Friday, February 1, 2008

Group effort

Today is my first day of unemployment. So far, so good. And what a great day to be off - I woke at around 8 to a heavy, heavy rain. I could hear it on the roof above me (my bedroom ceiling is the roof of the building). If nature hadn't been calling so early, I'd have stayed in bed for a bit longer, but hey - that's the one call you can't send to voicemail, you know? I had a bit of a hangover from celebrating too hard last night (only my very close friends know the real story). But after a cup of coffee, a few episodes of the Golden Girls, and breakfast with my pal Matt, I was feeling back up to snuff.

Also, these very nice flowers from my extremely thoughtful new friend in LA, Greg, helped tremendously:
(Thanks again. This made my week.)

I suspect the reality of being actually unemployed hasn't sunk in yet. Maybe it will on Monday. Maybe not. Whatever the case, I do feel inclined and motivated to stay very productive. I've been wanting to write this post all week, but things were just too crazy, until today. So here we go.

Last Saturday was my friend Pailo's birthday. He turned 32 again. For the 6th time. He had a little party at Nowhere and I wanted to make him some cupcakes. I decided to go with a traditional idea, but tweaked for grown-ups - basic yellow cake with chocolate frosting, but with a vanilla bean in the cake and chocolate ganache for frosting instead of buttercream. I prefer ganache to almost all types of frosting because it can be as sweet or not-sweet as you like. With buttercream, you absolutely must load it up with sugar to make it more stable, and I really don't have that much of a sweet-tooth.

First, a bit of music. I played a mix that was heavy on three albums.

For a beat:
Mark Ronson

Because it's cool:
Bat for Lashes

For the banjo stuff:
Great Lake Swimmers

This is the previously mentioned, flower-sending Greg from LA. He's a very talented photographer, and as it turns out, he's a fantastic baking assistant.

I used a simple cake recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I added the vanilla bean and cut down on the vanilla extract, and I thought I'd really be able to taste a difference, but no. In the end, I had to add an extra pinch of salt and even more vanilla extract than the recipe even called for. The batter tasted a bit too much like flour without it. Oh, also the batter looked oddly curdled at first, presumably because the eggs weren't fully incorporated. I panicked for a sec, but additional mixing did the trick (sorry, no photos of that).

Here are some batter-filled cups (batter makes a great breakfast, too, kids!):

The recipe may have been a little short of flavor at first, but the science worked perfectly - these little guys all baked up to perfect domes of golden goodness. The addition of heat also developed the flavor of the cake, because, well, that's just what happens. I should have remembered that. Duh.


Yes, those are Disney princess cupcake papers. Why? You got a problem with that? I didn't think so.

While these baked, I put Greg to work chopping up a pound of bittersweet chocolate for the frosting (I'm telling you, he was a great assistant!).


But then he had to leave to go to big important meetings. So busy!

I was starting to run a little late and needed more assistance, so I took John up on his offer to help me out. Thankfully, he was able to come over immediately. I was busy making the ganache when he arrived.



Ganache is so easy - heat some cream, add chocolate, wait till it melts, stir, add sugar, stir. You can easily add flavors, too. I added a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of vanilla extract, and a tablespoon of instant espresso (which always makes things taste more chocolatey). Once it cooled to a spreadable consistency, John got busy while I showered and finished a mix for Pailo's party. John did SUCH a great job!!


I mean really...



The frosting came out so well. Not too sweet, and very chocolatey. As it cooled further, it took on a bit of a fudgy texture. It was rich and delicious, and I'll probably never ever go back to making chocolate buttercream if I can avoid it.

The cupcakes were a big hit at the party. I don't have any of the pictures of Pailo blowing out his candles (though they're out there on the interweb somewhere), but you can check out John's party pics right here! Fun times were had by all.

So that's it for now. Check back here often for more updates/experiments. I think my next project is going to be black and white cookies. That should make for some messy ass photos.

Well, thanks for reading.

Pie for now!

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