Monday, December 17, 2007

Cupcakes, and then more cupcakes

I am a perfectionist. You’d think this would help me be a good baker.

I wanted to bake cupcakes — not from a mix — and make my own frosting. Michelle gave me Desserts from America’s Top Chefs, so when I found a recipe for Sherry Yard’s buttermilk birthday cupcakes, I decided to try it.

At lunchtime, I made a batch. After triple-sifting the flour — a commitment I rarely make to baked goods — I melted butter in a saucepan. Then, I whisked eggs and sugar over a double-boiler setup until they reached the desired temperature. I then discarded said mixture, suspicious that I had curdled the eggs. (In retrospect, I think they were okay. I was just overanxious.)

I bought lots of extra eggs. Is that good planning, or the anticipation of failure? Repeated the process again. Success!

After whipping the eggs until they achieved the called-for pale-yellow color, I folded the dry ingredients and buttermilk in — gently, so as not to deflate the foam. I scooped the batter into cupcake liners and popped the pan in the oven. I figured, cautiously, that it was better to do one pan at a time.

I started washing the dishes and kept an eye on the timer. About halfway through, I spied the butter on top of the stove. I had forgotten to add it.

No problem: I dumped half of the butter, then added the rest to the remaining half of the batter. Proud of my resourcefulness, I soon found that this batch was even worse than the first. I think I accidentally deflated the foam. Sigh.

After playing tennis and taking a nap, I was ready to try again. The process was laborious but seemed fruitful. Some thoughts about what I’ve learned:

1. It's hard to cook eggs to a desired temperature. I had a problem with this a few weeks ago when I made chocolate mousse (I curdled the eggs).

2. Combining ingredients can also be a challenge. I think I over-beat the eggs or the rest of the batter, because the cupcakes rose perfectly about halfway through the cooking time, then fell, defeated, by the time they came out of the oven.

3. Even though you can fill sunken cupcakes with frosting to build them up, nothing beats a gently domed top.

By the way, they do taste okay. Buttery — even the early ones where I forgot the butter — like little pound cakes. And tasty with the chocolate cream-cheese frosting that I found at the eleventh hour. Literally: I had to Google frosting recipes late last night after my chocolate ganache wouldn’t set. Oh, I had had such big dreams of a fudgy layer under a glossy chocolate glaze.

While I hesitate to say the cupcakes were disappointing, they weren’t nearly as spectacular as I’d hoped. At least I didn't bust out the Betty Crocker devil’s food cake mix — which I bought in case of emergency. And yes, this is reminiscent of what happened Thursday night. I’ve been off my game lately when it comes to baking. That’s one thing I prefer about jewelry: being able to take time to design and re-design, instead of scrapping the whole thing because I forgot part of it.

Wish me luck: I've got more baking to do.

1 comment:

Jean said...

I am reading all you have written since my last comment--my hands are falling off here from wire wrapping teacher's presents but now I have time to catch up. Your dog, picture above, is enchanting. No wonder you chose her!

I have yet to bake anything this year but I am living through my friends like you. Everything you are writing is great! You are so honest and so immediate!