Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lilian's cupcakes

Many studies have shown that first-borns tend to be the high achievers of the family. Over 50% of US presidents are first-borns. They also tend to score higher on IQ tests than their younger siblings. Whether its because first-borns got their parents' undivided attention, because they feel the need to set a good example for their siblings or for other reasons, first-borns tend to be the ones who get the gold stars.

That doesn't mean that younger siblings don't get a chance in the spotlight either. My younger sister got the great news today that she's been accepted into a program at Emily Carr University that will allow her to take college art courses while still in high school, and get college credit for them of course!

I think some celebratory cupcakes are in order. . .

See recipe here.

Baking 101: Emulsions

I like to think of baking as a nice escape from my very science oriented education and work. I mean, what could be more far removed from cells, proteins, and microscopes than butter, sugar and eggs?

But the truth is, under all that frosting and sprinkles, baking IS science. I got a stark reminder of that last week while baking up a storm for my birthday cupcakes.

So there I was, starting to make my frosting while another dozen cupcakes were in the oven.  All was well; butter creamed, sugar added, next vanilla... Mixer going. Then I noticed that something was not right. My intended super creamy frosting was starting to look a lot more like cottage cheese. So I added more sugar, more milk, it didn't help.

At this point I was tired and my brain was probably turning to mush so I put the whole bowl in the fridge and hoped that all would be well the next morning.

It wasn't. In fact it was starting to look more like crumbled feta than cottage cheese.  I briefly considered running to the store for some premade frosting but then I remembered this wonderful thing called the internet.

Thankfully Google came to my rescue, as it often does, and I learned a little bit of science behind baking.

You see, buttercream frosting is an emulsion.

E-mul-sion n.
1. A fine dispersion of minute droplets of one liquid in another in which it is not soluble or miscible


In other words, frosting, like mayonnaise is a mixture of two things that usually don't mix together, oil and water. But if you mix fast enough and there are a few more ingredients in the mix that can help stabilise it all (like the proteins in dairy and eggs ;) ), the oil and water will emulsify and stay together. So, what I had essentially done when my frosting curdled is accidentally separated the oil and water. To 're-emulsify', I just had to mix really fast (mixer on highest speed) for a few minutes, which is exactly what I did.

Magic? Nope, just science.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Birthday Cupcakes

Remember in elementary school, when it was always the birthday boy or girl's job to bring cupcakes for the entire class? The store bought frosting, almost always chocolate, spread, not piped, sometimes there were sprinkles. Remember? I loved those days. Except the thing is, there's no school in July. Which means that I never got to be the one to bring the cupcakes and I just don't think I ever got over it.

So this past Friday, four dozen cupcakes came to work with me to the lab.

Chocolate espresso cupcakes, with pink frosting and rainbow sprinkles. A slightly more grown up (but just slightly) and polished version of the ones in my childhood memories. Score!

Another great thing is that I got to use some of my new baking gadgets.

Like my mess-free cupcake pen...

And my cupcake carrier...

And my wilton gel food colouring...

Birthdays rule.

Ugh, early mornings

Chocolate Birthday cupcakes with buttercream frosting
Yield: 4 dozen

  • 3-1/3 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup strong coffee (I used a can of Starbucks double shot topped up with water to make 1 cup)
  • 1-1/2 cup butter (melted)
  • 2 cups butter (room temperature)
  • 6-1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-1/4 cup milk or cream (I used a mix of both)
  • Food colouring (optional)
  1. Preset oven to 350F
  2. In bowl #1,  sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt
  3. In bowl #2 whisk eggs, both sugars, milk, coffee and melted butter
  4. Whisk in contents of bowl #1
  5. Fill the lined or greased cupcake pan and bake for 15 minutes
  6. Test doneness with a toothpick and allow to cool completely before icing.
  1. Cream butter and slowly add in remaining ingredients

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunflower Seed Butter

I have a confession to make.

I might just be truly deeply madly in love.

With sunflower seed butter.

But let's just keep that a secret between the two of us, ok?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Where's-the-red velvet cupcakes

Like disodium 6-hydroxy-5-((2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo)-2-naphthalenesulfonate velvet cake?

I do. In an illogical insatiable kind of way.

But I'm guessing it's in my best interests to keep my Red 40 consumption under control. I mean, any recipe that calls for an entire bottle of food coloring should raise a proverbial red flag, shouldn't it?

Good thing I found a recipe that uses beets instead of Allura Red AC, which sounded like a great alternative, except these left me asking: Where's the red?

I know that art wasn't my strong point in school but these are definitely more of an alluring brown than allura red. Do correct me if I'm wrong.

But it's ok, I'm not too upset. In my opinion, any excuse to eat cream cheese frosting is a good one.

Where's the red velvet cupcakes
Adapted from Red velvet cupcakes
Yield: 38 mini cupcakes

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/2 cup butter milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons finely shredded beets (I used canned)
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar


  • 7 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Preset oven to 325F.
  2. Cream butter, brown sugar and white sugar in a large bowl. Add egg and vanilla, mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa and salt.
  4. In a third bowl, mix buttermilk, water beets and vinegar.
  5. Alternatively add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the creamed butter.
  6. Aliquot into lined cupcake pan (I used silicone cups, unlined)
  7. Bake for 15 min.
  8. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Beat cream cheese with butter. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy.


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