Friday, September 28, 2007

Hazelnut Cupcakes with Hazelnut Mocha Mousse

My friend Amy commissioned these after she told me she likes "hazelnut... and mocha" desserts. Although they were the most unbelievably expensive cupcakes you'd ever want to make, these were definitely a rung up the fancy baking ladder from the exploded Oreo cupcakes a couple of posts back. The hazelnut meal and Frangelico went a long way to deliver an amazing depth of hazelnutty flavor, and the meal in particular gave them a great texture. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to inject the filling without totally destroying the structure of the cupcake, but practice makes perfect.

I did finally figure out how to make sure the tops stayed nice and bulbous (be really, really gentle with them as you take them out of the oven and let them cool completely), which made the ganache-ing much less messy this time around. The mousse filling was great (I mixed some extra into some soymilk last night... mmmmm) but honestly it would have been a lot richer with some heavy cream. Vegans!

I overbaked them a little (paranoid about the tops falling) but they were still delicious. 9 Ankh necklaces out of 10.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

So I passed my prelims yesterday, and I got to wondering how an emasculated hipster would celebrate getting one step closer to a largely inconsequential degree. The answer: putting on some PiL and baking some beer-infused cupcakes.

The chocolate stout cupcakes were much, much easier than the Boston creme pie ones, and the substitution of a chocolate crumb topping (dusted with powdered sugar) for homemade frosting made the whole process, baking time included, about 45 minutes. I was pretty amazed at how moist and fluffy these were -- I may just have much better luck with oil-based cakes than margarine-based ones -- and the crumb topping is a great change of pace.

The stout flavor was understated to say the least (although that may be because I was drinking while baking), and at the end of the day it's more of a chocolate muffin than a cupcake, but still, another great chocolate gut bomb courtesy of Isa. At least 7.5 commune pamphlets out of 10.

Brooklyn vs. Boston Creme Pie Cakes (Round 1)

Anything that even approximates Boston Creme Pie gets my immediate approval, so you can imagine how excited I was about making these. First, the good news -- Boston creme pies taste good, and stuff that tastes sort of like Boston creme pie tastes good.

These were a big step up process-wise from the previous cakes, and these were definitely a learning experience. Not nearly as good as they could have been, but next time they'll be killer.

That first photo is Exhibit A: as soon as I took these out of the oven, they collapsed from being perfect little bulbous ganache-ready tops to deflated, rubbery membranes that weren't ready for a damn thing. According to Isa, I probably over-mixed the fats and sugars -- something that doesn't happen when cutting sugar into butter, but apparently does happen with margarine. And I may have overmixed the batter in the KitchenAid.

I also tried to yellow up the cupcakes by cooking some turmeric into the soymilk before curdling it as suggested by Isa, which only served to cook down the milk and make the cakes kind of congealed and weird-like. The biggest disaster was the creme filling, which wasn't nearly the pudding consistency it was supposed to be, but rather totally liquid -- apparently, the problem was using agar flakes instead of powder. Time to troll the internet. Surprisingly, it set up within the cupcakes in the fridge, but you could hardly fit any inside with the creme pouring everywhere.

So next time:

  • Skip the turmeric trick

  • Get a hold of some agar powder

  • Ease up on the margarine man-handling

I'll definitely be giving these another shot.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cookies and Creme Cupcakes

I finally got to make another batch of cupcakes today after a couple weeks of traveling. This time around: Cookies and Creme. Definitely on the short list of cupcakes I was looking forward to making, and a good chance to try out Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake (the chocolate variation on the Golden Vanilla Cupcake from last time around).

The cupcakes themselves were dead easy to make, since the recipe called for canola oil instead of margarine. Pulsing cookies in the food processor is always fun too. The frosting was just the fluffy vanilla stuff from last time around, but with the addition of Newman-O cookie crumbs. So, so much tastier than just the plain frosting.

I got to use my fancy new pastry bag and decorating tips for the first time with these guys, but I learned the hard way that you really have to chop the hell out of the cookies before you incorporate them into the frosting. I still had some small cookie chunks, which plugged up the decorating tip and forced me to transfer all the frosting into an alternate bag with successively larger tips. Frosting got all ove the place during this process, which is why I am on a diabeetus-inducing sugar high right now. Unfortunately I had to use the large-mouthed round tip, which makes for ugly cupcakes compared to the star tips (ugly cupcakes not pictured).

All in all, so much better than the first set. I love cookies and creme, and these cupcakes are basically a cookies and creme gut bomb -- exactly what I hoped for. Definitely a solid 8.5 peace frogs out of 10.

Coming on Sunday: Brooklyn vs. Boston Creme Pie Cakes!

P.S.: Turns out I'm a bigger fan of these than my cupcake disposal unit friends -- they preferred the last round with chocolate icing. Could be due to the fact that those cupcakes were margarine/shortening-based and these were oil-based (they were a little more moist). Good thing the Boston creme pie cupcakes are the same cupcake base as the first batch.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Music from 2007 so far

There has been some good music this year, but of course most of it fell way short of my nonsensical elitist standards. However, a few releases have really amazed me. If you, like me, don't have the time or patience to wade through Internet Person X's top 75 favorite albums from 2007 (in very particular order), then this is for you. Three albums that are awesome and that you probably won't like (except for the Panda Bear album).

Cylob -- Trojan Fader Style

Cylob was one of the first artists to get signed to Rephlex (RDJ's braindance label) and has been making great electronic music for 15 years. "Trojan Fader Style" is an hour-long album, consisting of one herculean track of squelchy electronic music. It's also surprisingly listenable -- I've gone through the whole album probably seven or eight times so far and it just keeps getting better. Cylob's released a bunch of stuff the past couple of months (including a couple of much more downbeat albums, Formant Potaton and Bounds Green), but if only from a technical standpoint this is my favorite.

Panda Bear -- Person Pitch

There's no reason you should want to listen to this if you've heard either Panda Bear's borderline unlistenable previous album or anything he's ever done with his other band (Animal Collective). That being said, this album is amazing. Along with Quinoline Yellow, my favorite new music of the past few years. Gorgeous 3- or 4- or 5- part overdubbed harmonies and a really joyous, tribal sense of warmth (yes, I know how bad that sounds). It's all a little strange, but thankfully he tapped into something special in each song and let it breathe. Apparently Noah Lennox listened to a lot of minimal electronic music while making "Person Pitch," which sort of proves my point about how guitar-based music is becoming irrelevant nowadays.

Von Südenfed -- Tromatic Reflexxions

It shouldn't be a surprise that I included this album, since I'm the literal embodiment of its target audience. If Mouse on Mars making loud music while Mark E Smith singspeaks semi-intelligibly over it sounds like your idea of a good time, I can't imagine you won't like this. It's not pretty, but it's definitely exactly what you'd expect (in a good way).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Have you guys seen the Tenori-On, by Toshio Iwai (of Electroplankton fame)? I've been following the development of this thing for the past couple of years, and it's finally going to be on sale in the UK tomorrow. the low, low price of GBP 599. Did I mention my birthday is October 19th?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes

The first and most basic cupcake in VCTotW. Isa et al. call this a "multi-purpose, no-nonsense" cupcake, and, as the name suggests, it is pretty vanilla. Delicious and satisfying, especially with the chocolate buttercream frosting, but basic nonetheless. First some pictures of my new kitchen!

Thanks to my mutually-reinforcing compulsions for baking and kitchen equipment, these were put together in no time -- a basic creaming method. Both of the frostings were surprisingly creamy, although to be honest I have no recollection of what the fluffy vanilla frosting tasted like. The chocolate frosting, however, was really tasty and less melty than other non-vegan chocolate buttercream frostings I've made. Piping this stuff was probably the most fun part of the process, but I'm going to need some better decorating tips.

The only vegan cake I've ever enjoyed was the Chocolate Vegan Death Cake that I've made about a dozen times the past couple of years, and it looks like it's a formula worth exploring. Margarine, however, is strange and nasty stuff. I'm much more accustomed to butter, and the slightly metallic taste of the margarine/shortening fat combination was a little off-putting. Overall I give the vanilla+vanilla combination 5 out of 10 Ani DiFranco songs, and the vanilla+chocolate combination gets 7 out of 10 hemp necklaces. The basic cupcake was, as advertised, functional but a little too birthday-cake-y for me. The vanilla+chocolate had a lot more character, mostly due to the depth of the cocoa flavor in the frosting. And yes, I plan to rate each of the cupcakes I make on an appropriately vegan scale from 0 to 10. Here's a really ugly picture of the vanilla on vanilla: