Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chai Teacupcakes

I got these adorable little silicone cupcake molds for my birthday and just couldn't wait to try them. Of course, since they are shaped like teacups, I wanted to make a cupcake that was reminiscent of tea and thought chai would be perfect. I researched several recipes and ended up using the Martha Stewart one from her Cupcakes book.  It was meant for mini cupcakes, but adapted well to making regular sized ones with just a little more baking time.  However, her recipe included a condensed milk icing and I wanted to swirl some buttercream on top, so I came up with this yummy cardamom-cinnamon buttercream and sprinkled just a little cinnamon on top.  Just like they would when you order a chai latte from the local cafe, right?

This is the box of the cupcake molds that are made by Fred.  They make all kinds of fun stuff! 

I even used my matching pink Reiss milkpot to warm the milk and make the black tea infused milk to use for the recipe. I just wanted to drink that, but resisted and used it for the cupcakes.

The batter had LOTS of spices in it and I've never smelled such a fragrant flour mixture!  I liked the Martha recipe as it called for using each and every spice that is in Indian chai vs. cheating and using one of the pre-made chai mixes. This has cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and freshly ground nutmeg.  It smelled like fall or like I was ready to make a pumpkin pie. 

I was hoping I didn't put too much batter in the cupcake molds and since I have just these four, there was lots more batter to make other cupcakes.  It felt so boring just putting the batter in cupcake papers!

Here are my chai teacupcakes fresh out of the oven. I probably could have used a little less batter in the molds, but they rose nicely and I was so exciting to frost them!

The buttercream came together so nicely and was easy to pipe on. It had these pretty little specks of cardamom and cinnamon in it and I sprinkled them with a bit more cinnamon as well.  I thought the bright white buttercream looked so pretty with the white molds as well.  Almost too adorable to eat!  I shared them with four very special friends and showed off the fun cupcake molds.

I had lots more cupcakes and lots more buttercream so I sampled one to make sure they were good and sent the rest off to be enjoyed by others.

Recipe for Cardamom-Cinnamon Buttercream

2 sticks unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk

Cream the butter in an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon and mix thoroughly.  Continue beating on low speed while adding the sugar a cup at a time and alternating with a little milk, beating smooth between each addition and scraping the bowl as needed.

Peach Tart with Mascarpone Cream

I was meeting some friends for an outdoor concert and wanted to take a fresh summery dessert for us to share for our picnic.  With peaches in season in Michigan, this was probably the perfect recipe that I could have found and we all enjoyed it immensely.  I found the recipe using my Epicurious app on my iPad, but you can access it online also. How can you go wrong with fresh peaches tossed in sugar and lemon zest, raw sliced almonds for a little crunch and a honey glaze. It was still warm when we ate it at the picnic and was topped with the rich, sweet mascarpone cream. 

 The peaches were so pretty. I just love the orangey/red fuzzy peaches and they smell so fresh even before they're cut open. But when you pit them, the flesh of the fruit is just as pretty as the outside.

The tart pastry was a perfectly pliable and smooth pastry with the addition of a little powdered sugar for sweetness. The edges were folded over to smooth it out and it made the side of the tart nice and thick.

I grabbed a few photos at home before I went to the concert for our picnic.  I don't have any photos of the tart cut and topped with  mascarpone cream. But trust me, it was decadent. And, we all had smiles on our faces....from the tart, the good music and great friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Sugar Cookies

I've always typically reserved making sugar cookies for Christmastime.  However, I received some adorable ice cream cone and lollipop cookie cutters for my birthday in July and just had to try them.  I also have wanted to try being more fancy with decorating cookies and so here is my first attempt at that. It was fun with a little frustration mixed in and just took a lot longer than I thought it would.

I used the Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe and as suggested, I shaped them into discs, wrapped them in plastic and I ended up chilling them overnight.  This whole process actually took me three days (evenings). One evening I made the dough, the next day I cut them and baked them and the next I made the icing and decorated them.

The cookie cutters had little indents for the details and weren't the easiest to cut out (I used lots of flour).  I put them on the silpat lined baking sheets and chilled them for about 10 minutes in the freezer.  I've skipped this step in the past, but I know it does help them to keep their shape when you bake them.

Here are the baked sugar cookies.  They were so pretty at this point with their detail.  Such innocent little sugar cookies that weren't yet globbed with icing.  They tasted pretty good just like this too, especially since I made them nice and thick.

Speaking of royal icing was thick.  I always grew up making the simple and syrupy royal icing with just powdered sugar and milk.  I probably just added way too much milk than necessary. This time, since I wanted to pipe detail on the cookies, I used the royal icing recipe from the Bake at 350 blog. This royal icing has meringue powder and corn syrup in it, which I'm assuming helps it hold its own for piping. She had great descriptive directions, but I think I may have overbeat it or something as it was quite thick.  It ended up working out, but when I piped the border on my cookies some of them started to meringue.

I got myself all set up...bowls of icing to make different colors, spoons and spatulas to stir, cookies lined up on sheets of parchment, food coloring and my iPad with some sites that had ice cream cookie decorating inspiration.

My icing was finally all colored to my satisfaction. I used AmeriColor Ivory for the vanilla ice cream, Americolor Warm Brown and Copper for the ice cream cone, AmeriColor Warm Brown for the chocolate ice cream and AmeriColor dusty pink for the pink dots and drips.

I found these squeeze bottles at Crate & Barrel and they are so handy for pushing through all the icing in the bottle and are easy to hold onto.  I used these for piping on the edging. I also have a few plain tall squeeze bottles that I used for the flood icing (to fill in the middle of the cookies).

The first step was to to outline the edges of the cookies with each color and then I thinned out each of the colors and filled them in.  At this point I realized that I had a) picked a rather difficult shape for my cookie decorating trial; b) baked way too many and I was determined to decorate them all and c) I was tired, but just had to finish the project as this was the third evening I was working on this.

I did just some plain sprinkles on some of them after I filled in the ice cream.

When I used the pink icing, I started doing some dots and cherry drips on top.  I also used the leftover ivory to make a "waffle" pattern on the cone. If you may have noticed, I don't have any photos of finished lollipops.  I did decorate the sticks with the same icing I used for the cones and then I did yellow lollipops with a pink swirl.  However, the swirl looked like more of a sloppy smear, so I chose not to share those, aside from my belly.

I definitely learned a lot and I think I'll try this again...maybe at Christmastime. I don't think I'm going to try to tackle Santa though. I'll plan to stick with stars, snowmen and Christmas trees.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chicago Bakery Crawl

I met a very dear friend in Chicago for my first weekend away from home (and my sweet baby) on my own.  We had no set agenda, but had three goals in mind...1) catch up (as it had been two years since we'd seen each other), 2) do some shopping, 3) eat great food and explore some of the city's best bakeries.  We were able to accomplish them all and had a very fun and delightfully indulgent weekend together.

These were bakeries or dessert destinations that I had on my list of places I wanted to check out.  I didn't actually think we would make it to all of them.  But, did we ever!  And, we actually came accross another few in the process.

Since this bakery crawl weekend in Chicago, there are a few more bakeries that I've discovered.  I'm lucky that I have reasons to be in Chicago again soon so I can check them out.  Next on the list are Molly's Cupcakes, Swirlz Cupcakes, Bleeding Heart Bakery and Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique.

But, here are the ones we enjoyed on my recent Chicago bakery crawl...

Vanille Patisserie
This was mentioned online as one of the top Chicago bakeries and while they did have some very nice things, we were a bit underwhelmed.  They seemed to definitely focus on events and special orders, so their bakery/cafe presence and selection were not that impressive.  They had a few tables and chairs, but it just wasn't an inviting environment to sit and enjoy a pastry. They definitely focused on fine pasteries and had one of the biggest selections of french macarons that I've seen, especially in the Midwest.  We sampled a chocolate one while we were there and picked out an additional two each to enjoy later.  They were amazing!

They had some of their show cakes and macaron decorations on display and they looked amazing.  The macaron topiaries were my favorite and would be perfect adorning a favor table at a wedding full of little boxes of macarons!

Sweet Mandy B's
I've heard people rave about Sweet Mandy B's and know some former colleagues that got cakes or cupcake displays from them for their weddings.  They advertise offering "old fashioned desserts" and when we got there I now saw where they were going with that.  It was full of bright colors and no nonense desserts. The atmosphere was a mixture of bustling retro bakery and an old fashioned ice cream parlor.  They had whimsical decorations every where you turned and the place was crawling with happy adults and kids satisfying their sweet tooth.

I had read some blog posts that claimed they used purchased frosting vs. making it from scratch.  I actually asked one of the bakers about this and they said it was all a bad rumour and it was really all from scratch.  We shared a buttercream frosted sugar cookie so I could taste the frosting and it was dreamy.

Being that my nickname has always been Mandy, I was interested in the name of the place too and found out that Mandy is the owner's daughter's name - how sweet. 

You saw the bright cheery colors from the time you walked in. They had two shop spaces painted in bright yellow with these teal green awnings.  There was this cute saying on the door - must be their ingredients for a successful business - 3 cups of positivity, 1 cup of goodwill, 4 drops of easy going, 2 cups of good humor, 2 cups of sharing, 1 bag of smiles, and so on. 

I watched someone frost dozens of cupcakes. They didn't get too fancy with anything - there was no piping, no intricate toppings.  Just a quick swirl around with their spatula and a dash of sprinkles.  They are generous with the frosting though!  It seems that they're quite generous with the food coloring as well. Not only were the bakery decorations bright, but so was their frosting - on everything.  I like it when things are colored somewhat naturally, but this went with their whole theme. In addition to cupcakes, cookies and a few other pastries, they had dozens of little cakes with various decorations that were ready to have someone's birthday wish piped on.
We sat right below this sign and we definitely agreed after scarfing down our sugar cookie loaded with buttercream.

This was one of the bakeries that we just happened upon.  It was literally two doors down from Sweet Mandy B's and while I was thinking it would be in big competition, this place just had a different level of class, a different audience and a more expansive menu.  They were a bakery and had a small selection of tarts and pasteries, but also were a full fledged cafe offering coffee, tea, drinks and a yummy lunch menu.  It was a gorgeous open air design to the bakery with outdoor seating and just seemed like a refreshing European cafe where you could sit with a book for hours uninterrupted.  

They are known for their shortbread and while we were on sugar overload from Sweet Mandy B's, we were able to indulge in a sample of the shortbread and it was fabulous.  Instead of the traditional crispy, crumbly shortbread, but was more like a soft shortbread bar or biscuit. 

I loved how they had their water displayed for people to help themselves in these classic glass bottles too. It these kind of little touches that people appreciate. least people like me.

I do have some bittersweet memories of this place, but mostly sweet. We used to live one red line stop from this place and I have adored it from the first time I discovered it.  And, to this day, it is still my favorite Chicago bakery.  They just have it all - an amazing selection of pasteries and cookies, an inviting cafe and a cute little shop on the side with all kinds of things you can barely resist. 

I tried to get a full photo of their bakery cases, and this isn't even all of it.  This is filled with all kinds of amazing things that almost look to pretty to eat. I got so much inspiration just gazing at it all.  The top is brimming with cake domes filled with even more.  On top of this, they serve lunches and have an amazing house made gelato selection.

They have a phenomenal cookie decorator that does all their cookies and they are so adorable! All these and more were displayed in the bakery cases and there were dozens more wrapped in cellophone with pretty bows in their gift shop.  Audrey received a pretty cupcake cookie to enjoy when I got home.

We looked through all the lovely things in the shop. The sign on the table encourages you to "bring home something wonderful." I certainly did find a few wonderful things to take along with me - mainly little gifts for Audrey, including a felt cupcake barrette.

This was the end of our bakery tour on day one, so we decided to take some time to rest, enjoy some tea and continue to stare in amazement at all the pastries.

This was another edition to the bakery crawl. We decided to spend our second day shopping the Walton/Oak Street area and a few places along Michigan Avenue. I was told that Sprinkles Cupcakes had just opened a new place in Chicago and I just had to check it out while I was here.  I think the cupcake only bakeries are fun and interesting, but they lack the inviting feeling that many cafe bakeries have and well, they obviously have a lack of selection aside from different flavored cupcakes.  Ever since the Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, started with the owner/founder of Sprinkles as a judge, I thought it would be interesting to see what her cupcakes are like since she critiques everyone else.

We made it to Walton Street and I was searching around for the building and suddenly realized what the round decorations on this building represented.  The line formed outside was also a clue that this must be the newly opened, sought after Sprinkles Cupcakes.  Let me tell you that I thought my friend was going to leave me in line on my own as she thought it was a bit ridiculous to stand in line for several minutes to pay over $3 each for cupcakes.  I thought it was a bit silly too, but just had to since we were already there.
They had some pretty interesting flavors, but the place really was quite impersonal.  All the cupcakes were behind this huge glass window, orders were taken quickly, the floors were concrete, the place was too crowded and your only choice for sitting down was a long bar seating against the window.

We had yet to have lunch, so we decided to get a few flavors to go and enjoy them later in the peace and quiet of our hotel room.  I can't resist getting coconut and we also got a cherry cupcake.  The coconut cupcake was to die for and the cherry one was alright.  One thing we both definitely agreed we did not like is the sugary circle decoration on the top. It must be made of gum paste or something, but it definitely didn't taste good.  I think using fondant or marzipan would be much more chewy and tasty, but they probably need to use a harder, more solid decoration so it will last longer.

Now for some dessert night life.  This was our last evening in the city and we headed to Wicker Park to this dessert bar that I heard about when the pastry chef/owner was on Martha Stewart's show. She's also a three time James Beard nominated pastry chef and when I was told she was sitting at the end of the bar from where we were, I felt I was spotting a culinary celebrity.  

After all our other sweet indulgences the past few days, we didn't want a heavy dinner, so we each had a great glass of wine and got a cheese plate complete with housemade crackers.  I wouldn't have let us leave without getting dessert and we were oh so happy with our choice.  We got the brioche doughnuts with their housemade fudge sauce and housemade caramel corn. It was amazing and a perfect end to such a sweet girls weekend.