Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chinese Fighting Cupcakes

First post from the new kitchen! Before anything else, let’s all just gaze upon a photo of my beautiful baking cabinet:

I have so much counter space and I have space to store all my ingredients! It’s mind boggling! FYI, this does not make me any better at baking. During the unpacking process, I was flipping through the Cake Boss cookbook and I decided that it was time and I really wanted to try my hand at a piping bag. Buddy recommends starting with cupcakes to get some of the piping techniques down before advancing to cakes and that seemed fair to me. So begins a multistage process that leaves me with a mess and Chinese Fighting Cupcakes (a cupcake to anyone who understands this reference by the end of the post).

To start with, I (obviously) had to make some cupcakes. Now, I fully intended to be lazy here. I was working from home last week because Mother Nature decided it would be delightful to dump a heap of snow on us and I knew I had some box cake mix so I figured “the point of this is piping, not to make fancy cupcakes from scratch. Box cupcakes it is!” Unfortunately, the box cake I thought I had was actually brownie mix. And it was snowing. So I wasn't about to go out and buy some. No big deal though, I can make cupcakes like a pro from scratch. Here was my critical mistake though: I got lazy and didn't want to search for a recipe I knew worked well and just took the first recipe for chocolate cupcakes that popped up on the internets. BIG MISTAKE. Even though I’m a million percent sure I followed the recipe perfectly, these cupcakes did not turn out well. They were hard as rocks. Dense. Awful. Sadness. Now, I didn't actually find this out until we ate them but it was sad nonetheless. And before you even suggest it, I did not overcook the cupcakes. They were underbaked the first time I checked them and they were perfect 1 minute later when I took them out. It was just a bad recipe.

Ok, so enough ranting about the miserable cupcakes. More importantly, we’re talking about piping flowers. Turns out, I’m also bad at that. But we’ll get there in a minute. First I had to actually make some buttercream. I’m going to choose not to tell you how much butter and Crisco is in buttercream because it’ll only make you sad. I did love the 7.5 cups of powdered sugar that went into my mixer though. No matter what, that was always going to end in an explosion of white the second I turned the mixer on. So at approximately 7:30 in the morning, I mixed up my buttercream. This was largely uneventful besides the sugar volcano. Now, to make the flowers, I needed three colors. I decided to go with green grass and pink flowers with orange centers. Because that’s what the picture in the book did! So, first I mixed up my green. No matter what I tried and how much color gel I added, the buttercream wouldn't get any darker than a pastel green. After a while I gave up trying and just decided a light green would be fine. So I went in search of the decorating tip that Buddy recommended. Looking…looking…looking…nope. Don’t have it. Not cool people. So I picked one that looked flat-ish so I could make the flat circle of “grass” that was in the picture.

To do things properly, I even pulled out my cheap turntable/cake carrier that I bought ages ago so I could get used to using a turntable in conjunction with a piping bag. Let’s just say it took some time to get the hang of it. Getting the speed right was challenging and remembering not to move my hand was hard to do but eventually I was able to understand the mechanics of the process. There will be many pictures in this post of my triumphs and failures so here’s the first set with my range of green grass-layers:

Not great but not too bad, right? Passable? Oh, you just wait. Now I have to actually make flowers. That was just green circles, people! Child’s play! And that was already a challenge! For the flowers, I was supposed to use another tip that I absolutely did not have. No problem, I can improvise. However, none of the tips that I tried worked very well. They all made wavy patterns and none of them really looked like flower petals no matter how I tried. Oh yeah, and I had the same pastel pink issue as I did with the green except the pink looked even worse and was not at all vibrant. Anyway, I tried three different “types” of flowers but my conclusion is that they generally look like octopi, nonapi, jellyfish, or squished jellyfish. It was so sad.

On the bright side though, even though my creative piping skills leave something to be desired, I was able to consistently pipe things that were the same size, shape, and design. So I guess that’s something? Mechanically, I suppose I’m doing something right. I just may not have the creative eye. This should not surprise me at all. It probably shouldn't surprise you either at this point.

Last step was to add the orange centers. I know that the centers of flowers aren't typically orange but they’re whimsical so it’s ok. Or so I keep telling myself. And that’s what the picture had! Since I only have two piping bags, I had to wash one of them. Let me tell you something: buttercream is ridiculously hard to clean off hands, piping bags, utensils, or pretty much anything else. Cleaning a piping bag isn't easy in the best of situations and this was just crazy. It took me forever and then, as I’m looking at a still soaking wet piping bag, I decided that I could just use a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off. (Obviously, I had to clean all my stuff anyway but it was so annoying to have to do it in the middle of what I was working on.) Super annoyed at this point and thoroughly depressed by my ugly flowers, I piped in the middles. Which made them look worse. Seriously. I mean, you can see the pictures and decide but I think they look much worse with the orange. Mostly because the orange was barely orange. I really need to get this color mixing thing down better. Anyway, here’s the finished product:

So sad. And then to make everything worse, by the time I ate them, I discovered that they were dense and icky cupcakes. And to make everything worser, I had brought them over to my aunt’s for her birthday and they weren't good and I never like bringing something not good and inflicting it on other people. The only good part was the taste of the buttercream. Which was actually really good. My sister just ate that and decided to forgo the actual cupcake. Smart girl.

Well, first baking adventure out of the gate in a new kitchen and it’s basically a disaster. Sound familiar to anyone? Reminds me of the good ol’ days making cookie dough bites and pinwheel cookies. I think the key is that this was a recipe that really challenged me. And I need to keep challenging myself because well, it just makes for better stories. So until next time…

P.S. If you think of any baking challenges that you’d like to see me try, feel free to comment! There will most likely be a Tardis cake in my future sometime in August but I’m open to other ideas before then!

A Disney Moment: Dinosaur

This movie is THE WORST. Dinosaur is Black Cauldron bad. It’s Saludos Amigos bad. I can’t even explain how bad it is but it may in fact be the worst (so far). From the very first moment, it looked weird. A quick IMDB search informed us that the backgrounds are actually superimposed photos of tropical locations. Ok then. It’s not bad in theory but the technology wasn't quite there, I think. Or maybe it just looks bad because they superimposed the most detestable characters on the lovely backgrounds. The plot is basically Land Before Time (which is an excellent movie) but everything about this rendition falls flat. Aladar is a stupid name for a protagonist. Just sayin. And there are lemurs. For no reason that I understand. Let me explain the plot to you: there’s an asteroid and we have to go to the nesting grounds and we have to go there quickly or we’ll die. There’s a meaningless love story, an antagonist who was TOTALLY right, and a wandering aimlessness to the whole story. As far as the antagonist goes (and I will not refer to him as a villain), he saw a threat to his herd. He was the leader. It was a choice of either slow down for the old and sickly dinos and have everyone die or move on and wish the slow ones the best of luck. I’m sorry but if you’re talking about the survival of your species, you should probably just keep moving. Aladar and friends got lucky and found a cave to hide out in. A CAVE WITH STAIRS. Seriously, that cave has stone stairs. Few things have ever annoyed me so much in a movie. I was literally yelling at the screen. Ask my sister. And then Aladar is a really obnoxious know-it-all when he finally does catch up to the herd so why would anyone be listening to this guy they just met? The whole movie is fraught with implausibility. Worst. Worst. WORST. 5/5. If I could give it a negative score, I would. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Try the Grey Stuff, It's Delicious!

Don't believe me? Ask the dishes! (You're welcome for getting that stuck in your head all day.) Life is finally calming down for the blogger! Isn't that exciting?!? Basically what that will mean is some more regularly scheduled baking! I just moved into a new house which has a kitchen to die for. It also has an oven that can currently only bake at 350 so will need to be replaced. Oops. However, this blog post isn't about baking in my new kitchen, it's about baking in my mom's new kitchen. There was a good amount of baking over the holidays but nothing that was noteworthy except for my very special birthday cupcakes. That I made for myself.

A bit of background: Being the Disney-obsessed person that I am, I somewhat recently was fortunate enough to eat at the brand new Be Our Guest restaurant in Disney World. I'll make one quick note that while we were there, the food was excellent, the service was fantastic, the ambiance was magical, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. But a dinner review is not part of the story. Since the restaurant was still in grand opening phases, they were serving a special dessert called "The Grey Stuff" which was some kind of mysterious mousse with candy pearls on it. Here's a photo of what the dessert looked like at the restaurant:

(image courtesy of

Anyway, it was indeed delicious so obviously I had to seek to recreate it. After poking around on the internets a bit, I found a recipe here. I decided to make this for my already once-cancelled birthday party. My birthday got snowed out this year so I was left with a big ol' cake and very few people to eat it. So instead of cake, I decided to make grey stuff cupcakes.

Now, if I were really dedicated, I would have made stuffed cupcakes. But I was lazy. So there. Anyway, I set off to get the ingredients which basically consist of Oreos, vanilla and chocolate instant pudding, and Cool Whip. And some milk. And edible candy pearls. Oddly enough, I knew that I could get edible candy pearls at AC Moore so after the grocery store, off I went!

[Sidebar: First of all, they only had pink candy pearls because all of the other colors were sold out. Who knew candy pearls were such a hot commodity? I went to pay for the candy pearls (which cost $2.50 with my coupon) but alas, I only had a hundred dollar bill in my wallet. Which is super annoying, I know, but I figured, I have to break that bill sometime. So, long story short, the cashier didn't have change of 100 in her drawer, she had to bring over a manager at which point I just offered to pay with a credit card and by the time the manager had voided the transaction, I had actually dug $2.50 in change out of my purse. I felt so bad being THAT customer causing an obnoxious hold-up. Also, my $2.50 was completely in dimes. Such drama. My supposedly short trip to the store ended up taking about 20 minutes. Whoops.]

Finally I got home to perform the multistep process of making the grey stuff. Started by mixing the vanilla pudding and milk and putting that in to chill. Then proceeded to crush an entire box of Oreos in a food processor. Did I forget to mention that I doubled the recipe? It wasn't clear how much grey stuff the recipe made and I didn't want to run out. Let's just say I had a lot of extra. Meanwhile, I was baking cupcakes. And by baking cupcakes, I actually mean using a Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake box mix. I know, I know, big fat cheater but you know what? They're good and easy. And I was time pressed because we were also making three pounds of homemade pasta.

Next step was to add in the Oreos and the Cool Whip. I was like an expert folder. I folded in those ingredients like a pro. I only flung a little bit onto my mom's fancy new counters. And all over the food processor (somehow). Last step was to mix in a few tablespoons of the chocolate pudding. Now, in hindsight, I think that I should have stopped before the chocolate pudding. While it might help the taste, the grey stuff was a much nicer grey color before the chocolate. As it was, it turned out a little browner than I would have liked. It was super cool to watch the colors change as I mixed the ingredients though.

Only thing left to do was to make it pretty. I made a nice huge mess piping the grey stuff on top of the cupcakes (I had to refill the piping bag halfway through and my mom's piping bag is super terrible so it makes a mess) but the end result with the pink pearls was gorgeous:

Sorry for the bad picture, I only thought to take a picture at the last minute and only my cell phone was handy. Aren't they pretty though? My piping needs a bit more work and I definitely could have used a wider tip to get the desired effect but again, I was time pressed trying to pipe these immediately following dinner. I actually think the pink pearls look really cute on these. And they tasted AMAZING. The cupcakes were really light and fluffy and the grey stuff melted in your mouth and the pink pearls give you that little extra bit of texture and crunch. Perfection. I would really recommend that people take a chance and try making these. They're so easy and only involve stirring and crushing Oreos. You don't even have to pipe them! I was eating leftover grey stuff with a spoon and it was delicious. And if you don't believe me....well, too bad.

A Disney Moment: Fantasia 2000

Flying whales. Donald Duck. Fantasia 2000 suffers from the same flaws that the original Fantasia had. Namely, it’s uneven in quality, some parts are downright boring, and it lacks the overall cohesion that I think a movie should have. Also, I don’t think there was a need for a reboot of Fantasia. I understand and respect the concept: animate classical and wonderful music to blend the two art forms. It’s not unlike dance in that sense; use visual displays to elevate the quality of and interpret the music. Make it available to the masses. Introduce kids to it. I am all for the mission of getting kids into classical (or jazz) music. I just don’t think Fantasia 2000 accomplishes it as it seems to have been largely forgotten.

Maybe that’s just my impression. And maybe I’m just cranky. But it doesn't grab me. Let’s break it down anyway though, shall we? Ok, I just googled Fantasia 2000 to remind me of the order of the scenes and I read that famous people introduced each segment. I don’t remember that at all. Yikes. We’re not going to break this down by segment because I don’t remember enough to sound informed. It’s such a shame, I used to be good about writing these up immediately after watching and then I got out of the habit and now I don’t remember a single thing. I’ll just go through the stuff I know I liked. I always remember the flying whales and think they’re cool for a few minutes but then I get bored. I love Rhapsody in Blue. I think it’s the best part. I remember the flamingos and the yo-yo and think that that is kind of fun. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, despite being a classic, always feels out of place in this movie. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve all seen it already, because it’s so iconic, or because it’s awkwardly ¾ of the way through the movie but it always strikes me as jarring in the context of Fantasia 2000. The part with Donald Duck and the ark is ok but not too thrilling. And I think I was falling asleep during the last segment. So it’s a mediocre 3/5. Not really bad, not really good, not really that memorable.