Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Cupcake Contest and Tiramisu Cupcakes

Recently I've made the decision to say "yes" more often, within a reason of course, so now I'm making an effort to not count myself out and to throw my hat into every ring. But you see, my hat doesn't yet belong in every ring. Sometimes my hat is more like a fez, perfectly awesome, but doesn't necessarily belong alongside a dozen fedoras. But life is one big lesson, right? And it's exactly why I had to send in my entry into last weekend's cupcake contest, despite actually being very good at cupcake decorations. Sure I can make pretty swirls and toss in some sprinkles, I've even gotten pretty good at piping roses, but I'm still leery of anything to do with fondant, which limits what I can do, but not necessarily what I think I can do.

The contest was hosted by the French Pastry School in Chicago, and the criteria stipulated that we had to expand on a pound cake recipe for our cupcakes. I set out with a great idea: I was going to make tiramisu inspired cupcakes. I did a lot of research, tried a few things, added my favorite tiramisu cream and let me tell you, the flavor, texture, everything tasted fantastic. But then it came time to decorate and all my attempts fell short. I made a batch of chocolate marshmallow fondant and tried to shape it into didn't work. Then I tried to make tomb stones...they kept drooping. And finally I decided to just make mummies. I pulled out a face mold, and a piping bag and came up with something fairly decent, or so I thought. They're mostly grading on taste anyways. Right? Well, no backing out now.

Zombie Thumbs Up

Wow. When I showed up and people started putting their cupcakes up on the display table, I was almost ready to pack up and go back home. No way were my cupcakes good enough to compete. But I was there already, and my parents were coming to support me, so I stuck it out and spent the next two hours biting my nails and drooling over all the other entries:

Just look at this detail:
Cauldron Full

That green stuff is melted sugar, how cool is that:
Bubbling Cauldrons

This one actually ended up being one of the runners up:
Yummy Ghosts

Aren't those roses cute:
Tomb Stone

This was just awesome. It's an axe and a severed hand on a tree stump...all edible:
Chopping Accident

I thought these were fun. I don't know the flavor, but this would be fun for an oreo or a cookies and cream theme, don't you think?
Skeleton In The Dirt

The tables were right in the middle of a mall and both kids and adults passed by pointing out their favorites. This mademoiselle couldn't tear herself away until she went through all of them, and picked out the ones she liked best. Isn't she adorable? I want that coat in my size.
Cupcake cutie

I thought these were the coolest looking ones out of all of them. Would you believe they didn't even place? I guess the taste didn't measure up, but come on, don't they just look awesome?
Red Apple Witches

And this was the grand prize winner. I'm waiting for them to post the recipe, I'm really curious to see what was so special here, just looks like a chocolate cupcake to me. (I may also be a sore loser...maybe)
Winning Spiders

Yeah....these were mine and no, they didn't win. Please please please don't make any creepy bundled baby jokes, I know. My friends told me all of them. I can tell you though that despite the looks, they tasted awesome, so I'm including the recipe, should you want to try making them yourself...sans "mummy" of course.

Scary Tasty

Chocolate Tiramisu Cupcake

3 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. hot water
2 and 3/4 cups unsifted All-Purpose flour, King Arthur
1/4 cup unsifted cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. Dutch processed cocoa
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 eggs, large
1 cup sour cream, thick style
2 Tbsp. heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350F and prepare two cupcake pans with liners.
Stir together the espresso powder, vanilla extract, and hot water in a very small bowl.

Onto a large sheet of parchment or wax paper, sift together the flour, cake flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium size bowl, toss the chocolate pieces with about 1 Tbsp. of this flour mixture. Set both aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, cream the butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl.
Pour in the granulated sugar in 3 additions, mixing for about 1 minute after each addition. Scrape the bowl frequently to ensure even mixing. Add in all of the brown sugar and beat for 1 more minute. Scrape again.

One at a time, add in the eggs, beating for 45 seconds after each one. Scrape!
Blend in the espresso mixture.

On low speed, add in the sifted ingredients alternately with the sour cream (3 additions of flour and 2 additions of the sour cream). Scrape after each addition. Blend in the heavy cream.
Fill cups ¾ full and bake for 30 min.
Once cupcakes are cool, cut a cone shape out of each one. Slice the cap off of the cone and set aside the rest in a bowl. Fill with tiramisu filling and replace the cap on each cupcake. Crumble the cake bits into crumbs.
Dip each cupcake in slightly warm ganache and sprinkle cake bits on top. Put a fondant mummy head on top, pipe the body out of ganache and add mummy wrappings with the fortified cream cheese/tiramisu frosting.

Tiramisu filling and Cream Cheese Frosting

3 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 8oz package cream cheese

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.

Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

Once the mixture has been used to fill the cupcakes, whip the cream cheese until soft in a separate bowl, add in whatever is left over of the tiramisu filling and whip together. This will give you a stiffer frosting to pipe the mummy shapes with.


8oz dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
¼ cup honey

Put chocolate into a bowl and combine the rest of the ingredients in a small pot set over high heat. Stir until honey is incorporated, butter has melted, and just until the first bubbles appear around the edges. Pour over chocolate, let sit for 2 minutes and then whisk together until well blended.

Shape mummy heads out of the fondant and let dry overnight. Or leave them off entirely...yeah, much better to just leave them off.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Winner and a Loser

First and foremost, thank you all for coming by and leaving me such great comments and ideas on what to do with my dutch oven. Lots of curries, I'll definitely have to give one a try. While I wish I could give each and every one of you something, I only have one GC to give, and according to, that goes to Anita:


Anita, congratulations! It doesn't look like you left any way for me to get a hold of you though, so please email me at blondiescakes at gmail dot come right away and I'll send you your GC code. If I don't get a reply in a week, I'll have to pick someone else, so please please come back for your winnings :D

As for me, well, I'm the loser in this episode. Wanna guess where I am this week and why it took me so long to post this? I'll give you a hint:




And a whole lot of:


No idea? Here a few more clues and I'm sure you'll get it:

New York New York

Fountains at Bellagio

I'm spending a few days in Vegas for work and already I've gambled away the few bucks I made on my last cupcake order. I may have even learned a lesson about gambling...or something. Anyhow, that's all I have for you today. Since I haven't been home in almost two weeks, there's not much in terms of recipes that I have ready to share with you, but thank you for stopping by...I'll put a fiver on black 27 for you ;)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chocolate and Dulce de Leche Cupcakes

My sister's coworker and friend, Alecia, is one of those crazy, super awesome, totally inspiring marathon runners and she'll be running in the huge Chicago 10/10/10 marathon tomorrow. It's over 20 miles long, goes through several neighborhoods around the city and will draw over a million spectators in addition to the runners, so once you're in it, a million people will see you if you stop. As her "I did it!" treat, she asked for cupcakes, and not just any cupcakes. She wanted chocolate, dulce de leche, and crunch, so after a bit of going back and forth, I came up with this:

Chocolate Dulce Cupcake4

It's a chocolate snack cake filled with creamy dulce de leche covered with a dark chocolate and whipped honey ganache frosting and topped with an almond praline shard and a sprinkle of black Hawaiian salt to cut through all the sweetness and deepen the chocolate flavor. And if anyone recognizes the colors of the box, it's from Victoria's Secret. This box has really gotten around! It's pretty, the perfect size for giving blankets, carrying birthday cakes, and to store exactly 25 cupcakes. I really hope she likes how it came out. Good luck Alecia!

Chocolate Dulce Cupcake3

Also, a quick reminder, enter the giveaway before midnight tonight for your chance to get something really cool from CSN Stores with the $45 GC that's being given away. Good luck!

Chocolate Dulce Cupcake Cut

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes
Recipe from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
Makes 12 individual cakes

I'm including the snack cake recipe because it was the only new recipe I had tried, the frosting and the filling were variations of things I'd done in the past and I like how desserts can be a culmination of various different components that all start from the simple and can be built up as high as you like. This is the base, the level you take it to is up to you.

7 ounces (200g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (125ml) unflavored vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup (125ml) plain, whole-milk yogurt
1 cup (200g) sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (180g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with 12 indentations with paper cupcake liners, or lightly butter them.
2. In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup (60ml) of the oil. Once melted and smooth, remove from heat.
3. In another bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup (65ml) of oil with the yogurt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the yogurt mixture. Stir lightly a couple of time, then add the melted chocolate, and stir until just smooth.
5. Divide the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 25 minutes, or until they feel barely set in the middle.
6. Remove from oven and cool before serving.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pork Shoulder Braised in Cider and a Giveaway

There is quite a bit going on, so this will be an event filled post to make up for the short downtime around here. There's an update on the blogging challenge, dutch ovens have finally found a purpose in my kitchen, and there's an awesome giveaway too!

First things first: I'm sorry guys, but it looks like I didn't make it very far in the FoodBuzz Blogging contest, but it was definitely a lot of fun trying and I have discovered a lot of great blogs through this challenge. Plus it was really great to see all my friends supporting me. Thanks guys! I may not have gone all the way, but if I promised you a cookie, you'll get it. A promise is a promise :D

Next up is the contest! The nice folks over the amazingly-all-inclusive CSN Stores have contacted me about hosting a giveaway for a $45 gift card good at any of their stores, and by George do they cover everything your little heart could desire! Right now though is the perfect time and weather for slow cooking and to get you to the dutch oven of your dreams, the instructions on how to enter can be found at the end of this post.

Braised Pork Shoulder 2

This past weekend I got together with a friend and her family and we went to a pumpkin patch and apple orchard, just a short drive away from their house. As a treat I thought I'd make pulled pork sandwiches. I bought my dutch oven a month ago and while I would have LOVED to get my hands on a lovely Le Creuset, I just don't have that kind of cash and I didn't have your advantage of the gift card, but it was still the perfect thing for making a moist, flavorful pork shoulder that basically fell apart without any work at all. Infused with apple cider and caramelized onions, it barely needed any dressing up:

Yummy Pork

We piled it on top of Hawaiian bread buns and topped it off with some BBQ sauce, but Joys daughter preferred to just steal the meat from her mom's sandwich instead. Followed by a fried pound cake topped with honeyed mascarpone and blueberries that Joy whipped up, it made for a yummy dinner.

Yummy Pork 2

And now back to the contest. There are two ways to enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me about your favorite dutch oven recipe. I just started experimenting so I need your ideas :D
2. Become a follower of my blog and leave a comment telling me that you are.

Voting will close at midnight CST this Saturday(10/9).

The giveaway is now closed. I will tally up the entries and post the winner in the next day or two. Thank you everyone who participated!

That's it, easy, right? I wish you all luck and I can't wait to see your ideas.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, this giveaway is only for US readers. I'm sorry but that was their restriction, though I might do something later to include everyone so you don't feel left out.

Oh yeah, let's not forget about that recipe!

Braised Pork Shoulder

Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions
From Gourmet, December 2001

1 (3- to 4-lb) bone-in fresh pork shoulder half
2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lb onions (5 or 6 medium), halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3/4 cup unfiltered apple cider

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Score fat and any skin on pork in a crosshatch pattern. Make slits all over meat with a small sharp knife and insert a garlic sliver in each slit. Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a 4 to 5 quart ovenproof heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown meat on all sides, turning occasionally with the aid of tongs and a carving fork, about 8 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate.

Add onions to pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes more.

Stir in cider and return pork to pot. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid (I also put a sheet of foil between the lid and the pot for an extra sealed fit) and braise pork in middle of oven until very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. I turned the pork every half hour to make sure that it was cooked evenly, but that wasn't in the instructions, so you could probably skip that step.

Transfer pork to a serving dish with the aid of tongs and carving fork. Boil cooking juices with onions until mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 2 to 3 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and serve with pork.