint chocolate, and cherry red velvet w/coconut cream cheese frosting. I transported them from my parents' place to the venue in plastic cupcake boxes that I ordered online. I cannot talk enough about these things. Without them, I never would have gotten the frosted cupcakes to the reception site in one place.

Once everything was set up by the other bridesmaids and I, I took a deep breath and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the night [er...weekend]. It was without a doubt the most fun wedding I've ever been to. Lots of great music, great food, cupcakes, and an open bar! Oh - and quality time in the mountains with the best friends a girl could have. What more could you ask for?

I have to say, for how nervous I was, everything went off without a hitch. My recommendations for anyone who plans on doing this:
  • Start planning way in advance. Make sure that you've tested your recipes, especially in weather similar to the weather that you'll be expected to recreate your little pocket sized treats
  • Make yourself a timeline. My timeline saved my sanity. I probably changed it about 15 times and didn't quite stick to it, but having everything laid out helped me keep myself in check
  • Give yourself LOTS of extra time. You know that nothing is going to go according to plan. Make sure you have extra time. And trust me, when your best friend/bride wants to get a drink two days before the wedding, you're going to want to go. It will keep you from wanting to throw cupcakes at people. You don't want to turn down two hours of quality time because your baking schedule is too tight.
  • Things are going to go wrong. Go with it. Some things you can fix, sometimes you need to get creative. These things happen. Hopefully your bride friend is cool enough to realize this and gives you a little creative license.
  • If you expect your friend/bride to be a huge bridezilla - SAY THANKS, BUT NO THANKS. Luckily, Nikkie is one of the raddest people I know, so I didn't have to worry about this. She gave me a whole lot of creative freedom on these, which I am totally thankful for. Think hard about this - Is your friend's wedding going to be completely ruined if her cake doesn't look EXACTLY like the stack of Tiffany's boxes that she saw in Martha Stewart Living? Will there be tears? If so, you might want to politely decline.
  • Is your friend's mom potentially insane? See above. No one wants to ruin someone's babygirl's wedding. Especially if it's your friend
  • Research, research, research. What flavors are you making? Are there any food allergies to consider? How are you getting the cupcake to the venue? Will the venue allow desserts from an outside vendor (especially a non-licensed vendor)? When do you need to be there? Remember - your friend is going to have her hands full with ridiculous amounts of not-so-fun event planning formalities. There's a good chance that you'll have to ask/stalk her or the venue for details. Don't expect her to hunt you down.
  • Do you love doing this? Being a bridesmaid can be stressful. It definitely has potential to take a financial and emotional toll on anyone. Adding a large dessert catering to this endeavor is not going to make your life any easier unless you really love it. Personally, I was more relaxed baking than I was sitting still, so this worked out great - but everyone's different.
  • And on that note - have fun with it! Spend months testing, eating, and sharing recipes. Try new design techniques. Sign up at the knot and stare at cupcake tower pictures for hours. This has potential to be LOTS of fun, especially if you're doing it for someone you love. Make it the best gift you can give them. They're going to love it.
Here are some pics of the big event:

My poor mom's kitchen, invaded with cupcakes (and yes, that is a beer in the coozie there. it was a long day)

The finished mini cake - margarita cake w/lime swiss buttercream and fondant polka dots to match the bride's dress.

The bridesmaids! So relieved that the cupcakes are safely arranged on the tower.

The completed cupcake tower! You can't quite see, but the groom on top is wearing a ball & chain. Quelle mignon!?

Super rad bride & groom cutting the cake. Frosting fight ensues.

On that note, there's no way I could end this chapter without a little Billy Idol, so here he is with White Wedding. We're slowing it down for all the hopeless romantics out there. Enjoy, kids:

This post brought to you by: new england summers, dance parties, and anyone adventurous enough to bake wedding cupcakes for their best friend's wedding.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

And then there were 10...days.

Hello friends,

I know, I've been awful about posting lately. Things have been a little crazy, but here's an update on what's going on:

1. Nikkiehippie's big day is 10 days from now. Yikes! I've had my share of cupcake related nightmares lately, and I'm sure that I haven't seen the last of them.

2. I am officially back in Massachusetts until after the wedding. It was great to get to work sorting through the boxes of baking materials that I had shipped to my parents' house. Luckily, everything had arrived safe and sound. Well, everything except for the cupcake tree.

3. The cupcake tree that I ordered at the beginning of April never shipped and I didn't realize it until last Friday. No big deal, it's only what I had planned on displaying the entire wedding cupcake project and bride/groom mini cake on! And it arrives in corregated cardboard, and therefore needs to be decorated. I almost had a heart attack. Luckily, I spoke to the people at on Monday and they were absolutely wonderful about it and sent me one right away which arrived today. I'm currently staring at it at wondering whether my original idea for decorating it will work. More on that later! Oh, and it's way bigger than I anticipated. Definitely big enough to hold everything.

4. A week before departing Chicago for Boston, I managed to conquer my fear of Swiss Buttercream. Risky, maybe, but it's probably the one of the best baking decisions I've made. It was by far the best tasting frosting I've ever made. Oh, and I finally managed to make it red thanks to powdered food coloring!

So now, the time has come to really start preparing for the big day. I'm hoping to have the cupcake tree painted, embellished, and ready to go by the weekend, then it's on to baking and freezing the layers for the mini cake, making and refrigerating several tons of swiss buttercream in three flavors, baking 18 dozen cupcakes, preparing fondant decorations for mini cake, frosting and decorating everything, and then finding a way to store then transport it all to Jaffrey, NH (two hours away). No biggie, right? Oh and I'm a bridesmaid.

Speaking of which, I'm off to take care of some official bridesmaid business in preparation for the upcoming bachelorette party. I plan on blogging the rest of the progress for operation cupcake in case anyone else out there is thinking of doing the same thing (if you are out there, don't listen to all of the people telling you that you're insane. at least not yet). Hopefully the hiccups will be few and far between, but I'm sure there will be some. Who wants to be bored, anyway?

I'll leave you with this Metric acoustis cover of Elliot Smith's Between the Bars, mostly because I'm in love with Emily Haines. What? It's no secret.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Take Over

I'll admit it, my mind has been completely hijacked by cupcakes. I have had more than one frosting related dream in the past week, and have woken up several times with an intense desire to test out recipes. Insane, I know, but I'd rather have let my mind wander to cupcake land than to the things I should be thinking about (ie. unemployment, possible career paths, paying the bills, etc.). Frosting is bliss. Plus, we only have about 6 weeks until Nikkiehippie's big day, so testing cupcakes should most definitely be a priority.

Last week I had the pleasure of testing out the three recipes I plan on baking for the wedding and selling them at a benefit bake sale for Girls Rock! Chicago. For anyone out there who isn't familiar with GR!C or the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, you should check it out at It's a fantastic organization that runs an annual rock & roll summer camp for girls (ages 9-16) with the intent to help these girls foster self esteem and community involvement through the art of rock & roll. I've been lucky enough to volunteer for the organization, and I have only wonderful things to say about what they do. Check them out!

Anyways, this was the perfect opportunity to test out the wedding cupcakes without eating all three dozen of them (which I COULD easily do, but probably shouldn't since I need to fit into a bridesmaids dress next month).

The three recipes I tested were for Raspberry Truffle, Mint Cookie, and Coconut Red Velvet Cakes and I'm happy to say that each recipes was damn close to the one I'll be using for the big day.

Here's a picture of the finished products with some lables that I whipped up. I'm going to do something similar for the wedding cupcakes (just one of each flavor) so people know what they're digging (or biting) into.

I think the only big change I'm going to make for the wedding is the frosting on the Raspberry Truffle Cakes. The cakes here are topped with a "stable" raspberry whipped cream frosting (somewhere between cream cheese frosting and whipped cream), but I think I'm going to use raspberry cream cheese frosting for the event. While this frosting was delicious, I think the tartness of the cream cheese will really bring out the raspberry flavor and help compliment the chocolate. I'm also going to give the whole red frosting idea another go. I ordered some powdered red food coloring which is much more intense than the paste variety, and should be receiving it later this week. I'll post some pictures of the outcome once I have a chance to play around with it!

I have to say that I really didn't want to love the red velvet cupcakes. Ok, maybe it wasn't that I didn't WANT to love them, it was more that I didn't expect to love them. I mean I just couldn't get behind the whole "not chocolate/not vanilla/pure novelty factor of the red food coloring in the batter/etc. I have issues with edible art that doesn't taste divine. Like all of the absolutely beautiful wedding cakes out there that are covered in three inches of fondant. Fondant doesn't taste good. I understand that it's a delicate balance of taste and visual appeal, but just because your body is capable of digesting your art doesn't really make it edible. It should be something that is visually stunning and also mouth wateringly good. I expected the red velvet cakes to be heavy on the pretty and low on taste, but this recipe forever changed my mind. It may even challenge my pumpkin cardamom cake to a best recipe duel.

The key to this recipe (based off of the Crimson Velveteen recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) is almond extract (imitation in this case because the groom is allergic to nuts). I used 1/2 cake flour for 1/2 of the total flour in the recipe along with buttermilk and the result was divine. Moist and light with a fine crumb and a wonderful almond flavor reminiscent of maraschino cherries. I topped these babies off with a swirl of coconut cream cheese frosting and a cherry. Delicious!

I'll post the recipes separately later. In the meantime, check out this video of Bad Brains playing Big Take Over. What with the cupcakes taking over my brain lately and the much needed shot of adrenaline that I could use right now (winter refuses to leave Chicago, body refuses to cooperate with basic requests for movement) this song is exactly what I need. Enjoy.

This post brought to you by Bad Brains, cupcake jedi-mind tricks, and a healthy dose of sugar.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gimme Sympathy...

For I am now in the twilight of my life. Ok, not really but I did just have a birthday last week and I now feel like an adult (or at least less of a kid). And adults need plans right? Goals? I'll get back to you on those. For now, I'd rather bake and create pretty things out of sugar paste and ignore all of the boring "life" stuff.

Being me, I couldn't really think of a better way to mark my quarter century than to bake my own birthday cake. One of my college roommates was in town and we threw a little bash over the weekend complete with board games and baked goods. It doesn't get much better than that. I bought a glass cake stand to mark the occasion - woo!

The cake is a pumpkin cake with cardamom cream cheese frosting. I happen to love anything that is made out of pumpkin. Actually, I love anything rich in beta carotene. In fact, when I was a baby I ate so much of the stuff that my skin turned a bit orange. Oh, and I had bright orange hair. Like an orangutan. True story.

This cake combines three of my favorite things - pumpkin, lotus flowers, and the beach. Everything on it is edible (although I'm not really into the taste of fondant, so I guess it depends on your definition of edible). The lotus flower and lily pad are both made of fondant. I used flower petal cookie cutters and a paring knife for the flower petals and shaped them on a foam egg. I used a pizza slicer to shape the lily pad and a paring knife to cut a slit in it.

The sand is made of ground up gingersnap cookies with shredded coconut mixed in. I made the shells out of white chocolate which I marbleized w/ pink tint and poured into wilton shell molds.

Also, as a little birthday present from the powers that be, Metric released their new album Fantasies today. For the record, I have a huge girl crush on Emily Haines. Like seriously, I want to be her best friend. Not in a creepy way, I just think she's one of the raddest girls out there and her voice is absolutely mesmerizing. I've been really excited about this album for months, and now that I have it I'm off to listen to it on repeat for the rest of the evening.

I'll be back with some cupcake photos soon. In the meantime, check out this music video for the song Sympathy. I've been in love with this song since they released an acoustic version from Cochella last summer.

This post brought to you by birthdays, sugarcraft, and the sweet sweet sound of Emily Haines' voice.

I'm a loner dottie, a rebel.

Why, hello friends. Miss me? I know that it's been a terribly long time between posts. I've had a whole lot going on lately including the demise of my poor little laptop, so I haven't been able to upload many pictures lately (the pictures here are from my phone - I'll upload better quality photos later). Rest assured, the baking has not stopped.

On a sidenote, I recently got laid-off from my 9-5 (again) and I'm seriously considering pastry school. More updates on that once I've seriously researched the option, but it would be a pretty rad adventure. We'll see!

Ok, on to the cake already! Here's a little update on the plans for my darling girl nikkiehippie's wedding cake. So far, we've decided on doing a cupcake tree with 200 cupcakes and having a 6" bride & groom mini cake for the top tier. The wedding colors are going to be black, white, and red. The bridesmaids dresses are black with white polka dots (completely adorable!). The planned cupcake flavors are red velvet with white cream cheese frosting, chocolate mint cookie with mint fudge frosting, and chocolate with red raspberry frosting. I'll be testing these out in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for pics and recipes!

I just ordered a cupcake tree from I've been researching ways to display this many cupppers, and this seems to be the best option for the money. It supposedly fits up to 300 regular size cupcakes, but we'll see how big it is when it comes in. Has anyone used one of these? I'd love some feedback, pictures, etc! It just comes in plain, white corrugated cardboard but I plan on painting it red and lining the edges with thin black satin ribbon to go with the color scheme.

I whipped this up as a practice cake for the bride & groom mini cake and I think we're going to do something very similar for the big day. It's a margarita cake w/lime buttercream frosting and fondant polka dots. I poured rum into the cake after it was finished baking, but I'm going to use tequila for the wedding cake to keep with the margarita theme. The bride and groom never have time to eat and drink enough at their own wedding, so at least this'll kill two birds with one stone! Nothing says "baby, I love you" quite like a shot of tequila, right?

The cake consists of two 6" layers with lime buttercream between them. I used two different sized cookie cutters to cut black fondant into polka dots and then applied them to the frosting. The red trim is a satin ribbon (to be removed prior to cutting the cake).

The recipe for the cake comes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but I was out of soy milk so I had to use regular milk. The recipe actually calls for tequila in the batter, but since I'm pouring it directly into the finished cake for extra booziness I decided to stick with vanilla in the batter. Also, this recipe yields 12 cupcakes. I doubled it to make two 6" cakes.


Margarita Cake

1/4 cup lime juice
1 1/2 tsp lime zest
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Fill a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.
In a large bowl, mix together lime juice, lime zest, milk, oil, vanilla and sugar.
In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt (I usually blend this together with a whisk to break apart any lumps). Add to lime mixture and stir until just combined. Divide evenly into muffin tins. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly pressed.

Lime Buttercream Frosting:*

1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature
3 cups confectioner's sugar
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp lime zest
pinch salt (preferably course)

Beat the butter until it's fluffy. Add sugar a little at time until well incorporated. Add lime juice, zest, and salt and beat until smooth. Adjust consistency according to preference (adding more sugar will thicken it, adding water or milk will thin it out).

*FYI - This recipe makes a whole lot of frosting. I had more than enough to frost the mini cake (and fill between the layers). You might want to halve it, or just make more cupcakes to frost! These tend to disappear no matter how many you make.

While that's in the oven, check out this video of the Get Up Kids playing I'm a loner dottie, a rebel. My love for the Get Up Kids runs deep. Maybe it's because they remind me of my days as an angsty youngster in Massachusetts and of all my friends from back home. This is one song that I've never gotten sick of, even after about a decade of listening to it. I won't lie, I'm super excited about the possible reunion tour - woo!

This post brought to you by best friends, fond memories, wedding fever, and an excuse to pour booze directly into a cake.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Girl Anachronism

This isn't exactly baked good related, but definitely worth a post/rant. For those who haven't read the Amanda Palmer belly story on Pitchfork or Feministing yet, check it out:

You should also read Palmer's account of the situation on her blog:

Apparently, the Dresden Doll has been getting some flack from her label about some scenes in her video for Leeds United because they didn't feel that her belly adequately represented the fantisies of testosterone charged frat boys. Translation? She's not a size zero, and she's comfortable with that. Apparently that's not what the label is interested in selling.

Now considering the fact that this was the third album she's put out on Roadrunner Records, you'd assume that they would have some idea who Amanda/The Dresden Dolls and their fan base are. You know - the music they make, the people they are, the image they try to convey. Unfortunately, it looks like they're more interested in transforming her into a plastic, overproduced, underfed commodity a la Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, etc. Although, I guess you can't really expect much from any label that would sign Nickelback.

Luckily, Palmer stood her ground and refused to edit the belly shots in question. From one belly to another, I salute you Amanda Palmer. I think this warrants a cupcake in your honor.

Stay tuned.

Oh, and here's the video in question for your viewing pleasure.