DISH: Seitan Piccata at Candle 79. “Most of the time – though not always – we like to eat vegan [...]strong>
Category: Sugar & Cakes
Maria Nitti of Isabella’s Creations dishes on how to create unique bites
So you’re a fan of cupcakes? Join the party. While the trend just keeps going and going, new flavors, new sizes, and even more themed cupcakes are popping up everywhere. If you’re curious to make your out-of-the-box cupcakes look like the real deal, take a cue from Maria Nitti of Isabella’s Creations, she’s a pro on the sweet stuff and is doling out her tips of the trade.
Here are Nitti’s tips on creating cupcakes with pizazz:
Having been raised in a Puerto Rican family from Brooklyn, I learned to cook at a very early age. Baking came naturally and quickly became my passion; by the age of 15 I was making cakes and cupcakes for my family and friends on a regular basis. While cupcakes are certainly an easy cake product to make, decorating them and dressing them up to be something clever, personal, or themed is not easy for everyone.
The space you are working with is small, the ingredients soft, and the amount you need prepared often intimidating. If you are making four dozen for your son or daughter’s classroom, you want to be able to make them quickly, but also make them stand out. Here are six simple cupcake themes you can make at home and that have them asking ‘Where did you buy those cupcakes?”
Beach Blanket Bingo
Doll these up with miniature beach balls, surf boards, or even sandals, which you can buy at most party supply stores. The surf is a simple, blue frosting and add decorations.
1. Frost your cupcake with a white frosting and then gently spray using Wilton’s color mist spray in light blue or, when your frosting is ready, add just enough blue food coloring to desired color to make the shade of blue you love.
2. Create waves by using a simple kitchen knife and fork, frost as normal then gently push and pull back the frosting to create the desired peaks (this step may come first if you use a blue spray)
3. Place a miniature surfboard and/or beach ball, angle to your liking, and surfs up!
On Thursday evenings we love to serve cupcakes with cocktails and these simple monogrammed cupcakes are easy and fun to make. I like to use a butter cream frosting, and roll the monogram out in a fondant. You can buy fondant in your local party supply store, in a small 1LB. package, and they come in several different colors or just use a piped frosting
1. Frost your cupcake with your choice of color and type
2. Use a contrasting color for your monogram to make it stand out. There are several options with the monogram: Roll fondant and use a simple cookie cutter, or even cut out by hand to make it artistic; simply write a letter with frosting on your frosted cupcake; place a small cookie on top and write the monogram in frosting on here; or place a toothpick with a paper monogram attached.
Having Clarke Gable, Greta Garbo and Groucho Marx on your cupcake adds a style and elegance to any gathering.
1. Find 1 inch photos of your old Hollywood favorites online and print out image on simple black and white paper.
2. Cut around image in a circle (use a shot glass to frame the photo, trace with pencil and you have a perfect circle).
3. Glue gold edging to the circle/image, such as gold dragees (these are edged in glue and dipped in gold sugar).
4. Glue toothpick to back of image and place in cupcake. Line these up so that your guests see the old Hollywood icons.
The simplicity of a fresh flower on a cupcake makes a statement. When you only have a New York minute, this cupcake takes the cake!
1. Frost your cupcake as desired. I like to use white frosting as this allows the color of the flower to pop.
2. Cut fresh flowers from your garden or purchase a few pots of perennials, we like lilacs and hydrangea. Rinse in cool water, place on paper towel to air dry ( you do not want to squash the flower, be gentle so that they keep their form).
3. Place the flowers as desired on top of cupcake and lay the extra around the table and on the side to create a beautiful presentation.
Who doesn’t like a sugary round gumball? This quickie cupcake that takes little effort and kids love them because they can alternate chewing on gumballs and cupcake at the same time.
1. Frost your cupcakes as desired. We use several different frosting shades to make the gumball colors pop on top.
2. Place multi-colored gumballs on top of cupcakes. Arrange colors as desired.
—Maria Nitti, with Paula Conway, Conway Confidential
I’ve been stumbling across a number of sites recently that do just this sort of thing: Come up with new and interesting ways to present commonplace foods. My favorite happens to be the brownie-in-an-eggshell concept.
But bakers need to be prepared to put a little more effort in than just pouring the batter into a pan, and your batter will have to be completely free of chunks, for reasons that should become obvious shortly.
Here’s how you do it, courtesy Boing Boing:
- Poke a hole in the shell of a raw egg — use a corkscrew for a sharp, even hole that shouldn’t crack the shell.
- Let the insides of the egg drip out (this will take some time) and gently wash the insides out.
- Let everything dry. Meanwhile, make your brownie mix! (And leave out the chocolate chips.)
- Stand the shell up in a muffin tin, or even in the egg carton it came in from the store.
- Tipple the brownie batter into the hole you’ve created. Tip: Use a piping bag with a narrow nozzle, or a funnel (though it may take a long time).
- Don’t fill the egg the whole way! 2/3 should be sufficient, as your brownie will grow inside the egg.
- Cook as per usual.
This will take some practice; your first batch may simply explode your eggs. Naysayers may bemoan the lack of crispy edges on your final brownies, but the fun of cracking into the eggshell and coming up with cake-tacular chocolate perfection should make up for any grumbling.
If not, take away their brownie!
The writer of the Boing Boing post refers to making Jell-O in eggshells as well — that could be quite amusing if done right, and is probably much easier than brownies, due to the viscosity factor of batter vs. liquid. Chocolate is another option, allowing you to make your own chocolate eggs come Easter.
Finally, always remember food safety: Not every fun container could, or should, come in contact with high heat and food items.
Terra cotta flowerpots must be designed for food use — the ones you may buy at the local Home Depot, for example — are not meant to be combined with consumables, according to the NDSU.
Happy baking, happy cracking, and happy eating!
Right about now you’re probably trying to abstain from eating sweets. You spent too many calories and too much time on eating every holiday cookie in the tin – we saw you! – and now you’re doing your best to fit back into your jeans before someone notices.
We know. And we’re here to help.
That’s why this week, I’m introducing you to bugs. Meals and desserts that are … bugalicious!
Not that I’ve tried, actually. I’m willing, with enough tequila in me first. But in the meantime, it’s enough to know they exist. Sure, everybody’s heard of chocolate-covered ants – they’ve been around as a novelty item since the 1950s, according to FoodTimeline, along with grasshoppers. They quote from a 1956 issue of The New York Times:
“Experts agree there’s a real demand these days for party foods that are new, exotic, ‘different.’ And once initiated, many American are surprised to find themselves won over by foods they wouldn’t – wittingly – have eaten on a bet. … As quick to spot a trend as any other merchants, live-wire food importers are now negotiating for French fried bees from the Orient. Fried ants (possibly from Africa) and chocolate covered ants from South America are also in the blueprint stage.”
And the fact is that around the world, bugs are seen as excellent sources of protein. For one thing, you never run out of your supply and your farming habits need to be minimal. But it’s a little hard for us to get around the fact that they’re, well, insects.
How quickly we forget! Or maybe we try to make ourselves forget. But a November, 2011 article from BusinessWeek says the bugs are back and just bursting with flavor. Well, bursting:
“World Entomophagy is one of a growing number of insect suppliers that promote bugs as food. For humans. Encouraged by media attention, TV shows like “Fear Factor,” and growing concerns about the threat of overpopulation to the food supply, Americans — at least a few — are warming to the idea. ‘In the past three years, interest in eating bugs has surged,’ says David George Gordon, a chef and author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. The number of U.S. chefs cooking insects has ‘probably tripled in the past five years,’ he says, and new suppliers selling bugs primarily for human consumption, rather than as food for pet fish and reptiles, have popped up in the last two years.
Then there’s the Perennial Plate, which two months ago spent eight minutes going into the consumption of insects and bugs; you can watch the video here. David Gracer shows how to trap and catch your food source, picking up one or two straight from the land and popping them into a Ziploc bag for later. He also insists that “most insects do not taste better than lobster.” As you will, David, as you will.
Still, for all the fun we make: Have you tried eating a bug? On purpose, not just while coasting down a hill on your bike, mouth open? Until then, maybe we shouldn’t be judging. So for the adventurous in your household, here’s a recipe for your very own chocolate-covered ants, courtesy Chef Jacques Martine.
Or you could just stick with actual, traditional desserts made up to look like bugs. Either way, let us know how you fare!
By now, you may have realized that I’m obsessed with cakes of all sizes and shapes. (I promise, different kinds of sweets in the new year!) But for my taste buds, cake is hard to beat: Lots of textures all at once, great mouth feel … which sounds dirty but isn’t … and there are so many ways to make the cake even more fun!
I love designing cupcakes and finding interesting ways to make them appropriate to the occasion, and so often I get asked: How do you do that? Well, it’s about re-thinking what cake can do, and how you can disguise and camouflage it to surprising effect.
That’s why I was so thrilled to stumble across Betty Crocker’s funky cake page and find step-by-step instructions on how to make your own adorable, hilarious shaped cakes. My favorite is the incredibly simple Lego cake (called “building blocks cakes,” no doubt to avoid a copyright issue, but trust me you’re making edible Legos). Thanks to BC’s web page, you get not just a recipe, but a lot of easy ways to print, save and email the instructions, as well as review it. While you’re on the page, you can get designs for princess cakes, a pirate cake (arr!), a dinosaur cake — even a train cake! These designs may not make you the next “Ace of Cakes,” but you’ll be well on your way to dazzling your friends and family with the concoctions.
Yes, Betty Crocker has a vested interest in your wanting to make more cakes — they sell the ingredients — but the details of just how to construct the final product can apply in a number of situations; what about fudge blocks? Cupcake pirate heads? That stuff doesn’t require that you use Betty’s ingredients, and it’s all a matter of using your imagination to come up with fascinating new concepts to make an already awesome thing (cake) into a stupendous awesome thing (a space shuttle you can eat!)
So head on over to Betty Crocker’s website today — and make sure to check out their recipe page, which is extensive and covers much, much more than cakes. There’s even a “Health and Diet” section for those who need to watch their waistlines or sugar intake — diabetic recipes included, for example. So once you finish pigging out with pure cake for the holidays, just change your bookmark slightly and keep using the pages; they’re chock-full of great information, suggestions and ideas.
And let us know once you’ve made some great cakes of your own, whether thanks to Betty or otherwise. Send in photos and we’ll run the best ones we see!
We all want to do something in the holiday season, and by “do something,” I mean beyond just “buying stuff and writing up a bunch of cards.” Whether we act on it throughout the rest of the year or not, come December our philanthropic impulses get a real workout — and everyone wants to find a way to give back.
Sarah Morgan, who started up a terrific women-based Meetup.com group this fall, had her own way of giving back: By holding a Christmas Cookie Bake Off with 9 women in her New York City apartment on Friday night, baking batch after batch of deliciousness … all to give away.
“I was once fortunate enough to meet a woman named Mabel who was living in an elderly care facility during my time as a volunteer in high school,” Sarah me wrote about her inspiration. “Mabel told me that her fondest memory of her younger years was baking cookies with her children during the holidays. She looked away for a moment and said that she would give just about anything to be able to bake a big batch of cookies again.”
Well, Sarah went right home, made some cookies that night and took them to Mabel, who was so appreciative that Sarah was inspired. She began making a running list of groups and individuals in distress or need who might not have access to kitchen facilities — who might appreciate some holiday cookies. (And really, whether we have a kitchen or not, who doesn’t appreciate cookies?) Each year, she’s expanded that list to include residents in shelters, elder care facilities and shelters catering to individuals going through foreclosures; she has added in the toy drive recipients she already works with and so forth. One batch of 200 cookies would be going all the way to a YWCA shelter in Montana!
Sarah doesn’t let the fact that she has a “small, outdated” kitchen that’s “in the middle of a renovation.” Even when we had to get up from the kitchen table to make room to open her stove to check on the cookies’ done-ness, it just felt like a real New York experience — not an inconvenience. For several hours we creamed butter (letting it soften on the warming stove), tossed in liberal amounts of chocolate chips, colored sprinkles and coconut flakes green, sipped a little wine and even enlisted her 3-year-old son Jack into the process (he got his own personal pile of chocolate chips to snack on). The cookie list included chocolate chip, sugar, peanut butter (with a chocolate kiss in the center) and raspberry-coconut “thumbprints.” Dishes were washed, windows were opened and pizza was consumed. A good, sweet time was had by all (one participant even brought in pre-made cookies and cupcakes, which she iced and decorated — with a little help — at the event).
Early on, Sarah had a revelation about making cookies for charities, or really anyone who just needs a little sweetness in their lives: “Sometimes when cash or toys or donations on a large scale are not available, sometimes a small gesture can move mountains,” she wrote.
Exactly what’s needed this time — or any time — of year. A little mountain moving, courtesy of the cookie.
And as a special bonus, here’s one of the cookie recipes we made!
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
- 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
- Raspberry and/or apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Turn out on a floured board and roll together into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookiesheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is a golden brown. Cool and serve.
– courtesy Sarah Morgan
Recently, I stumbled across a Facebook page called “I Choose a Cupcake Based on Size and Frosting Content.” And when you think about it, a first reaction has to be “heck yeah!” Bigger is always better, right?
The Facebook page’s creators even sum it up like this: “C’mon, we all do it…we look for the biggest cupcake and the one with the most frosting. It makes us happy And then it’s just like ‘OHHHHHHHHHH YESSSSSSSSSSSS’ when we find the perfectly large and perfectly frosted one.”
The thing is, size matters, but bigger is not always better when it comes to cupcakes. I learned this when buying my Cupcake Cake pan, so I’m speaking with some experience here. Remember, it’s a cupcake — not a Big Gulp Cake.
As the author of Crazy About Cupcakes Krystina Castella notes, the concept of the cupcake goes all the way back to 1828: “The cup name had a double meaning because of the practice of baking in small containers — including tea cups.” You could make cupcakes faster in a hearth oven, and they were a quick and easy treat for kids. But they were originally made in what was called a “gem pan,” a mini-muffin pan with openings that were just about 1.5 inches in diameter.
Today, we’re greeted with the supersized version of the old-fashioned cupcake — just take a look at that Crumbs picture (right). Crumbs, which has long provided me with my cupcake of choice, offers three sizes, but is best known for its “Signature,” a cupcake that’s about twice the size and height of those gem pans, and can run into the 500 calorie range (and above). What Crumbs now calls a “Taste” is more like the original concept of the cupcake.
But so what, right? It’s going on 200 years since the cupcake first came into being, and clearly the cupcake craze that has taken over in the last five years or so isn’t going anywhere — cupcakes are gourmet, yet simple, artworks you can eat — so naturally making them in Jumbo versions is a next natural step.
Yet, it isn’t. While you certainly would have to pry a Signature Crumbs cupcake out of my cold dead hands, the truth is I’d like to see more options of the mini proliferating, to get a taste. One buys a cupcake as a taste, a treat, something to give you a little sample of goodness. It is not a slice of cake. If we wanted a slice of cake, we could have cake — but the cupcake is meant to be dainty and delightful, not a meal in and of itself. In addition, a cupcake of smaller size better matches up with its icing layer; the two complement one another. In order to replicate the ideal combination of icing-to-cake, a bigger cupcake needs even taller, thicker icing, and all of a sudden you’re into meal land.
That’s why it’s hard not to applaud someone like Bakerella, who has come up with some real little gems of cupcakes. They look as sweet as they taste, and are models for the direction cupcakes ought to be headed.
Sure, I know it’s an uphill battle — and I’d like to hear some counterpoint on this issue. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for the cupcake that teases, rather than satiates. Dessert should be fun, not a whole fourth course!
What do you think? Be sure to let us know in the comments section!
Fruit Juice May Not Be Your Friend
News alert: A Consumer Reports study discovered significant levels of arsenic and lead in some fruit juices. Before you hadn them over to a child or a loved one — or even yourself — check out this chart to know what to buy, and what to avoid. [Consumer Reports]
More Than Salad
Vegetarian/Vegan alert! Use this incredible directory to locate vegetarian (and vegan) friendly restaurants anywhere in the world. You don’t have to settle for salad (though some salads are worth settling for)! [More Than Salad]
Battle of the Late-Night Ice Creams
Stephen Colbert had his “Americone Dream.” Then Jimmy Fallon’s “Schweddy Balls” showed up. So to speak. Now, the two late-night comedians are in a death match to determine: Who has the best Ben & Jerry’s flavor? You decide. [The Clicker]
Guitar Cheese Grater
Start shredding the news (or, rather, your cheddar/American/Swiss/etc.) — you’ll have a Gouda old time with this guitar-shaped cheese shredder. [Gama Go]
Opossum Eating Strawberries
Strawberries may be not quite in season now that it’s nearly winter, but you can still enjoy them vicariously. Really, when weas the last time you enjoyed a strawberry as much as this little ‘possum? [YouTube]
Customizing gifts is half the fun. And for those on a tight budget (like ME this year), consider my Grandmother Elisabeth’s homemade cookie mix. This recipe is one I’ve been using for years; it was passed down to me by my grandmother, Elisabeth Hoornstra, and given to her by her mother, Nita Wysong. The basic dough is delicious and makes light crispy cookies. Once you find a decorative mason jar, like the ones pictured here, you can fill it with this homemade cookie mix and even add dried cherries, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, nuts, whatever you know the recipient loves with recipes for every type of cookie. Thank you, “GM” (as we called her, short for grandmother), for this refreshingly uncomplicated recipe that truly does go a long way!
In our family, ambrosia — aka modified fruit salad — is a source of much amusement and occasional derision by the ignorant. For one thing, it really isn’t all that appetizing looking. (I have seen recipes where naked fruit is placed on top of the concoction to dress it up a little, but it’s a bit like putting a cat in a dress.) And because of its odd appearance — flakes of white drifting in white cream, dazzled by orange — there are many who will never try it. But those who love it, love it very much.
So, mom makes it every year, even if she’s the only one who eats it. This year, my good friend Lynda joined us for Thanksgiving — and happily chowed down, too. I gave it a good whack, because I’m usually one of the naysayers, but as a food blogger I now have to be willing to take a bullet every now and then.
It was delicious.
For those who haven’t ever tried ambrosia I can promise that this is not the food of the gods. Still, it has a godlike effect: Here, you mix ingredients that really should have very little to do with one another to create a very sweet, slightly tart, very addictive combination. Ingredients vary, but here’s our family recipe:
Lois’ Ambrosia Salad
16 oz. sour cream
11 oz. Mandarin oranges, drained
5.25 oz. miniature marshmallows
3.5 oz. coconut
20 oz. can of pineapple “tidbits” (not chunks) from a can, drained
White grapes (approximately 1 cup), if available
[Other things you can put in: Canned fruit salad (but drain it), Maraschino cherries (halved), Cool Whip, whipped cream.]
Basically, mix it all together, chill, decorate on the top if you choose. The sweet overcomes the tart significantly, but the two blend in a kind, friendly way and despite appearances, it is worth checking out.
The dish is most common in the South; I grew up in Maryland which may explain the modified version you see here. Sample recipes listed here go back as far as 1877; I imagine they used regular oranges rather than Mandarin, and some recipes include banana — though I wonder if that would brown inside the finished recipe.
In any case, it is a simple, super-easy recipe to prepare, and one you can even do with kids since there’s no stove cooking. And just remind everyone who may turn up a nose at it that appearances can be deceiving! Let us know if you serve it up at your next function, or just for a light dessert!
That is, until now. With Cupcake Cake pans proliferating in recent years, the question arises, just what kind of fool will buy one?
Hello! Waving over here!
I bought mine a few years ago at Williams-Sonoma. The logic being: Small cupcake good, big cupcake better! (Cookie Monster is my superego.) But while making it was fun, as was beholding the behemoth, there are plenty of drawbacks. Dust that flour off your hands and let’s talk cupcake cakes.
First: Mine was expensive. You probably don’t need one from W-S, though it’s always a treat to wander around that store and think about all the ways you might use orange marmalade or rosemary-infused olive oil. So unless you’re baking for the Queen, spend less.
Next: Use whatever cake recipe you want; don’t be intimidated by the one that comes with the pan. The contents of what you’re about to make work out to roughly two layers of cake, so just prepare as usual. That said, the recipe that came with this one was not particularly wonderful: The cake was extremely dense and not all that moist. So be ready to play around a bit.
Then, once you’ve cooked the whole thing, you may need to smooth off the top and bottom, as they probably won’t cook in a perfect little flat plane. Use a sharp, non-serrated knife for the right flatness of the layers so they can properly sit on one another. Otherwise, the top part could start to tip if it isn’t sitting on a flat surface.
Here’s the buyer beware part: I am a cupcake fiend, and I’ve only ever used this thing once. A better tasting cake recipe might woo me back, but for now it sits fairly ignored. Why is that?
I have a theory. Cupcakes are best when they perfectly balance frosting and cake. You want a certain amount of frosting with every bite of cake; too much frosting feels terrible in the mouth, while too little means you’re just eating cake – plain cake! With the giant cupcake cake, the problems are magnified, because it’s frosted like a regular cake, but you have the anticipatory desire of a cupcake. So that’s not working. And then it’s not really even frosted like a slice of cake, because the proportions are off even for typical cake.
That said, I would not discourage anyone from trying it out. You might find the perfect combination and recipe, and if so — let us know! Meanwhile, I’ll just have to dream about giant cupcakes, rather than make them.
What’s your favorite cupcake gizmo? Have you used a cupcake cake? Tell us on our Facebook page!