Bakefest: 48 Cupcakes, 4 Flavors

Bake away

Bake away

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.


Climbing Beyond the Clouds



(That’s me and our guide. Photo taken by Mars with a Blackberry cellphone camera.)

Mars has always subscribed to the flow of the universe; it is never wrong even when everything looks bad from our perspective. There are bigger things beyond whatever plans that I try to painstakingly lay down but go awry anyway. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this. Sometimes I need to reconnect.

Our trip to Kalinga holds meaning to me at different levels. It marks our celebration for Mars’ birthday. It is one of the trips that we enter as a couple, just the two of us, and we leave stronger – as a couple. It has always been our goal to travel across the Philippines together. To discover things together and in the process discover who we are as a couple, who we are individually. It was a break from the daily grind where a million things vie for our attention all at once. It allowed us to focus on ourselves and on each other.

It was the time for me to leave everything behind and soak in the universe. Sure, I often travel for work but these journeys are always too short, too hurried (and harried) and too packed for me to connect with the pocket of the universe I am visiting. This trip to Kalinga was different. It was for us. It was for me.

It was a loose end finally tied. I’ve long decided to have a tattoo. I’ve long decided that I will only get a tattoo from Apo Fang Od. But for the longest time, I couldn’t decide on a design that I will not outgrow nor regret having. Now, I know. I found what would endure forever. I have decided more than a year ago. This is just the physical manifestation. Things all came together perfectly during this trip – with a satisfying tak tak tak tak. Here now is the fulfilment of that decision.

I will try to write about our trip to Kalinga in several parts, as I digest everything that this trip meant and means to me now. I will take it slowly to let the experience brew to the dark, strong, exquisite cup of Kalinga coffee that Apo Fang Od’s daughter in law welcomed us with. But I will also treat this as urgently as I can. Just like my tattoo, I want to capture the trip while it is still fresh, inflamed in my mind, before it melds and fades into the skin of my everyday life.

I-Need-Chocolate-Cake-Right-Now Recipe


I have a confession. I just had chocolate cake for lunch. And no, I didn’t have some chocolate cake wasting away in the fridge that needed to be rescued. I was in the middle of digesting the Theory of Change and trying to see how it could fit an anthology of stories of hope into the picture. Then suddenly the craving hit me. I knew I just needed chocolate cake right away or I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.

I just had to make one. But I didn’t have the time (okay, patience, actually) to whip up a chocolate cake and store bought cakes just don’t feel right. I went to my reliable go-to recipe that I discovered via, (surprise! surprise!) Lantern Hollow Press. I recommend going over there and reading the original recipe. I recommend following the advice to get lost as a cure to writer’s block. Just don’t get too lost, alright? I digress.

This is actually a microwave mug cake. It may not have the texture or look of a chocolate cake. Looks more like a pudding and you won’t have any crumbs for sure. BUT it tastes just like chocolate cake and hits the spot right on. And the best part? It comes together five minutes tops. No kidding. 

Now here’s the recipe. Go make one. 

Oh by the way, be sure to use an average sized mug, not the dainty tea cups or you’ll be wiping chocolate off your microwave.

4 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp muscovado sugar or light brown sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
half of beaten egg
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
splash of vanilla extract
some chocolate chunks or chocolate chips, whichever you have available, or just chop up the chocolate I know you have in the fridge

1. In an average sized mug, put together all your dry ingredients. Make sure you mix them well.
2. Add you wet ingredients.
3. Mix until just incorporated, try not to over-mix or your cake will be tough.
4. Sprinkle the chocolate chunks or chips on top.
5. Pop in your microwave and cook for 2 mins 30 secs on high.
(6. Wait for your house to smell of chocolate or spy on your cake and watch it rise to the top or even over your mug. Don’t worry. It’ll settle back down eventually.)
7. Enjoy! 

p.s. I know I have to work on incorporating pictures into these recipes. I used to do photography before but I my skills are very rusty and my camera has been lonely for quite some time. I’ll see what I can do. Maybe later than sooner though. Let’s see.

One Bowl No Rise Quick Bread


Last night, around midnight, the hubby hinted of how nice it would be to have bread for breakfast. I totally agree. Nothing beats being greeted by freshly baked bread in the morning, the entire apartment smelling like a bakery. It has been several months since I’ve baked bread and I just really wanted to satisfy the hubby’s craving.

One small setback though. I got home pretty late from a dinner meeting and I didn’t have time to work on the dough, give it time to rise, shape it, and let it rise again. Not if I was hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

A huge thanks to Averie Sunshine for her 30-minute quick bread recipe. This recipe saved me and satisfied our craving big time.

Before I post the recipe, some confessions:

1. Whole wheat flour is not easily available here in the Philippines so I used all purpose flour. The original recipe calls for 1 cup all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour.

2. Molasses are also hard to come by here, so I simply added an additional 1 tbsp honey as substitute to the 1 tbsp molasses.

3. Another rare ingredient here is buttermilk. I usually substitute this with 2 tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice + 1 cup of milk. If you have the real deal, go ahead and use it. I envy you.

4. The original recipe says it only takes 30 minutes from start to finish. It took me about an hour to get the ingredients ready, let the milk+white vinegar sit and curdle a bit, etc. The good thing was I finished the clean up even before the first half of the baking period.

The bread still came out great though it was denser than Averie’s bread. I’m putting the blame on my baking soda. Looks like it’s not fresh anymore. But overall, it’s just perfect with jam or cheese or just butter. It’s also

Again, the original recipe is here. Now, here’s my version:

1 cup milk + 2 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp muscovado sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Mix together 1 cup milk + 2 tbsp white vinegar, let sit for 10 minutes to allow milk to curdle.
3. Meanwhile, spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. (I don’t have a cast iron skillet but if you do, use it by all means.)
4. In a clean bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the milk+vinegar mixture.
5. Pour the milk+vinegar mixture into the mixture. Stir until combined. We are aiming for a loose, very moist dough. Anyway, we won’t be kneading the dough so don’t be afraid if your dough seems to be too moist. If your dough looks dry, add up to 1/4 cup of a milk+vinegar mixture.
6. Turn dough out into greased baking sheet. For a circular mound. Make sure it’s not too tall (aim for about 3 inches in height) nor to spread out (maximum of about 6 inches wide).
7. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Then turn heat down to 350F and rotate the pan. Bake for another 10 minutes.
8. Immediately transfer bread to wire rack and cool.
9. Enjoy!


Necessary Endings and Beginnings


It doesn’t get any more cliche than this.

I always believed that beginnings need not coincide with the start of the calendar year. December need not necessarily mean doors closing.

It seems that the flow of the universe has something different in store for me this year and is actually speeding up processes.

All beginnings and endings are necessary. Some may be painful, some may be walks in the park. Some you do alone. Some you do collectively.

But always, one must never lose sight of the end goal, the bottom line, the non-negotiables. New paths may be forged, but as they say, all roads lead to Rome.

And The World Turns Round and Round


Today is the first day of work for most of us, including me. I was reminded of something that I should never have forgotten: the world waits for no one. No, it won’t stop turning while I’m on vacation. Something that I should never ever ever forget ever again. 

Well, I’m back on the ride. 🙂