Saturday, January 28, 2012

52 weeks of baking, Week 4: Flower cupcakes, plus banana and blueberry fillings!

BB is having a tea party tomorrow. She's been excited about it for weeks, and has gone to a great deal of trouble to make up invitations for her friend who lives a few doors down from here. A couple of weeks ago, I found a flower-shaped cupcake pan at Hobby Lobby, which I'd intended to use for this tea party. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to hide it before BB showed up at the house, so the surprise was ruined, and she's been asking me about the flower cupcakes every single day since.

The pan itself is a neat thing - you put cupcake liners into it, fill the liners all the way up, and bake for five minutes. After the five minutes is up, you add another big spoonful or so of batter in, and make sure it gets into the corners of the mold. Once they're done, you let them cool for a minute, and out come super-cute flower-ish cupcakes!

Why didn't they have fun shapes for cupcakes when I was a kid?!

Of course, I couldn't -just- do cupcakes, since this is frosting/filling week. BB's favorite fruit is banana, and her friend's favorite fruit is blueberry, so I decided to make filling for their cupcakes (the adults get plain ones, because they're fuddy-duddies). It really wasn't difficult at all - fruit, a little liquid, a little sugar, and some xanthan gum to thicken them up to be the right consistency for filling.

Xanthan gum: a true victory of food science

For the cake itself, I used this recipe, which turned out to be delightful. A petal from one of the cupcakes was a bit cracked, and my sister grabbed it. I managed to get a few bites, and was very impressed - this recipe is a keeper! For the icing, I took my mom's advice and used a mixture of cream cheese and shortening, plus over a pound of powdered sugar and some almond and butter flavoring. The result was a good consistency, and the almond and butter flavorings definitely helped balance out the flavor. It tastes like buttercream, but with a little something more.

Now, as a disclaimer, I have to say that this is my first time actually decorating a cake. Icing a cake, in my experience, has involved slathering cream cheese or caramel-coconut-pecan icing all over a couple of layers and hoping that they aren't too lopsided once I'm done. Sometimes I might sprinkle nuts across the top, but that's about it. The only time I've ever used a piping bag has been to fill doughnuts. So, around 7:30 PM I decided that the cupcakes were cool enough, and was ready to settle down and practice my icing techniques.

Except that isn't what happened. What did happen was my mother and I coming to the realization that her decorating kit, tips, couplers, colors, and all, had mysteriously vanished, most likely to my sister's house. So, I found myself on a last-minute run to Wal-mart, where I managed to pick up the tips, colors, and bags that I needed. Finally, around 9:00 PM, I was finally able to get started on my very first cupcake. It turned out well, I think, and so I kept on going. There are still a few more plain ones to ice in the morning, but I managed to get enough finished for the tea party even if I oversleep. Not too shabby, I say.

The pink flower is plain, the yellow has banana filling, and the purple has blueberry. I'm sure you guessed that already.

Banana Cupcake and Doughnut Filling
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1 splash (about 2 tbsp) half and half
  • 3/8 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp banana extract
  • 1 tsp sugar
Using small food processor, puree bananas, add half and half. Add small amounts of xanthan gum at a time (about 1/8 tsp), pulsing until the filling obtains desired thickness. If filling becomes too thick after setting, stir or whisk in additional half and half.

Blueberry Cupcake and Doughnut Filling
  • 1 c frozen blueberries, rinsed
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
Simmer blueberries over low heat until soft. Stir in sugar and continue to simmer another 15 minutes. Puree mixture and process through a food mill, allowing to cool to room temperature. If filling becomes too thick after setting, stir or whisk in additional water.

Decorator's Icing
  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 lb, 3 ozs powdered sugar
  • 1 cup white shortening
  • 1 1/2 tsp clear butter flavoring
  • 1 tsp almond extract
Cream all ingredients together in mixer, adding powdered sugar until at the desired consistency. Separate into individual bowls and add coloring, then pipe onto cakes as desired.

Total prep/cook time: 3ish hours, including decorating
Family happiness rating: 9/10. Mom thought the banana filling tasted too ripe, but BB was over the moon about it, and that's what matters.

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