There's a certain personality trait that I posses that only a few people know about. I love to bake things that other people love to eat. Okay, maybe more than a few people know that about me, but it definitely doesn't make it any less true. I see baking as one of those things that rewards you with a nice sweet treat for time well spent. I also see it as an expression of love and friendship for the people in my life that I care about.
In recent years I've begun flexing my confectionery muscles in celebration of commemorative events. Most notably, these events are the birthdays of our friends, but I've also baked for baby showers, wedding showers, house warming parties, and St. Patty's Day celebrations.
Of late, I've made a habit of asking friends with upcoming birthdays what their absolute favorite kind of cake happens to be. After they answer, I ask if they'd mind too greatly if I went ahead and made that cake or cupcakes in their favorite flavor and style for them as a special birthday treat. The typical answer is, "Are you kidding? I'd love it if you baked me a cake." Tough crowd, eh?
Last weekend we celebrated the birthdays of two of our close friends and I gladly volunteered my cupcake skills. Coincidentally, both of them requested red velvet cake, but one request was a bit of a departure from the normal red velvet you might think of. But more on that in a minute.
A bit of a warning. Alex just got a new 50mm lens for the camera, and the day we made these cupcakes was the very first day he was using the lens. So his, and my, apologies if you are annoyed by the excessive "bokeh" (quality blur) in the shots and the questionable lighting/exposure. We're trying to learn as we go.
With this particular request, I set out making a standard red velvet cake batter, and as is my typical style, used my trusty ice cream scoop to properly portion each cupcake.
Beyond this aspect of portioning, baking the red velvet is pretty straightforward process if you follow the recipe or box's directions.
The key to these "special" request cupcakes was actually in the icing. One of our friends has fond childhood memories of enjoying red velvet cake with peppermint cream cheese frosting, a seasonal and favorite cake on her December birthday. When I first heard this I wasn't sure if it meant modification of the cake batter or of the frosting. After checking with the authority on the matter (the birthday girl), we determined only the icing had to be altered.
I purchased a two boxes of candy canes for the task and ended up using all of the candy canes in the process.
After removing the candy canes from their packaging I placed them all into a sandwich bag and retrieved my rolling ping. My goal was to break the candy canes into smaller pieces than the whole or half canes they currently were.
After a few smacks, it seemed to be working, but it also poked a few holes in the bag and started making a mess. Rather than continue making a mess and spreading candy cane dust all over the counter, I emptied the bag of cane pieces into the food processor.
A few pulses later the candy canes were a mixture of fine peppermint sugar powder and smallish sized pieces.
If you ever do this, be aware that the candy cane dust will be coming out of the food processor like smoke. It might be best to wait for a moment or two before removing the top just to let the dust settle a bit, but don't worry, you're food processor probably isn't actually on fire.
Once the candy canes were all chopped up, I then used a mid sized wire basket to further sift the fine particles from the bigger pieces.
This process provided me a very fine powder to use in the frosting, and the larger chunks to use as decoration. I love it when a baking plan comes together!
I poured the finest powder and pieces into the mixing bowl and then scooped the cream cheese frosting into the bowl so that I could mix the whole thing together.
After mixing the peppermint powder and small pieces with the frosting, the normally white cream cheese frosting became a slightly rough textured pink color. This told me the frosting had taken on the peppermint flavor nicely, while still retaining some of the crunchy grittyness from the canes. This was just the effect I was trying to achieve.
I filled the peppermint frosting into an icing bag with my favorite decorating tip...
...and began piping the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes.
It wasn't the easiest icing job I've ever had. The peppermint weighed down the normally fluffy icing and made it a bit harder to create a spiral peak. If I had it to do over again, I'd also use a rounded tip. The jagged edge of the tip I used didn't work well with the bits of candy, and resulted in a less than crisp frosting effect. Luckily, my friends tend not to care about this detail as much as I do.
After working through the first few experimental cupcakes, I started to get the hang of the heavier icing.
Once all of the cupcakes were iced, I then used the larger chunks of the peppermint candy and sprinkled them on the top of the frosting as additional garnish.
In all, the whole process was slightly more involved than simple cupcakes and frosting, but by no means was it particularly difficult. The end result was delicious, pretty, and perfectly festive baked treats for the holiday season.
If you like red velvet, peppermint, and cupcakes (who doesn't like cupcakes?), this is a recipe you need to try.
In case you're wondering if this creation was a hit, the verdict from the birthday girl was a favorable one. In fact she said, "These are exactly how I remember them tasting before my mom told me they were too difficult and she was going to stop making them!" I think we have a winner, folks.
Do you have a creative spin on a classic recipes? Does this sound like the type of thing you'd like, or are you more of a traditionalist when it comes to your baked goods? I love to hear other people's take on my baking attempts, even if you can't taste them through the screen.