Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Year to Celebrate

Despite all the crazy and unfortunate things that seem to be popping up this year, 2011 has still given us reason to celebrate, birthday after birthday.  That's right, all us 1990 babies are turning 21, the most looked-forward to age in the US.  It wasn't a huge deal for me, since I don't really drink much, but I still enjoy celebrating with everyone else.

This week, it was my friend Chris's turn.  For the last 3 months, he's been telling me about this cupcake his TA told him about: the legendary Guinness chocolate cupcake with Bailey's Irish Cream frosting.  It's been on the foodie circuit for quite a while now, and I've been anxiously awaiting for a reason to try this recipe out anyway, so I decided this would be part of my birthday gift to Chris.  These cupcakes aren't exactly something you make just for fun, since both Guinness and Bailey's are pretty expensive ingredients given how much of them you actually use (a few tablespoons of Bailey's and only a cup of Guinness).  No, this is a special occasion recipe for a special person.

Of course, I was exhausted from a long day out at the farm taking care of my grandparents, so I decided if I was going to get these done, I was going to need a little help.  Unfortunately, the only help I could get was from the birthday boy himself.  I know, I know, what a terrible person to have someone help with his own birthday cake, but if he wanted them, it was the only way it was going to happen.  I also have a lot of qualms about making someone cupcakes instead of giant cupcakes or a cake, but I had to keep Chris's housemates in mind.  A house of 6 boys isn't exactly the cleanest living situation, and dishes are rarely done.  To save the trouble of finding clean dishes and washing them after, we agreed that simple cupcakes would be our best bet.

We scoured FoodGawker for the best recipe, and chose the first one we saw, from Le Petit Pierogi.  Then we ran out in our pajamas to grab the sour cream.  We followed the recipe for the cupcakes exactly, but used my own favorite buttercream recipe.  Measuring never seems to help, so I have given up, but here's the general game plan:

Bailey's Irish Cream Buttercream
  • Equal parts butter and vegetable shortening (equaling about a cup total)
  • About three times as much confectioners' sugar as butter/shortening mixture
  • A few tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
Beat together butter and shortening until fluffy.  Add powdered sugar slowly (unless you like looking like Casper) until stiff.  Add a few tablespoons of Bailey's until soft enough to spread.

These cupcakes got rave reviews, both from Chris' friends and my family.  Yes, conceptually these are pretty awesome- I mean, who wouldn't love combining two types of alcohol and chocolate cake?  But it's not just the idea that made them a hit.  The actual cupcakes were moist and had a great depth from the beer, and the frosting was the perfect complement.  My mom said they may be the best cupcakes she's ever had, and my grandfather loved them too.  They both want them for their birthdays!  I refuse to make the same thing twice for birthdays, so we'll see what I can come up with.  Until then, here's a few photos of the cupcakes and the night out that followed:

Making a wish
The birthday margarita from Bomber's Burrito Bar

Despite me being a zombie the next day, I think Chris had a good birthday and that it was worth all the effort.  The lucky dog is still celebrating right now in Vegas and then Cali with his family.  Happy Birthday, dear.  Have a great time and I can't wait to see you soon.

Love and cookies,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I-Hate-Cancer Cookies

You might need to excuse my posts for the next few weeks.  For anyone that doesn't know, I am spending my summer at home, taking care of my grandparents that are both dying of cancer.  I spend about 15 hours a day at their farm in the middle of nowhere.  I get to their house at about 7am, and don't really stop moving (except for the rare occasional 30 minute nap here or there), until 9:30pm after they've gone to bed and I've cleaned up the house.  When I come home, I go straight to bed.  I don't really spend a lot of any time on the computer, so I apologize if I've been neglecting any of you or haven't been creating as detailed of posts as I normally do.  I don't really have the time or energy to bake a lot these days, but you can't keep an addict away from the oven, so you can expect to see a few things pop up here and there.

When my younger sister, Rochelle, came home for a few days last weekend, she joined me in running things around my grandparents' house.  My grandmother's sister and her husband drove up from Virginia for the weekend to visit, and we've had many other visitors stop in to see her as well, so Rochelle and I decided we should bake something to have to offer everyone.  We rummaged through the cupboards, trying to figure out what we had to work with.  Luckily, we had all the necessary ingredients for my grandfather's favorite dessert of all time: chocolate chip cookies.  We whipped up a batch from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, and then when we ran out of chocolate chips, we made a batch of giant peanut butter cookies as well. 

Cookie Overload
My family really takes after my grandfather, and the two dozen chocolate chip cookies were gone the same day we made them.  That meant that Rochelle and I had to step up to the plate and work on the peanut butter ones.  But don't worry, the overwhelming stress of our family's circumstances helped to facilitate their consumption.

So you may not be hearing much from me for a while, but please bear with me, and keep my grandparents in your thoughts.

With love and cookies,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Slight Oversight Giant Cupcakes

I survived another year!  Barely.  Spring semester of my junior year at Wes has officially come to a close, and now I finally have time to breathe at home, for about one day before I start babysitting my 3 1/2 yr-old demon adorable cousin for the rest of the summer.

It was a rough end, having to write 30 pages, 15 of which in Spanish, and an oral exam in Spanish, in a week's time.  I didn't really have time for baking, and I was running out of meal points to buy ingredients, but of course one of my very dear friends just HAD to have a birthday during reading period.  (Just kidding, Rebecca, I love you!)  Rebecca's birthday fell on a Sunday, the Sunday after the Tour de Franzia, to be exact.  I really didn't want to participate in the tour, because I'm not at all into crazy drinking culture or wildly and rambunctiously running amok, but I at least wanted to take a peek at the chaos.

Stacy and I were having a paper-writing party, and got so caught up in being productive that we didn't realize it was already 10pm, and Tour de Franzia started at 11:11.  I very quickly found a super simple vegan chocolate cake recipe and we threw it together.  (I had to make it vegan because I had very limited ingredients).  We poured the batter into mini bundt pans, ran to CVS and back, took out the cakes, and ran up to the center of campus to see the madness.  We were so overwhelmed by the drunken, screaming, craziness that we decided to get some delicious gourmet grilled cheese from The Whey Station, an awesome new truck that parks on campus at night, instead of sticking around to watch everyone deface the campus.
After consuming our cheesy indulgences, we went back to my apartment, whipped up some awesome Bailey's vanilla buttercream, and began frosting (at midnight).  About halfway through frosting, I had this conversation with myself in my head: "This looks delicious.  Who wouldn't love this cupcake?  Oh yeah, Nik, he hates chocolate.  What a weird kid.  Wait, I know someone else who hates chocolate.  Who is it?  Think, think, think.  Oh yeah!  Rebecca!  Wait... Damnit!"  I just made the girl who hates chocolate giant chocolate cupcakes for her birthday.  That's kind of a major problem.  Stacy and I finished frosting anyway, and I decided I'd just wake up early and whip up another batch of vanilla ones in the morning. 
Giant Vegan Chocolate Cupcake w/ Vanilla Bailey's Buttercream & Glitter Sprinkles
In the morning, I woke up at 8am, went for a run, threw in a load of laundry, and made a batch of vanilla cupcakes.  I used this recipe for a base, but didn't have lemon juice, so I subbed the 2 Tbs of lemon juice for 2 Tbs of vinegar, and it turned out great.  It was even more moist than the chocolate one because of the extra half a cup of oil.  I topped the cupcakes with the leftover Bailey's vanilla buttercream and some glitter sprinkles, and called it a morning.  I had papers to write.
Very Vanilla Vegan Giant Cupcake w/ Bailey's Vanilla Buttercream & Glitter Sprinkles
I found out that it was the first time any of Rebecca's friends had ever made her a birthday cake, and I was honored, seeing as she has been going to college on and off for 6 years.  My philosophy is that everyone deserves a cake on their birthday, and I'm glad I got to change that for Rebecca.  She's an extremely wonderful and sweet person, and a very new close friend of mine.  Even though she is graduating this week and I've only known her for a month, I am so grateful we got the chance to know one another.  Happy Birthday, and Happy Graduation, Rebecca!

Love and cookies,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Return from a Health Hiatus

So, as you've probably noticed, I haven't exactly been posting anything for the last month or so.  I've been incredibly busy with school, and took the executive decision to put my baking habits on hold, to eliminate more stress.  I know, I know, wasn't the point of this blog to be about using baking to cope with school?  Yes.  You're right.  But you're also wrong.  Because this is my psychological experiment, and I am using it in the way that I think will make me the sanest/happiest.  If I think that baking will take too much time away from homework, or if I don't trust myself not to eat an entire bowl of cookie dough, then I'm going to take a break.

I didn't go completely off course, though.  I did bake a few things.  I made some more napolitanas de chocolate (chocolate-filled croissants) when my friends from Vassar came to visit for a Madrid reunion.
Napolitanas de Chocolate (still not like the Mallorquina's... but we're getting close)
I also made some chocolate chip cookies here and there for meetings and bake sales such.  I also made some chocolate and coconut topped cake balls for a presentation for my Spanish poetry class.  Last night I had a dinner with some of my friends, and we made raspberry chocolate chip cookies.  Yum.
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies for a Relay For Life bake sale
Raspberry Chocolate Chip cookies (pre-baking)
And then last night, as tired as I was, I finally got to go back to cake baking.  Luckily there aren't too many birthdays in April among my friends, so I was able to stick to my no-extensive-baking rule.  But today is my roommate Sarah's 21st birthday!  So I had a reason, and now that classes are ending today, I finally had the time, to bake a cake again.

Given my dwindling meal point balance, I decided to use what I had on hand and bake a simple, fudgey chocolate cake.  I made a basic Hershey's Black Magic cake, filled it with fresh raspberry preserves, and then topped it with a Nutella buttercream and semi-sweet chocolate shavings.  That's a pretty happy birthday right there, if I do say so myself...

My mental health was a little shaky this past month, and I don't know how well three 10-15 page papers (2 of which are in Spanish) and an oral exam (also in Spanish) will help, but I'm staying positive.  I might do some more baking in between now and when I leave campus next Wednesday.  If I do, I'm sure you'll read about it.  If not, I'll see you all after finals.

Love and cookies,