Monday, 22 August 2011

Whoopie pies.... with a black forest theme

I had never heard of whoopie pies before this year. They are a traditional American sweet, a cross between a soft cookie and a cake, and originated with the Amish, who made them to use up little bits of leftover cake batter.

Amish farmers apparently used to find them in their lunchboxes occasionally and got so excited they would shout 'Whoopie!" You have to love that degree of excitement over baked goods.

Mr Cupcake asked the interwebs about them and then informed me that whoopie pies are the 'State Treat' of Maine, USA - not to be confused with the official Maine State Dessert which is apparently blueberry pie. I love that someone in Maine wanted to give State status to both a dessert AND a treat.

These whoopie pies are a red velvet mixture with a mascarpone and cream cheese filling flavoured with cassis liqueur and studded with cherries soaked in cassis, and a dark chocolate topping. They are very rich and decadent (those guys in Maine must be on the chubby side).
Disaster 1 - the baking tray batch
My first attempt to make whoopie pies, the day before these, was a complete disaster.

I read that I could cook them by piping circles of cake batter onto baking trays, or using whoopie pie tins, which are like cupcake tins, but the holes are larger and much flatter (cookie shaped rather than cake shaped). As I didn't have any whoopie pie tins I decided to make two batches, the first piping circles onto flat trays, the second using a cupcake tin but only filling the holes a quarter full - I reasoned I would get small whoopie pies that way, and larger ones on the tray.

Disaster 2: the cupcake tin batch

Except. Except I didn't. I got a tray full of completely joined-up batter about a centimetre thick (which I tried to turn into a swiss roll, but even that didn't work) and about 8 full size cupcakes - they rose and rose, the little buggers.

But the good thing about whoopie pies that look like cupcakes is that you can pretend you set out to make cupcakes.... so these were my first 'whoopie pies' ... vanilla cupcakes.... :-)

So-called 'muffin top' tins
So on my second attempt I zoomed out to Woolworths in Newtown - a truly excellent facility - and bought a couple of five-buck 'Muffin Top' tins. After having a giggle at the name I decided that these tins were actually whoopie pie tins and were essential for the job.

The actual recipe for my second batch was a red velvet whoopie pie recipe from a new English book called Whoopie Pies, by Hannah Miles (the first, failed batch was a vanilla recipe from the same book). It produced a very nice, light cake with a fine crumb, which turned out of the tins beautifully, without cracking or flaking. It was almost like a butter cake recipe but with a hefty amount of buttermilk and some water added, which I guess helped with the lightness.

With the right equipment, my second batch worked much better. This time I got cookie-shaped rounds of cake, with a fine texture and a good shape, if a little thin (my high-rise cupcake experience of the day before had made me scared to fill the tins up).

They turned out of the tins really well and I was able to fill them and top them with chocolate.

Going from the general look and feel of the fillings in the book, I made up my own 'black forest' filling. This consisted of halved cherries macerated in Cassis liqueur (I would have used Kirsch but I didn't have any)...

...Mixed with a creamy filling which was roughly equal portions of mascarpone, spreadable cream cheese, icing sugar and a splash of cassis. I put this in a disposable piping bag and piped it out onto half of the whoopie pies, studding it with a few cherries, and then sandwiched it with another whoopie pie on top.

I tried some different piping patterns (both with a star nozzle). That's why one of the whoopie pies in this picture looks a bit messy.

To decorate the top (because it seems like whoopie pies are often iced as well as filled) I melted some dark chocolate with my trusty home made double boiler arrangement - a china bowl precariously balanced on a tiny saucepan full of boiling water.

Then I spooned it on the top of the whoopie pies and finished with a cherry half on top.

Now, I was pretty happy with the way this picture turned out - they look so luscious and glossy and all - but I have a confession to make. These were a bit TOO RICH for Dr Cupcake! Yes indeed. There was an awful lot of filling in proportion to the cakey part, and the filling was pure dairy goodness - so much of it that I felt like I was becoming more lactose intolerant with every mouthful. I think next time a whipped cream filling, moderate in quantity, could work as it would be a lot lighter.

Recipe for cake batter:
125g unsalted butter or margarine (apparently they are traditionally made with vegetable shortening)
200g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g self raising flour
20g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
250ml buttermilk (or plain yoghurt)
2 tsp red food colouring
100ml hot (not boiling) water

Set oven to 180C (350F) and grease and flour the tins. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat again. Sift all the dry ingredients in and mix again, then add the buttermilk, colouring and the hot water. You should end up with a sloppy but not liquid mixture which can be spooned (messily) into the pans. Let the mixture sit in the pans for 10 minutes, then pop into the over for 10-12 minutes. When you take them from the oven, run a metal spatula carefully around the edges to release the pies and cool them on a rack before filling and icing them.
Keep in a sealed container in the fridge - these are best eaten the same day but can keep for several days, depending on the filling.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Animal cupcakes for RSPCA Cupcake Day

Last week was Cupcake Day for the RSPCA which for an animal and cupcake lover has to be one of the most exciting days of the year!
This year I inveigled my work colleagues to participate in running a cupcake stall for the day, and all the money raised went to help the little animals at the RSPCA.
This is what our stand looked like, although there were heaps more cupcakes than you can see in the pic. Oh happy day.

I wanted to do fondant animal decorations - you can see them all together on the circular tiered stand in the pic. As I needed to do quite a few I tried to make them simple. I ended up with tigers, elephants, sheep, dogs, ducks on ponds, and pigs.
Some may say that the RSPCA in Australia would rarely have much to do with the first two, but I say the RSPCA must be prepared for ANYTHING.

The tigers were very popular. They had quite happy, cheerful faces and I was pleased with their flower-stamen whiskers.

The elephants were proud of their chunky trunks and big tusks.

The ducks floated on little blue lakes, with grass and flowers at the edges.

... And the puppies were a bit messy, and didn't look like great brains, but they co-existed happily with all the others.

For all the animal cupcakes I started off with a dense, moist chocolate mud cupcake that I coated with ganache. I then hot knifed the ganache to give it a perfectly smooth surface. These cupcakes have had their ganache finished and set and are ready to go.

I premixed my fondant colours, estimating how much I would need to make about 10 of each animal.

For the tiger, you need a large circle of bright orange fondant, about 3-4mm wider around the edges than the top of the cupcake; two little balls of orange fondant, flattened and rolled with your fingers, to make the ears; nine black triangular stripes; a small ivory circle; a smaller hand-shaped black pyramid; and tiny balls of white and black fondant for the eyes.

Cover the cupcake with the orange circle and burnish to get a perfect flat surface. Stick the ivory circle in the centre with a dot of water.

Stick the black pyramid in the centre of the ivory circle. This is the nose.
With a black food colouring pen or using a thin brush and some black food colour, draw two lines coming down from the nose, then curving upward towards the cheeks.

Stick on the black stripes, points facing inward, with drops of water, and stick the ears on. Make holes for the eyes with the end of a small paintbrush, and poke some tiny holes in the ivory 'muzzle' with a sterilised needle.

Finally, roll two white balls for the eyes and two smaller black balls for the pupils, and stick them in. Cut some cake decorating, flower stamens in half and stick them into the needle holes in the muzzle for the whiskers.


For the elephant you need a large grey circle, two grey oblongs, a sausage-shape for the trunk, two white cones for the tusks and black and white balls for the eyes.

Attach the circle to the top of the cupcake and burnish until smooth. Shape the sausage into a trunk - flatten the top end slightly so that it sits a bit flatter on the cake, and make the end of the trunk slightly concave, pushing two holes in it with the end of a small paintbrush. Attach it to the middle of the cupcake with a drop of water.

Next attach the oblongs - these are the elephant's ears. Put some rose petal dust on the cheeks with a soft brush (OK I know elephants don't really have pink cheeks, but cupcake elephants do).

Stick the tusks one on either side of the trunk.

Make two holes for the eyes just above the trunk, then roll two small balls of white fondant for the whites of the eyes and stick in the holes. Roll two tiny balls of black fondant for the pupils and stick onto the eyeballs.

These are the entire herd of elephants stampeding across the table.

For the ducks, you need a ball of yellow fondant about the size of a walnut. Roll this into an oblong shape and then hand shape it to become the body of the duck.
With a smaller ball of fondant, roll an oval shape for the duck's head and stick in place with a drop of water.
Roll a tiny cone of orange fondant for the beak and stick in place. Then cut some small flat triangles and stick these on the sides of the duck for the wings. Use a piercing tool to make tiny holes for the eyes.
Cover a cupcake with pale blue fondant and stick the duck on, slightly to one side.

Make a cone of bright green fondant and snip the top of it with scissors (I used sterilised nail scissors). Snip about four times, to make a spiky clump of 'grass'.

Stick the grass onto the edge of the cupcake with a drop of water, then fix a flower beside it (I haven't shown how to make these here, but they're really simple: roll some coloured fondant about 2mm thick, stamp out some shapes with a mini flower cutter and use a balling tool to curve the shape upwards. Roll a ball of fondant in a contrasting colour and stick in the centre).

To tell the truth, I wasn't 100% happy with the ducks. The shape wasn't quite right. But I liked the colours and will work on the shapes next time.

For the dog, you need to start by hand-shaping a piece of fondant about the same size and shape as a human nose. You then stick this directly to the ganached surface of the cupcake.

Then cut a large brown circle, about 4mm wider on all sides than the cupcake top. Moistening the top of the cupcake with water, stick the circle down and carefully smooth it over the nose-shape until you get an even finish. This is the dog's snout.

Make a little oval of black fondant (like a little jellybean - in fact you could use black Jellybellys). Stick it on the end of the snout to make the nose. Then paint or just slice a vertical line underneath it, and a smile line beneath that.

Roll out some brown fondant and cut out two oval shapes. Stick them on and bend them in half like in this pic, to make the ears.

Make the eyes from black balls of fondant - or you can make white eyeballs and black pupils.

I also made some dogs with ivory coloured spots - I think these ones were better than the plain ones.

I have shown how to make the piggies and the sheep in other posts but I wanted to show how the rose petal blush goes on. You only need a little and you put it on with a clean, soft brush.
You can use a makeup brush, but be sure to use it only for this purpose so that you don't run the risk of getting real makeup on the cupcakes.

Happy Cupcake Day - thanks to all our customers who gave us their hard-earned dollars for a good cause.