The New York Times wrote an article that caught my eye this week about the Whoopie Pie’s comeback. A whoopie pie is traditionally made of two small round mound-shaped pieces of chocolate cake cake, with a sweet, creamy frosting sandwiched between them. I actually didn’t realized they were called whoopie’s until recently but came across tons of them throughout my childhood. Originally from New England they are popping up next to our beloved cupcakes in bakeries throughout the country. Now don’t shoot me but I actually think they have the potential to take over once the cupcake craze dies down. We’ll see what happens. Read more
What is it about Red Velvet Cake that drives people crazy? Some are fascinated by its color. And others can’t figure out what it tastes like. Any way you slice it, it’s fabulous. A 2007 New York Times article described it as a cake that stops traffic, and rightfully so. I will never forget the first day I stepped foot into Magnolia Bakery, nearly 7 years ago, and saw it as if it was on the counter all by itself. The bright red cake with white frosting stood out in the mass of layer cakes atop cake pedestals. Although I had never seen red cake before, I knew I had to try it.
The Times article above stated that Magnolia led the red velvet craze in NYC some 10 years ago. Even though it came in at a close second during a red velvet blind taste test the dining section performed, I still think it’s the best red velvet cake you can get in NYC. See for yourself after you bake the recipe below. The end result tastes JUST like the cake you would get at Magnolia Bakery. It not only tastes great but is also stunning – a definite show stopper.
Many like to pair red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. However, I think cream cheese frosting over powers the light cake. So I prefer a basic Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
- Be careful with the food coloring. The chances of your fingers getting stained are high. But don’t worry – it washes off.
- If you are making this into cupcakes you won’t have issues with crumbs. If you are making this into a layer cake be forewarned – it’s difficult to keep the red crumbs from showing on the white frosting. A useful trick, though, is to apply a thin layer of frosting to the cake and then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. This will trap all the crumbs in place and then you should be able to apply the second (thicker) layer without a problem.
Since this cake was only going to be for me and my honey, I divided the recipe in half. The measurements below are for a regular 9-inch, 3-layer cake or 24 cupcakes.
Red Velvet Cake
from: More from Magnolia
Yield: One 3-layer 9-inch cake
3 1/3 cups of cake flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) of unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of red food coloring (This is the only thing I changed in the recipe as it seemed a bit excessive to me. I think 3-4 tablespoons of liquid food coloring is fine. Because I used a gel-based food coloring 2 tablespoons was enough for a 9-inch cake)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (I know, I know – the addition of this ingredient may seem strange but it’s the chemical reaction that happens between the vinegar and cocoa/buttermilk that gives this cake its distinct flavor and texture).
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9×2 round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper. (I sprayed my pans with a little bit of cooking spray and then lined them with parchment. Make sure the parchment does not come up the sides as this will make peeling it off more difficult.) In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa and vanilla. Add to the batter and mix well. In a measuring cup, stir salt into buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts, alternating with flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over beat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. (This is going to fizz a bit, which is totally normal) Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sue the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth. Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for one hour. Remove the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
A few weeks ago I took a cake making and decorating class at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). ICE is New York’s largest and most active center for culinary education with professional programs in culinary arts, pastry arts and culinary management. Its students and alumni are regularly nominated for or win top industry awards. I went for a tour of their facilities last year when I was tossing around the idea of going to culinary school in my head and they were quite impressive.
Another great thing about ICE is that they have an extensive recreational department where folks who don’t want to become chefs can take classes in a wide array of areas . Their courses are for all skill levels and range from preparing a complete steakhouse menu and learning to fillet a fish to cooking a Tuscan feast or baking the perfect éclair.
I’ve taken a couple of classes and can attest to how great they are. Most recently I took Making and Decorating Birthday Cakes with Chef Chad Pagano and the class was loads of fun. Throughout the class, Chef Pagano gave us tons of tips on how to make and decorate the perfect birthday cake. And we all went home with a nicely decorated cake. Mine (pictured above) was a white cake with a vanilla swiss meringue buttercream icing and filling. It also had toasted coconut in the filling and on the outside.
For those of you who want to learn more about cooking and baking but are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, check out culinary schools in your area. Most of them offer recreational classes for people who don’t necessarily want to become chefs. There are also tons of other small, independent chefs that run their own classes open to the public. Don’t let cooking and baking become this daunting task that takes over you. It’s easier than you think. If I can do it anyone can.
Oh – and if not for yourself, this makes a great gift for a special loved one This class was a birthday gift from my great friend Jenn. Thanks babe
Nothing makes my day more than when I discover a new, great bakery, especially when it’s close to home. So was the case when I had a little bit of cheesecake heaven from Sweet Melissa Patisserie in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And better yet – the bakery also has its own cookbook – The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.
The funny thing about Sweet Melissa is that I have passed it a thousand times in the past couple of years. I have also gone inside a bunch of times but have not been inspired to get anything. Nothing ever jumped out of the case and said “buy me, buy me.” I think it may have been because I wasn’t immediately hit over the head row of cute cupcakes with colorful frosting as with most popular NYC bakeries. And then late last year while looking through cookbooks at Barnes and Noble I stumbled upon The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. The book is loaded with recipes but only a few pictures. And while I normally buy books based on the number and quality of pictures I couldn’t help but want to support a local Brooklyn baker – so I bought it. It also had so many recipes that I thought it was a great bang for my buck.
While running weekend errands, I walked into Sweet Melissa one Sunday afternoon determined to walk out of there with something. My options were for a more mature pallet – tarts, souffles, flavored cheesecakes and bread puddings. I chose a Mini Lemon Cheesecake. I took it home and my boyfriend and inhaled it. It was light and extremely creamy with just a hint of lemon in the background. The crust was like nothing I previously had and I later found out it was made out of cornmeal. My only regret after eating it was that I had not bought another! On a second trip I bought a piece of Sweet Almond Bread Pudding and that was equally as tasty. The pudding was moist (after warming it in the oven for a few minutes) without being mushy and the sliced almonds on top gave it great texture. I went back a third time and got their most popular dessert – Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake. This cake is a chocolate lover’s dream come true. I’m not a chocolate lover, so this was my least favorite . But if you are – either hurry to the bakery and get yourself some or buy the book and make it at home. (Sorry that I don’t have pictures of any of these but I could barely wait to eat them once I brought them home).
In addition to baked confections, Sweet Melissa also has a menu serving light fare and what I’ve heard to be wonderful drinks. But one gripe that a lot of people have is that Sweet Melissa’s prices are a bit high. To those people all I have to say is that quality costs. Yes – my small piece of bread pudding was a bit overpriced at $6.50 but it was totally worth it (and I’ll leave it at that). I also always take out as seating and space inside is a bit limited. In warmer weather there is additional seating as there is a garden in the back.
You won’t find rows and rows of cupcakes at Sweet Melissa. But no matter what your favorite dessert is, I’m sure you WILL find an interesting and tasty version of it here.
My Chica Rating – 4 Estrellas (Stars)
Those of you who don’t live in New York or don’t want to venture out the Brooklyn can still get a taste of Sweet Melissa by trying some of the recipes in this great book . If you are a new baker, you will find the instructions very easy to follow. If you are more of a veteran, you’ll find nice twists to classics. No matter what you prefer, there is something in this book for everyone – cakes, brownies, cookies, puddings, tarts and much much more. The only downside of the book is that there are only eight photographs but don’t let that deter you. With such simply written recipes you won’t need a picture to guide you. I made the Sweet Almond Bread Pudding and it came out so incredible that it deserves it’s own post (coming soon) and tasted just like that I got at the bakery.
Although this book is a bit smaller than the average glossy cookbook I appreciated that it got right to the point. It would have been nice to have more pictures but I love that there’s no fluff here – just good solid recipes (and lots of them) great for all skill levels. Whether you want to try something classic like a black bottom brownie or one of Murphy’s interesting creations like Guinness (yes, the beer) Gingerbread, this book has something for everyone.
It was my coworker Laurie’s birthday last week. And because she is my partner in crime in the office, I knew I had to bake something special for her. When we get our afternoon sugar craving, Laurie normally seeks out the mini chocolate bars in the office pantry. (Sorry to out you Laurie…but it’s ok…we all do it) So when trying to figure out what I wanted to make for her, I opted for something that I knew she would love – Chocolate Cupcakes.
Now people think I’m weird because I don’t like chocolate. But for me, milk chocolate is too sweet and dark chocolate is too bitter. So the use of unsweetened cocoa powder in this recipe from Elisa Strauss’ The Confetti Cakes Cookbook was the main draw for me. But then another ingredient jumped out at me – coffee. When I saw this I told myself I was either going to love this cake or hate it because I don’t like coffee either (another reason why people think I’m strange).
Turns out coffee is what makes this cake spectacular. I am currently researching the exact reason why but coffee wonderfully enhances chocolate. This is not like Tiramisu – where coffee flavor takes the stage. The coffee in this cake very much in the background. While you can’t taste it, you do notice something in the back of your throat that makes you go “Hmmm, what is that?” Make these and you will see for yourselves.
I topped these cupcakes with my favorite icing – Swiss Meringue Buttercream – which I dyed pink with red food coloring to make them more festive. For those of you who have not heard of this type of buttercream, it is so good you are going to want to eat it with a spoon. It does require a little bit of work, as you will see below. But the flavor and creaminess of the finished product will make it all worth it. This buttercream is also extremely versatile and can be flavored with pretty much anything. I used vanilla extract this time but it can be flavored with lemon, orange, chocolate, coffee, mocha, flavored liquors…the possibilities are endless. Very Important – make sure your cupcakes are cool before frosting them.
A quick lesson I learned while making this cake:
A general rule in baking is using ingredients that are at room temperature. While making these cupcakes, I learned that butter should be soft but not oily. Because my butter had been sitting on my counter for the whole day and I then creamed it for 10 minutes with the sugar, my first batch of these cupcakes did not hold their shape well. They ran over the top and spread out on the baking pan.
Notes in red are my personal tips for the recipes.
by: Elisa Strauss
The Confetti Cakes Cookbook
Yield: 3 9-inch rounds, 1 Half Sheet Pan (13×18), 24 cupcakes
(I ended up with 29 cupcakes – yippie)
2 2/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Unsalted Butter
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Strong Coffee (Make sure this is fresh coffee, preferably not instant)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottoms and sides of the pans with melted butter and line the bottoms with parchment paper. (Since I made my cake into cupcakes, I skipped this step. I instead lined my pan with cupcake wrappers) In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set Aside. In a separate bowl, combine the sour cream, vanilla, and almond extract. Set aside. In a bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth. (After 3 minutes of beating, scrap your bowl and beat for another 3) Set the mixer on low speed and add eggs one at a time, scraping thoroughly between each addition. Alternately add the flour and sour scream mixtures to the butter mixture in two batches, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl after each addition. (This is a very important step to make sure everything is fully incorporated) Gradually pour in the coffee. Scrape down the bowl and beat until thoroughly combined. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans or muffin tins. For each 9-inch cake pans, bake 1-hour or until a toothpick comes out clean; for half-sheet pans, bake 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean; for cupcakes bake 20-25 minutes, or until they spring back after being touched. (Mine baked for 25 minutes; I rotated my pans after 12 minutes to ensure even cooking)
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
by: Melanie Underwood
from: Cupcake Workshop at NYC’s Institute of Culinary Education
4 Large Egg Whites (These should be room temp. along with butter)
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2-4 Sticks of Unsalted Butter, Cut into 1-inch Pieces (I always use 3)
Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place this over a double boiler and whisk constantly until hot to the touch (and there are no sugar crystals left in the mixture). Remove from heat, place on mixer with whip attachment and whisk until fluffy and cool to the touch and looks like marshmallow fluff (make sure it’s cool before adding butter because if not, your butter will melt). Switch to the paddle attachment and begin adding butter, 1 or 2 pieces at a time, adding at least 2 sticks of butter. (The buttercream may seem a bit runny at first but continue to beat on high speed after adding all the butter for 3-4 minutes and it will thicken up)
Double Boiler Set-Up for Cooking Egg White Sugar Mixture – Make sure you keep the flame low and constantly whisk so that you don’t end up with sweet scrambled egg whites.
By the time the sugar completely dissolves in the egg whites, your mixture will be frothy.
Egg white sugar mixture before adding butter – you are going to want to eat this fluff but try to contain yourself.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream beating away in the mixer. When it starts to thicken, it will collect along the sides of the bowl .
I got up at 5am to make these before leaving for work because I’m a stickler for freshness. And of course, I had one for breakfast. (Had to make sure they were good, right)
My coworkers are becoming my biggest taste testers. That’s probably why one of them gave me this awesome cupcake carrier that holds 2-dozen from Crate and Barrel for Christmas. Happy Birthday Laurie!!!