Beach Style Wedding Cake

Beach Style Wedding Cake

This one was a first for me – my first beach-themed cake, and my first (official) wedding cake!  (I’ve done other wedding cakes, but this was the first one that SugarPunk has officially done.)

Bottom Layer: Chocolate-Hazelnut Butter Cake with Chocolate-Frangelico Ganache
Middle Layer: Lemon Cake with Lemon-Curd Buttercream filling
Top Layer: Madagascar Vanilla Cake with Roasted Peach and Strawberry Filling.

All covered in a Vanilla Buttercream (French style).

Served: Intended to serve 100, it way overshot.  However, leftover yummy cake was enjoyed by many, I’m given to understand.

The topper was a replica of the Ocracoke lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the wedding was held, and the seashells were gathered on site (and cleaned/sanitized by me before putting on the cake!)

Okracoke Lighthouse Topper

Ocracoke Lighthouse Topper

The fence and plaque were made from gumpaste and hand-painted, and the sand was graham cracker crumbs.

The mother of the bride contacted me secretly about making a groom’s cake for her prospective son-in-law – he went to the University of Maryland, so we decided that something turtle-themed would be appropriate.

Cupcakes!

Cupcakes!

I found the nifty cupcake toppers at Art Design Store, and they shipped them immediately – so no worries about them getting here in time!

Interior view of cupcakes

Interior view of cupcakes

The cupcakes were Devil’s Food Chocolate, filled with caramel-pecan gooeyness, frosted with caramel frosting, and the edges rolled in toasted pecans.  The toppers eventually sort of meld with the frosting (no fondant here!), and other than a slight gumminess were hardly noticeable.

The happy couple

The happy couple

Don’t they look happy with their cake?  Of course, the hard part was over (the wedding) – well, mostly over.  There were some problems with the room the reception was supposed to be in, and some other last-minute stuff – but all was handled gracefully and in the end, everyone was happy.

Well, everyone except the folks who ended up with swine flu — one of the aunts was diagnosed with it two days after the reception, and a few people ended up with it, including the happy couple.  Oops.   But hey, that’s what makes for great stories to tell your grandkids, right?

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We’re back!

Having spent two weeks away, first in Arkansas and then in Chicago, it seems like there’s so much to tell, and yet so few pictures to back it up.  Ever the way, I guess.

However, one thing I did take tons of pictures of was our Cupcake Crawl!

My awesome host Isabel and I had agreed that one thing I must do on this trip to Chicago was stop in at Bleeding Heart Bakery and try their vegan cupcakes.  So that was our first stop (accompanied by my loving and wonderful husband Jeff, who nevertheless wimped out and stopped eating cupcakes after the first stop.  Sometimes I do not understand the man).

Bleeding Heart Bakery

Bleeding Heart Bakery

Bleeding Heart Bakery
1955 W Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 327-6934

Once inside, we were confronted with so many choices!  Our counter-girl, who was really fun, informed us that sadly we could not get the jelly doughnut cupcake (maaaaaan).  We asked what the most popular/beloved cupcake was, and were told that it was the “Slash” cupcake, in either chocolate or vanilla.

We went with the Chocolate Slash with Vanilla icing (right, below) and the Gingerbread cupcake with Brown Butter Buttercream (not vegan; left, below).

Gingerbread and Slash cupcakes

Gingerbread and Slash cupcakes

An interesting note about the Slash cupcake – we were curious about the name, as there was nothing obviously slashy about the cupcake, and were told that it was named after the Guns ‘n Roses singer, because the chocolate curls on the cupcake were reminiscent of the singer’s curls.  Learn something every day!

On to the cupcakes!

The Slash cupcake was AWESOME.  The chocolate cupcake was moist and delicious – not too light, not too heavy.  The vegan vanilla icing was smooth and light and tasty.  The chocolate curls were scrumptious.  This cupcake set the bar for the day, and few cupcakes met it, I’m sad to say.  And it’s vegan!  Wow.  Amazing cupcake.  Perfect mix of sweetness and dark chocolate, great ratio of cake to frosting – just overall fantastic.

The gingerbread, however, did not live up to its vegan sibling, although I’d had high hopes for it (I love gingerbread).  The buttercream frosting was.. extremely soft, and sort of weird, is the best I can put it.  Kind of greasy feeling.  Perhaps that was the butterfat right after eating the vegan cupcake, but even after a few minutes it was just greasy-feeling.  The browned-butter taste was also not strongly apparent, more of a hint. As for the gingerbread cupcake, it was dry, my ultimate problem with cupcakes.  Also not very strongly flavored (I like my gingerbread kicking and screaming).  The frosting and cake worked together, but overall it was a disappointing cupcake.

Jeff, who was refusing to eat cupcakes, had this:

Hazelnut Cream Puff

Hazelnut Cream Puff

Basically, your delicious cream puff with tasty hazelnut frosting inside, and chocolate glaze with toasted hazelnuts on top.  Yum!

Just around the corner (sort of), was Dinkel’s – an old-fashioned (founded in 1922) European-style bakery that I’d heard had the best cupcakes in Chicago (so we had to try it!)

Dinkels Bakery

Dinkel's Bakery

Dinkel’s Bakery
3329 N. Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 281-7300

We decided to have some savory treats to help counteract all of the sugar – I had a spinach pastry, and Jeff and Isabel both had small pizza breads – which were great!  Buttery, flaky, savory.  Yum.

The cupcake selection was meagre – only 3 or 4 kinds, of whch the best looked to be the Apple with Caramel Buttercream, and the Chocolate with Chocolate frosting.

Apple cupcake with Caramel Buttercream

Apple cupcake with Caramel Buttercream

First, the apple.  Check out those edges!  They were chewy and caramelized – quite tasty.  If the rest of the cupcake had had the same flavor, it would have been perfect – sadly, it did not.  It wasn’t bad, just sort of meh.  The frosting had perfect texture (creamy but not slimy), but the flavor was, again, lacking.

Chocolate with Chocolate

Chocolate with Chocolate

The chocolate, though…  I was underwhelmed.  The cake was okay, but dry (grr).  The frosting was also meh.  The chocolate flavor was good – better than storebought – but the texture was not.  Grainy and dry.  Basically, these tasted like day-old cupcakes.   Nobody else would even try this one, so I gave the rest to a nearby table with a four-year-old.

In other words, Dinkel’s disappointed.

We experienced further disappointment when it turned out that Bittersweet was closed on Mondays, and that the Chicago Diner had no vegan cupcakes (muffins, yes.  but no cupcakes). Isabel had heard about a new place nearby that sounded interesting, though, so we went to check it out.

Sweet Honeybee Bakery

Sweet Honeybee Bakery

(for some reason, I have no picture of this store, so here’s the one from their website)

Sweet Honeybee Bakery
1918 W. Montrose Ave
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 275-0697

We walked in, and were confronted with a plethora of attractive choices under the counter.  These people obviously take their cupcakes seriously!

Below the counter shot

Below the counter shot

Tons of flavors available, all of which were attractively decorated and presented.  The guy behind the counter (super-friendly) was the brother of the baker, and told us that one of their most popular cupcakes was the Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting.  “aha!”, we thought to ourselves, “A challenge”.  Isabel was a self-professed red velvet snob, and very picky about her red velvet cake, so we decided to give it a try.  It was hard to choose a second, but we finally settled on Champagne.  Although I was wishing I’d gone for the key lime.  Isn’t it just fabulous looking?  I still wish I’d had it.

Red Velvet Cupcake

Red Velvet Cupcake

The verdict?  “VERY nice!”  The frosting had a very light cream cheese flavor – more of a  butter flavor, and was very soft and delicious.  The cupcake was moist and light, with a color almost burgundy.  The cupcakes at Sweet Honeybee are smaller than those we found elsewhere – the size you’d normally make at home – but they’re cheaper, too, and when you’ve had one you feel like you could have another, rather than feeling like you’d eaten half of a cake.  I find this a plus, especially with all of the flavors they have!

The Champagne cupcake was up next:

Champagne cupcake with White Chocolate Ganache icing

Champagne cupcake with White Chocolate Ganache icing

The cupcake was again light and airy and perfectly textured.  It had a very faint lemony flavor to it (I couldn’t taste the champagne, but then again most champagne tastes like bubbles to me rather than anything specific).  The ganache was light and sweet, and the chocolate coating was terrific.  Perfect proportioning of frosting to cake, again.

Overall, a win! Great selection, good execution.  The only quibble we had was that both of our cupcakes had a big bubble in them – and on a cupcake this size, that makes a difference!  Need to give the pan a thwack on the counter before baking, it seems.  But the texture is lovely and soft and moist, with great crumb, the ratio is perfect, and the frostings were delightful.  Sweet Honeybee definitely stole the cake on this crawl!

After all of this, we rolled ourselves back home and sat on the couch staring at computers for a while before we went onward to dinner (Blind Faith Cafe, in Evanston, a fantastic place for foodies and vegetarians alike).  The next day our friend Lisa met us with one late entry to the cupcake crawl – a chocolate/chocolate cupcake  with sprinkles from Red Hen Bread (1623 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647-541  Phone: (773) 342-6823).  It had gotten a little squashed from being stuffed into her bag, so no picture.  Good frosting (nice and grainy – for some reason, chocolate just demands this), good cake, but the ratio was way off – too much frosting (and too many hard sprinkles).  The flavor was really good, though, and there are some out there (*cough* Jeff *cough*) who like more frosting than is good for them, so this would be right up their alley.  🙂

The overall winners?

Best Single Cupcake:  Chocolate Slash with Vanilla ‘Buttercream’ (vegan), from the Bleeding Heart Bakery.  Everything a cupcake should be.  I still remember it.  It was so tasty…

Best source for LOTS of tasty cupcakes: Sweet Honeybee Bakery.

Cutest thing we found:  Check out this CCC!:

Cupcake Cake from Sweet Honeybee.

Cupcake Cake from Sweet Honeybee.

Gotta wonder what the bunny did, though.

It was tons of fun, and I can’t wait to do it again.  Best part?  I didn’t gain any weight while in Chicago!  Now that’s an accomplishment!

Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

It’s fall, right? I thought I’d give the pumpkin a break for a bit and try the other fall favorite, apple cider.

This recipe comes from Coconut & Lime – and really, there’s not much to add! Made as directed, the cupcakes came out feeling a little heavy, but they lightened up as they cooled off. Perfect crispy crust edges, soft interiors, with the flavor of apple cider permeating throughout.

I was less thrilled with the frosting – it just felt grainy to me, and too sweet, although Jeff loved it. The caramel flavoring did complement the apple cider cupcakes perfectly, though. [update: by the next day, the frosting had mellowed out and wasn’t grainy any more, but the flavor was still all there.]

Apple Cider Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

(via Coconut & Lime)

Ingredients:
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 2/3 cup flour
1 cup pasturized apple cider
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line 12 cupcake wells (I used a silicon baking pan, with a mist of pancoat). In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture, then 1/2 of the cider, and repeat, ending with the last of the flour and mixing only until incorporated. Pour into prepared cupcake pan, filling each cup 3/4 way full. Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the center cupcake comes out clean.

Cool thoroughly, then frost.

Apple Cider Cupcakes waiting for frosting

Apple Cider Cupcakes waiting for frosting

Caramel Frosting

Ingredients:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter then add the milk and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and whisk in 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifting it into the pan to avoid lumps. Cool slightly, then very vigorously* whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (or less – I used the entire cup and I felt that the frosting was too thick). Frost cupcakes while the frosting is still slightly warm.

*if you have problems doing this by hand, use an electric mixer, it is very important to whisk very quickly or it will not be smooth.

Pumpkins!

Pumpkin Patch Party Cakes

Autumn is well upon us, even in the South, although it looks different than what I’m used to. The leaves don’t so much turn colors as just fall off the tree (although they are as equally efficacious at clogging up gutters as their northern counterparts), and during the day the temperatures still climb into the 80s on a regular basis – but at night there’s a chill in the air, and the morning ride into work is a brisk one. The farmer’s markets are starting to show mostly autumn produce – squashes, the last of the leafy vegetables, etc. Which means one thing – pumpkins!

I picked up a few baking pumpkins at Trader Joe’s (the local farmer’s market being out of them by the time I dragged myself out of bed on Saturday), and roasted them up to use in various things. I’ve been steaming them rather than straight-up roasting – making a foil tent and putting some water into the bottom of the pan. I find that it’s much faster (takes only half an hour for a medium-sized pumpkin), but that you don’t get those lovely little caramelized bits at the edges. Still tasty, though, at least as much as the canned stuff.

The first thing on my list that I’ve been waiting to try out was a cute little recipe for pumpkin-shaped pumpkin cupcakes (found in Southern Lady magazine, Sept/Oct 2008 – Southern Lady has some really nice dessert content – there are always a few recipes per issue that I want to bake!). Not having a mini-bundt pan, I’d been looking around and ended up getting a mini-kugelhof pan, which is a little narrower at top. And, also, takes less batter – I’d filled the hollows about 2/3 full and had quite a bit of over-spillage at the top. The trimmings were usually as big as cookies themselves – perfect for sandwiching together with some extra frosting!

Pumpkin-top "Sandwiches"

Waste not, want not - Pumpkin-top "Sandwiches"

I also had plenty of batter left over for trying out my new silicon muffin pan, so there really ended up quite the pumpkin extravaganza, as you can see:

The Harvest (plus some NYT chocolate chip cookies, yum!)

The Harvest (plus some NYT chocolate chip cookies, yum!)

And now, the Party Pumpkins!

Pumpkin Patch Party Cakes
Yield:
6.00 servings

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar (I used light)
  • ¾ cup granulated suar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) can LIBBY’S 100% Pure Pumpkin (I used my own home-roasted pumpkin puree, yum)
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Orange Cream Cheese Icing
  • Garnish= 6 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks (I used chocolate-dipped Vanilla Stix, but you could totally use chocolate-dipped Pumpkin Pocky) Orange Cream Cheese Icing:
  • (Makes about 1 cup)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray two 6-cavity mini-fluted tube pans with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spices, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl. Beat butter and sugars in large mixing bowl for 3 to 4 minutes, or until creamy.

Add eggs, beat well.

Add pumpkin and vanilla extract, beat well.

Gradually beat in flour mixture (do not overmix! Just mix until wet.) Spoon evenly into prepared cavities (about ½ cup batter in each). [Note: Here I used a pastry bag and piped the dough in – less mess, and easier to get consistent levels and layers of filling] Gently tap pan on counter to release air bubbles.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in cakes comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; invert onto wire racks ot cool completely. With serrated knife, carefully cut off bottoms of each cake so surface is level/flat. (Tip: save the bottoms to enjoy later – and did I!)

Prepare Orange Cream Cheese Icing.

Spread 1 tablespoon icing over cut side of cake to within ½ inch of edge on your 6 uglier cakelingsot to avoid the edge, therefore cream cheese ‘bulge’. Oops] Reserve remaining icing. Place the 6 uniced cakes on top of cakes with icing, making cute little pumpkins. (Save the nicer ones for toppers); be sure to spread mixture over hole in center. [You’ll note that I totally forgot this step, hence a little frosting ‘bulge’ – oops.]

To serve: thin remaining icing by adding 2 Tablespoons milk; beat until smooth. the consistency should be thin enough to drizzle; add more milk as needed. Drizzle over cakes. Garnish with one cinnamon stick (or pocky) “stem” in the center of each “pumpkin”.

[At this point, I also sprinkled a little nutmeg on the top; cardamom would also be nifty.]

Construction was uneventful, although I did forget to keep the frosting contained (so there’s a visible layer between the top and bottom of the pumpkin, oops). I opted to forgo the cinnamon stick (as inedible) to serve as the stem, instead coating shards of vanilla stix (link) in chocolate and using those (although Pocky would work equally as well, and now they make pumpkin pocky! Win-win, there.). A little sprinkle of nutmeg over the glaze finishes it off for the pumpkins – I used cardamom on the cupcakes, which melded nicely with the other spices and pumpkin flavor. The orange in the glaze really worked well with the pumpkin – I usually find powdered-sugar based glazes too sweet, but just a little hint of citrus cuts that.

The pumpkin cake recipe itself was perfect – good pumpkin flavor, good crumb, without being too wet (although the cupcakes took longer to cook than usual – perhaps something to do with the silicon baking pan?). I’ll definitely use it again.

Cute and tasty! These disappeared quickly.