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Entries in cupcake (4)


The audacity to promenade


So here's my trouble. I wanted to tell you about Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (Clarkson Potter, 2009). To chat about my impressions, my likes, my dislikes, the nitty gritty details of this cookbook devoted to the small.

But my attention has been captured by someone small, a small one who is getting bigger every day. Happy Birthday to you, our William - today is your first, and I can hardly find the words.

All week I have been vacillating between my heart bursting with pride and my chest tightening with emotion. Such is the state of Mummyhood. The First Birthday is an event met with a mile-wide grin and cheers of joy tempered with the sob-sniffle-wail of "my goodness, this is all too fast."

And fast it has been. Our Littler Man is walking.

William took his first tentative steps a few weeks back, and has now fully embraced the notion of upright locomotion. The rapid-fire thwack of his hands and knees on the floors of our home has been replaced with the padded rhythm of confident footsteps. And confident he is, as Will is not one to toddle.

In a manner unsurprising to anyone who has met him, our William has the audacity to promenade. His walk is so spirited, his step so lively, there is most surely a song in his heart.

Oh there now, I've digressed into ridiculous levels of Proud Parent Mode. My apologies.

Where was I? Oh yes, cupcakes. With William's first 1st birthday party planning underway, Martha Stewart's Cupcakes was a wealth of imaginative cake ideas, all on a scale befitting the occasion. Silly me though, I put Benjamin in charge of selecting the flavour to try - and again as my children are nothing if not consistent, he chose the most basic of recipes, chocolate upon chocolate.

But his choice was surprisingly astute, as our previous favourite chocolate cupcake was the One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 2005). Now One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes are in the new book, but it is a different recipe.

So it was settled, the dessert menu chosen for our celebration. The recipe itself warrants little description; it is a standard cocoa and buttermilk cake, with only a scant amount of oil. The method is as demanding as a boxed cake, with the dry ingredients whisked in a bowl, then the eggs, buttermilk and oil poured over. A few stirs, and it is done.

This recipe yields cakes that look the example of cupcake perfection; each rose with the same rounded cheek, bulging slightly at their edges but with a gentle slope. Best of all was their colour - a true, dark brown, exactly how a chocolate cupcake should look.

As we did not have the recipes side-by-side for comparison, we had to rely on (unreliable) memory for our verdict. While everyone enjoyed the cupcakes, they were not met with the same knee-buckling adoration of the previous version. When I first made the Baking Handbook incarnation of One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes, I recall thinking that these were simply the best cupcakes ever. This time, not so much. They were good, but not exceptional.

It should be said though, that I am terribly finicky about my chocolate cakes so it takes a good deal to impress. While I shrugged at the taste, there was nary a complaint from our guests. Approximately 5 minutes after the Happy Birthdays and candles blown out, there were quite a few happy faces smeared with whipped ganache frosting.

While my personal assessment of the cupcakes was lackluster, my overall impression of the book from which they came is not. I did not test many recipes from the book (honestly, even I can only eat so many cupcakes) as I would have liked, but I can tell you that the book Martha Stewart Cupcakes is full of fun.

There is an obvious, infectious merriment in the way that the subject matter is treated, and the variations on the theme simply make me smile. One cannot help but be made a bit happier by pages upon pages of sprinkles and gumdrops, marizpan ladybugs, and coconut-feathered chicks.

What's more, the cookbook is inspiring. Ingeniously, the book pushes the boundaries of cupcakery to include all manner of small cakes, and even cookies and meringues, as long as they are baked in that distinctive shape.

There are filled cupcakes, layered mini-cakes, cookie-crusted cheesecakes, and simple pound cakes. Not all cakes are frosted, such as the Tiny Cherry and Almond and Pistachio-Raspberry teacakes, making these gems the ideal everyday treat to be tucked into lunchboxes or enjoyed as an afternoon snack. The combination of flavours, specific decorating techniques and helpful guides (including clip art templates) could all be adapted and developed to suit your specific tastes, and could be applied to the creation of full-sized cakes.

One caveat, as with Martha Stewart's Cookies (Clarkson Potter, 2008), much of the content included in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes has been previously featured in the various publications of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Personally, I enjoyed having the recipes available in a single source, but others may disagree and might have preferred a wholly originally collection.

Time to get back to the business of being Mum to a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Oh my. So big. So fast. So wonderful.

Happy, happy day.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
From the book Martha Stewart's Cupcakes.


crossed lines
More photos from this series shot by my brother and sister-in-law can be seen here.

Now you didn't think that I'd forget to announce the winner of our Martha Stewart Cupcakes giveaway, did you?

Without further wait, Mr. Random.Org took the honour of selecting our winners, as follows.

The First Prize Winner will receive one copy of the Martha Stewart Cupcakes and one copy of Martha Stewart Cookies:
Chocolate Shavings

The Second Prize Winners will each receive a copy of Martha Stewart Cupcakes:
Dor and Michelle R.

I would like to thank everyone who entered, and highly recommend the checking out the fantastic conversation taking place in the comments section. To the winners, please e-mail me at tara [at] sevenspoons [dot] net, with your contact information at your earliest convenience.


Cupcakery inspiration; Martha Stewart's Cupcakes giveaway

This photo was part of a series shot in January, the last time I baked cupcakes from Martha Stewart.

I have three (main) places I keep cookbooks.

There are those stored in the bookshelves that line our den (also where I keep my magazine back issues). I consider these the reference books, those that I turn to for a specific inspiration or if I am looking for a particular recipe. The top shelves are reserved for my most treasured-tomes, the coffee table styled works from authors I admire; they sit alongside the dog-eared, aged copies of cookbooks from my childhood and before.

The second is our dining room table, much to the chagrin of my dear husband. Our dining room is often the resting place of books in transit, those making their way from the kitchen back up to the den. I would be lying if I told you that books do not sometimes take up an extended residence on that table, or if I denied my errant desire to line that room with bookshelves as well.

The third cookbook habitat is our kitchen itself. Behind the closed doors of a built-in cabinet live those books I use most often. These are the books I feel lost without, the ones that best reflect the way I cook and the way we eat. The selection rotates now and again, with titles being promoted and demoted, but there are certain regulars that never lose their place.

I am not yet sure as to where Martha Stewart's Cupcakes will land up, but I'm aiming to find out. With William's first birthday next week (so big!) and celebrations planned, I will be turning to Ms. Stewart for cupcakery inspiration.

And here's the best part - you, my dear friends, will be able to partake in the fun. Below are links to the recipes from the book which are currently available online, so you can get out your muffin tins, cupcake liners and get to baking. But wait, there's more! Random House Canada has generously provided the booty for a contest to celebrate the book's launch. What's there to win? Hold on to your hats:

Grand prize: A copy of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes and a copy of Martha Stewart's Cookies (one to be awarded)
Secondary prize: A copy of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (two to be awarded)

To enter, simply comment at the end of this post; maybe we can chat about our favourite cookbooks or cupcakes or cupcake memory - you decide. But leave your comment by midnight Wednesday, June 10, 2009 (EST), and please include both your email address if not signed in, and a note of your desire to enter (this way, non entrants can still join the chat). If you do not want to sign in, nor do you want to publish your email, please comment then email me at tara [at] sevenspoons [dot] net, with the name you used to comment.

The winner will be selected by at random, and announced the next day. One note, due to distribution regulations, this contest is only open to residents of Canada. My apologies to international readers (this might be a good time to ask your Canadian friends to do you a favour).

Good luck!

Psst. It got mentioned in the comments, so I'll add a note - here's my review of Martha Stewart's Cookies from way back.

Recipes from the book:

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Tiramisu Cupcakes
Mrs. Kostyra's Spice Cupcakes
German Chocolate Cupcakes
Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Black Forest Cupcakes
Triple-Citrus Mini Pound Cakes
Lemon Meringue Cupcakes
Candied Hazelnut Cupcakes
Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes


I love you anyway.*

Shown from their good side, the few that survived a cavalcade of failure; Fresh Apple Cupcakes with Swissamon Buttercream.

When you first fall in love, everything is perfection. Your hair is always neat, your clothes are always pressed, and you are never anything less than your wittiest, cutest, most capable and charming self.

Which brings me to this week. This week I have been a mess. The cold I thought I had long been rid of walloped me upside the head Monday morning; I was back to comfy clothes and congestion. A portrait of prettiness, indeed.

But this week planned to be special; it is the first Valentine's Day that Benjamin truly understands, and William's first ever. So despite everything, on Monday we made stained glass windows out of crayons and waxed paper, on Tuesday we made cards and banners and cutout hearts. Our tables were lost under pencil crayons and safety scissors, ribbons and rickrack, doilies and glue.

And then Wednesday we made cupcakes. With the intention of sending some of our sweet sentiments to our family and friends, I thought we would bake them early and have them ready to deliver on the days leading up to St. Valentine's.

I should have known better, and quit while I was ahead. All of our crafty endeavours had progressed with nary a hitch; all was bedazzled and beautiful, and I could have easily stopped the festive preparations there.

But no. I had wanted to do something specifically-special for our Valentine, our most favourite person in the whole wide world - Daddy. Daddy loves cupcakes, Mummy loves baking, Ben loves frosting and Will is often mesmerized by the whir of the stand mixer. It all seemed simple enough.

Oh, how I was wrong.

Maybe it was the sinus infection causing some sort of pressure on my brain that totally relieved me of my good sense, but I illogically thought it would be a grand idea to not only bake, but also create a new cake especially for my dear husband.

The flavours were easy to decide upon; apple and cinnamon - Sean's favourites. And while those flavours are old-fashioned and lovely, I did not want an old-fashioned sort of taste. I am already looking ahead to spring, and so I wanted a cake that was fresh and light, with a cloud of delicate frosting as its crown. Dark and decadent was not my aim; I wanted to capture the tart tang of an apple when you first bite into it. I wanted to set aside the sweet, deep resonance of slow-cooked apple pie or cobbler. Bright, twangy. That's what I wanted.

After days of reading over other recipes, I improvised my own. A barely-cooked applesauce formed the base, with lemon and sour cream highlighting that acidity. Cake flour was there for ethereal texture, and just enough butter to add a hint of richness. Perfection.

And then things started to go wrong. After making the batter I realized that I had the wrong size of liner for my muffin trays. I knew the batter would not wait for the required trip to the market for replacements, so I foolheartedly forged ahead, measuring and scooping, filling my 24 ill-fitting cupcake liners neatly.

Although my good sense knew better, I convinced myself that these little cakes could magically defy the laws of physics and remain upright even without sufficient support. I popped them into the oven and sent up a silent prayer, hoping that somehow they would bake up prettily.

Ten minutes later, I returned to the kitchen for a peek in the oven; one look, and I knew I was in trouble. Without the proper structure surrounding them, the cakes had risen unevenly; some cakes had crested over their liners and were oozing lazily across the tin, while others had simply given up any attempt to stand upright, instead sagging in on themselves rather sadly.

Undaunted, I rotated the trays and let them bake until done. Maybe all would end well.

Summoned by the timer, I returned to the kitchen to experience the most fabulous of scents; buttery, vanilla-scented air greeted me. It smelled gorgeous. Unfortunately, when I opened the oven door, not everything looked as good as it smelled. Most of the cakes were okay, some even fine, but others were especially Suessian in their looks.

It was of these skewed morsels that I split open to share with Benjamin to try. As we bit into our cake, still warm from the oven, I watched as his face lit up with pride and delight. The cupcake was delicious.

Tender, moist and with subtle apple coming through, the taste was perfect.

I had already planned my frosting, a Swiss meringue buttercream accented with cinnamon; maybe icing could cover my multitude of sins. I could feel that my energy was waning but, buoyed by the cupcakes (or perhaps a sugar rush), I tackled the recipe with gusto and fingers crossed that if I hurried, I would could hold off my cold symptoms until everything was finished.

To rush is to fail when it comes to certain things. Swiss meringue buttercream is one of those things. In my haste, I did not allow the meringue to completely cool before adding my butter; there was enough residual heat in the bowl to turn the frosting from a marshmallow-y mass to a melted mess. The fat turned liquid, and the meringue deflated under the weight.

That's when I walked away from the kitchen for a few hours.

Batch number two came together later in the evening, and without incident. Due to the crooked tops of a few of the cakes, some of my swirls were comically slanted when frosted. Nevertheless, these fairy cakes had their own whimsical charm that had me smitten.

And that is when the final disaster struck. I was lifting the cupcakes off the counter when I inexplicably lost all co-ordination and stumbled, losing my grip on their tray in the process. The cakes were not dropped from a great height, mind you, but from just enough that a few bumped their brethren; just enough that those then tumbled sideways, squashing their curlicued peaks into flattened plateaus.

Hearing my startled yelp, Benjamin ran over to see what was the matter. He saw the tray, surveyed them thoroughly and declared with a grin, "I love these cupcakes. Can I have one please?"

The way he looked at me, I felt brilliant.

Being a Mummy has taught me many things. It has taught me what blocks make the tallest towers, the words to The Gruffalo by heart, speedy tricks for effective stain removal, that baby giggles trump alarm clocks, that kisses can make most boo-boos better and that disheveled hair and smeared frosting will not stop some people from thinking that you're nifty.

Thank goodness for that. Happy Valentine's Day.

* Anyone with small children in their lives might recognize the title; it is the last line from the book Olivia (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Book, 2000) by Ian Falconer.

Fresh Apple Cupcakes with Swissamon Buttercream
The title is a bit kitch, but Valentine's Day deserves a bit of fun.

As this was the first time I have made this recipe, and since the results tasty but inconsistent, I am going to hold off from publishing the details just yet. I will be sure to share once I have tried it again and everything is just right.


A matter of taste; even more chocolate cake

A sugar-high birthday; taste testing chocolate cakes. In the bottom left photo, the famed Double Layer Chocolate Cake (in cupcake form) sits to the left of Martha Stewart's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes.

January 16th marked Benjamin's third birthday, a perfect excuse for round two of the chocolate cake battle raging in my recipe file. Our biggest little man had requested "chocolate with chocolate" to celebrate his day, and what sort of Mummy would I be if I refused?

I forget how it was exactly, but I stumbled upon the recipe for Double Chocolate Layer cake, from Chef Ed Kasky (as published in Gourmet magazine, March 1999). I must have been living under a rock this last decade, because this cake has quite a following, with over 1200 (hyperbole-laden) comments on Epicurious. It has also appeared on countless other sites and discussed in detail.

With all of that fanfare, there was no alternative than to try this cake for myself. It might be a bit of retread of covered territory, but I have never been one to deny my curiosity. I had to know what the fuss was about.

With multiple celebrations ahead of us, I followed my same procedure as before, this time with Martha Stewart's One Bowl Cupcakes, as published in her Baking Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 2005), against the lauded Double Layer Chocolate cake. The major difference between the two recipes is that the former is an all-cocoa preparation, whereas the latter includes both cocoa and melted chocolate. It should be noted, as reported in my earlier test, that I substitute some prepared coffee for the water called for in the Stewart cake.

The batters were equally-easy to come prepre, with the Gourmet recipe notably thinner in its consistency. The Stewart batter was more viscous, and was my preference when I surreptitiously licked some from the bowl while cleaning up.

Half of each batter went into cupcakes, with their liners marked to indicate the recipe used. The remaining batter was combined, weighed, divided and baked into layers for a single, staggeringly-tall four-layer cake. It was one of the tallest cakes I have ever made, taller than it was wide, and inspiring an awed reaction from our birthday boy.

Despite the impressive stature of the cake, the cupcakes were of my real interest. Using the same (by weight) of batter for each cup, the Martha Stewart cupcakes baked up ever-so-slightly taller, with a gentle dome and a bit of a rimmed edge. They were pretty, perfectly-formed and slightly cracked on top, an example of what a cupcake should look like. The Gourmet recipe baked up slightly flatter, but beyond that, the texture, colour and overall look of the cupcakes were identical.

So it was down to taste. We tasted the two blindly, cake alone and then with frosting, and it was a unanimous decision.

The Gourmet recipe for Double Chocolate Layer Cake won.

Here's the thing. This cake deserves fanfare. The most fantastic, festive, fanciful fanfare that you can imagine - and more. Deeply flavoured, with a dark and even crumb, the cake is moist and tender but just a bit toothsome. Truthfully, it is similar to the Martha Stewart recipe, boasting just about every quality that had made me declare it the winner over Beatty's Chocolate Cake from Ina Garten last summer. Where the Gourmet cake took an edge was in its subtle fudginess, a bit of (excuse the technical term) squidgy-ness, that made each bite that much more satisfying.

Now I will admit I am tempted to try the One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes with a bit of melted chocolate stirred in, just to see how it would turn out. But for now, I am more than satisfied to say that the Double Layer Chocolate Cake from Gourmet warrants its fame.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
From Chef Ed Kasky, as published in Gourmet Magazine, March 1999.

The recipe can be found online here.


• Some comments on the Epicurious site report that they have had trouble with the Double-Chocolate Layer Cake overflowing their standard 10" pans. The recipe specifically requires 2" deep pans, which may remedy this problem. I can only comment on the taste of the cake, as I baked mine in four 8" round cake pans, with the remainder used for cupcakes, as pictured.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
From Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.

The Martha Stewart Recipe from the Baking Handbook is not the same as the One Bowl Cupcakes recipe that has been published on her site online, nor is it the one that was published in Martha Stewart Living for February 2009. The recipe is subject to copyright; however, a quick search does find it published online (you are looking for the recipe that begins with flour as the first ingredient).