Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tips For Baking, especially the below recipe!

See blog on Carrot Cupcakes. These are some tips I learned from Alice Waters.

➢ Have all ingredients at room temperature, especially the butter and eggs.

➢ Sifting the flour does make a difference in a light and fluffy cake. I hate sifting, and reserve that almost exclusively for angel food cakes, but at least fluffing it a little more with either a fork or a whisk is something. Perhaps the food processor?

➢ Creaming the butter and the sugar. This is the one step I never knew the importance of. Cream the butter alone first, and then add the sugar and cream for at least 5-10 min for a light and fluffy cake.

➢ Separating the eggs. Do this before baking, allowing for them to come to room temperature. I notice when I added the yolks one at a time to my nicely creamed butter and sugar, they whipped in perfectly in a matter of seconds.

➢ Beating the egg white and folding them in at the end. I don’t know which steps made the difference exactly, but I have never had cupcakes rise so high into perfect little rounds above the level of the muffin tins without seeping over the edges at all.

➢ Don’t open the oven door right away, and do it as little as possible to keep the temperature up. The cake needs to rise and set first, and once this is done it is less likely to collapse when you decide you must open the oven door.

1-2-3-4 Carrot Cupcakes

From the Sara Parrilli pantry, comes a dark and mysterious bottle.....Can you see it hiding behind the colored decorating sugars?What can it be?
Even the label is suspicious-looking
for something belonging in a pantry.
It's maple bark extract!
Use with caution, this stuff is potent, but it
makes for a delicious and unusually-flavored frosting.

1-2-3-4 Carrot Cake (Cupcakes)
With Maple Bark Cream Cheese Frosting

In my new Alice Water’s cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, she discusses the basics of what she calls a “1-2-3-4 Cake:” 1-cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs. This way you need not look at a recipe in order to make a cake. I wanted to make carrot cupcakes because, in an effort to tighten my spending belt, I have 5 lb. bag of carrots in the fridge. Though I should have used a few more carrots, the results were delicious as I learned some new pointers from her book, along with some of my own realizations. So as not to post too much info along with the recipe itself, I've put that into a separate blog.

The Cake Recipe:
Per Alice Waters with my alterations. The end result was soft, moist, and a little dense from the carrots, though I think I could have used more carrots.

I made 24 cupcakes, using 3 muffin/cupcake tins, and my one ceramic dish that has heart-shaped cups, all lined with paper baking cups.

Preheat 350˚F.

Separate 4 eggs.

Measure 1-cup milk. I set it on the stove above the oven to help come to room temperature, as the house where I live is very cold in the winter.

Measure 3 ½ cups of flour in a bowl. I added the extra ½ cup to make up for the carrots, but in the end I could have use more carrots.

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, add 4 teaspoons baking powder, whole nutmeg pounded in a mortar and pestle (or ground nutmeg), maybe a teaspoon each of cinnamon powder and ground ginger, 4-5 black peppercorns, and ½ teaspoon salt (unless using salted butter). I like to measure these ingredients separately, with some of the measured flour, and then return the flour mixture back to the bowl to fluff and incorporate.

In mixer beat ½ cup butter (I cut butter from 1 cup in half and then added ½ cup oil* AFTER creaming and along with the carrots).

Add 2 cups sugar (I always use less a little less than this). Cream until light and fluffy, 5-10 min. Then add egg yolk one at a time and 1 tsp. vanilla

While butter and sugar are creaming, shred 5-6 medium-large carrots, or more if you area feeling daring. Shave and mix in about a 1” chunk of fresh ginger into carrots. Add carrots gradually to creamed mixture, adding the oil* to moisten.

Add flour and milk alternately, starting and ending with flour. Don’t over mix.

Beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold first a third, and then the rest of them in.

Bake at least 25 min, until lightly browned and perfectly risen.

Maple Bark* Cream Cheese Frosting:
*If you happen to have this extract available, though it is not necessary to make a delicious icing.

First prepare a basic icing. You could use this alone as a glaze and omit the cream cheese.
I usually eyeball the amount of powdered sugar I am going to use. Maybe a cup or so depending on how much you want to spread on your cake or cupcakes. Gradually add orange juice and a little lemon juice in small amounts so it does not turn to liquid. Add about ½ lemon’s worth of lemon zest. (If you want to glaze the cupcakes, you can use just this mixture and drizzle it onto them when they come hot out of the oven. The heat will help the glaze melt in better.)

Then, if you have maple bark extract, add a TRACE amount. If you’ve never used it before, taste a little on your finger first so you get an idea of its flavor, as it is quite bitter and bizarre tasting on it’s own. It is a dark, bitter, burnt maple-vanilla-espresso grounds sort of flavor with an odd something else I can’t put my finger on… A couple drops to start!

To add the softened cream cheese, scrape most of the icing out of the mixer, and beat in the cream cheese with whatever’s left. Slowly add the icing back into the bowl. You can add more juice if you want a thinner frosting. I made my own decorating sugars in different colors with using icing colors.