Friday, November 9, 2012

Vanilla Perfection Cupcake

I shared this recipe last year on Cake. and as I was making it for the gazillionith time yesterday, I thought I should finally share it here!

I have been on the quest for the perfect vanilla cupcake and frosting for years. It seems like every recipe I tested was somehow lacking – too dry, bland, inconsistent. I couldn’t find a satisfying vanilla frosting either – too sweet, too buttery, too shorteningy...

When I made my “to do list” for the year, perfecting my vanilla cupcake & frosting recipes was high on my priority list. I’ve tried Magnolia and Billy’s and countless others, but I was never completely thrilled with the results.

When I came across Amy Sedaris’ (one of my favorite actresses) recipe, I thought it was worth a shot. To my surprise, they were pretty much perfect. My only complaint was that they were a little too dense for my liking. With a couple of tweaks, including substituting the all-purpose flour for cake flour, I got the results I was looking for – tender, moist, and flavorful!

For the frosting, my go-to has always been Swiss Meringue buttercream which I love because it’s light, has the perfect texture and tastes great – as long as you are adding some other flavor (like lemon, espresso, chocolate) to it. When just adding vanilla extract, it was a little blah and overly buttery tasting. After lots of experimentation, I found that by simply including either crème fraiche or sour cream and vanilla bean, it retained the characteristics that I love and added new depth and interest to the flavor.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Bring the eggs, milk & butter to room temperature (don’t skip this step, it’s very important!)
3. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and pale.
4. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until combined
5. Sift (yes, sift!) together flour, salt and baking powder together
6. Stir together vanilla and milk
7. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to mixing bowl, scraping down after each addition. Start and end with dry ingredients
8. Fill paper-lined muffin tins with batter 2/3 full.
9. Bake at 350° for 18- 20 minute

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 lb unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 egg whites
1 cup crème friache or sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Seeds from 2 vanilla beans

1. Combine sugar & egg whites in mixer bowl and whisk together over simmering water until hot to the touch and all of the sugar has melted and no longer grainy
2. Transfer bowl to mixer stand and whip on high until fluffy & cool – about 10 minutes
3. With the mixer on low, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Add in vanilla, crème fraiche or sour cream, and vanilla beans. Beat until smooth (it may look curdled, but just continue to mix & it will be all come together!).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Graham's Pink & Black Halloween birthday bash

I’m so excited to sharing pictures from my son, Graham’s 7th birthday bash – A pink & black Halloween party. We had so much fun at G&M farms last year that we decided to go back again, but give it a completely different look. I asked Becca of Cake. to design a sophisticated and modern invitation with a skeleton holding an orange balloon. I loved what she designed – and so did Graham, but he requested the balloon be hot pink instead. Graham is a quirky kid and I loved how this choice reflected his personality, so I ran with it.
Rather than do a bunch of desserts for the table this year, I chose to make seven different cupcakes to represent him turning seven. I found the little skeletons at the Dollar Store and spray painted them black and crafted tiny party hats for them. They held signs to identify all the different flavors - vanilla/vanilla, chocolate fudge/vanilla, strawberry, lemon meringue, triple chocolate, pumpkin, peanut butter cup and triple chocolate. I used a variety of cake stands from my collection to show them off.
For the kid’s table, each child had a lunch box with bone name tag, a juice bottle with striped straw (for strawberry lemonade) and a handcrafted party hat and horn. I spray painted larger skeletons for the table with the intention of them holding balloons, but it was so windy at the farm it didn’t go as planned.
For favors, the kids received a cd of Graham’s favorite dance music (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, etc - sorry parents!) a skeleton bracelet, a homemade skull lollipop.
Next up: Pictures of the party fun!
Vendor credits:
Michele Wimborough – Cakewalk Baking
design, styling, cupcakes
Becca – Cake.
Invitation, CD label
Robert Knowles
G&M Farms

Shop Sweet Lulu
favor bags, plastic bottles, stripey straws

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bake Sale!

(thank you, Barefoot Contessa)

(yummy,find the recipe here)
 (design inspired by Sweetopia)

My son's school hosted its annual Harvest Festival today and I went a little bonkers making goodies for the bake sale. I found so many tempting recipes via Pinterest, it was difficult to narrow it down. I put my Silhouette SD to great use to make all of the hang tags and tied them on with baker's twine. I had a fabulous time making all the treats and was happy to help raise some money for his wonderful little school.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's party time!

Yowza - I can't believe my baby boy is turning 7 in less than a month! With a late October birthday, a Halloween theme has been our go to for most of his parties. We had such an amazing time last year at G&M Farms that we decided to go back again, but change up the look of the party.

I wanted the invite to have a modern/sophisticated feel and Becca of Cake. definitely delivered with the design. The balloon started out a more traditional orange, but Graham requested the change to hot pink (his favorite color). I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first. Pink and Halloween don't usually mix, but I have embraced it and love that it's quirky and fun just like him.

Stay tuned for lots of party DIY's and recipes (we're making seven different cupcake flavors!). You can purchase the invite here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Amelia's 1st birthday

A couple of weeks ago, I put together a dessert table for the sweetest little 1 year old, Amelia. The party, held in Tilden park in Berkeley had a farm theme with a decidedly girly twist. I made a smash cake for the birthday girl, chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, brown sugar caramel corn and homemade giant Oreo cookies. Amelia's mom, Lea, an admitted Etsy junkie, provided lots of great elements to decorate the table including personalized cupcake flags, vintage farm animal tags, monogrammed popcorn boxes, and a beautiful hand sewn cake bunting (which was unfortunately a bit too big for the cake, but looked adorable hanging from the crate).

Typically when I put together a dessert table, I have the design mapped out far in advance. In this case, the client was providing the table, linens, candy jars, and some of the props (hello, gorgeous wooden crates), so when I arrived at the event I had to put everything together on the fly. While it was a little nerve-racking (especially because the party was in full swing and there were lots of onlookers), it was a fun challenge and I was really happy with the way it all came together. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Homemade Fudgesicles

Ok, I'll admit to jumping on the popsicle bandwagon this summer. After pinning yummy popsicle recipes for months, I finally bought these Norpro molds. I love them for their classic shape and use of wooden sticks. I don't know about you, but whenever I've bought molds with reusable plastic holders, they have all disappeared by the time I'm ready to make a second batch.

I think store bought Fudgesicles are pretty delicious, but I'm always up for trying to improve on the original (especially when they are full of artificial ingredients that I can't pronounce!). I started with this recipe and just made a couple of little changes. I had some amazing Valrhona milk chocolate on hand, but you could easily substitute with semi-sweet or dark chocolate. I couldn't have been happier with the results - they were so smooth, rich and super chocolatey - the perfect summer treat!

Homemade Fudgesicles

1/2 cup high-quality milk chocolate
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
5 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 wooden popsicle sticks

1.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt over a double boiler.
2.  Combine the melted chocolate, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Stir in the vanilla.
3. Cool the mixture to room temperature then pour into 16 popsicle molds. Freeze for 1 hour and then insert sticks. Freeze overnight for best results.

To unmold: Have a chilled container ready to put your popsicles in. Fill a bowl with boiling water the depth of the mold. Place the mold in the water and let sit for a couple seconds. Working as quickly as possible, wiggle the sticks and pull out the popsicles. If they seem to be melting too much, refreeze until hard and try again.

Recipe adapted from: The Brown Eyed Baker

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cakewalk Baking in print!

I was super excited when Tea Magazine asked for my "expert advice" on throwing tea parties for kids. I was interviewed and they included gorgeous photographs taken by Sherry Heck from the tea party that I hosted for Graham and his friends. Becca from Cake. designed the invite (now available here), menu & printables and lended her styling talents. To revisit the complete party, see here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My kind of town...

Fort Greene, Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Flea
The General Greene
More Fort Green, Marlow & Daughters (& Sons, too)
Williamsburg Bridge

Chelsea Market

High Line Park

Ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar


Last month in March, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to New York City to attend the Martha Stewart Dreamers into Doers conference. It had been over 20 years (yikes!) since I had been to there, so I arrived a couple days early and tried to pack in as much sight seeing/shopping/eating as possible. I had an itinerary, but underestimated how just how HUGE the city is and didn't get to everything I wanted to do. Here are the highlights and just a couple misses of my trip:

The great:
Dinner at Il Buco - Everything about this first dinner was amazing - the food, the atmosphere and our irreverent server, Johnny.
Fort Greene, Brooklyn - I loved this neigborhood with all it's picture-picture brownstones and quaint restaurants. The Brooklyn Flea was my main reason for going and it did not disappoint. Housed inside a former bank building for the winter months, the place was jam packed with vintage goodies.
Marlow & Sons - cozy restaurant and general store. We were too full to eat at the time, but enjoyed having a bottle of wine at the bar and picking up some delicious (and gorgeously wrapped), Mast Brothers chocolate.
Highline Park: This unique park is built on an elevated freight rail line and stretches 1 mile long above Manhattan's West side. Plantings were a bit bleak when we were there, but I'm sure in the later spring/summer it is stunning.
Fishs Eddy: Please see my previous post where a gush about this most amazing store.
Momofuku Noodle Bar: Two words: PORK BUNS (they were devoured before a picture could be taken). Sit at the counter, watch the cooks and enjoy the inevitable kitchen drama.
The Lion - Our friend, former co-worker and San Francisco native, Jonny Leiva is currently at this very swanky restaurant in the West Village. I caught up with Jonny and sat at the bar and devoured the best tuna tartare I've ever eaten.
Big Gay Ice Cream: The owners, Douglas & Bryan were speakers at the DID conference and since I was staying somewhat close to their shop, I knew I needed to try it out. I snuck in moments before they were closing and ordered a 'salty pimp' - vanilla soft serve, literally stabbed with dulce du leche and dipped in chocolate. I ate it strolling back to my borrowed apartment, through the somewhat sketchy neighborhood, all alone, late at night feeling like a might be able to pass as a native.

The not so great:
Williamsburg, Brooklyn - the main drag reminded me of the Haight is San Francisco and was more junky than I had imagined. 
ABC Carpet and Home: I was so looking forward to visiting this shop, but it just looked dated and disorganized. I'm sure there are some amazing items in here, but they were hard to discover in the mess. In need of a face lift!
Crumbs cupcakes - Too big, too sweet and really artificial tasting. My only NYC cupcake was definitely a flop.

Overall, the trip was so amazing and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I hope that it's not going to take me another 20 years to get back! (BTW, if there are any New Yorkers that want to swap houses/jobs for a year or so, we're ready to go.).

PS - Check out my Pinterest board with lots of other places I wanted to visit:
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