Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mad Men Cupcakes

The Inspiration

Mad Men fever is back! As any fan knows, next week is the season premier after a seemingly endless break. While I don't plan to hold a viewing party, I had reason to celebrate the show this weekend because my friend Daphne's well-timed Mad Men themed birthday party was held last night. The party was such a blast, everyone really got into the spirit of theme - lots of slim-fitting suits, strands of pearls and up-dos. I thought about bringing classic cocktail-inspired cupcakes, or even the crowd-pleasing Irish Car Bomb cupcakes, especially since yesterday happened to be St. Patrick's Day (see my post from the 2011 Superbowl). In the end, I decided to go with a simple chocolate devil food cake with butter cream frosting. This would allow the time I needed to focus on a new challenge: fondant decorations. I've never worked with fondant before, so this was definitely uncharted territory for me, but felt like this would be the perfect opportunity to try something new. At first i thought of creating images of cocktail glasses, but felt like that wasn't could be for any party. The challenge for me was to find something that was specific to Mad Men. That's when I realized I had the perfect tool to create the images I needed - I went to the site and created six new avatars - 3 men and 3 ladies:

Fun with Fondant

I bought a package of Wilton's rolled fondant which is plain white and comes in the shape of a brick. i divided it into sections to dye. i used Wilton's concentrated gel food coloring. It was very easy to work with and the fondant took the color very well. I recommend using thin latex gloves when working in the dye. Red dye especially doesn't wash off very easily - my palms were still pink after several washings.

The Arsenal:

I dyed all the fondant I thought I would need, and wrapped each color in plastic to prevent it from drying out. I then started work on getting the templates made for each character. I decided to make the images as large as possible, which meant only the head and shoulders would fit on top of the cupcake. I worked on each component in sections: head, hair, clothes and accessories. I saved the facial features for last.

Heads (with facial features partially completed), Hair, Clothes & Accessories:

When working with fondant, if it starts to get too sticky, you can use a little cornstarch on the work surface. Use only a little bit though. The fondant should be at room temperature and rolled out to about 1/8" thickness. When putting together the components, the fondant should be pliable so each piece can stick together. i kept the pieces flat in a zip lock bag until I was ready to use them. For any pieces that were not sticking together, I used some of the buttercream frosting as glue. To make the faces, i "drew" the features using the pointed tip of a wooden skewer to make the impression and then painted over it using decorating icing from a tube (I used Wilton). I don't recommend using decorating gel because it's too sheer. I also find decorating using small paint brushes easier than using a decorating tip - I find those hard to control at times, especially with very small details).

Putting together the characters was a lot of fun, it felt like playing with Colorforms as a kid.


In the end, I was pleased with the outcome. I spent a lot of time working on the facial features, which caused the fondant to dry out a bit, but they held up pretty well when applying the hair and accessories. The cupcakes themselves turned out to be the most frustrating. I tried this "one bowl" devil's food cake recipe on the package of Ghiradelli chocolate I had. It was intended for a 9x13 cake pan and when the cupcakes came out of the oven, they immediately collapsed. Pressed for time, I wound up buying a Duncan Hines devil's food cake mix. At least the buttercream I made was flawless.

Mad Men Ladies (on a vintage platter):

I love this chick, she's sassy:

Here are the six characters that are as close to the originals I created on the Mad Men site:

And here's all 18 (i made just enough to fill my cupcake display stand):

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

One day I will make a Pi pie like the one above, but for now, I'll just post some of the pies i've baked in the past year or so that never got blogged.

1. Unbaked Strawberry Rhubarb Pi

2. Mini Blueberry Pi

3. Thanksgiving Day Apple Pi

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

VirgyGirl Scout Cookies

One of the best things about my new job is the baking club that I was invited to join soon after I joined the company. We bake every other week and this week's theme was "snack food remix" - the goal was to take a processed baked good or candy bar and make it from scratch. I chose my favorite Girl Scout cookie, Samoas. I knew it was going to be difficult to replicate and anticipated it to be a very time consuming process - which it definitely turned out to be. I recommend baking the shortbread cookie component ahead of time, in order to break up the time spent making these cookies. There are four phases to making these cookies: 1) baking the shortbread cookie, 2) making the coconut/caramel topping, 3) adding melted chocolate to the bottom, and 4) adding chocolate stripes to the top. I also recommend making these cookies when you are not pressed for time and definitely listen to some happy music. I listened to my Buddy Holly station on Pandora while baking.

Before getting started, make sure you have these items on hand:

1) parchment paper
2) wax paper
3) double boiler for melting the chocolate
4) pastry bag with small round tip for piping the chocolate stripes
5) round cookie cutter, about 2" diameter, with a smaller round cookie cutter, about 1/2" diameter to cut out the center of the larger cookie. I used a Linzer tart cookie cutter. I like the detail of the edge.

Shortbread cookie:

1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat butter and sugar until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt, then add to butter/sugar mixture. beat until combined, and add vanilla. If dough is not pulling together, add a little milk. Form dough into a disk and roll out between two pieces of wax paper until the dough is no more than 1/4" thick. Cut out shapes using the round cookie cutters. Set cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, bake in oven for 10-12 minutes at 350.

Allow cookies to cool a little bit on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Once all cookies have cooled completely, you can begin on the second phase of the process.

Coconut/Caramel topping

3 cups shredded coconut (I used sweetened coconut)
12-14 oz bag of soft caramels (you can also make your own caramel if you have lots of free time)
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk

To toast the coconut, heat the oven to 300 and spread the coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toast for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Allow to cool.

While the coconut cools, unwrap all of the caramels and place them along with the salt and milk in a large bowl (bowl will need to be large enough to stir in the coconut once the caramel is melted. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When totally smooth, fold in toasted coconut.

Using a small spoon, scoop up the coconut/caramel mixture and place on top of the shortbread cookie. With fingers covered in butter, form the mixture into a circle, and lightly press it on the cookie to ensure it will set properly and not separate from the cookie. Reheat coconut/caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it becomes difficult to mold.

Allow topping to cool completely before starting the chocolate phase of the process. turn all cookies over so the bottom of the shortbread is facing up. make sure all cookies are on a parchment-lined surface. In a double boiler, melt half of one 10-12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I used Hershey's chocolate chips. Using a butter knife or a small spatula, spread a thin layer of the melted chocolate on the bottom of the cookie. Keep the bottom of the cookie face up and allow to cool completely.

Once all cookies are cooled, (I put mine in the refrigerator to ensure the chocolate had hardened) flip them over so that the coconut/caramel side is facing up. Melt the remaining 1/2 of the bag of chocolate chips and pour into a pastry bag. Pipe 4-5 stripes across the top of each cookie. Put back into the refrigerator to allow chocolate to harden.

And you now can have your very own Girl Scout cookies, whenever you want!