Monday, August 23, 2010

And this is why we test recipes

When I told people that I was going to do more baking today, despite the 103 degree weather because I just wasn't sure that the cupcakes I had tried out for the engagement party were perfect I was met with mockery. Why would you need to test a recipe? It's cake, they'll taste fine. Well, scoff all you want, I test recipes, and here's why:
I have been eyeing a recipe for dulce de leche cupcakes for weeks now. It seemed like the perfect way to tie in a bit of Mexican flair to a gourmet cupcake, and I thought they might just be the right dessert for the our upcoming backyard engagement fiesta. A fellow messmaker, Amy, posted a recipe for  dulce de leche cupcakes and frosting on her blog Playing House that I thought might be just the ticket.

Dulce de Leche Cupcakes 
makes 12

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan or insert paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the sugars and butter. Add the eggs and vanilla until combined. Alternate the flour mixture with the milk until you get a smooth batter. Spoon into the muffin pan wells equally, about 2/3 full.
4. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a testter comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Downsized and adapted the frosting recipe as follows

Dulce de Leche Buttercream

1/2 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dulce de leche

Cream the butter and sugar. Incorporate vanilla and dulce de leche. Frost cooled cupcakes. 

The cupcakes came together as expected, but they have that distinctive corn-bread like taste that so many "scratch" cakes have. I have tried multiple times to feed cake made from scratch to the high schoolers I work with and they will have no part in it.
My future brother-in-law pointed out to me once that there was probably a time when people ate enough cake from scratch that they could differentiate between homemade cake, homemade corn bread, and homemade brownies, but now that we know what cake from a box tastes like, flour, sugar, and oil mixed together always tastes the same. It's really a shame.
I was disappointed in my cornbread cupcakes, but comforted myself with the idea that frosting would make all the difference! At first the frosting looked promising. It came together just right and the texture was perfect. But, by the time I got it into a pastry bag to pipe it the inevitable happened. The buttercream broke. What was once light fluffy golden frosting turned into a curdled mess and the dulce de leche started separating from the mixture. This could be due in part to the fact that my kitchen is a little like an oven this afternoon due the the oven heat and the sun pouring in. It is certainly over the 78 degrees at which buttercream gives up. So, I piped as quickly as I could, threw the cupcakes in the fridge and moved onto my next activity (cleaning up the brown sticky sauce that somehow coated a good portion of my kitchen during this process). Now I hadn't anticipated that the buttercream would magically go back together in the fridge (I learned last summer that is simply not the way that buttercream works), but I did not anticipate the mess I ended up with. The dulce de leche had continued to pour out of the broken frosting and the cupcakes looked like they had been slimed, not piped.

Luckily it's volleyball Monday, and after a few hours of volleyball and a few beers I'm sure I'll be able to pawn off these sticky little messes on someone. And on the bright side, I'm sure the dulce de leche will soak into the cupcakes and make them taste delicious! But, now I know that this is NOT a recipe to try again in front of a lot of new family on a hot August afternoon.

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