This is by far the most challenging baking project I’ve thrown at myself. I volunteered to handle the dessert for our family (read: extended) get together in celebration of 4 birthdays this month.
So why challenging? It’s just family, no guests. Should be a breeze, right?
Well, the thing is, we are a family in love with food. Boy, do we love to eat. We prepare food like there’s no tomorrow and inhale our meal as if it were our last. To add pressure, we are picky and very opinionated eaters. Lola Ma is the best home cook in the world. She has such a discerning and discriminating palate, even some of the dishes my Titas prepare fail to meet her standards. For my Titas, there’s Tita Leng who makes the meanest ribs and can prepare several otherwise time consuming viands in a matter of a couple of hours. And the portions are never just enough. They’re more than enough to feed an army. Then there’s Tita Vi whose palate is bested only by Lola Ma. She can turn a simple pork steak to a real gastronomic experience. I even have a cousin whose specialties are mashed potatoes and sisig. Another cooks great grilled salmon belly. As for the rest of the family, let’s just say they won’t think twice of voicing out their opinions about food. And we’ve all sampled huge quantities of food to know how pastel de lengua or biringhe or even leche flan should taste like.
That being said, there we were, with the huge challenge of baking dessert for a family of foodies. Of course, it’s “we” and not “I”. I can always count on the husband to volunteer.
His first suggestion was to bake a gigantic sheet cake, layered, with frosting and the works. Huge enough for the four birthday celebrators to blow their candles at the same time. On the upside, only one kind of batter and frosting. On the downside, we have a teeny tiny oven. This meant we had to bake it in batches. Also, one batter meant one epic fail if the batter turned out awry. Plus, we wanted a little more variation.
We settled with cupcakes. Four flavors, one for each celebrator. Twenty one people were eating. At least two cupcakes per person. The quantity wasn’t a problem. We’re baking in batches of 12 anyway. The next question was, what flavors? After much research and recalling of my earlier cupcake projects, we settled with the easier ones. Lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting, peanut butter and jelly cupcakes (the recipe considered them muffins, actually) with dark chocolate butter cream frosting, moist chocolate cupcakes with mint butter cream frosting, and red velvet cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese frosting.
Baking the cupcakes themselves went much faster than we expected. We whipped up four batches in about an hour and 10 minutes. Of course, there was two of us and two cupcake pans, meaning two batters prepared almost simultaneously and batches going into the oven one after the other. The frosting took much longer because I only had one set of equipment and let’s face it, beautifying stuff is not really up my alley. Here are the results:
I used up all my red food coloring and couldn’t find any so we came up with blue velvet cupcakes. Unfortunately, I added too much food coloring. The cupcakes left blue stains on teeth and lips. Fortunately, they tasted really velvety so my family ate them all nonetheless. All the flavors of a red velvet cupcake were there. The texture was nailed. The cream cheese frosting complemented the cupcake perfectly. Taste-wise, these turned out great. I used the same recipe for the red velvet cupcakes I brought to our Christmas party last year and they turned out perfect. This recipe is definitely a keeper. I strongly recommend it if you’re looking for a reliable and simple red velvet cupcake recipe. Let’s just tone down the food coloring next time, ayt?
The boo boos seemed to have been centered on the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. First, the peanut butter had weird solid formations and we didn’t trust it in terms of food safety. After searching the fridge, we found some almond butter and went with it. Second, almond butter is a lot less sweet than peanut butter and I wasn’t sure how it would work with raspberry jelly. To add oomph to the cupcake, we put Speculoos surprises in the middle rather than fruit jelly. I figured this would make the cupcakes nuttier while keeping the surprise in the bite. Third, as I said, we were multitasking and were probably tired and sleepy by the time we were baking this last batch. (Yes, we started at 12 midnight. And it was almost 1 am by then.) I only realized belatedly that the egg was added to the dry ingredients without mixing the dry and the wet ingredients first. So we had some crumbly dough first before we added the other wet ingredients. I’m not sure if this was the reason why the cupcakes turned out very soft and crumbly. See the crumbly cupcake in the picture? That’s the one. On hindsight, maybe we should have thrown everything together nonetheless and mixed them up all at the same time. Lastly, the dark chocolate butter cream frosting turned out well but I’m still on the lookout for the best chocolate frosting. All things considered, they were the first ones to go. The cupcakes were nuttier than I expected. The Speculoos was a pleasant surprise. And the almond butter seemed to be providential. It added a complexity to the cupcake as it was a nut butter we aren’t used to having here in the Philippines. Tita Vi even exclaimed, “Masarap!” and that makes this batch a winner.
The chocolate cupcake recipe is definitely spot on. I think I finally found the perfect chocolate cake base! This batch out turned out very moist but not crumbly. The cupcakes had a very pronounced chocolate flavor thanks to the cup of coffee added to the batter. The cupcakes paired well with the mint flavored frosting. The husband thought of jazzing them up with choco mint and spearmint which was a really great idea. The choco mint leaves dried much faster than the spearmint. They were all shriveled by mid afternoon while the spearmint leaves were still fresh. Note to self, study on ways to keep decorative flowers and leaves fresh longer. This didn’t deter my family though. I had several cousins come up to me telling me this was their favorite.
Now for the star of the show. Yellow angels. Citrusy sweet. Tangy but smooth. Sunshine in a cup(cake). These cupcakes were serious about being lemon cupcakes. There’s no mistaking the lemon flavor. The sugar perfectly took the sharpness away from the lemon but not overpowered it. The lemon butter cream frosting added another layer of the flavors. The balance resulted in a rounded taste that was lemony, sweet, creamy and just perfect. And the best part, the highlight of my day – Lola said these were masarap! She liked them best! Even better than the chocolate cupcakes! Hearing Lola declare something we baked as masarap took me straight to lemon heaven lounging on cream cheese clouds.
Averie Cooks for the red velvet cupcakes and vanilla cream cheese frosting, lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting, and the original peanut butter and jelly muffins recipe. Believe me, guys, she can be trusted. All her recipes turned out great for me.
Foodess and Add a Pinch for the chocolate cupcake recipe.
Sally’s Baking Addiction for the dark chocolate frosting and my go-to vanilla frosting.
P.S. All photos taken with a standard Samsung Note camera. Should have my DSLR fixed soon.