Sunday, September 27, 2015

Your Friend, Beatrice


I've been thinking a lot lately-- too much, actually. There is one thing in the world that puts things in perspective for me, really calms me down. This is going to sound crazy. Baking is that one activity, that one place I can go to reign in all my anxieties and fears. Don't ask me what it is about baking-- the measuring, the watching, the waiting, THE CLEANING-- that puts my in such a good place. Clearly, these aren't things that we would normally associate with relaxation. However, something happens between the science and the art of baking that leads to a very beautiful, very tasty place.

So, while I do not have any terribly new material here, I thought I might share an update to an old favorite. I have posted (maybe a few times) about Barefoot Contessa, but specifically I want to go back to the chocolate cake. There is nothing wrong with this cake. In fact, it is sinfully right. But, what could be better than chocolate? Hmm...maybe chocolate and peanut butter. Just let that simmer a moment.

For 12 cupcakes:
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup hot coffee
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Measure all of the dry ingredients out and add to a mixing bowl. Mix on low for a few seconds until equal throughout.
Now, for the sake on my kitchen (and sanity, of course), I usually measure out whatever I can in the same measuring cup-- So, that means, I do milk, add the vegetable oil, vanilla, and egg. This is especially useful, because we need to whisk the egg a tad before adding it into the batter. So, add all the wet, minus the coffee, whisk a little, and slowly pour that mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Preferably, in an alternate universe, we all have kitchen aid mixers and have the beater going on low speed.

For the Peanut Butter Frosting:
Add 1 1/2 sticks butter to mixing bowl
Whip for 1-2 minutes on low
Add 2-4 tbsp peanut butter and 1 tsp vanilla
Whip for 1 min on low, stir butter with spatula
Add 2 cups powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated
If this is too thin, add more powdered sugar. I believe mine ended up around 3-4 cups sugar
When travelling with cupcakes, I tend to want a thicker icing so it doesn't move or melt.
Cut up some peanut butter cups for garnish.

For the Chocolate Frosting:
Melt 3/4 cup Semi- Sweet Chocolate Morsels
Add 1 1/2 sticks butter to mixing bowl
Whip for 1-2 minutes on low
Add 4 cups powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated
Add cooled melted chocolate to mixer, and combine.
Add 1 tbsp milk, pinch of salt, and 1 tbsp coffee, and combine.
At the end, I added up to another cup of sugar to make my desired consistency.

Once we have all that distributed evenly (see note below about over-mixing), we want to turn the mixer off and measure out our coffee. We also need to stir the batter from the bottom of the mixer. This batter, since we start with the dry and add the wet, tends to form a glue-like substance in the bowl.

Pour the coffee slowly into the bowl, mixing on low speed. Turn off as soon at it is fully incorporated.
Measure out 3 tbsp of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake about 15 minutes.

Okay, so when I talk about the science of baking, I mean this:
Flour can be mixed quite a bit when dry, so we want to take care of mixing the dry ingredients to form evenly distributed dry ingredients. The moment you mix in the wet ingredients, gluten is activated in the flour, so the more elastic it becomes. For pizza dough, this is good--a nice chew; for cake, this is bad--very bad. No one (most likely) ever said, "Hmm, this cupcake is delicious; it's so chewy."

Vegetable oil, while it is not pleasing to the eye or to the waistline, does give a great deal of moisture to the cake. This is one of the most pleasing cakes in regard to texture. In a pumpkin or spice cake, I might switch it out for applesauce, but please don't try it here.

Hot coffee is going to make the batter runny. There is no way around it.