Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

IMG_3893I started my first real job out of college about a month ago, and now that a considerable chunk of my time is devoted to work, I have much less time to blog. I still cook and bake quite often – I recently made two chocolate cakes and a soy sauce chicken, but not having daylight to snap my food in makes blogging an afterthought. These red velvet cupcakes, however, were for a specific occasion. Every month, my work place hosts a birthday party for people born in that month. I wanted, nay, needed an excuse to bake up something more elaborate than a utilitarian chocolate cake that fulfilled my dessert cravings.

IMG_3897

The original recipe for these were for an 8-inch layer cake, but for ease of transport, I decided to make them into cupcakes. I’ve made the cake a few days ahead in time and froze them, and I intend to frost them in the office pantry. Transporting frosted cupcakes often require large, bulky carriers, and as a bike rider, I prefer to fit everything into my backpack as much as possible. I used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour for the cupcakes, and that contributed to a slightly coarser but more firm texture that’s transportation-friendly. I baked up about 18 cupcakes with the batter, and I would recommend checking for doneness at around 15 minutes and swapping the racks at half-time. Also, I cannot stress how important it is to sift your flour and confectioner’s sugar before mixing. It’ll help create a more uniform texture with less lumps and clumps.

IMG_1031

Red Velvet Cake
Makes 18 cupcakes
Adapted from Cookie Madness

Ingredients
4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 whole eggs, room temperature
2 slightly heaping tablespoons cocoa powder (natural)
2 ounces (1/4 c) red food coloring
2 1/4 c of cake flour (9 oz), sifted
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Frosting for Red Velvet Cake
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, softened
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 18 (or potentially more) cupcake moulds with cupcake liners.

In bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer, cream butter, sugar and salt until light. Add the vanilla and the eggs beating 30 seconds after each egg is added. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa and add to the creamed mixture. Add buttermilk and flour alternately, beating at low speed until mixed.

In a small cup, combine the soda and the vinegar and let it foam up. Pour the foaming mixture into the batter and stir until it’s mixed in. Immediately pour into the cupcake liners and bake for 15-20 minutes. When a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake emerges without crumbs, it is done.

Let cool for 10 minutes in pan set on a rack. Remove from pan and let cool completely. Make icing.

Beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add confectioner’s sugar slowly, beating until smooth. For a little tartness, beat in some lemon juice.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

IMG_3583When I saw this recipe, I instantly knew I had to make it. I know I’ve been diverting my attention lately to more European desserts, but you could never tear me away from anything combining chocolate and whiskey. I was deciding between using Jim Beam and some cheapo scotch lying around, and went for the scotch because I was counting on all that sugar and chocolate to cover it up. Cooking is the best way to use up bad alcohol anyway.

IMG_3590
What was interesting about this recipe was the preparation technique. I had to heat up a saucepan with coffee, butter, whiskey and cocoa powder, and then the addition of sugar turned it into a gloopy, caramelly liquid. Fortunately the cake turned out well, though. I really liked the slightly crisp muffin top-esque shell that formed, which was a nice foil against the tender and moist crumb. The chocolate chips added some gooey-ness to its insides so it was reminiscent of a molten chocolate cake. It didn’t taste very alcoholic at all, and I wish it had. This is a very decadent cake, and in a future iteration I might add a pinch of salt, or sub some of the coffee with whiskey, or omit the chocolate chips.

IMG_3592

Note: Although the recipe called for making a whole cake, I think the cake would benefit greatly from being split up into about 8 or so 3.5-inch ramekins, or even cupcakes. Reduce the bake time accordingly. You’d also get that delicious crusty muffin top.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake
Makes 1 10-inch round cake
Adapted from NYTimes

INGREDIENTS

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, more for pan
85 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups brewed strong coffee
1/2 cup whiskey
200 grams granulated sugar (about 1 cup)
156 grams light brown sugar (about 1 cup)
240 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
8 grams baking soda (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 grams fine sea salt (about 3/4 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground clove (I omitted)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used regular chocolate chips)
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)

PREPARATION

1.Heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Dust with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder.
2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, warm coffee, whiskey, 12 tablespoons butter and remaining cocoa powder, whisking occasionally, until butter is melted. Whisk in sugars until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, pepper and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Slowly whisk egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Add dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Transfer to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then remove sides of pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, if you like.

Carrot Cake, French-Style

IMG_3567
This was an interesting cake to make. It was a joint creation between my French classmate and I for our presentation on David Lebovitz. He explains it better, but this cake is French because it originated from Provence. The French are very traditional with their desserts, and adding vegetable to cakes is quite unusual for them. This cake was handed around in class, and garnered pretty positive responses. The texture is less cake-like and more like a soft granola bar, due to the almond chunks. It’s like a Rice Krispie in terms of density and airiness. The carrots, although brightly coloring the cake, tasted unobtrusive and I thought the true star were the almond pieces that provided a nutty chew.

Making this would be substantially easier with a food processor or pre-chopped almonds. The grated carrots need to be relatively fine too. We had altered the original recipe by doubling up on the grated carrot, but since our almond chunks were larger than “relatively fine”, it still did not taste or feel distinctly vegetable-y. Overall, this was a very easy recipe to make up, and worth trying if you’re into almonds and/or carrots.

IMG_3568

Carrot Cake, French-Style
Makes 1 9×9 inch cake
Adapted from David Lebovitz

4 tablespoons butter, unsalted, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
pinch of salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (225g) toasted almonds
2/3 cup (90g) flour
1/4 cup, packed, (40g) finely grated carrot

1. Preheat the oven to 325F (160C). Butter two shallow 10-inch (23cm) cake pans and line each with a circle of parchment paper. Then lightly butter the top of each circle of paper.

2. Beat the butter, sugar and salt until smooth.

3. Meanwhile, pulverize the nuts and flour in a food processor or blender until relatively fine, but not powdery. If you don’t have a machine, simply chop the nuts by hand and toss them with the flour.

3. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Afterwards, stir in the ground nut mixture and the carrots, mixing just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter into the pans, smooth it evenly, and bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool, then release the cake from the pans and cut in wedges to serve.

Ovaltine Brownie Cake


I don’t think Ovaltine is very popular in America, so here’s a quick lowdown on what it is. It is a delicious malt chocolate dairy product that you dissolve into hot water and drink. It’s often marketed as a restorative energy drink or something that you imbibe to kickstart your day right. I had some lying around, and since I hardly ever drank it, I decided to make a cake out of it.

There are many things about this recipe I would like to highlight. Firstly, it’s in weight measurements, so you can’t really make this if you don’t have a scale. Secondly, I used whole wheat flour instead of regular and as usual, it imparts a slightly chewier texture to any baked good. Thirdly, this cake is a lot less chocolatey than it looks: although it is a rich dark brown, the flavor is more mild and milky than deep and chocolatey. Fourthly, I didn’t have enough Ovaltine powder, but if I did, I would’ve sprinkled it all over the top for extra flavor. I really like raw Ovaltine powder. Fifthly, the texture of this is more like a cakey brownie. It’s a little bit fudgey but also a little bit cakey.

With that said, bake away!

Ovaltine Brownie Cake
Makes 1 9-inch pan
Adapted from Pencil Kitchen

87g butter, softened
87g white sugar
1 1/2 eggs (beat two eggs and use half of the mixture)
1 tsp vanilla
A pinch of instant coffee powder
100 ml milk (I used chocolate milk instead of regular, because that’s all I had. It was okay!)
125g Ovaltine powder
15g cocoa powder
100g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Dissolve 50g of Ovaltine and coffee into warm milk. Let cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, cocoa, 50g Ovaltine, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg mixture and stir in vanilla.

Beat in the flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in pan for ten minutes.

Invert cake onto a plate. Brush the cake with melted salted butter and dust with remaining 25g of Ovaltine, or more if you prefer.

Sachertorte Fail

It’s always really hard for me when I spend hours and hours on a recipe and it ends up poorly. It might sound like I’m overstating my sorrow but it is such a disappointment when all my hard work comes to naught. Especially when I am hoping to have a recipe worthy of an epic blog post… and all those ingredients!

Sigh. So let me tell you the story of this failed sachertorte. I took it upon myself to make a sachertorte, because, it’s just a chocolate cake, right? Wrong. It’s not just a chocolate cake. It’s a chocolate cake that has been embroiled in a legal battle and it’s really hard to make.

Why I failed at making this cake:

1. Not having an electric mixer when trying to beat egg whites to stiff peaks is really hard. I hand-whisked the egg whites for at least 20 minutes, and although they at least tripled in volume, they never achieved the consistency of stiff peaks they were supposed to. This subsequently probably resulted in the dense and dry texture of the cake, which had no other leavening apart from the egg whites.

2. The chocolate glaze recipe was one for this Boston cream pie, because I didn’t have heavy cream and I didn’t want to go out to get some. The glaze ended up more like a solid chocolate chunk that shattered as I cut into it after refrigeration. The glaze, if you’re to use this recipe, should probably be applied immediately before serving.

3. I really should have sifted the flour before baking it, because it resulted in flour pockets in the final result. I didn’t own a sieve, but now I do.

If you are curious, this is the recipe I used. It’s too bad the cake I made wasn’t so good, because I even used Austrian 80-proof Stroh rum for the apricot jam glaze. Sigh. I am sad.

Bailey’s Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Wafers


Most bakers are usually reluctant to bake in the summer time, because no one wants to have yet another source of heat bearing down on them. Out comes the no-bake recipes: no-bake cheesecakes, puddings, trifles. Icebox cake (or zebra cake) is one variation of the ever-classic trifle. I strongly believe that contrasting textures makes a dish especially compelling, and the basis of most trifles: a creamy spread and a cakey layer offers that palate-teasing complexity.

I opted to make my own chocolate wafers, but I’m sure you can purchase them if you preferred to save some time. However, these wafers are top-notch, and if you’re one of those people that prefer the cookie bit of an Oreo to the cream (it’s an atrocity but I used to discard the cream bit), these cookies would really hit the spot. I also added a couple of tablespoons of Bailey’s in the whipped topping – because why not, right? It added a subtle alcoholic touch to the dessert with an accented chocolate taste Because of how light this dessert tastes in your mouth, it’s very easy to eat quite a lot of it. Restraint, my friends, restraint.


Icebox Cake
Serves 3 normal people, 2 sweet-toothed people

1 batch of chocolate wafers (recipe below)
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
2 tbsps of powdered sugar
2 tbsps of Bailey’s (optional)

Whip the cream till stiff peaks form. Add in sugar and Bailey’s, if using. Alternate layers of chocolate wafers and whipped topping in a bowl, with the wafers forming the bottommost layer. Leave to set at least overnight or up to a day, until wafers soften and become cake-like.

Chocolate Wafers
Makes about 30 to 40 wafers
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 cups (3.38 ounces) whole wheat flour
6 tbsps (1.2 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking soda in the bowl of food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into about 1/2 inch chunks and add them to the bowl. Pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla in a small cup. With the processor running, add the milk mixture and continue to process until the mixture clumps around the blade or the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a large bowl or a cutting board and knead a few times to make sure it is evenly blended.

Form the dough into a log about 7 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in wax paper or foil and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour, or until needed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into slices a scant 1/4-inch thick (I went thinner, closer to 1/8 of inch. If you’re trying to emulate the store-bought wafers, slice as thin as you can, and watch the baking time carefully, as it might be less.) and place them one inch apart on the lined sheets (cookies will spread). Bake for a total of 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies will puff up and deflate; they are done about 1 1/2 minutes after they deflate.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets on racks, or slide the parchment onto racks to cool completely. These cookies may be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks or be frozen for up to two months.

Note: These cookies should crisp as they cool. If they don’t, you’re not baking them long enough, in which case, return them to the oven to reheat and bake a little longer, then cool again.

Frangelico Tiramisu

The good people over at Frangelico sent me a bottle of Frangelico to work into a recipe, and after several trials (mediocre brownies, subpar tiramisu) I finally made an actually delicious tiramisu. What I like best about this recipe is the lack of egg yolks in it – I know it’s not authentic, but it also means I don’t have to deal with a bunch of egg whites and worry about contracting salmonella. After all, I do make dessert primarily for one – the longer that dessert stays in the fridge, the iffier it gets.

The sad part about having to experiment with flavors is that I had to eat tiramisu every single day for lunch – while not a bad deal by most accounts, even my sweet tooth got a little tired of it. I’m glad I succeeded with a modification of Baking Bites’ recipe. The cheese and heavy cream filling was light and airy, and the strong coffee I brewed coupled with the Frangelico gave it a sweet, nutty complexity. I had attempted another recipe that involved cream cheese in the filling, and while it was okay, I found the cream cheese flavor cloying and not very traditional. This tiramisu recipe is really delicious stuff, and the perfect sort of thing to make when you don’t want to crank up the oven heat in warm weather.

Frangelico Tiramisu
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes one 8×8 pan

8-oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream, cold*
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1/4 cup Frangelico
approx 30-36 ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder, for finishing

In a large mixing bowl, beat mascarpone, sugar, heavy cream and vanilla at high speed until mixture is fluffy and very smooth.
In a small, shallow bowl, combine coffee and Frangelico. Dip each ladyfinger into the coffee mixture to let it soak up some of the liquid (2-3 seconds) and place in the bottom of a 8×8 or 9×9-inch baking dish. The bottom of the pan should be completely covered with the ladyfingers in a single layer. Do not completely soak the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture.
When there is a full layer of ladyfingers, spread half of the cream mixture on top of them.Repeat with remaining ladyfingers and cream mixture.
Dust with cocoa powder
Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.

Serves 9-12